How to choose Home Stereo Speakers

Types of Home Speakers

Choosing the correct home stereo system can transform your listening experience from ordinary to extraordinary. Whether you are a casual listener or a dedicated music lover, the right set of speakers can bring your favourite tunes to life, making every beat, note, and lyric sound crisp and clear.

However, with so many options available, selecting the best speaker system can be daunting. This guide will walk you through the three key types of home stereo speaker systems: bookshelf speakers, floor-standing speakers, and surround sound systems. Each type has its own advantages, and understanding these will help you make an informed decision to best suit your needs and preferences.

Bookshelf Speaker Systems

Bookshelf speaker systems are compact, versatile, and designed to fit into smaller spaces without compromising on sound quality. These speakers are ideal for those who want high-quality audio without the bulk of larger systems. They can be placed on shelves, stands, or mounted on walls, making them a flexible option for various room layouts.

Bookshelf speakers produce a well-balanced sound across different frequencies, giving surprising results from their compact size. They usually feature a two-way design, incorporating a ported woofer for low and mid-range sounds and a tweeter for high frequencies. This allows them to deliver clear and detailed audio, making them suitable for a wide range of music genres.

When choosing a bookshelf speaker system, consider the size of your room and the type of music you enjoy. Smaller rooms benefit from the compact size and directional sound of these speakers, while larger spaces may require the addition of a subwoofer to enhance the bass response.

Often packaged with an amplifier which has inputs for your playback devices, or they can come as part of a compact stereo system with features such as a CD player and radio, along with more modern Bluetooth streaming and USB MP3 inputs. If not, they will require matching to a suitable amplifier in order to get the best results.

For many, the more subtle sizing of a bookshelf speaker set makes them the preferred choice for a living room or bedroom, with more than enough performance available without having the intrusion that comes with floor-standing speakers.

How to choose Home Stereo Speakers - Fenton SHFB65 Bookshelf SpeakersHow to choose Home Stereo Speakers - Fenton SHFB65 Bookshelf Speakers
How to choose Home Stereo Speakers - Fenton SHF80W Tower SpeakersHow to choose Home Stereo Speakers - Fenton SHF80W Tower Speakers

Floor Standing Speakers

Floor-standing speakers, also known as tower speakers, are designed to deliver powerful, full-range sound. As the name suggests, they are a freestanding design and are significantly larger than bookshelf speakers. They are typically a 3-way layout though some feature multiple drivers (a driver is the correct name for a speaker cone) and can include multiple woofers, mid-range drivers, and tweeters. This multi-driver setup allows them to produce a wide frequency range, providing deep bass, clear mids, and crisp highs.

The size and design of floor-standing speakers make them ideal for larger rooms where they can be positioned to create a wide sound stage. Their increased cabinet size not only allows for larger diameter drivers but also improves the overall sound quality by greatly enhancing the midrange and bass response. Many hi-fi enthusiasts prefer tower speakers for their more dynamic sound and low-end capability.

When selecting floor-standing speakers, consider the acoustics of your room and the placement of the speakers. Proper positioning is crucial to achieving the best sound quality, and you may need to experiment with different locations to find the optimal setup. Floorstanding speakers can be overbearing if placed too close to the listener, or to each other.

Additionally, ensure that your amplifier or receiver can adequately power the speakers, as they often require more power than smaller bookshelf models. We have an in-depth article to help you with this called ‘matching speakers and amplifiers’.

Surround Sound Speakers

Surround sound speaker systems are designed to provide an immersive audio experience, making them ideal for home cinema setups. These systems typically include multiple speakers strategically placed around the room to create a 360-degree sound field. The standard configuration is 5.1, which includes five speakers (front left, front right, centre, surround left, surround right) and one subwoofer for deep bass. More advanced setups, like 7.1 or Dolby Atmos systems, add additional speakers for an even more enveloping sound.

The main advantage of surround sound speakers is their ability to place the listener in the centre of the action, with sounds coming from all directions. This setup is perfect for movies, games, sporting events, and even music, providing a more dynamic and engaging listening experience.

The important thing to understand is that ‘true’ surround requires a specialist multi-channel amplifier with digital decoding, and a source such as Blu-Ray or a games console. The sound output from your TV for example is only in stereo (left and right), and though it will come out of all the speakers in the system, it’s not the same effect as a digital movie soundtrack with programmed audio effects channels.

When choosing a surround sound system, consider the layout of your room and where you can place the speakers. Proper placement is key to achieving the best sound quality and ensuring that the audio is balanced and immersive, and this may involve the wall mounting of the rear speakers, and an equal spacing of the front speakers.

It's worth noting that If your intention is purely music listening but with extra speakers, it's generally a better option to look at two pairs of speakers and a hi-fi amplifier with A/B switching, as this will give better results than the single driver design of rear surround speakers which are intended primarily for sound effects.

