Welcome to Sound Genetics and our round-up of the best speakers!
My name is Dan Manners and I have been working as a sound technician for a number of years, but have recently branched out to focus on providing speaker and headphone reviews as well as top-notch sound audio advice here at Sound Genetics.
I have done my fair share of travel around the world to some of the most amazing multi-million-dollar studios with the best speakers, consoles, pre-amps and room treatment that money can buy. But, when I got home each night, I simply couldn’t recreate the sound – much to my disappointment! This is where my quest for the best speakers and audio equipment began and it shows no sign of slowing down.
Below, you will find some of my comprehensive buyer guides – created with you, the music enthusiast, in mind. If searching for the best speakers and audio equipment has become a relentless task, look no further!
Choosing the Best Speakers
Buying high-quality sound equipment (best speakers, headphones, monitors, amps etc.) has arguably never been more difficult, whether you are looking for audio ‘at home’, ‘on the go’ or ‘at work’.
Why? Because there are so many choices available across different product lines, brands and price ranges – it can be extremely difficult to understand what you need in the first place let alone managing to pick the right product(s) at the right price!
Product features are getting more sophisticated and playback quality is always improving AND luckily for you, it is now easier than ever to pick up a bargain. But, a bargain shouldn’t mean compromising on quality, of course!
In today’s world, there are a number of important factors to consider when buying audio equipment such as speakers and headphones (price, size, durability, design), all of which are specific to the product in question (we will get onto that later!) but it cannot be doubted that sound quality is the factor that binds it all together, so we will start with that first.
Sound Quality – Some Basics
When it comes to ‘sound quality’ people’s preferences are highly subjective. What sounds fantastic to me, may sound terrible to my best friend. For that reason, it is important that you understand a little bit about sound and what we mean by ‘quality’ (from a technical perspective), before rushing out to buy your new system.
According to research presented at CES by MusicWatch, an estimated 25 million US consumers are willing to pay more for ‘better sound quality’! Music is an art that relies solely on sound and even though sound quality is very subjective it is fundamental to appreciating really good music.
When buying audio equipment, there are a few important factors to consider.
Factors that Influence the Quality of Sound
Sure, it’s hard to pinpoint and it can be highly subjective, but when something truly sounds good , I guarantee everyone in the room will agree.
It all begins with the recording process:
Any piece of music, film soundtrack or audio that you wish to listen to has a whole story behind it’s development. A lot of blood, sweat and tears are poured into the process of making it sound as good as can be, so you, the listener, can enjoy the best possible listening experience.
Professionals spend days (weeks and months!) making sure that every sound recorded and mixed is produced to sound great in the STUDIO ENVIRONMENT. However, when it comes to playing it back through your listening device (‘at home’, ‘on the go’ or ‘at work’), the extent to which the sound is truly depicted will differ across the board. I’m sure you would appreciate hearing audio as its intended to be heard, right? Well, with the right speakers or headphones (which we will help you find), you can.
Whether you have $25 or $1000 to spend, this can be achieved. So, read on.
So, the sound engineers and musicians have done their part in the studio, its now up to your speakers or headphones to do their job properly. To determine whether or not they are up to the job, we need to consider frequency response and impedance.
The first number represents the bass end of the spectrum while the second number represents the treble end…
Music enthusiasts will be more likely to purchase speakers and headphones with the flattest sound signature. This is a balanced sound where frequencies are evenly spread across the entire frequency range.
However, someone who loves EDM, Reggae or Hip-Hop may prefer headphones or speakers with a more prominent bass response.
If the frequency response is higher in the top end of the 20 to 20,000 Hz spectrum and lacking at the bottom end, the sound produced will be sharp and tinny (a little thinner and more distant) and will result in an unsatisfying listening experience.
What is it?
Impedance determines the amount of electrical current that travels through your speakers and headphones. The lower the impedance (measured in ohms & symbolized as Ω), the easier it is for the current to flow through the speaker or headphone cable and the higher the quantity too.
Think of a speaker or headphone as a pipe (and the audio signal as the water flowing through the pipe). The bigger the pipe, the more easily water can flow through it.
Why is it important?
Unfortunately, most headphone and speaker consumers ignore the ‘impedance specification’, but it is probably one of the most important factors to consider. It’s not going to be the end of the world if the impedance is too high or too low for your music player or home amplifier, but you won’t get the best sound quality.
Although it sounds technical, it’s not a complicated concept to grasp when broken down.
What you need to know!
Speakers: the lower the impedance level, the better the quality of sound they are able to produce. But in turn, the amplifier specification you’ll need to produce the sound quality low impedance speakers are capable of will need to be higher. If they allow more power, they’ll need it!
Headphones: a lower impedance level (50 ohm) requires less amplification and will play well at home or on-the-go with your smartphone. The vast majority of consumer headphones are low-impedance designs. High-impedance headphones are better suited for home use. They’ll need to be amplified to offer the quality of sound they are designed to produce.
Car Speakers: 4-ohm speakers are the norm. A 4-ohm impedance allows car audio speakers to pull more power from a low-voltage car audio amp and car audio amps are designed for use with low-impedance speakers. So whack those baby’s up to 11 and enjoy!
Best Speakers and Audio Equipment Based on Your Needs!
