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How to Audition Loudspeakers, Part II

By Charlie Workinger

AUDITIONING LOUDSPEAKERS (PART II)

 

In my last post, I discussed the first steps in the process of finding new loudspeakers for your home theater system.  The information in this post will complete that process.  Before we dive in, I want to note that these steps could be used to audition any piece of audio equipment, such as receivers or media players, not just loudspeakers.  Now, let’s find some great new speakers!

 

Narrow the Field

 

This stage is crucial and can be tricky.  If you audition too many speakers, you won’t be able to keep them all straight.  But, if you audition too few, you may be ignoring your best option.  I recommend that you choose three to five contenders using the following criteria:

  1. Budget:  Know how much you want to spend before you begin this quest.  Keep in mind that your speakers are often the most important aspect in determining your system’s overall sound.  Also, remember that while electronics will eventually become obsolete, speakers that are well maintained can last for decades.
  2. Independent Reviews:  Educate yourself on the subject, and see what experts are saying.  However, don’t put too much stock in specifications and measurements – your ear alone must be the final judge.  What really matters is the sound that gives you the most enjoyment.
  3. Dealer Advice:  Once you have a few ideas, contact a reputable home theater dealer, like The Audio Guy, and discuss your plans.  The dealer may have personal experience with some of the speakers you would like to audition and may have some suggestions that you had not yet considered.

 

Audition

 

Finally!  The time has come to start listening to your future speakers!  Before you start listening, though, try to arrange your audition so that it is as scientific as possible.

  1. Location:  If at all possible, try to audition your new speakers in your current theater/listening room.  Speakers’ performance is very dependent on the room, so hearing all of your contestants in the same space (if not your space) is key.
  2. Equipment:  Every piece of equipment in your system adds a signature to the sound.  Make sure that the signal path remains the same for each audition.
  3. Volume:  Some speakers respond to electric signals more efficiently than others.  So, before you begin each audition, make sure that you test the playback level with an SPL meter (using this measurement as your guide, the volume setting on your receiver may not be the same for all auditions).

 

Once you have made the necessary preparations, begin listening to your reference material.  It may help to prepare a list of criteria by which you will evaluate the speakers.  For example, there may be tiny musical details that you discovered while exploring your reference recordings; tonal balance among all of the instruments; width, height and, depth of the soundstage; and dynamic contrast, just to name a few.  Listen through your reference material many times, focusing on just one criterion with each run.  As you listen, take plenty of notes.  Otherwise, your listening sessions may blur together unintentionally.

 

After exploring the characteristics of the potential speakers, it is time to make a choice.  Let your notes be your guide.  I suggest looking for indications that you really enjoyed the experience, that you lost yourself in your reference recording.

 

Choosing new loudspeakers can be a big decision, but the process doesn’t have to be mysterious or stressful.  You don’t even have to have “golden ears”.  By following the steps outlined in this series of blog posts, you can be confident that you have made an informed, well-researched decision, the results of which you will certainly enjoy for years to come.  Enjoy your new speakers!


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