How to choose Home Stereo Speakers - Fenton HF5W 5.0 Surround Speaker SetHow to choose Home Stereo Speakers - Fenton HF5W 5.0 Surround Speaker Set

Understanding Home Audio Systems and Their Features

When diving deeper into the world of home audio systems and speakers, it's essential to understand the various features that different systems offer. Home stereo systems are designed to cater to diverse listening preferences, room sizes, and aesthetic tastes.

Here, we'll explore additional aspects that can influence your decision-making process, including the role of hi-fi subwoofers, the importance of room acoustics, and the integration of modern technology into home stereo equipment.

The Role of Hifi Subwoofers

A hi-fi subwoofer is a specialised speaker dedicated to reproducing low-frequency sounds, typically below 150 Hz. This includes the deep bass notes that add depth and fullness to music and movies. While bookshelf and floor-standing speakers can produce some bass, a subwoofer is specifically designed to handle these frequencies with greater power and precision.

Integrating a subwoofer into your home stereo system can significantly enhance your listening experience, particularly for genres like electronic, hip-hop, and rock, which rely heavily on bass. In a home theatre setup, a subwoofer is crucial for creating rumbling effects in action scenes, making you feel like you're part of the action.

When choosing a subwoofer, consider its power output, size, and placement in your room to ensure it complements your existing speakers without overpowering them. Most hi-fi subs are active (powered) and this makes them easy to incorporate into most stereo systems, with a home cinema amplifier usually having a dedicated subwoofer (LFO) output channel for a single cable connection.

For standard stereo systems that don't have that output, you will usually have a line output which can feed directly to the subwoofer's built-in amplifier. If you don’t have a line output available, you can opt for a sub with speaker-level inputs, which takes the standard speaker wiring from your system and then feeds your speakers, filtering out the frequencies it needs.

For most homes, a small active subwoofer of 8-inch or 10-inch will provide hugely powerful results, and going any larger is simply not necessary. Some home cinema enthusiasts will prefer a 12-inch or even 15-inch sub, but these are complete overkill for a home environment and will overwhelm the sound, along with annoying your neighbours.

Suitability of Speaker Sizes for Different Rooms

The size of your speakers should be matched to the size of your room to ensure optimal sound quality. Here are some general guidelines to help you choose the right speaker size:

  • Small Rooms (Up to 150 sq. ft.): Compact bookshelf speakers are ideal for small rooms. They provide clear, balanced sound without overwhelming the space. You can go for classic hi-fi speakers with an amplifier, or you can look at active (powered) monitor-style speakers for convenience.

    These smaller speakers can have main woofers with a diameter ranging from an ultra-compact 3-inch, up to 5-inch, usually with a dome tweeter and some form of porting to enhance bass response.

    Pairing these compact speakers with a small active hi-fi subwoofer will enhance the bass capability significantly without taking up too much room, and is a great option to consider should you prefer a little more low-end to the sound.

  • Medium Rooms (150-300 sq. ft.): Floor-standing speakers or larger bookshelf speakers work well in medium-sized rooms. These speakers can fill the space with rich, dynamic sound.

    Woofer diameters will usually start at 5-inch and can get as large as 12-inch on certain floor standers, though 6-inch or 8-inch is the norm for most hi-fi speakers. These can be 2-way or 3-way designs depending on their physical size and the specific types of drivers they may have. There is no right or wrong, and many high-end speakers are 2-way designs so don't assume that more drivers mean a better sound, as there are many factors involved.

    Placement is important, and using stands with bookshelf speakers will optimise their dynamic response and get them to the correct listening height. Floor speakers should be away from walls and as equally spaced as possible to the main listening position.

    Again, a subwoofer can be added should you prefer that extra bit of low-end reinforcement to your music. While it’s not technically required with larger speakers, the addition of a frequency-adjustable subwoofer allows for much better control over the sound, especially at lower volumes where the natural bass of the main speakers tapers off.

  • Large Rooms (Over 300 sq. ft.): For large rooms, floor-standing speakers are the best choice. Their larger drivers and cabinets can produce powerful sound that fills the room. (pairing with the correct amplifier is hugely important when it comes to overall capability).

    A good pair of tower speakers will generally provide all the bass you would need for music, so you would only need to consider a sub if your main speakers are part of a surround sound setup, or you are a heavy bass lover.

  • Home Parties: Regardless of room size, if you plan to have regular parties with loud music, or you are a home DJ for instance, you may be best to look at party speakers rather than hi-fi designs. While the average tower speaker is more than capable of louder volumes, they are simply not designed to cope with hours of constant high-output and heavy bass, and will usually suffer major damage if used in that way.

