Buying loudspeakers



Let us pretend you have a high end system that you would like to replace. Of course you would set a budget for yourself, how much you would like to spend. The old speakers you got from your older brother or came with the complete midi-set doesn't seem to sound satisfying anymore. Not mention the awful looks!

Almost everybody has been impressed once, in their lives by hearing some speakers in a hifi shop or maybe at some friends house. It happened to me too. Like twenty years ago ,a friend played with some KEF C60 loudspeakers. It blew me away! And that is something you never forget. I couldn't put it out of my head!! When he decided to built his own speakers ( also KEF ) I took my chance and bought the C60's.

For me thats how I got infected by the so called 'hifi virus' . I made a huge leap in sound quality. And I got it for not too much money, so that gives you an extra motivation to go on with the quest for good and cheap audio! Of course there are many respected loudspeakers builders in the world, I could make a list of what I think are good speakers, but then we are talking about my kind of 'taste', which doesn't have to be your cup of tea. Of course, there will be some brands I will mention, but then more as in example of my own experiences.

Types of loudspeakers

There are many types of loudspeakers nowadays. Closed cabinet, open cabinet ( bass reflex ) open baffle speakers, monitor speakers, electrostatic and magnetostatic speakers and so on.... The most common are the closed and open cabinet speakers . So, lets first focus on these types.

There are so called floorstanding speakers and types that need a stand. Those are a must for the monitor speakers! Put those on the floor and you get a horrible sound! Use some good stands ! Some you can even fill up with sand to make the base more solid. And with that, its recommended you use some spikes, to get a more tighter bass and enhanced mid and upper range.

The big advantage you get from little speakers is that the soundstage can be really great! Simply , because their size don´t limit themselves! You get less difractions from the baffle. And sadly they have a disavantage as well. Namely, the lower range ( bass ) doesn't go very low and deep. Most monitor speakers use a bassreflex to compensate this issue. ( more about bass-reflex systems in later items ) But you will never squeeze the lowest frequencies out of those little boxes.

Of course, it doesn't have to be a big problem, but if you like to listen to organ music it will be a mistake to buy them. However, when you do not fancy big speakers in your livingroom and you like to listen to classical or jazz, it can be something you are looking for!

Ok, when you looking for deeper bass, some floorstanders could do the job for you. Although, good bass extension is not automaticly delivered from bigger speakers. There are lots of order factors that influences this, like the livingroom, the position of the speakers, your amplifier etc. So, you might hear or read a lot of technical stuff in your search for a pair of loudspeakers. Most likely , Watts, sensitvity ( decibel ) ohm ( resistance ), two way, three way, woofers, tweeters etc.

The amount of watts is something ( mis ) used often by advertisments, or by the sales people who want to impress you by amazing figures. Let me bust this myth for once and for all! Watts doesn't tell you anything about the sound quality. It only says , how many power it can handle from your amplifier for a very short moment.

This is in theory, because in real life you will hardly exceed 10 watts!! Play louder and you can be sure you will ruin your relationship with your neighbours! The sensivity of your speakers say a lot more about the amount of noise your speakers can make. Often described as DB ( decibel ) tells you how much power you need to put in your speakers to get it going. Mostly measured using 1 watt and 2,83 Volts at 1 meter distance with a microphone.

The outcome of that is measured in decibels. Let's say your speakers are 90DB, its not a very difficult speaker to drive. However, when they are 83 db , you need a beefy amplifier to get them alive! Luckily nowadays, speakers are not that power hungry , but when you want some electrostatic loudspeakers you can be sure they are far from sensitive!

To give you an example: You need to have twice as much power ( Watts ) from your amplifier to get the same amount of decibels when there is 3db of difference! That means that speakers from 87db need double the Watts from an amplifier, comparising with 90db speakers to get the same level of sound pressure or in most cases....the music. But remember, the amount of db doesn't say anything about the quality of the speakers, but it can tell you something if it will match with your amplifier.

So, what about ohm, or the resistance of the speakers ? Most speakers are 4 or 8 ohm. Although, this is never a steady figure. It is an average, because it will fluctuate during the frequenties ( Hertz ) Some 8 ohm speakers go even below 4 ohm ( mostly in low frequenties ) When you read the specs of your amplifier you mostly read how much power it will deliver at 8 ohm and 4 ohm. In ideal situations it will double its powerrate, when when you go from 8 to 4 ohm and from 4 to 2 ohm etc. however this is mostly not the case. Some manufacturies ( Krell, Mark Levinson etc. ) manage to do it, but they come with a pricetag.

So, what's better? 8 or 4 ohm? Neither, just make sure your speakers get along with your amp in this matter. When loudspeakers decrease untill 2 ohm or less, you need an amp who can deliver lots of current. The amount of Watts are of minor importance in this case.

Some speakers use two units, some three, four etc. Also called; 2 way, 3 way, 4 way loudspeakers. What is the best? The more the better? No, it doesn't work that way! It is more difficult to built a good 3 way speaker than a 2 way. It's filter is more complex. So, my advice is not to pay too much attention on how many units the speakers has before buying them.

