Speaker System Buying Guide

Let the music play: How to buy a speaker system?

In order to really enjoy DVD movies at home, it is imperative to purchase a surround sound speaker system. Also, with so many options and lucrative prices, it’s not as hard as it was a couple of years back. It is indeed the age of better sound, and in case one still has the an old speaker system, if the rest of the components are getting an upgrade, i.e., an LCD/LED TV, a DVD or Blu-ray player, etc., then even the speaker system needs to be up to speed. After all, one needs to get the best sound as well, in conjunction with the picture quality that is improving by leaps and bounds. In fact, even if one is not an out and out DVD or Blu-ray fan, chances are that one experience is all it takes to get hooked on to the surround sound speaker system bandwagon!

Basic structure

There are 5 speakers in even the most basic home theatre surround sound system as a standard, but one can get away with less. What will be sacrificed, however, is the optimum performance from the DTS Surround Sound and Dolby Digital formats on the DVD discs, which basically means one won’t be able to enjoy movies the way they were meant to be seen. These five speakers are – front left and right, rear surround left and right, and the front centre speaker. This comprises the ‘5’ in the 5.1 channel system, while the ‘.1’ refers to the subwoofer channel. Also, there are new surround format extensions that utilize extra surround channels at the back of the room, known as 7.1 systems.


The front speakers are responsible for the sonic spread of the home theatre sound, working in conjunction with the rear speakers in order to create directional information in special effects (like a gun being fired from behind, aircrafts flying, etc.) and produce the front loaded information in movies. They are also responsible for creating the right ambience for music.

The centre speaker also works in collaboration with the front speakers for the sonic spread, but is chiefly responsible for the dialogue part, although the front speaker also plays its part in the same. It also takes the load off the front units, creating different kinds of sonics required for surround sound. It is the most important part of the surround system in many ways, and hence, it is imperative that it should be adept at creating and handling sound across the entire spectrum, so to speak.

Rear speakers are known to be smaller than their front counterparts, although this is not an industry standard per se. one can choose between different kinds of rear channel speakers – the conventional ones wherein the drivers are attached to a single baffle, or other kinds of models that have drivers attached to three baffles, two pointing towards 45 degrees from the centre, and one positioned straight ahead.


There is no rule of thumb which says that just because a speaker is big, it will deliver better sound than a smaller version. However, when it comes to bass performance, big speakers do have the uncanny knack of going one up over their smaller counterparts. Also, they are usually capable of generating higher levels of sound for a given input.

Small speakers almost always require a subwoofer in order to amplify their bass performance, barring the case when they are expensive, and thus, equate their bigger counterparts in performance on every front. Talking of size, they can be in the medium bookshelf style, and are typically placed on stands.


All speakers contain magnets, since they are very important to the drivers’ design, and also constitute the engine that moves the dome diaphragms (or cones), and also create sound waves. However, when a magnet is placed near the television screen when it is switched on, the picture quality can deteriorate drastically, as random color patterns can be seen. This kind of an effect is instant, and can certainly give a long lasting negative impact on the performance of the television. Hence, it is important that the centre speaker (essentially) and the front speakers (preferably) must be magnetically shielded, since it prevents this kind of interference. While it certainly is not possible to completely shield the centre and front speakers, it is important to do the best one can, so that at least the interference problems can be obviated. Hence, if the rear speakers can also be shielded, there’s nothing like it!

It is important to choose a well known brand name, since all the expert advice in the world can’t help one make a decision if he/she does not purchase the products from a trusted source. In short, purchasing a speaker system is an investment, and a rather substantial one at that!

Also, the music or home theatre system one pairs up with the speaker system is equally responsible for the overall performance output, if not more, and so is the kind of DVD titles one picks. Everything is connected.

While testing a speaker system, it’s best to use the DVD of a movie which one has already seen, so that he/she can carefully analyze the performance, instead of getting lost in the content. Also, while watching, it is important to sense that one is able to hear the dialogue clearly. Pans from side to side should be seamless, instead of jumping between speakers, which is certainly a very irritating experience. Off-screen effects should also seem like they are meant to be, i.e., like sounds coming from a distance.

The bass must be clean, tight and deep to give a more realistic feel to the movie. Contrary to popular belief, more boom in the bass does sound impressive at first, but tight and well controlled notes are what finally score in the long run.

In the end, one needs to maintain a fine balance between budget, requirements and the extra punch in the speaker system. Compatibility with the DVD or Blu-ray player shouldn’t be too much of a problem if one has a fairly decent hardware. All that remains is to play the cards right for the sound!