As a self-made professional sound engineer, I’d readily tell you that anything that isn’t a hometheater, a hi-fi system (those huge Sony, Samsung or LG radios) or home assembled (the clones we make using car audio components) is crap. The so-called 2.1 or 5.1 channel woofer systems flooding the city are a weak replication of what a real audio system should be.
The ideal sound system must be able to produce those deep foundation-shaking vibrations without compromising the quality of the high pitch beats. To avoid distortion, your bass speaker must be open, powerful and responsive enough to kill initial vibrations as soon as it receives the signal to do so from your driver unit. It has to be brutal enough to stir your heart and subtle enough to bring out the pitch-accurate closely monitored bass.
As for your satellite speakers, they ought to be the right mix of mid and high ranges to help you replicate the other notes your bass speaker (low-range) cannot achieve. Good satellite speakers will reproduce most of your mid notes (speech and the subtle beats – like those of drummer hitting his sticks against each other) and their twitters will ensure that you hear every cymbal beat the drummer makes.
The problem with these ‘impressive’ under Ksh10,000 subwoofer systems is they cannot meet these demands of a refined listener. The bass will be too distorted, or the satellite speakers will lack the clarity and authority you need to listen to real music or watch your movies with passion.
Even though I so boldly professed my detest for these handy units, I wouldn’t rule out their use. They sure do make small parties come to life and brighten up otherwise dull Sunday afternoons.
Sizing up the room
Be it a subwoofer or a home theatre system you are buying, you must pay attention to your target room size. Smaller rooms will do mighty fine with small systems. That’s why you wouldn’t understand my detest for the small woofer systems if you live in a small apartment, a bedsitter or a campus cubicle. As things get livelier and the rooms expand, so does its audio needs. Buying bigger and more powerful systems in this case would be inevitable.
Stereo VS Surround
The good old stereo gives you two kick-ass speakers coupled with an agreeable subwoofer. In most cases, if all you need is some music and movies, this might be good enough – not to mention cheap. However, with the market awash with 5.1 and 7.1 systems, finding the good old stereos that put their very best into two speakers and one subwoofer is hard.
When going for surround, which is almost always the case, emphasize on getting a good centre speaker and powerful left and rights. Good quality speakers, even when paired up with a crappy drive unit will produce high quality sound. Listening to your home theatre of choice for a while before paying the bill will help you identify what produces the best sound.
First, there is the buying. Then there is the complexity of speaker placement. You could chose to bundle them in one place for convenience if you don’t mind the average listening experience. If you do mind, however, you must go through the painstaking process of laying the cables right to get a neat look for your rear speakers, the left and right channels and most importantly your central speaker.
An audio system is only as good as its speakers. If it is a home theatre (those with DVD player like drive units) then you will have the freedom of upgrading the speakers to whatever you want and boost your sound quality. You cannot do this with the compact woofer systems. If you don’t get them right, you are doomed.