    Party speakers bridge the gap between home hi-fi speakers and PA speakers, with tougher components and an emphasis more on outright capability rather than fine sonic detail. They are specifically designed for just this purpose, and can be run from standard hi-fi amplifiers, power amplifiers, or they can be bought as active (powered) versions.

    They have main woofers that range from 8-inch right up to 15-inches, and some even include extras like LED party lighting built-in.

Stereo Sound and Surround Sound

Stereo sound refers to the use of two speakers (a left and right channel split) to create a sense of width and depth in the audio. This is how you listen when using headphones, and is ideal for music listening as it accurately reproduces the spatial characteristics of the recording. Standard hi-fi systems are a stereo setup.

With surround sound, the most common format is what's called 5.1, which is 5 speakers and a subwoofer. The front left and right speakers handle the stereo sound, while a centre speaker and pair of rear speakers handle the vocal and effects channels of a film (if available). This combination ensures that both music and movie soundtracks are reproduced with clarity and depth, making the most of both stereo and surround sound technologies.

A stereo amplifier is not capable of producing a true surround sound effect. For programmed surround sound such as Dolby Digital or DTS you will need a specialist home cinema amplifier which features a multi-channel decoder, and you will also need a multi-channel source signal, which would come from a DVD/Blu-ray or a modern games console. These formats feature audio tracks where vocals and sound effects are sent directly to the specified speaker channels.

Modern Technology Integration

Today's home stereo systems often include advanced technologies that enhance convenience and sound quality. Here are some features to look out for:

  • Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Connectivity: These wireless technologies allow you to stream music from your smartphone, tablet, or computer directly to your stereo system. This eliminates the need for physical connections and makes it easy to enjoy your favourite tunes from any device.

  • Voice Control: Many modern stereo systems are compatible with voice assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. This allows you to control your system using voice commands, making it easier to adjust the volume, change tracks, or switch inputs without lifting a finger.

  • Hi-Res Audio Support: High-resolution audio formats, such as FLAC and DSD, offer superior sound quality compared to standard MP3s. Systems that support these formats can reproduce music with greater detail and accuracy, providing a more immersive listening experience. Streaming services such as Tidal or Apple Music offer Hi-Res, so amplifiers with integrated internet services will allow you to enjoy your music in ‘better than CD’ quality.

  • Internet Radio & DAB+: Taking the place of traditional FM radio, the switch to digital allows for hi-fi quality sound and a huge selection of channels. Many stereo systems now include DAB+ radio or Internet radio services, with each bringing you access to your favourite music or podcasts through your home hi-fi.

  • Multi-Room Audio: Some stereo systems offer multi-room audio capabilities, allowing you to play music in several rooms simultaneously. Multiple streaming amplifiers can be used throughout the house and connected together via an app over your home network. This allows you to play music on each system (living room, kitchen, bedroom etc) but also send the same audio to any or all systems on the network for unified playback.

Tips for Setting Up Your Home Stereo System

Setting up your home stereo system correctly is crucial to achieving the best sound quality. Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Position Your Speakers Properly: The placement of your speakers can significantly impact the sound quality. For stereo systems, position the left and right speakers at an equal distance from your listening position and ideally at ear level, so use stands if necessary.

  • Adjust the Room Acoustics: The acoustics of your room can affect the sound quality of your stereo system. A sparse room with a laminate floor for example is a noisy environment, and your sound system will lean into this and sound overbearing.. Use rugs, curtains, and furniture to reduce reflections and improve acoustic dampening. Additionally, consider using acoustic wall panels to further enhance the sound quality.

  • Use High-Quality Cables: The quality of your cables can drastically affect the sound quality of your stereo system. Invest in high-quality speaker cables and interconnects to ensure that you get the best performance from your system. Keep speaker cables as short as possible for the best results.

  • It’s worth mentioning that wild differences in cost or quality between say speakers and amplifiers is something to avoid. It may seem like common sense, but buying a set of £600 tower speakers and pairing them to a £100 amplifier or a compact kitchen stereo system is not going to get you good results.

    Cheap speakers can be loud, and make plenty of bass if that's all you are looking for. What you pay extra for is fidelity and detail, and the speaker's efficiency dynamics, which must be provided with an amplifier and source signal of equal or better quality in order for them to perform as intended.

    Final Thoughts

    Choosing the right home stereo speakers involves understanding your specific needs, room size, and listening preferences. Whether you opt for compact bookshelf speakers, powerful floor-standing speakers, or an immersive surround sound setup, each type offers unique characteristics.

    By considering factors like speaker size, room acoustics, and pairing speakers to an amplifier or stereo system with modern features, you can create a home audio system that delivers exceptional sound quality and enhances your enjoyment of music, movies, and more.