The loudspeaker system is the most personal part of any HD setup

The loudspeaker system is the interface between you and the rest of the system – and consequently among its most important parts. The loudspeaker does the hardest job of any item in a home theatre system: it converts an electrical signal into vibrating pressure waves in the air, and this is inherently a very difficult thing to do accurately. Consequently of all the parts of a home theatre system, one brand or model of loudspeaker will sound far more different to another brand or model than is likely to be the case with the home theatre receiver or source device.

That means that picking the right loudspeakers will often be the most important part of making your system sound the way you want it to. There are three main ways to approach this, with the options for surround sound being a:

  • Surround speaker package
  • Home theatre in a box
  • Soundbar

The first describes a full set of specialised surround loudspeakers, while ‘home theatre in a box’ refers to a set of speakers packaged with a home theatre receiver (and sometimes with a built-in DVD player). The last uses some of the advances of modern technology to deliver surround sound into your room without a need for the full set of loudspeakers. We shall deal with all these options in the next three chapters.

Achieving balance

One thing you may have noticed missing from those three is a set of surround loudspeakers assembled item by separate item. This kind of system is possible, but we recommend against it. The reason is balance. Just as we believe your sound system should be balanced in price, performance and ‘size’ with your video display system, so we think that the speakers should be balanced with each other.

To put that another way, in order to get the best surround performance all your loudspeakers need to be tonally balanced against each other. If they aren’t, then the surround sound will be far from convincing. The easiest way to achieve this balance is to assemble a set of loudspeakers from a specific range provided by single reputable manufacturer. These will have all been designed to provide similar tonal characteristics, and thus excellent surround sound.

Space, numbers and looks

Beyond that, and making a final choice as to sound quality (see ‘The Audition’), there is a wide range of things that you may want to take into account.