How to Choose Your First Set of Speakers
So, you’ve decided you’re ready to graduate from crappy-sounding ear buds and tinny laptop speakers to the big leagues with a real set of speakers for your home! But where to start?
Metal deserves audio gear that unleashes all of its aggression and energy without sacrificing the details and artistry, highlighting the pounding blast beats, searing riffs and dynamic vocals (whether you prefer ‘em growled or clean) that we all love so much. If you’re not sure where to start, we’re here with some tips on choosing the best speakers for your needs.
Consider the size of the room carefully before buying speakers. In other words: don’t be the home audio equivalent of that band that shows up to the tiny dive bar with a full stack of Marshalls!
If it’s a small room, a pair of bookshelf speakers are fine, especially if you sit relatively close to them. As their name implies, you can place bookshelf speakers on a bookshelf or other nook, but beware that most such speakers sound best if they aren’t packed into a tight space – give them some room to breathe.
If it’s a larger room, floorstanding speakers might be best. These are generally much taller and larger than bookshelf speakers which allows for a bigger, more complete sound, including deeper bass.
High-quality floorstanders generally start at around $1,000 per pair, while full-range bookshelf speakers start around $500 per pair, and mini-bookshelf models (aka satellite speakers) start around $300.
These prices are for passive speakers that will still require an AV receiver or amplifier to provide power. There is also the option of powered speakers that have the added benefit of being “all-in-one” solutions that don’t require separate electronics. The prices can vary widely and many include wireless streaming directly from your phone. It’s best to look beyond the Bluetooth-only options to speakers that can also stream via WiFi for the best sound quality possible.
If you opt for bookshelf or satellite speakers, you won’t get the deep bass that most metalheads crave. In that case, consider springing for a subwoofer to augment the main speakers. (For more on why a subwoofer is so important, read our previous post on the subject). A subwoofer will set you back at least $500, but believe us, when you hear that thump of the bass drum hit you in the solar plexus, it’ll be worth it!
Once you’ve established your budget and the type of speakers you’ll get, the next step is finding speakers with superb sound quality. Ideally you’ll have an opportunity to audition several different makes and models; if so, bring along some tracks you are very familiar with.
Here are some characteristics to listen for:
Clarity: Are you hearing the details you know so well cleanly and clearly? Better yet, are you noticing sounds or layers you have never heard before? These are the tell-tale signs of speakers with great clarity. On the flipside, if the details sound muffled or muddy and the sound is not as expressive as you remember, the speakers’ clarity is lacking, and you should consider other options.
Imaging and Soundstage: A good pair of speakers can create the illusion of a three-dimensional soundfield that extends beyond the two boxes themselves. The apparent locations of the lead singer, guitarist, bass player, and drummer should be distinct and separate, like you’re sitting in a room with the band watching them perform. If the speakers you’re listening to sound like everything is directly from the speakers themselves, it’s time to move on to another set.
Neutrality: Do the speakers sound realistic? Do vocals sound natural? Do the drums, guitars, and bass sound like they do at a concert? If so, the speakers are accurately reproducing the sounds they are given, which is a good thing. If not, put them on the reject list.
Volume: This is of utmost importance to metalheads. What’s the point if the speakers can’t play LOUD? But it’s also important to remember that a good set of speakers won’t distort the sound when playing at high volumes. They should retain their clarity and neutrality at any and all volume levels. Floorstanding speakers can generally pump out more volume than bookshelf models.
Dynamic Range: Yes, we know, most metal music is loud most of the time. But there are moments of relative quiet – Opeth’s entire catalogue, for example — which makes the loud parts all the more thrilling. A good set of speakers can reproduce soft passages with as much clarity, imaging, and neutrality as it does at headbanging levels.
Bass: This probably goes without saying, but deep bass is just as important to metal music as volume. Floorstanding speakers can generally reach lower frequencies than bookshelf models, but to really get down there, you need a good subwoofer.
If you can’t audition different speakers, you’ll have to rely on reputable reviews. SVS is among the brands most consistently praised by respected reviewers, so you can’t go wrong with any of their products. Whatever you end up with, we wish you good sound and lots of it!
This post is sponsored by SVS.