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How Do You Listen? Home or Portable? What Do You Listen To? Use our buying guide to help you make an informed decision as to choosing the best audio products for your lifestyle and tastes.
Much like sound itself, the best type of audio devices and speakers comes down to personal preference, how you listen, and what you want out of your hardware. For busy lifestyles, portable speakers may be the go-to choice while others may prefer the convenience of wireless home speakers. This Buying Guide will help you make an informed decision as to choosing the best audio products for your lifestyle and tastes
When deciding to purchase audio devices, the first major consideration is how you listen, or want to listen, to your audio/music. Do you want to want a speaker you can take with you throughout your home? Consider a wireless speaker. If you want to add some thundering bass, flashing lights, and loud sound to your gatherings, a party speaker will help you bring rumbling bass tones to every party.
Are you going to want to utilise your new audio devices with smart assistants? Do you need a lot of volume? Something waterproof? Additional features aside from just playing music? When selecting your desired audio devices, it’s important to keep the purpose firmly in mind, which will allow you to hone in on the ideal product for your needs and preferences.
Tailored to individual purposes, there’s a substantial difference between home audio devices and portable audio. Portable speakers are designed to be lightweight, easy to carry/transport, and often come with durable or weatherproof casings to withstand the outdoors. Bang & Olufsen Beoplay Speakers, for example, are constructed from lightweight anodised aluminium, not only for aesthetic pleasure but to enhance the durability of the device when you’re on the move.
Home-based audio devices, such as soundbars and Hi-Fi Systems, aren’t as affected by size limitations and are generally louder and packed with features that can improve your home entertainment experience.
Lightweight, compact, and optimised to deliver big sound, Portable Bluetooth Speakers are a great choice for adding a ‘big speaker sound’ without large equipment. Whether you wish to take your music with you as you roam your home or to add a musical accompaniment to your outdoor adventures, a portable speaker will keep the tunes flowing.
Speaking of the outdoors, many portable speakers, such as the B&O Beoplay P6, benefit from splash and dust resistance, allowing them to be taken outdoors and into workplaces. Or you can take it up a notch with a higher degree of water resistance, such as that on the JBL Xtreme Portable Speaker which can be submerged in water up to a metre, great for pool parties and lakeside gatherings.
Another important consideration to factor in when looking at purchasing a portable speaker is battery life. After all, you don’t want it to run out of power a few hours after taking it off charge. Generally speaking, a higher-priced speaker will provide you with a larger battery life, premium materials, and better sound. Take the B&O Beoplay A1 for example, this compact speaker can deliver up to 24 hours of wireless battery life for a full day and night of incredible audio.
And then there are the assortment of smart features you can enjoy with your portable speaker, aside from the latest Bluetooth implementations. Some portable speakers allow you to access voice assistants for simple control, personalise your sound with an app, such as the Beoplay or Beats Pill apps, or connect multiple speakers together for an enhanced sound experience.
Of course you can’t forget about the sound quality of your portable speaker. Clarity, volume, and bass are key considerations of your speaker, which can uplift or mar your audio experience. Consider the Marshall Kilburn, one of the loudest speakers in its class which merges brighter highs, a balanced mid-range, and rumbling bass to create incredible sound. For more impactful bass, JBL develop speakers, such as their Flip 4, with incorporated bass radiators designed to provide you with ‘big bass’ sound from a compact chassis.
Wireless Speakers are audio devices typically relegated to the home, recreating high-quality audio and connecting to your sound system or smart devices. Easy to install into your home, wireless speakers are a convenient source of high-quality audio but still occupy a little bit of a grey area between a fully-wired Hi-Fi System, portable speakers, and headphones.
Wireless speakers are great for households if you don’t wish to invest significant amounts of time and money into developing your sound system. Furthering this, most wireless speakers operate with common audio codecs such as Bluetooth, allowing them to easily communicate with other devices.
With many different forms of wireless speaker, it ultimately comes down to what you want out of your audio device. If it’s high-quality audio with a focus on clarity and fantastic left and right separation you seek, the Kef LSX Speakers have got your back. And with the JBL Link series the power of Google is brought to the forefront, not only recreating your audio in excellent quality but allowing you to establish a multi-room audio network.
Being able to connect multiple speakers together wirelessly throughout your house is a big component of what makes some wireless speakers so versatile. Whether it’s playing the same song all throughout your home or playing different music in different rooms, such as with the DTS Play-Fi capability of the Onkyo Wireless Speaker, multi-room devices can elevate your audio experiences.
Hi-Fi (high-fidelity) Systems are audio devices designed to enhance the quality of your home audio, with each part of the system optimised for its particular task. At the basic level, Hi-Fi systems are comprised of a receiver to control your audio and speakers to output high-quality sound.
Connecting through your receiver, many Hi-Fi systems are able to recreate audio from different sources, including Bluetooth, CD, and DAB+ radio. Some receivers can even connect to Wi-Fi, opening up an array of smarter features such as built-in Chromecast and Spotify Connect. Hi-Fi Systems can even act as a central point for multi-room audio networks, such as the Pioneer Network Hi-Fi System which features DTS Play-Fi capability.
While the receiver may be the muscle of your Hi-Fi system, the speakers are just as important, if you want to actually hear anything. When purchasing or building your system, there are a few things that should be considered, including how big the room is, where the speakers are going to be placed, and how big you want your speakers. This is where it’s going to be important to consider whether you want a Mini or Micro System.
