Ultimate Guide to Speakers

Speakers are used in many different situations, such as when watching movies, playing music for events and special occasions, playing games, and for other scenarios wherein you want the sound to be louder so that everyone in the venue can hear it. A loudspeaker converts electrical AC waveforms into moving air, enabling us to hear them. It is like allowing people to hear electricity. 

Originally, speakers are used to hearing speech, popularly in the first telephones. Later on, they started being used for music reproduction. The first use of a speaker was in 1861 by Johann Reis. However, it took a while until 1924 for it to develop into a proper dynamic moving coil speaker that we know today. You can read The History of the Speaker to learn more about its origins.

Over the years, many technologies have emerged, and all of them convert electrical signals into moving air. Some of the main ones include moving coil, capacitive, electrostatic, plasma, and ribbon. Among those, moving coil is the most common. If you want to learn more about them, read on as we’re giving you the ultimate guide to speakers.

How Does a Speaker Works?

stereo speakers

The principle behind a speaker is quite simple. Through a coil of wire, an electrical signal will create a magnetic field of a direction that changes with the divergence of the AC signal. If the coil is in an immovable, permanent magnetic field, the magnets will deter each other when the poles are the same and will attract each other if they are different. With this, the coil moves in and out in sympathy with the AC signal. 

When you attach a befittingly shaped lightweight object like a paper cone, it will move with the coil and cause the air in front and behind it to move in and out. The moving air will then reach the eardrums, letting people hear it as a sound. 

However, no matter how simple it may seem, there are still obstacles that needed to be solved before speakers get too Hi-Fi. First, as the air gets pushed forward from the front of the cone, the air at the back is sucked in, making the air want to rush around from the front to the back. This will lead to a short air circuit. This depends on the wavelength of the signal and leads to the bass or low-frequency end being lost. To prevent this, the speaker is placed in a box. 

But when the speaker is in a box, it will have its own resonant frequency and will begin to boom on a certain note. Aside from that, the air in the box will need to compress, which will then reduce the efficiency of the speaker. This is why speakers are never used on their own. They are always used as a part of a system, which usually has several different sized speakers to deal with various frequency ranges. Due to the physical size, the mass of the cone, and the volume of the box that affects the frequency range of a speaker, a Hi-Fi system will create the load into three to four bands, such as subwoofer, woofer, mid-range, and tweeter. To learn more about this, you can read our article, A Guide to Hi-Fi Loudspeakers.

The Different Types of Speakers

If you are looking into buying speakers, there are many different options available, depending on your needs. To give you some ideas, here are the different types of speakers:

Tower or Floor-Standing Speakers

a wooden floor standing speaker

These speakers are placed on the floor and are often found in homes. They usually stretch three to four feet off the ground. The size of the speaker has little to no connection with sound quality, but large speakers are usually louder. In addition to that, they are also better equipped to create more bass since it is easier to produce low frequencies with larger cones. Tower or floor standing speakers are perfect for large spaces. They are also often used in surround systems, acting as the front left and right speakers.

Bookshelf Speakers

white bookshelf speakers

These are great alternatives to floor-standing speakers, especially if you have a smaller space. Bookshelf speakers are smaller and often equipped with a tweeter and a woofer or a mid-range driver. There are also three-way bookshelf speakers that include all of these drivers. You can place these speakers on a bookshelf, but they can also be placed on a speaker stand for higher-quality sound. This type of speaker can also work well for a stereo sound setup and as well as for surround sound systems. You can learn more about this by reading our Guide to Bookshelf Speakers.

Surround Speakers or Satellite Speakers

This type of speaker is designed to be placed behind or off to the sides of the listening area. It is like a smaller bookshelf speaker, and it has two cones, a tweeter, and a mid-range driver or woofer. These speakers are usually used to complement additional speakers. They are often mounted to the ceiling or wall to avoid running cables everywhere. 