To bi or not not bi-wire? Some speakers have bi-wire terminals to allow you to use seperate cables for the high and the low frequenties. Also in this, it is not a guarantee that it will sound better. Some highly respected speaker manufactures ( like Dynaudio ) don't believe in this at all and only offer single wire terminal speakers.

I am not a believer or a non-believer and I think you should just try . If it makes a difference for you, it is totally worth to experiment. If you have loudspeakers with bi-wire terminals and you use single wires, it is better to replace the standard jumpers. They are mostly made of cheap metal ,which is of course not good for transfer signals.

Once you bought your favourite pair of speakers, don't just place them on the floor. It would be really a waste not to use so called 'spikes' to decouple them from the floor. You will experience much better and tighter bass and enhanced mid and upper range when using spikes. I use so called super spikes from Soundcare myself under my Linn speakers. They are not the cheapest, but the design is very clever and they really make a difference. So in my opinion, worth every euro or penny. Highly recommended!

Watts & Bass

Ok, when you looking for deeper bass, some floorstanders could do the job for you. Although, good bass extension is not automaticly delivered from bigger speakers. There are lots of order factors that influences this, like the livingroom, the position of the speakers, your amplifier etc. So, you might hear or read a lot of technical stuff in your search for a pair of loudspeakers. Most likely , Watts, sensitvity ( decibel ) ohm ( resistance ), two way, three way, woofers, tweeters etc.

The amount of watts is something ( mis ) used often by advertisments, or by the sales people who want to impress you by amazing figures. Let me bust this myth for once and for all! Watts doesn't tell you anything about the sound quality. It only says , how many power it can handle from your amplifier for a very short moment.

This is in theory, because in real life you will hardly exceed 10 watts!! Play louder and you can be sure you will ruin your relationship with your neighbours! The sensivity of your speakers say a lot more about the amount of noise your speakers can make. Often described as DB ( decibel ) tells you how much power you need to put in your speakers to get it going. Mostly measured using 1 watt and 2,83 Volts at 1 meter distance with a microphone.

The outcome of that is measured in decibels. Let's say your speakers are 90DB, its not a very difficult speaker to drive. However, when they are 83 db , you need a beefy amplifier to get them alive! Luckily nowadays, speakers are not that power hungry , but when you want some electrostatic loudspeakers you can be sure they are far from sensitive!

To give you an example: You need to have twice as much power ( Watts ) from your amplifier to get the same amount of decibels when there is 3db of difference! That means that speakers from 87db need double the Watts from an amplifier, comparising with 90db speakers to get the same level of sound pressure or in most cases....the music. But remember, the amount of db doesn't say anything about the quality of the speakers, but it can tell you something if it will match with your amplifier.

So, what about ohm, or the resistance of the speakers ? Most speakers are 4 or 8 ohm. Although, this is never a steady figure. It is an average, because it will fluctuate during the frequenties ( Hertz ) Some 8 ohm speakers go even below 4 ohm ( mostly in low frequenties ) When you read the specs of your amplifier you mostly read how much power it will deliver at 8 ohm and 4 ohm. In ideal situations it will double its powerrate, when when you go from 8 to 4 ohm and from 4 to 2 ohm etc. however this is mostly not the case. Some manufacturies ( Krell, Mark Levinson etc. ) manage to do it, but they come with a pricetag.

So, what's better? 8 or 4 ohm? Neither, just make sure your speakers get along with your amp in this matter. When loudspeakers decrease untill 2 ohm or less, you need an amp who can deliver lots of current. The amount of Watts are of minor importance in this case.

Some speakers use two units, some three, four etc. Also called; 2 way, 3 way, 4 way loudspeakers. What is the best? The more the better? No, it doesn't work that way! It is more difficult to built a good 3 way speaker than a 2 way. It's filter is more complex. So, my advice is not to pay too much attention on how many units the speakers has before buying them.

Bi-wire



To bi or not not bi-wire? Some speakers have bi-wire terminals to allow you to use seperate cables for the high and the low frequenties. Also in this, it is not a guarantee that it will sound better. Some highly respected speaker manufactures ( like Dynaudio ) don't believe in this at all and only offer single wire terminal speakers.

I am not a believer or a non-believer and I think you should just try . If it makes a difference for you, it is totally worth to experiment. If you have loudspeakers with bi-wire terminals and you use single wires, it is better to replace the standard jumpers. They are mostly made of cheap metal ,which is of course not good for transfer signals.

Once you bought your favourite pair of speakers, don't just place them on the floor. It would be really a waste not to use so called 'spikes' to decouple them from the floor. You will experience much better and tighter bass and enhanced mid and upper range when using spikes. I use so called super spikes from Soundcare myself under my Linn speakers. They are not the cheapest, but the design is very clever and they really make a difference. So in my opinion, worth every euro or penny. Highly recommended!


Click for more info about Soundcare superspikes