If you have space constraints, buying the right speaker system for your home may seem like a complicated affair. After all, bigger speakers give better sound, right? Not really! Here is a short primer to helping you make the right purchase decision. Home Theatre is a very broad topic but I will try to cover as much as possible while staying within scope. Let’s get started!
1. Music or movies, or both?
First you’ll need to decide whether you’re going to use this system mainly for movies, music, or a frequent mix of both. If you’re going to use this mainly for music, and can afford the space, it’s always great to get a stereo speaker system. These usually include two speakers, an integrated amplifier and your music source. Some stereo systems come in a single box, is easy to use and setting it up is fuss-free!
To save space, try going for single-unit systems that sound great, and can fill the area well. They vary in size and can start from very small portable speakers, to more powerful ones as big as a backpack. The large ones tend to have a woofer cone built in for more thump in your bass. They can typically connect to your music source through Bluetooth, or through WiFi if you have a NAS (Network Attached Storage) set up.
For movie lovers, you’re really spoiled for choice! If you prefer smaller space-saving speakers, Home Theatre in a Box (HTIB) are popular solutions that are fuss-free. They also bring wireless music streaming features to your home. Alternatively you may opt to consult a specialist who will match components to suit your listening needs (and budget). These tend to be less simple but ‘Mix n’ Match’ Home Theatres offer you the flexibility to mix up and match components from different brands, to get a truly bespoke system for your home. From tallboy speakers from JBL to Amplifiers and Receivers from McIntosh, you get much more flexibility. You can also upgrade individual components at will to the latest technology available. As of this writing, the most current are Dolby Atmos supported AV Receivers with 4K UHD and HDR pass through.
2. Space, space, space!
The size of the speaker should always match your listening area. If you have a room with space constraints, it is always better to get smaller speakers – like bookshelf or satellite speakers. If you place bigger, more powerful speakers in small rooms, you might risk getting a more boomy, messy sound. One workaround is to acoustically treat the room so that a lot of excess acoustic energy can be absorbed. For casual listeners I will recommend a small stereo set-up, or a compact one-piece solution. With a smaller footprint, they take up less space and can sound great in a corner.
If you have more space (and dough) to play with, go ahead and rig up an ensemble of tallboys and bookshelf speakers, for a powerful home cinema! When correctly set up, you won’t have to visit your nearest cinema anymore. But make sure to consult a professional who can put it together for you (if it’s your first time, unless you’re feeling adventurous). They can also make recommendations on what TV (or projector) and storage furniture to buy, for a truly bespoke set up!
Many brands offer affordable HTIB solutions. These come with all the necessary components in a single box, making them easy to lug home, or order online and have it shipped and set up quickly. They also offer decent performance and features, like wireless music streaming and more accurate audio calibration.
But due to the smaller speakers, you’ll be hard-pressed to cover a large hall with a HTIB system. Also, you cannot upgrade individual components because often, the components are made proprietary. (For example, certain brands like Sony and Bose have the power amplifier built into the woofer, meaning you can’t switch it to a different amp)
With ‘Mix n’ Match’ Home Theatres you’ll have more freedom to choose the type and grade of components for your specific needs. Whether you’ll like to split your home theatre budget equally for speakers and components, or invest more in speakers, the world is your oyster! When newer technology becomes available, you may upgrade obsolete components for more current ones.
The downside is that they’re not as simple to hook up and use as HTIB systems, and their audio calibration systems often require further fine-tuning for specific room situations. This means first-timers wanting to fit a system together might find this a daunting task, and need a specialist to help them out.
4. Best value for money?
If you place more value on a system that’s saves you time, easy to set up and use, with decent results, HTIB solutions are a great choice. Not only are the components matched hand-in-glove, it will be easy for the whole family to use and enjoy! These systems could cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars, to premium systems that cost a few thousand bucks.
If you place more value on upgradability, and performance that’s specifically tailored to your needs, Mix n’ Match’ Home Theatres are the best. They may require more homework (and legwork), but well-matched components can out-perform any HTIB in the market, maybe even at a lesser price!