If you have outgrown your current home theater system (HTS) and staring to find its sound quality increasingly unsatisfactory, there are a few upgrade options without investing in a new set. But changing to better speakers is likely one of the most effective upgrades with the biggest impact in terms of audio quality.
Do take note that, in my experience, speakers often have a “break-in” period, ranging from a few days to months, before they perform optimally. Furthermore, using your system regularly should give your speakers a sufficient workout without using a specialized burn-in disc.
Upsize your front speakers
You can start by replacing the front satellite speakers with either a pair of bookshelf or floor-standing speakers. If you’ve been using 5.1-channel speakers with a 7.1-channel A/V receiver (AVR), you can also reuse the satellite speakers to play surround back effects. Here are some key advantages for making the switch to larger speakers.
Louder peak volume
Firstly, larger bookshelf and floor-standing speakers can typically handle more amplification power, which translates to a higher volume output. They are suitable for those who get their kicks from watching movies loud or have installed their home theater systems in a spacious entertainment room.
Better sound quality
Bookshelf and floor-standing speakers are larger than compact satellite speakers. So with more space, instead of using a full-range driver to cover the entire sound spectrum, separate tweeters and woofers can be added to boost treble and bass extensions, respectively. This means improved sound quality.
Two- vs. three-way
Most bookshelf speakers these days come with both a tweeter and a midrange driver. Such a driver composition is also called a two-way speaker design. Meanwhile, some of the floor-standing speakers have a three-way design, equipped with one or more additional woofers.
Diffused sound for surround speakers
For most movie soundtracks, the standard surround and surround back channels are usually used for ambient sound and effects. In this case, speakers with a wider sound dispersion can create a more immersive movie-viewing experience.
There are three different types of surround speakers with such an acoustic signature: bipole, dipole and omni-directional versions.
Compared with traditional speakers that project sound forward, bipole speakers feature two sets of identical drivers to radiate sound sideways. This special design ensures more diffused sound, but still allows the users to somewhat pinpoint the location of a bipole speaker.
Just by appearance, it is hard to tell most dipole speakers apart from their bipole counterparts. Both have dual drivers, but the dipoles generate sound which is known as “out of phase”. This basically means it is impossible to localize where the sound is coming from.
For an even wider 360-degree sound, you can also check out omni-directional speakers. They typically sport an upwards-facing driver and a reflector to direct sound in all directions.
Other general considerations for speakers
You’re likely to come across the following features when shopping for better speakers. Some can have an audible effect on the overall sound quality, while others are quite controversial. There are both audiophiles that swear by them and those who scoff at these concepts.
With the same AVR, a speaker with a higher sensitivity rating will be easier to drive or power than a lower one. Most of the speakers these days have between 85dB and 95dB sensitivity, regardless of their size.
Sealed vs. ported speakers
Unlike sealed speakers, their bass-reflex counterparts are ported to provide a stronger bass reproduction. However, with a high volume of air funneled through a narrow opening, noise can be an issue. Moreover, a minimum 30cm clearance in front of the port is recommended.
Biwiring vs. biamping
On the back of some speakers are two sets of wire binding posts for bi-wiring and bi-amping.
Bi-wiring lets users connect these speakers using two pairs of speaker cables, one to the low frequency (LF) input and another for high frequency (HF). However, since the two cables are still attached to same output at the amplifier side, critics often dismiss bi-wiring as a gimmick.