Buying speakers is kind of like shopping for a pet. Since what you choose is going to be with you for a long time, it's a good idea to put serious time and thought into finding something that's right for your lifestyle. Magazine reviews, online forums, and the like are solid resources to tap when you start your speaker-shopping quest, but unless you plan to buy sight unseen (and unheard) from an online dealer, you'll need to walk through the doors of an A/V store at some point. If that sounds scary, relax. This guide will give you tips on navigating the experience, as well as pointers on what to listen for when you're auditioning speakers.
Finding the Right Store While your ultimate goal is to decide on which speakers to buy, you first need to figure out where to buy them. There are two main options: big-box electronics stores and specialty A/V retailers. Some big electronics stores have a good selection of speakers, and chances are you'll be able to pick them up for an excellent price. (You'll also be able to score an iPod, Wi-Fi router, replacement printer cartridge, and possibly a Pez dispenser while you're there, but that's beside the point.)
The downside to such stores - and it's a deadly one - is that you won't be able to audition speakers in a noise-free room. Your typical mega-electronics mall has several loud demos going on simultaneously - everything from Xbox games to car audio systems. Add to that sonic sludge the piped-in music from the ceiling and you have an environment even a PS3-addicted 9-year-old would find distracting. For these reasons and more, you'll have a much better experience if you visit a specialty retailer that focuses exclusively on audio and video products. You might end up paying a bit more, but you should be able to listen to a wide range of speakers in a quiet, relaxed environment.
But before you even enter a store, take a moment to nail down your precise needs. Are you looking for a complete six-speaker surround sound system, or a simple stereo pair? Is your room big enough to accommodate tower models, or will a compact system that uses small satellites and a subwoofer be a better fit? Do you want regular freestanding speakers or on-wall, in-wall, or even ceiling models? If you can supply a list of specific information to the salesman at the outset, the transaction is likely to go down a lot smoother.
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