How to Shop for Speakers - dummies

By Danny Briere, Pat Hurley

Shopping for a speaker system for the home theater can be confusing. When you shop for speakers, understanding speaker lingo eases the shopping experience and helps you get the most for your money.

You’ll most often run into two types of speakers on the market:

  • Two-way: These speakers have a woofer (which handles the bass range) and a tweeter (which handles the treble range) in one speaker enclosure.

  • Three-way: These have a woofer, a tweeter, and a midrange driver (which handles middle-range frequencies) in the same enclosure.

You’ll also find speakers with multiple tweeters or midrange drivers, and occasionally four-way speakers with two of the frequencies divided among four different drivers (or four different sets of drivers — for example, two tweeters and two pairs of different-sized midrange drivers). You can even find some speakers (typically smaller satellite speakers designed for wall mounting) with only one driver to handle both the bass and the treble.

More drivers doesn’t always mean better sound, but often speakers with multiple drivers sound better because each of the individual woofer, midrange, and tweeter drivers can be optimized to reproduce a specific range of frequencies. Keep in mind that it’s hard for a driver to reproduce the whole range of audio frequencies equally well.

The use of the cone-shaped diaphragm and electromagnetic-powered movement is specific to dynamic speakers, which are often recommended for home theater. You may run across other speakers when touring your local audio showroom or electronics superstore — speakers that are more expensive and are used for specific purposes:

  • Electrostatic speakers: These are used primarily for stereo audio listening and are rare in home theater systems. They can’t handle bass and are rather limited in where and how you position them.

  • Planar-magnetic speakers: For similar reasons, these are not likely to be useful for your home theater application because they are best used for the higher frequencies only.

Unless you really know what you’re doing with electrostatic and planar-magnetic types of speakers, you’re better off spending your money on quality dynamic speakers.