Finding the Perfect Speakers

Ilustrations by Gary Locke Do you really care? - about home-entertainment gear, that is. If you're only browsing through this issue in the doctor's waiting room, it might be low on your list. And given the basic quality of current technology and the fierce competition between manufacturers, as long as you stick with well-known brands, you could probably buy almost any product and be happy. But if you're a true audio/video connoisseur, you know that small variations in sound quality can mean the difference between satisfaction and frustration. And nowhere is that more true than with speakers.

Buying electronics is primarily a question of shopping for features, but buying speakers goes right to the heart of the matter - how they sound. Keep in mind, though, that sound quality is partly subjective. Your friend's favorite speaker might leave you cold. Finding the right speaker takes time and patience - especially if you're shopping for a complete surround sound system. But with a well thought-out shopping strategy, you can find the speakers that are perfect for you. What you need is my guaranteed, foolproof five-step plan. Step 1: Do Your Homework

On one hand, all speakers do the same thing: produce sound. On the other hand, there is incredible diversity in how, and how well, they do it - a diversity that is only multiplied when you're faced with buying a set of surround sound speakers. So you should start by doing some research. Check out Sound & Vision speaker test reports and articles about speakers in past issues (many are on our Web site) and visit manufacturers' Web pages. The more time you spend doing the advance grunt work, the better your chances of achieving listening bliss.

Learn what kinds of speakers are available, what system configuration will best suit your listening room or home theater, and what various kinds of speakers cost. For example, after perusing some back issues, reading some reviews, and even looking at some ads, I started considering a line of bookshelf speakers from a well-known manufacturer. I read reviews of other models but kept coming back to the same brand. Its speakers were in the right price range, were the right size, and had the power handling that my room demanded. Since I'd been impressed by other models from the same company and this new series had won an S&V Reviewer's Choice award, they were worth investigating.