Speakers buying guide

The type of music we listen to is very much a personal choice, and so is the means of distrubution among friends and family. Choosing the best speakers for your home setup will enable the speakers to work around you. Our guide will talk you through the growing music systems and their features to help you pick the right speakers for you.

Initial considerations

Before even researching into the speaker types and their features, you need to be sure on a few things.

Which room are you buying for?

Evaluating the room where you’ll be placing the speakers can make or break a purchase decision. The speakers’ destination can affect the sound quality when you take into account the furnishings surrounding the units – hard surfaces such as windows and flooring can disperse sound, whereas soft furnishings such as cushions and curtains can absorb sound. Additionally, the room size can affect the music quality. Generally, smaller rooms are not the ideal environment for large speakers because they take up too much space and would tend to overload the room with bass. Conversely, the larger, more open plan room will drown out smaller speaker sound. Larger rooms can hold larger speaker separates and an extended system, such as a sound bar or sound base, can create a surround sound experience.

What will you use the speakers for?

This will address your listening habits, so it is certainly worth considering how you want to use the speakers so you can maximise their use. If you enjoy sitting down to listen to your music, then just one or two speakers may be sufficient for your needs. Yet if you prefer to have music playing in the background, then a pair of speakers with a small subwoofer may just be the ticket. And if you’re after total surround sound to encompass your television set then speakers, a subwoofer, a sound bar or sound base may be the perfect combination.

How many speakers are you after?

Pairing speakers can grow your audio system to fill your home with sound – multiple speakers even have the abilities to play the same track or different tracks. How this is achieved will depend on the brand and your wireless connectivity.

Speaker types

Wired

Many wired speakers come mains powered which offers additional functionalities to aid the listening experience. A docking station is a device in which a smartphone or other mobile device may be placed for charging and playing music. The volume and track options can often be adjusted at the docking station, which is the ideal solution if you prefer an audio centrepiece.

Most wired speakers are available with a 3.5 mm auxiliary port, so you also have the option to connect other devices such as CD and MP3 players to get the most out of your music. You can also connect a set of headphones to totally immerse yourself into the music.

Wireless

Connecting through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth establishes a wireless connection between your speakers and audio device. Not only does a wireless connection stream seamless music throughout your home, but no wires to contend with means that your speaker can be as portable as you want it to be.

wireless speaker connects directly to the internet which gives you access to internet radio stations from around the world, your music library and music services such as Spotify.

If you have home Wi-Fi or a Bluetooth enabled device such as Android, iPhone or iPad, then you have all you need to play your favourite music. Through the use of a brand associated app on your smart phone or tablet device; or via a remote, you can manage the volume and playlists.

For more on connected homes, watch our video here: Connected home technology

Wired speakers
Wireless speakers

Speaker features

Bluetoothis a short-range wireless interconnection which can send or stream data between compatible electronic devices instantly. Bluetooth speakers allow digital audio to be played wirelessly between connected devices. Connecting to a speaker via Bluetooth provides the flexibility of being able to listen to the music whenever you want to. It also means that the music played is seamless, at a very high quality.

Airplay is Apple’s Wi-Fi dependant platform which enables users to stream digital audio or video content to other Airplay supported devices. Apple AirPlay has a wealth of functionalities which enables you to share digital files on your HDTV and your wireless speakers. Working on a Wi-Fi platform, the Airplay network is vast, so a connection can be maintained throughout the house.

DLNA an acronym for ‘Digital Living Network Alliance’ - is an industry-wide standard for sharing media over a home network. If you have a router, you’ll be able to link DLNA-compliant products across your network. Speakers will either have this function built-in, or it won’t be supported at all, so be clear on the product specifications before purchasing.

Near-Field Communication (NFC)allows portable devices to establish peer-to-peer radio communications, passing small amounts of data from one device to another by either touching them or placing them a few centimetres apart. NFC enabled speakers have a ‘touch-point’ whereby you simply ‘tap’ your enabled device to establish a connection. Even quicker than Bluetooth, NFC has the ability to sync multiple speakers to create a stereo sound.

Portability- with many speakers now capable of establishing a wireless connection, there’s the option to make your music portable. Perfect for taking over to a friend’s house or entertaining at a venue, portable speakers are powered by rechargeable batteries which can last for a number of hours.

FM transmitter- wireless speakers and docking stations can both be enabled with FM radio so you have the ability to listen to live broadcasts. Most devices with this functionality can broadcast on any FM frequency from 76.0 to 108.0 MHz.

Power

The total speaker output is measured in watts (W). The capacity indicates the maximum sound signal that a speaker can accept - generally, the higher the wattage, the louder the speaker is. Feeding a higher wattage than the speaker specifies can actually damage it by distorting the sound and overheat the speaker. Having said this, those speakers with a higher power capacity may actually require an amplifier to sound their best.

For best results, and to avoid the risk of damage, opt for a speaker or a set of speakers which can handle the maximum output of your device - this information is displayed on the speaker product pages.

Multiroom

Multiroom is a means of distributing sound throughout the home using Wi-Fi. With a multiroom system, it’s your choice how you play your music. The same song can be played across multiple speakers throughout the house to create total unity. Different songs can be played from different speakers so every room has its own sound. Or, one song can be solely played through one speaker. Just make sure your speakers are the same brand for the functionality to work.

Read our instant expert for more tips and advice

Home cinema

A home cinema system can bring your movies to life. Connecting your TV and games console allows you to immerse yourself into the broadcasts and games with total surround sound. The systems typically include a receiver, Blu-ray player, subwoofer and multiple speakers. As a choice; 5.1 surround systems utilise six speakers (including a subwoofer), 2.1 surround systems utilise two speakers (plus a subwoofer) and all-in-one systems contain surround sound decoding, amplification and multiple speakers in just one neat box.

Read our home cinema buying guide for the more details.

Home cinema systems