TIP #10:

Speakers, the final link in the audio chain, have been asked to do more and more as the rest of the system has improved over the years. The advent of Compact Disc and hi-fi VCR’s has raised the level of reproduction in the audio system to new heights. Speakers have been re-engineered to handle and reproduce new found dynamics in these mediums. The speaker manufacturer has been forced to take into account the demand for better quality reproduction, and for a more compact and aesthetically pleasing package. The extended dynamic range of the compact disc (see tip #4 “The Compact Disc“), creates new demands on the drivers within the speaker which has forced manufacturers to re-engineer their designs. Most notably, the tweeter (the smallest driver, dedicated to reproducing highs) is now required to move faster, working much more than before. The mass of the diaphragm (the center and front of the driver) must be reduced, to lessen inertia as much as possible. Many new lightweight materials are now being employed, with titanium as the preferred choice of the best manufacturers. Heat is created as the tweeter is asked to move faster, and thus new models boast some form of cooling system. Ferofluid is most popular, working very much like the cooling system in your car, dissipating the heat created in the driver into a circulating “heat exchanger”. A new way of connecting the speaker is finally finding its way out of the stratospheric price range, netting considerably better frequency extension from all the drivers in the speaker, simply by using different cables (see tip#2 “Cables & Connections“). The regular pair of connectors on the back of today’s speakers have sprouted an extra pair. Called BiWire terminals, when mated with cable specifically designed to be used with these connectors the dynamics of the speaker are greatly enhanced. Basically, by using the right cables we gain considerably deeper bass and better highs. This is one of the best value to price innovations to come along in quite a while. Size is no longer the factor it was in the past, when we found ourselves running out of the space necessary to reproduce that concert hall sound. Remember the days of the Altec 19 or the Klipsch LaScalla, once those were in the room you might as well forget about furniture, TVs or the dreaded coffee tables. Those speakers were designed with the idea that big sound needed BIG speakers, and they were BIG! Sloppy 20” bass drivers designed back then are too large and slow to reproduce today’s high speed CD signals, thus the SUB/SATELLITE system was born. The SUB/SATELLITE idea is based on two simple and very important parameters:

  1. Reproduce high quality sound in a smaller speaker design,
  2. Sacrifice no sound loss, especially in low frequencies.

The SUB/SATELLITE packages offer a smaller satellite speaker (usually bookshelf size) to reproduce the high and midrange frequencies and a separate subwoofer box to reproduce the very low frequencies. The SATS are small enough that they may be hidden in entertainment centres among house plants etc. Subs may be placed anywhere in your room as low frequencies are non-directional (see tip #8 on Sub-Woofers). Satellite speakers create the stereo sound stage while the sub-woofer compliments the system with deep bass response, ensuring rich, full sound reproduction. Another technology that used to be reserved for the ultra high end is called Bipolar. Designed to more accurately reproduce the sound one would get when listening to a piece of music live, it incorporates drivers mounted in the front and back of a speaker enclosure. The front drivers work conventionally, the rear driver is designed to reproduce the inverse or negative wave and is the sound one would normally hear reflected off the rear wall. This is nothing like the more familiar technology of “spraying” the room with speakers firing in all directions, creating a diffused effect. This is more subtle, creating a much more realistic sense of image placement and size. Until recently this technology was only available in the extreme high end, but is now available in speakers priced from $1000.00 a pair and up. Speakers are an important link in the sound chain as they decipher electronic information to produce sound. Spend a little time before purchasing your speakers and take a familiar CD with you on your hunt. Build your system around your speakers, with matched electronics. Look for dealers (like us!) who have a step-up program where you can trade up your components, with minimum loss, allowing you to upgrade to the sound you want. Speakers have their own “voice”, so be sure you enjoy the sound. You can have the best electronics but your system is only as good as it’s weakest link. There are literally thousands of speaker brands out there so take your time in selecting the sound that you enjoy most, it will pay off handsomely in years to come. Once you’ve found the speakers you like, use the step-up program to build your system around that sound.