Speakers, Sound Bars and Sub-woofers

Often times, people will ask about the differences in speaker types and wonder what makes some speakers better than others. In my experience, the simplest method of judging speaker quality is observing the crossover network. The crossover network is the part of the speaker which makes the appropriate sound frequencies go to the correct component: woofer, mid-range, or tweeter. Most good speakers which are less than $2000 a pair will be of a two way design having a woofer/mid-range and a tweeter. Poorly made speakers usually have only one or two of the parts which make up the crossover. Good speakers will have around 6-8 parts mounted on a printed circuit board and not simply hanging on the driver components like lesser quality speakers. This component is very easy to inspect on “in-wall” or ceiling speakers prior to installation or while shopping. It is much more difficult on box speakers (bookshelf, micro speakers or floor standing) as generally the entire woofer element must be removed to see inside the box for evaluation of the number of components being used.
In general, you can classify good quality speakers in 3 different sound groups. First, there is the extremely forward live sounding speakers which will play very loud due to the horns. This happens because, unlike a normal dynamic speaker, it uses a horn in front of the diaphragm to direct the sound to the listener or in a certain pattern. Often times pro speakers’ model numbers will reflect the pattern in degrees of dispersion, both horizontal and vertical. The best of these kinds of speakers is the JBL Pro Speaker from the Portable Sound Series. Poor quality speakers of this type will bite your head off with their piercing hot spots in the frequencies we hear.
On the other end of the spectrum are the very soft speakers most notable are the English speakers brands and most notable amongst them are KEF and B&W. These speakers have fabulous detail and will present the sound in a very 3 dimensional sound stage, allowing the sound to “step out of the box.” Many people listen to these speakers and think they are boring because they do not have that live sort of sound. However if you want to be a true listener, these type are very easy to listen to and, played at very low volumes, will sound the best.
Now for the third type, which is harder to put your finger or ear on- as they will be in the middle of the two types mentioned above. These speakers will portray sound in a half-dynamic, half-dimensional sort of fashion. Most speaker brands we know will fit into this category.
Klipsh, which had built its reputation on the horn-loaded live, loud, loudspeakers, has now decided that the bulk of their speakers will be more reserved and fit into this category.
I hate to throw any one brand under the bus, but here it goes… Bose, who many people think builds high quality speakers, is a very poorly built product with very dry sounding speakers which will neither excite nor delight the listener. These overpriced speakers are best left on the retailers’ shelves.
Soundbars are a neat new way to get a better sound from your TV. There are generally two types- passive, meaning that an external amp or surround receiver powers them; or active, which means they have a built-in amp. Those with built-in amps are generally what you see when you go out looking for sound bars. The manufacturers have set the gain on these soundbars generally where you can run them at full volume and not be very loud. This can be a problem if you want to use them to augment the sound for a conference room or in a loud environment, as they will not play even moderately loud.
Here is the last word on soundbars, on new TV’s and surround receivers, most all new products employ a feature called ARC- which stands for Audio Return Channel. This feature, which is universal amongst all manufacturers (all brands work together) allows for two great features. If you have a simple TV with soundbar and you have plugged in your cable/Sat and or Blu-ray/DVD or any other play device directly into TV inputs, the sound will be exported through the ARC to the sound bar and the TV’s volume control will run the soundbar’s level of volume. If you have a surround sound system, the ARC will control the volume of the surround receiver even if the receiver is located out of sight.
Now a word or two on equalization. Thankfully, equalizers have all but disappeared from good quality consumer equipment. In the old days, people would have their equalizers set with a big smiley face, the level controls adding a lot of bass and a lot of treble, effectively muting the midrange. If you have an equalizer and it looks like Jim Carrey’s mouth, do yourself a favor and press the “bypass button.”
Imagine if you took a pair of concert speakers and you used them in your home-
Now imagine a pair of English high detail speakers and attempted to use them for a concert.
Now you know all there is to know about speakers!