Audio Systems

Making a choice

JVC sudio systemBuying a new home audio system can seem a tricky business, as there are many models, brands and accessories to choose from, at varying costs. We understand how important it is to get a high quality audio experience and also how disappointing it can be if you end up buying the wrong system for your needs. This is why we have put together this guide which we hope will make your purchase of a new audio system as straight-forward, easy and cost-effective as possible.

When you set out to buy a new stereo, as with any big purchase like this, you need to go in with a clear idea in your mind as to what you want to get based on your needs, what you are going to be using it for and your budget. If you're not clear on these, then it's very easy to get confused by the immense amount of choice on offer and you might end up not getting exactly what you wanted. You can still end up with a good stereo, but it can be very disappointing to find out there was a better deal out there you could have taken advantage of.

Depending on your budget and your needs, you can spend anything from under £50 to well over £400+ on an audio system. If you throw in an amplifier and other accessories, the sky is the limit! First of all you need to decide what you are going to be using the stereo for, be it just for music or if you want something to hook up to your TV to watch films and play video games. You also need to figure out how picky you are going to be about sound quality, as you can get some really expensive stereos that do hundreds of things but still don't have the best sound. Once you know your budget, function and how often, then you're ready to shop.

The systems

Audio systems come in all shapes and sizes. If you are looking for a basic multiple-use system, then you'll want to go for an all-in-one. You can use them for anything from playing your favourite albums to watching DVDs. One step up is a component audio system, which comes with a built-in receiver, which is basically an amplifier that has a radio unit included. You can build a mini home-theatre system around one of these over time. But if you really want to be top dog, then there is no option but a high-performance system where everything is separate. Once you have selected your stereo unit, you can craft your dream system around it complete with top of the range amplifier and speakers to make you feel like the cinema has come to you.

Whatever sort of audio system you decide to go for, you'll also need a decent amplifier. This is what controls the sounds from your stereo as it travels to the speakers. Many systems will have these built in, especially the smaller ones. But for those that don't, there are a range of amplifiers available to help you get the best audio experience. If you decide to buy an amplifier with a high wattage, you will get more volume from the system, but you may not necessarily get top quality sound. Again, this is where you need to think about what you will be using the stereo for and then purchase an amplifier to reflect this.

Speakers

Marantz CD ReceiverFor many people, the most important aspect of an audio system is the speakers. Your amplifier needs to compliment your choice because if you buy a top quality amplifier but don't have the speakers to match, then you will not get the result you were looking for. Depending on your stereo, you can get surround speakers, speakers on either side of the system or just one central speaker, either built-in or under the system. Sprinkle a few satellite speakers around the room and throw a subwoofer for extra bass into the mix, and the place will really come alive. You can also get floor standing speakers, also known as towers, which have a wide range of frequencies and are also amongst the most powerful available on the market.

In addition to considering the sound quality of the speakers compared to others available on the market, you also need to think about how they will behave depending on where you put them as positioning is all important. Speaker placement is key because the layout of your room and its characteristics really will impact on the quality you get. Items of furniture in the wrong place can dramatically reduce your audio experience so bear that in mind when decking out the room.

Features

Whatever audio system you go for and whatever amplifier you complement your stereo with, most will come with a range of basic features that you can exploit however you want. Not all systems have them, but the following should give you an idea of what your stereo can do depending on how much you spend.

CDs may be dying out depending on who you listen to, but all systems should still come with a CD player drive. The built-in laser system picks up information on the disc and creates an analogue signal. This will then go out through your amplifier to the speakers. Manufacturers know what they're doing with CDs so the sound quality from them on most systems is usually top-notch. Of course, the not-so-new technology of MP3 players has all but replaced CDs, so now you can expect to find a slot for one as standard or a place for a memory stick. This means you can play all your favourite tunes from your iPod or flash drive straight through the system. You should also find a DAB radio as standard to help you stay in touch with the world. And if you're going to be using your system for home entertainment, you'll want to look for one with a built-in DVD player, too.

Final touch

Now that you've come all this way, you may as well put a glossy finish on your audio system. Get some stands or brackets for your speakers so you can stick them anywhere you want and get the full surround sound experience just like at the cinemas. Consider purchasing some high quality cables, and not just sticking to the standard equipment the supplier provides. This may seem a bit extreme, but it can really boost the sound you get from the stereo.

Another way to boost your system's performance and make sure everything works as it should for a long time, is to get some power filters and conditioners. These will protect the components in your system and give the listener a better experience. Finally, if you're planning on having the full home entertainment experience, you'll definitely want to get a universal remote. These come in various forms and prices, with more modern ones having their own touch screens; but the important thing is that it means you don't have to be scrambling around trying to find the right remote. At the touch of a couple of buttons, you will be able to switch effortlessly from watching your favourite film to singing along to some classic power ballads.