It is very difficult to decide on how to choose the best home theater or sound system. Without a doubt, anybody who enjoys good music and movies cannot do without an excellent audio system. Obviously, there is no point in watching a movie or listening to music with outdated speakers. A Home Theater is a good audio-visual (AV) system, albeit with good picture and sound quality. After all, the theater, including movie halls, is the ultimate pleasure in entertainment.
We have discussed the visual part of an AV system, primarily a TV set, in our other articles. In this buyer’s guide on how to choose the best Home Theater we will discuss the audio part only. Of course, we are talking here about personal audio systems. Professional or public address (PA) systems, used in parks and other public places, are different.
The human ear can typically hear sound frequencies ranging from 20Hz to 20,000 Hz though this can vary from person to person. By and large, speaker systems include big woofers and sub-woofers for bass or lower frequency sounds (below 250Hz), small tweeters (do not confuse with the social media platform called “Twitter” or “X”) for treble or high frequency sounds (above 4,000Hz), and speakers for mid-frequency sounds, along with supporting amplifier circuitry. In general, a decent speaker system needs to have at least one woofer and one tweeter.
In yesteryears, there used to be separate knobs or sliders on the amplifier unit. This was for sound mixing. Sound mixing means increasing or decreasing the volumes of different frequencies. Nowadays the software in your input device (TV, smart phone, etc.) controls sound mixing. Along with customizable settings, you can also have preset settings for Pop, Rock, normal speech, etc. Unless you are a professional sound/audio mixer, you don’t need to worry about settings for difference frequencies.
Choose the best Home Theater: Party speakers
The first thing you need to decide is whether you need something for indoor use only, like your home and office, or for outdoor use also, such as picnics. Outdoor speakers, also referred to as Party Speakers, are mostly single portable but bulky units with rechargeable batteries. They are capable of both high and low volumes but with clear sound; the sound does not break at very high volumes and is distinct also at low volumes.
Thus, you can use these speakers when you are relaxing at home and at your parties also. These typically have bluetooth and microphone attachments inbuilt. However, you won’t get true theater-type surround sound with a single unit speaker. To get true surround sound you need a stereo or a higher number of speakers system.
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Choose the best Home Theater: Stereo systems
A buyer’s guide on how to choose the best Home Theater cannot miss out on stereo systems. A stereo system consists of 2 speaker units. These usually connect by wires to an amplifier. The amplifier is either a separate unit, or housed in one of the speaker units. Normally, each speaker unit contains a woofer/sub-woofer speaker (for the bass frequencies) and one or more tweeters (for the higher frequencies).
Your other units, like your TV set or pen drive or FM radio or microphone, connect to the amplifier as input devices. The speakers connect as output devices.
But a stereo system, also, is not a true home theater system.
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Choose the best Home Theater: Multi channel home theater
When talking about a buyer’s guide on how to choose the best Home Theater, the best is a multiple channel speaker system. A true blue home theater system will consist of one woofer/sub-woofer with amplifier unit, connected to at least 4-5 smaller speakers for the mid and higher frequencies. This is called a 4.1 or 5.1 system. The layout for a 5.1 system is usually 1 Woofer/Sub-Woofer with 1 Centre Unit, 2 Left and Right Units, and 2 Side Left and Right Units. This arrangement produces a true surround sound. For better surround sound, you can add 2 Middle Left and Right Units which would make it a 7.1 system.
However, we have found that for most home and office settings a 5.1 system is good enough. Note however that, if your original audio is not in a multi-track system, you may not get true 5.1 effect. Most movies and audio nowadays are in multi-track or multi-channel. The original audio tracks are processed or mixed to get the desired effects, like a car passing by or plane flying overhead.
Older movies or music were in mono or single channel mode. In this case all of your speakers will produce the same sound. However, the technology used in speaker systems nowadays will still give you a better listening pleasure, even with olden days audio.
Watts, decibels and hi-fidelity
What about Watts (W) and decibels (dB)? How do they affect your speaker output and listening pleasure? Without going into technical details, you can safely assume that 40W is good enough for your home or office. For large offices or outdoor use 50 to 100W is good enough. Large loud parties may require higher wattages. dB is the volume or loudness. In some countries, any outdoor sound above 60dB is considered illegal because it affects both human and animal hearing.
Don’t assume that the higher the wattage or dB the better the sound. Your earbuds and headphones are only about 1-4W and are best heard at around 50dB. What is more important is the clarity of high, low and mid-range frequencies at different volumes or dB levels. This is referred to as hi-fi or high-fidelity.
Housing & Connectivity
Speaker housing is important because wooden speakers definitely produce better sounds than plastic speakers, but are more expensive. Most high-end speaker systems have wooden cases for the woofer/sub-woofer and plastic cases for the smaller speakers.
As far as connectivity is concerned, most sound systems now have in-built bluetooth, auxiliary, USB. Hence, that is not a concern any more in how to choose the best home theater.
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Anando Banerjee has been providing different types of services, as an employee and thereafter as a self-employed professional, to clients in multiple industries in various countries of the world since 1984. He has an MBA in Healthcare Management.