Now hear this… How to audition speakers

You can often get away with choosing the DVD player, home theatre receiver, and much of the other equipment for a home theatre system from the published specifications and reviews. But that simply doesn’t work for loudspeakers.

There’s a good reason why you shouldn’t choose loudspeakers based on what’s written in a brochure, and it’s because they are the most intensely personal part of any home theatre system selection. They will have more effect upon the sound quality of your system than any of the other components, largely because loudspeakers are far more imperfect than the rest of your system.

Converting the electrical energy produced by your home theatre receiver into acoustic energy perceivable by your ears is a very hard task. Consequently, marked inaccuracies creep into loudspeaker performance. That’s not to say that most loudspeakers sound bad, but it’s just that they are not as ‘good’ as, say, amplifiers.

In addition, achieving high levels of performance in one characteristic may come at the cost of reduced performance in another. A great sounding loudspeaker might have low impedance, so that it will only work well with the very best (read: expensive) home theatre receivers. Another might be highly sensitive, producing a lot of sound for a modest power input, yet in achieving that may be less than neutral in its tonal balance.

So you can have two loudspeakers from reputable brands that cost the same, are equally well regarded in the high fidelity community, yet sound very different to each other.

And then, to complicate matters, there is your listening room. Loudspeakers do not operate in isolation; their performance is intimately associated with the dimensions of the room in which they are placed, and their location within it.

So let us see what you should look, or rather, listen for when you are buying loudspeakers.