Want sound advice that’s sweet music to your ears when you’re buying an audio system? With the myriad options available, buying a sound system can be a daunting process. But the choices can be divided into four categories: component systems: computer-derived audio: one-brand systems; and portable units. Follow our guide to find the best option for you.
20. Expensive audio systems sound best because they combine the pick of electronics, amplifiers, speakers and CD players money can buy. For a music system, you’ll need to spend around $1500 or so; for a surround-sound home theater, you’ll need between $2500 and $3000.
19.To assemble the best component unit, you’ll need a retailer who’ll listen to your needs and tailor suggestions accordingly. You should be asked about room size and what you’ll be using the system for. Listen and learn, and, by the time you’ve visited three retailers, you’ll be well-placed to make a decision.
18. You don’t need any special training to pick quality sound. But there are tricks you can use to detect the best sound for you. And that includes testing components with your own music, stuff that you know well that covers the full range of sound, and listening to components back to back for ease of comparison. Close your eyes for greater concentration-you’ll be amazed at the differences you’ll hear.
17. If you’re upgrading your computer, think about adding media components that are compatible with your home entertainment unit. With the right parts, your computer could channel music, movies and games to other rooms, and even record TV programs.
16. Stop the remote controls for your various components causing clutter by getting a single, programmable remote to govern them all. Good ones cost about $200.
15. The iPod may have taken the world by storm, but there are other systems that are worth exploring, including those by Sony (especially its units with ATRAC3 compression software), Creative (which offers several models, at competitive prices), [river and Rio.
14. Ensure your computer will support what you’re buying. You’ll have problems, for instance, if you’re still running Windows 98 and your hard drive is nearly full, A broadband internet connection is also an advantage.
13.Flash-memory chips have benefits over hard disks. If you plan to use your MP3 player while jogging or at the gym, make sure you opt for one with a flash-memory chip they’re more robust and aren’t easily upset by sharp movements. Even better, they’re much cheaper to buy.
12. The number-one problem with digital portables is the reliability of their rechargeable batteries. Some have problems holding a charge after a period of time, while others have problems recharging. Be sure to check the battery instructions of the systems you’re looking at before making your decision. Many internal rechargeable batteries, including those used in iPods and Sonys, can only be replaced by a technician, so a player with a battery that’s easily removed and replaced could be an attractive option for many.
11. Digital portables are often quite fragile-your mobile phone may keep working after being dropped, but your digital portable probably won’t. Take care of it, especially around water. Portables are also notorious for sustaining scratches, so protective skins that can be bought aftermarket are definitely worth a thought.
"Building your ideal sound system often involves bringing disparate components together, which doesn't always equate to nicer looking unit. One solution is to keep your sound equipment behind closed doors. If you take this option, just be sure to provide space for air to flow around each piece, otherwise they may overheat. The beauty if this arrangement is that you can also position a hole at the back of the entertainment unit to keep cables tidy and out of sight."
10. Most people spend between $250 and $300 on this style of music unit, and between $500 and $700 on surround-sound home entertainment styles. Again, listen to as many of what you’re after as possible, because sound quality between these kind of systems varies markedly. And, remember, while movies sound best in surround sound, music still sounds best from a conventional stereo.
9. Tiny, less-powerful systems are for small rooms only. This is because most can’t achieve high volume levels without distorting sound badly. Check this by turning the volume up high during a loud passage, ideally with lots of bass. If the bass is furry and muddled and the high notes brittle, move on. Not surprisingly, more expensive systems from specialist brands such as Harman/Kardon, Denon and Jamo give the best results.
8. Some home theater units have ‘wireless’ rear speakers to avoid speaker cables snaking across the floor. But they’re not really wireless-they have power cords.
7. Many systems are based around milk-carton-sized speakers. These may be attractive, but they usually can’t match larger speakers for sound quality and are especially weak mid-range, where most voices and instruments spend the bulk of their time.
6. Check features carefully, as they vary widely. You may not need a cassette deck, but headphones would be nice. Lots of systems aren’t MP3 compatible, while some have USB ports for plugging in digital portables. Also, check if you can run your computer and TV audio through the system you like, if you’re keen on enhancing their sound.
5. Huge differences in sound quality can be found among the portable stereos available on the market. It’s critical to listen to as many as you can before making your decision on which one to buy. In particular, test each unit’s volume-many don’t play very loudly, and, at maximum volume, can distort music horribly.
4. Some portables have detachable speakers. The beauty of them is that you can achieve a more detailed stereo sound than you otherwise would without the ability to separate the left and right speakers.
3. Make sure you go for a combination of features that suits your needs. Some come without remote controls; others without earphones. Some play DVDs as well as CDs, but won’t play DVD audio discs. Many aren’t MP3 compatible. Make a list of what you want.
2.Claims made about volume and bass enhancements are usually a lot of hot air. So believe what your hear from experimentation only. Also, check the build quality of each system you’re looking at, because some are really quite poorly made. Most importantly, examine controls and get a feel for how strong they are, test the stability of the disc trays and doors, look at the amount of information that will be provided by the display, weigh up what best suits you, and be sure to check for a warranty.
1. Portables needn’t look cheap. A number of brands, including Bang & Olufsen, Bose and Tivoli Audio, have good-looking units that can be moved from room to room without detracting from the ambience. I like the Oregon Scientific Music Sphere ($299, above), which consists of a base station that transmits music to a remote receiver/speaker.
An article published for Mr, Travis Quinton, a sound expert who writes for The City Web Guide Magazine.