While many Hi-Fi systems may function in a similar fashion, it’s important to cover the difference between ‘micro’ and ‘mini’ Hi-Fi systems. While both are great choices for someone who wants to enjoy powerful home audio without building their own home theatre or Hi-Fi system, there are some differences in performance and functionality between the two. Micro Hi-Fi Systems tend to be less powerful, more compact, and not packed with as many features as their Mini counterparts. Micro Systems are great for smaller rooms while Mini Systems can output more power to fill larger rooms with audio.
When it comes to the sound of your TV shows, movies, and games, the right equipment can truly augment the experience, which is where home theatre systems and soundbars shine. Oftentimes TV speakers won’t create the best quality sound and you’ll need outstanding audio to complement your favourite visual content.
Soundbars are bar-shaped devices, packed with speakers and clever sound technologies, designed to rest underneath your TV. Soundbars are a simple addition to your entertainment area, great for those who don’t have an abundance of space or the budget to set up an entire home theatre system.
As you’re looking to purchase a soundbar, the first thing you’ll need to consider is the size of your soundbar. As long as it’s compatible with your TV you can utilise any size of soundbar but for aesthetic purposes your setup will look better if the width of the two is similar.
Playing a little into the size of your soundbar is how many channels you’re looking for, channels basically being speakers. The number of channels is represented by a number, such as in the Sony 5.1 Channel Soundbar, with ‘5’ referring to the number of speaker channels, and the ‘1’ referring to the subwoofer.
Here’s a quick reference guide:
Two Channel: left and right speakers.
Three Channel: left, right, and centre speakers.
Five Channel: left, right, centre, and two rear speakers.
Seven Channel: left, right, centre, rear, and surround.
If your soundbar is compatible with either Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, it can feature two additional height channels, designed to fire audio upwards and surround you in audio. This also adds an additional number onto the end of the channels, such as in the Samsung 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos Soundbar which features four height channels.
Now onto connectivity, which is basically referring to the connections and how you plan to use your soundbar. Bluetooth will allow you to stream directly to your soundbar from your smart devices while Wi-Fi enables you to connect to your internet connection to access smart features such as Spotify Connect, Tidal, and more. Connectivity can also extend to the capability to be controlled through assistants such as Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. Using compatible smart speakers, your soundbar can be integrated into a smart home network for even greater convenience and versatility.
HDMI ARC is another sought out feature for soundbars, especially for those who want a minimalistic setup. HDMI ARC works by transmitting signals to the TV and receiving signals from the TV, using one cable.
Finally, we come to the subwoofer which are usually paired with the soundbar itself, to add impactful bass to your AV experience. Most soundbars include a wireless subwoofer which can be placed and easily moved throughout the room. The main consideration with your sub would be the size of the subwoofer and whether or not it’s ported. Larger subs tend to have larger drivers which lead to heavier bass. Ports are essentially openings in the main body of the sub, which can enhance the volume of your bass as opposed to the lower volume but tightly controlled bass of non-ported subs.
Smart speakers are characterised as an internet-connected device with a built-in virtual assistant able to respond to voice commands. These smart speakers feature one of three main assistants: Siri, Google Assistant, or Alexa which not only handle any queries you may have but can connect with other compatible smart-enabled devices in your home to help develop a versatile and convenient smart network within your home.
With the ability to control your TV, your lighting, your music, and more, smart wireless speakers can be an optimal choice for those looking for a more streamlined home environment. Before purchasing your smart speaker it’s important you consider which ecosystem you wish to utilise, usually based on which devices you currently own or want to own.
The three most common ecosystems are Google Assistant, Siri, and Amazon Alexa, each functioning optimally with other products of the same type. For example, Siri smart devices work beautifully with other iOS or Mac devices, while Google Assistant functions with an array of different brands and products, such as the JBL Link 300 Speaker.
Smart speakers can seem like a bit of a novelty but just like most new technologies, there’s more to them than meets the eye. So what should you look for when it comes to choosing a smart speaker?
After your desired ecosystem has been chosen, you should look for features such as Wifi/internet connectivity which allows it to connect not only to your smart device but often other devices around the home, usually with a dedicated app as an intermediary.
In a similar vein, if you want to have your favourite content right at your fingertips, it may be a good idea to look for smart devices with built-in streaming, including Netflix or Spotify Connect. Devices such as the Polk Audio Smart Speaker even feature built-in Chromecast so you can stream your favourite content without needing to utilise Bluetooth.
Of course, you can’t forget the fact they are still speakers and as such the audio quality can play an important factor in your purchase, along with aesthetic considerations such as size and design.
Party speakers are specialised audio devices designed for parties and gatherings where loud volume and powerful bass are essential. Party speakers come in many different varieties with different driver numbers and configurations, to cover all the bases.
To fill an area with booming sound you may want to consider something larger like the Sony High Power Audio Hi-Fi System, featuring ten stacked speakers, for increased power and volume.
Alternatively you can choose to utilise a more compact, portable device such as the Sony Extra Bass Audio System, which is not only easy to transport and move but features Extra Bass functionality for impactful low tones.
But to make use of the enhanced bass of the party speakers, you’ll first need to get the tunes flowing and with many speakers utilising Bluetooth, you can easily connect your smart devices and play music through Spotify or other streaming services.
A common feature of party speakers is the inclusion of LED lights which can sync to the beat of your music, adding a visual lightshow to your parties and gatherings. Some party speakers are even karaoke-ready, allowing you to simply connect a microphone and sing your heart out to your favourite songs.