I’m sure if you are reading this article, you will have a good idea as to what type of product you are looking for (e.g. bookshelf speaker, computer speaker or headphones). But, understanding this is really just the start. You should also consider other factors like – how often you plan on using the equipment, which will impact the amount that you are prepared to pay. For example, if the speaker is going to be used infrequently for background music when you have guests around the house or you need some headphones for the all-important but infrequent(!) run, then it may not be worth paying a premium. If music is a big part of your life and you plan on using the speakers everyday, then you will probably be willing to pay a little bit more.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Is your new speaker system for background music or for important listening (i.e. part of your job)?
- Will anyone else that you live with benefit from it?
- Would you trade-off sound quality for price?
- Is design important and if so, what type of design do you like?
- Will you be moving the speakers around a lot? (i.e. do they need to be durable?)
These questions are important and your responses will differ depending on the type of speaker / playback equipment you are after, so let’s go through each in turn.
Best Speakers: At Home
Speakers that you are likely to want in or around your house.
Best Computer Speakers
Let’s face it. The computer speakers that are included with desktops, or built into Macs, sound terrible. That may have been fine once upon a time, but today most of us depend on our machines (at least some of the time) for gaming, music or watching high-quality video. There’s no excuse for crappy sound. Thankfully, the best computer speakers on the market can easily take care of that problem, and you don’t have to spend a fortune for them (although you certainly can).
The majority of computer speaker setups will be either 2.0 or 2.1 systems; the “2” refers to the two primary speakers (left and right), while the “.1” refers to a subwoofer which adds bass and fullness to the sound. A 2.1 speaker system will ordinarily sound better than an equivalent 2.0 system, but it’s not required to get a terrific audio experience. If you’ll be using your computer as a primary entertainment center, of course, you can go all the way for 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound. And if you’re an audiophile, you may want high-end studio monitors to attach to your machine. Most people opt for simpler setups, though, so we’ll focus on those in our rankings of the best computer speakers.
- Whether or not to go for a 2.0 or 2.1 system
- Cabinet materials (wood vs. plastic)
- Number and quality of speaker cones
- Power (i.e. performance in the room)
- Bluetooth / AirPlay support
- Design (of course!)
Read our review of the best computer speakers if this type of speaker you are looking for or see our summary below.
Best Bookshelf Speakers
Nearly everyone who has the room and the budget for free-standing front speakers will choose them over bookshelf models, because floor speakers have better bass response (at the very least) and sound more realistic when reproducing movie soundtracks. That doesn’t mean, however, that bookshelf units are a poor choice; far from it. The best bookshelf speakers can deliver clear, detailed sound through high-quality drivers, and when paired with a good subwoofer they can even approach the performance of much more expensive brand name floor speakers. In other words, don’t panic if you can’t afford the free-standing speakers you’ve been drooling over.
There are lots of small, inexpensive speakers that aren’t worth your time when shopping. They include models that are poorly manufactured, ones that use inferior components, or those look as cheap as their price. But there are some truly outstanding bookshelf speakers on the market that can fill a small-to-medium sized room with impressive sound, or perform admirably as satellite speakers in a surround-sound system.
Read our review of the best bookshelf speakers if this is the type of speaker you are looking for or see our summary below.
- Quality of the speakers’ drivers, frequency response
- Power ratings of the units
- Material used to build the cabinets
- Price (obviously!)
Best Speakers: On the Move
Speakers that you are likely to want whilst on the move, including headphones and earbuds(!)
Best Car Speakers
It’s easy to shrug and turn down the volume, thinking “Well, that’s what I get for buying a car with a cheap factory-installed stereo.” It’s a lot more satisfying to fix the problem for good by purchasing and installing a great pair of aftermarket speakers.
It’s not your imagination if you think that all factory-installed speakers are of extremely low quality; almost all of them are. Automakers need to maximize profit and don’t have much to gain by installing premium speakers in their cars, so most buy speakers from foreign manufacturers who use components like paper cones and foam surrounds. It’s no wonder they sound so bad the first time you crank the volume.
The most common car speaker is a set of coaxial speakers, the ones we’re most familiar with. The woofer and tweeter (and occasionally other drivers) are contained within a single, easy-to-install unit that usually only requires a one-to-one swap with the existing speakers. They’re much less expensive than component speakers, and the best coaxial car speakers deliver audio with startlingly good quality. (Yes, factory-installed speakers are also coaxials, but very poorly-manufactured ones.)
Read our review of the best car speakers if this is type of speaker you are looking for or see our summary below.
Establish a Budget – Buy the Best Speakers that Will Blow Your Mind…Not Your Budget!
The above should have got you thinking about budget. If it is for important listening, friends and family will benefit and you are not willing to substitute sound quality for price, then you may want to pay a little bit more. It’s clearly an investment that means a lot to you and so you can justify the higher price point. Alternatively, if you wish to spend a little bit less, that is fine. With good research, it can be easy to buy great products on a budget. Whatever your choose budget wise, you can be certain that there is a product that will meet your wants, needs and your price tag!
Select Where To Shop for a System
The choice of where to buy sound equipment has changed rapidly over the last 10 years or so, we now have retailers, audio specialists, custom installers as well as the proliferation of online retailers and e-commerce stores. It goes without saying that it is important to compare products, service and prices across the different channels before you buy. Generally, retailers (both offline and online) sell the best brands. But, offline retailers offer demonstration facilities which can be useful but they will often have higher prices! Our personal recommendation is Amazon if you want to get the best price and fast delivery! Less reputable online retailers have been known to void a warranty if you buy their products from unauthorized websites.
Research and Read Reviews!
Probably the most important part of the process, it is critical to read up on different products in order to way of features, price and whether it is going to be a good fit for your specific needs. As discussed above, this is our specialty and we have done a lot of this for you…