Center-Channel Speakers

These are an important part of virtually all surround sound setups. These speakers live between the front left and right speakers. In home theaters, they are usually placed below the screen. These speakers specialize in mid-range frequencies. They are responsible for producing the majority of the dialogue when you watch a movie. 

Subwoofers

Subwoofers are needed for you to enjoy deep, rich bass notes. They are powered, or they contain a built-in amplifier and a crossover network that enables you to adjust the sub’s upper-frequency response to mix in with your main speakers effectively. 

Soundbars

a soundbar in front of a TV

The easiest way to improve the sound or audio quality of your television is by using soundbars. It is very easy to install a soundbar. You just need to plug it onto a power cord in your wall outlet or surge protector and connect it to your TV via an HDMI or audio cable. You can learn more about them by reading our Guide to Sound Bars.

Built-In Speakers

These speakers will enable you to enjoy high-quality audio at home without cluttering your space. These are concealed within the ceiling or wall and come with a front panel or grill. Built-in speakers are usually less expensive compared to satellite or bookshelf speakers. But having them installed by professionals may cost more compared to other types of speakers.

Outdoor Speakers

Outdoor speakers are created to survive the elements outside of your home. These will enable you to enjoy your favorite music while having an outdoor barbecue, doing yard work, and more. There are even outdoor speakers that hide in plain sight and are designed to look like rocks or lawn ornaments. You can read our list of the Best Outdoor Rock Speakers to learn more about them.

Smart Speakers

a white smart speaker

These are something that could bring quality audio into any room in your house. You just need to plug them in and connect them to your home network. From there, you can control them using an app on your phone or via voice commands to play music from all streaming services online. 

Portable Speakers

a small portable speaker

Portable Bluetooth speakers are great if you want quality audio when you are traveling. These are small speakers that can fit in your pocket, but there are also larger ones. If you are spending time at the beach or on the water, you can also find waterproof models. You can check out these links for more options:

Things to Consider When Buying Speakers

different speakers

To be able to find the best speakers for your needs, there are important factors that you need to look into. Here are some of them:

  • Price: When you want to buy speakers, it is essential to budget for the speakers, amplification, wiring, and as well as their installation. Some speakers, such as bookshelf-sized ones, only cost a few hundred dollars. But other types of speakers can cost thousands, depending on the features that they offer. Choose the speakers that will cater to your needs and as well as match your budget.
  • Frequency Response: This is a measurement of how wide a selection of sounds a speaker can produce. The lower the number, the lower the tone, and vice versa. But keep in mind that just because a speaker can cover a given range does not mean it can give quality sound for every frequency. It is still better to test the unit first. 
  • Sensitivity: This is a measure of the speaker’s efficiency. Speakers that are highly sensitive output higher volumes at a given voltage. Try to get speakers with an efficiency of at least 86dB, but 88 dB or higher is better. 
  • Placement: Another factor you need to consider is the spot where you will put the speakers. Even if you buy speakers that have high-frequency sounds in all directions, if you place them close to a wall or corner, the lower frequencies will bounce off the wall and cause the audio to sound low quality. Therefore, try to place it on a rigid surface to prevent vibrations from weakening the sound quality. 
  • Power Handling: This factor tells you how much power the speakers can take without damage. If it is rated at 100 watts maximum, you should not worry too much if you own a 200-watt-per-channel amplifier. It’s because chances are you won’t put that much power into the speakers. Loudspeakers are usually damaged by using too small an amplifier and driving it to distortion levels. 
  • Impedance: This pertains to the resistance that an amplifier will encounter when trying to drive a given speaker. Most loudspeakers today are rated at 8 ohms. But the impedance of a loudspeaker varies depending on its frequency. Try to look for speakers with a nominal 8-ohm impedance even though the majority of amplifiers can easily handle a 6-ohm load.

Conclusion

Owning a speaker or a pair of speakers is indeed great, especially if you want to improve the audio of your devices such as television and computers. To be able to find the best one, you first need to think about how and where you will use them and then choose among the different types of speakers in the market. We hope this guide helped you learn more about speakers. For more related articles, you can click on the links below: