Consider these tips before you part with your cash
All you need to know about buying and caring for your boxes
As you’re reading this feature, we guess you already know the value of the What Hi-fi? review. Trust us, then, when we urge you to have a read of the relevant product reviews before you enter the dealership.
We don’t want you simply to agree with us – but, as well as helping you rule out certain products that don’t match your needs, it might guide you as to what you should listen out for.
If we say treble is a little coarse, for example, and that it might become wearing on your ears over extended listening, that might not be immediately noticeable in the shop.
Check the speakers are run in
Confirm that the demonstration speakers you hear have been run in. Performance can change with use, with some units taking longer than others to bed in and reach their optimum.
Listen to tracks you know
Are you the person who kills the party by seizing control of the speakers and putting on that B-side nobody’s heard of? Well this is your time to shine: take your own music with you. It’s simply the best and easiest way for you to judge a speaker’s performance.
The better you know a piece of music, the better you know its arrangement, momentum and dynamics. Effectively, you know how it should sound and if a pair of speakers is rendering it faithfully.
Listen with your own electronics
You want the dealer to set up a system that’s close to yours at home, so if you have an old amp, or particularly obscure kit, ring ahead to check they have something similar in the shop. If not, take your own with you. Yes, it’s a pain, but better than discovering they don’t sound right when you get them home. It’s what we do when we’re testing speakers in our listening rooms, and you should follow the same rules.
Take an extra pair of ears
Our reviews are written by a single person, but testing is very much a group exercise. It isn’t that we don’t trust our own ears, but your mood or focus can alter your perception of a product on any given day. We’d recommend taking someone along with you for balance. It’s easy to make a rash decision and regret it later.
Be open to alternatives
There may be a review you’ve not seen in our magazine or website, something we’ve not yet tested, or a pair of speakers you’ve disregarded because of its four-star rating – but wait! It’s possible that a product with four stars may suit your needs better than a ve-star Award-winner.
A good dealer will be able to suggest something you hadn’t considered. Don’t take their word as gospel – it’s you who’ll be listening to these speakers – but you needn’t go into the shop assuming they will flog you a dead horse.
Get to know your dealer
If you’re serious about your system, you’re probably going to be a regular customer – that’s why they want to look after you. So don’t go into a dealership, pick a pair of speakers, then go home and scour ebay to get them cheaper.
That’s not us sticking up for our mates – just don’t sour a relationship with someone willing to help you as much as you need. Equally, don’t feel pressured into making a decision straight away, or that buying online is somehow wrong.
The benefit to shopping online is more options than on the High Street. Don’t discount last year’s models – there are some great deals on products that manufacturers may have replaced. Some are still among the best speakers around.
Refer to our reviews and you’ll be able to tell if an older product has fallen behind. If they’re still on sale, there’s a good chance they haven’t.
Check the T&CS
As with any online purchase, buy from a trusted source – retailers featured next to our reviews are a good start. Check the returns policy too.
If you find a deal that seems too good to be true, it almost definitely is and there’s unlikely to be any way of getting your money back.
If you don’t have a dealership near you, visit your nearest hi-fi show, where you can listen to a whole range of the latest products.
“Avoid placing your new speakers in a corner. It may be convenient, but you’ll get lumpy bass that will skew the whole balance”
When you get them home…
So you’re back home, in the doghouse for spending twice your original budget and facing six months of beans on toast in order to be able to pay for it – but with a new pair of speakers.
Unfortunately, they aren’t going to do anything for you unless you do something for them first.
Let your speakers run in
It’s extremely important for speakers to be properly run in before you judge them, so don’t subject them to an extended testing session as soon as you’ve lifted them from their box and linked them to the rest of your system.
Some speakers can take almost 100 hours to come on song, though 24 hours should suffice for most.
All this really means is you leave them playing, allowing the components to warm up, stretch out and get into their stride.
It’s unlikely you’d want to do this at any extreme volume anyway, but be careful not to push them too hard straight away. Let them ease into a walk before you ask them to run.
Get the positioning right
If task one was essentially plugging your speakers in and waiting, you’ll need to spend a little more time getting the positioning of your system right. Small differences in position can make big differences to the sonic balance.
Placing your speakers close to the back wall will give you more bass, while putting them further away will decrease the low end, but should offer more convincing stereo imaging. This should be a balance, rather than a compromise, though rear-ported speakers – those with a reflex port firing backwards – tend to be more sensitive to proximity to a rear wall. Try to avoid placing your speakers in a corner. It may be convenient spatially, but you’ll almost certainly get lumpy bass that will skew the whole balance.
Imaging is also affected by the angle of the speakers. Most speakers sound best toed-in towards your regular listening position, which should be equidistant to each speaker for peak sound dispersion, though some manufacturers design their products to fire straight ahead.
Check the manual to see what’s suggested for your speakers, including how far apart to space them and the recommended distance from each surrounding wall, then adjust and tweak to get the best out of your room.
Invest in stands and cables
Now, are you sitting comfortably? Well your speakers would like to as well. They may have been advertised as ‘bookshelf’ but the support upon which they sit is vitally important.
Buy some quality stands. The performance of a standmount speaker depends hugely on the quality of its support, and this is another area where you shouldn’t compromise.
Likewise, if you’ve opted for floorstanding speakers, make sure you fit the spikes; if you have wooden floors you’ll likely have been supplied with coin-shaped pieces to put the spikes on to avoid scratching the boards. If you don’t have any of those, use actual coins.
Perhaps an obvious point, but it’s equally important that your speakers are level and don’t rock. Even if that seems painfully apparent, there’s a chance you haven’t considered speaker cables. Some people ignore the significance of good-quality wiring altogether, or are tempted to skimp on the last few quid. But trust us when we say a good speaker cable can be the best value way to upgrade your audio experience.
Sit back and relax
Finally, and most importantly, put some music on, sit back and enjoy your new speakers. That was the point of all this effort, after all.
Treat them with a little respect, and in turn they will look after you for a long, long time.