The loudspeakers are the most personal choice in the whole system
There is a wider range of choice in your selection of loudspeakers than there is for any other part of your home theatre system. You can choose big or small, few or many, inexpensive or high-end. Above all, you can choose the sound, for the loudspeakers of any system define, more than any other part of it, how the whole system sounds.
The first choice is size. An essential part of a home theatre speaker system is a subwoofer. This is required for the ‘low frequency effects’ channel – dinosaur footsteps, explosions – on DVD and Blu-ray, even if the rest of your speakers are large. But if any of them are small, then the subwoofer handles the bass for them as well, because small speakers cannot produce good, loud bass.
Small, medium, large
In fact, even some very expensive speaker systems are so-called ‘subwoofer/satellite’ systems, where the five speakers are tiny and the subwoofer has to carry all the bass. Now you may wonder at this point, if we need five speakers to make movie sounds seem to be coming from a particular direction, how can we get away with just one subwoofer. As it happens, our ears can’t tell which direction bass is coming from, so one does the job nicely.
One of the most common configurations for separate home theatre systems is to have two floorstanding stereo loudspeakers, plus a smaller dedicated centre channel and two surround channel speakers. The last three are generally a bit too small to do top-notch bass, so the subwoofer handles that for them.
This is a wise choice especially for those who are just as keen on music listening as on HDTV watching. For CDs you can use just the two main speakers, just like a high quality stereo system.
Then there are various middle-sized systems, where all the speakers are ‘bookshelf’ sized – larger than satellites, but smaller than floorstanders.
What should largely guide you in making this choice is your judgement on how they are going to fit into your room. If space is tight, then a satellite system may be best, with the five speakers attached to the wall (some come with mounting hardware in the box). If getting wires from the rest of the system to the surround speakers is difficult, then a system with ‘wireless’ rear speakers could help.