The most sophisticated, high-tech surround sound system is nothing without quality speakers, and this article will define a few key terms and help you understand everything you need to know about your options, including in-wall speakers, in-ceiling speakers, home theater speakers and surround sound speakers.
So what is a speaker, exactly?
A speaker is basically a translation machine; it translates the electrical signal from a record, CD or DVD into physical vibrations to create sound waves. A speaker consists of drivers, a diaphragm (also called a dome or cone), a spider, a voice coil, a surround or suspension, a basket and a spider. Speakers also contain a cross-over, which is what separates the sound into various frequencies such as high, low and sometimes mid-range. There are three different types of basic speaker drivers: woofers, tweeters and mid-range drivers.
As mentioned earlier, all speakers contain a voice coil, but you will find that some speakers feature dual voice coils. The main advantage that the dual voice coil speaker offers over a single coil is wiring flexibility, and they do tend to be a little more expensive.
A few other terms you are likely to encounter in your speaker search, whether you’re looking at in-ceiling, in-wall, home theater or surround sound speakers, are two-way versus three- or even four-way speakers, dual tweeters, impedance, resistance, sensitivity, power handling, and frequency response.
Two-way speakers generally include a tweeter and a woofer, and often work well when combined with a subwoofer to handle the lower frequencies. Three-way speakers generally contain a tweeter, mid-range and woofer. Four-way speakers contain a tweeter, mid-range, a woofer and a dedicated subwoofer. Which style will work best for you really depends on your budget, space and overall system.
Whether you’re considering in-wall, in-ceiling, home theater or surround sound speakers, a few other factors you will want to consider are frequency response, power handling, and sensitivity. Frequency response refers to the range of Hertz (or Hz, which is a unit of frequency) that a speaker can reproduce. For example, a 50-20,000 Hz speaker has a greater range than a 65-20,000 Hz speaker.
Power handling refers to watts and helps you determine what kind of receiver would be best suited to your speakers and vice-versa. Sensitivity, also commonly referred to as efficiency, refers to how effectively the speaker uses the power it receives from the receiver. Higher sensitivity means the speaker will produce more volume without taxing your receiver.
Home theater systems generally consist of a center channel speaker, which delivers much of the dialogue; front left and right speakers, which handle most of the special effects; and surround sound speakers. Surround sound speakers typically provide the ambient sounds you hear while watching a movie or TV show, such as falling raindrops, gravel crunching underfoot, or the rustling of leaves. And lastly, most systems also include a subwoofer to catch and emphasize the lower frequencies.
All of these work together to create a dynamic theater-like sound experience. Bookshelf and satellite speakers are a great choice when you’re looking for space efficiency in your home theater system. You might also consider in-wall or in-ceiling speakers, depending on how you intend to use your space and your personal aesthetic. The grills on the fronts of both in-ceiling and in-wall speakers can be painted to match your wall color, allowing them to blend right into your decor.
The design of the speaker’s enclosure impacts how all these elements work together to create sound. Common enclosure designs include bass reflex, passive radiator and dipole designs. If you’re working with an audio professional, he or she will understand exactly how these elements affect the sound experience and will help you select the best speakers for your space and use.
When choosing the best in-ceiling, in-wall, surround sound or home theater speakers for your specific needs, you’ll want to consider the shape and make-up of the room where the speakers will be installed, and how the room will be used. The shape and size of each individual speaker will impact the overall listening experience. Different shapes of speakers will project sound in different ways, for example, and it’s important to select a speaker shape that is appropriate for the room where it will be installed.
With so many quality brands of speakers on the market today, finding the perfect sound solution that fits both your budget and your lifestyle is absolutely possible, whether you prefer to do your homework yourself or hire a professional to walk you through the process. Working with a knowledgeable audio professional who will evaluate your needs and help you select the right system for you means no guesswork on your part, and helps ensure you get what you’re looking for the first time around. Either way, you now have a basic understanding of speaker terminology with which to begin your search.