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Home Audio Buying Guide

So far as you will not use your television as the only audio source in your living room, there are a number of good options on the market that can suit your requirements. This buying guide will outline the basics you need to know.


Types of Home Audio Systems


Soundbars

A Soundbar is a quick way to set up a good sound system in your home. It is a single, thin but wide unit containing several speakers, about two to five speakers. Sizes range from 30-40 inches and more. Soundbars are either placed on a surface or wall mounted, depending on the model. Some soundbars require wired inputs like HDMI, while others can be connected wirelessly using bluetooth for instance. A soundbar may also be packaged with a subwoofer. Other soundbars are referred to as soundbases. Soundbases are designed for a TV to stand on. A soundbase is usually bigger, so would usually produced better acoustics than other soundbars packaged without a subwoofer.


Home Theater in a Box (HTIB)

A Home Theater in a Box (HTIB) is a bundled home theatre system usually comprising a DVD or Blu-ray player, a radio tuner, a sound amplifier, a set of speakers (5 or more), a remote, a subwoofer and connection cables. Some HTIB model have wireless surround sound speakers.


Do-it-Yourself Audio System

Another route for setting up your home audio system is to build it from scratch. This would involve pairing an AV receiver with appropriate speakers and maybe a Blu-ray player. You could also add a tuner If your AV receiver doesn't have one. These systems may be the most complex way to set up home audio but they are also the most flexible route. You can set up the best sound quality, given your budget, when you take the pains to do it yourself.


Features to look out for in a Home Audio


Stereo & Surround Sound

A stereophonic sound (aka stereo) system reproduces sound that creates an impression that the sound is coming from more than one direction. Stereo systems include two-channel systems (sound perceived left, center and right) and surround sound systems. Sound sound systems reproduce sound effects 360 degrees, horizontally, around the listener. Common configuration for a surround sound system are 5.1 and 7.1 setups. A 5.1 configuration includes 3 front speakers, two back speaker and 1 subwoofer. For a 7.1 configuration 1 centre-left and 1 centre-right speaker is add to the 5.1 setup scenario. Additionally, Dolby Atmos is a new audio format for giving video sound a more 3-dimensional effect. Unlike a traditional 5.1 and 7.1 setups which horizontally reproduces sound around you, Dolby Atmos audio systems give a "height" layer of sound. This effect is such that, when watching a video of an airplane taking-off, you will hear the engine sound above your head.


Movies or Music

Your home audio system works best when it's tuned to suit your preference. Music and movies have different sound requirements. For occasional movie or music lovers, a good soundbar would be enough to get good home audio. With people who primarily listen to music with their home audio system, a good pair of stereophonic speakers would work for you. If you have a 4 or more speaker-setup, ensure your front-left and front-right speakers are of good quality. Some high quality soundbars can also get the job done. Primary movie watchers should get a good quality surround system. Have the speaker properly positioned depending on the configuration (eg. 5.1 or 7.1 configuration)


Room Setup

Before you install an audio system you need to confirm if the system would be appropriate for your room setup. Generally, small speakers are less immersive in large rooms. Larger speakers in small room can overload the space with bass. Also, a smaller room makes it more difficult to properly place 5.1 or a 7.1 speaker systems. This is usually the case when the your sofa is set up against the wall.


Audio Power

The amount of audio signals transferred from an amplifier to a speaker is measured in watts. The actual level of sound that comes of the speaker depends on the speaker's sensitivity. Speaker sensitivity is the "loudness" of a speaker per watt. It is measured in decibels. The more sound you need the more wattage you need in an amplifier. A bass-based system like a subwoofer would need more wattage to produce a higher quality bass sound. Also, a more sensitive speaker can bring out more sound out of a low wattage amplifier.


Other Home Audio terms Explained


Amplifier

An audio power amplifier is a device that increases the volume of audio signals to a level that can be heard through a speaker. A signal of 100 microwatts can be amplified 100 thousand times more before passing through your speakers.


AV Receiver

An Audio/Video Receiver is used in a home theatre setup. It receives audio and video input from devices such as televisions, Blu-ray players and game consoles. An AV Receiver would process the input and and pass it as output to a pair of speaker, a projector or a television.


Subwoofer

A Subwoofer is a speaker that outputs low-pitched audio frequencies (aka Bass). A subwoofer gives the "boom" sound effect in explosive video scenes. For consumer-grade products, a subwoofer output range is between 20-200 Hertz.


Hi-Fi Systems

A high fidelity (hi-fi) system is a sound reproduction system that is tuned to play back sound that resembles the original sound. Hi-Fi systems produce minimal amount of noise and sound distortions.


What’s your Budget

A cheap soundbar can cost as much as a cheap home theatre in a box (HTIB). Other higher-end soundbars and HTIB systems can cost 5 times as much. Do-It-Yourself Systems will cost as much as the quality and quantity of components you need.