How To Choose The Best Speakers For Your Home Audio System

We may receive a commission on purchases made from links.

We live inundated by media and are constantly bombarded with sound. Shouldn't you try to take control of these elements in your home, which is your sanctuary? If you're looking for the ideal sound system to complement your downtime, it's best to consider how you'll use the equipment before investing your money.

First, what and who is it for? Are you a music buff who likes to relax to Beethoven or show tunes? Does your family share a love for dance music, hip-hop, or country? Are you looking for a standalone system? Or are you hoping to find something compatible with your other devices — principally your flat-screen or computer to bring greater dimensionality to your experience with visual entertainments like sports and movies?

Answering these questions before you start a Google search will provide clarity that can save time. If you're an audiophile who loves analog jazz that predates the Kennedy era, you'll want something different from the folks looking to stream the latest from Drake or Taylor Swift. Ask the experts at The Sound Junky, and they'll tell you that the options often come in a dizzying array of choices.

Home audio by sound quality

Let's say you love singing along to the hits, but you also enjoy sports and will occasionally even sit through a full-blown concert. You'll want a system that will give you the biggest quality bang for your buck, and if you can only choose one item to upgrade, it should be your speakers.

Even novices can tell the difference between a cheaply reproduced sound and a midline stereo that costs between $300 and $500. Many audiophiles can also differentiate a $500 system from a $3,000 system based on the depth of detail and the degree of distortion when you crank up the volume. But what about a $3,000 and $5,000 audio system? Hopefully, you can see the rule of thumb: The higher the quality scale, the more dearly you pay for incremental improvements.

The experts at Lifewire recommend that you begin by getting your priorities in order. They suggest that there's no such thing as the perfect speaker because, as individuals, we listen to sound for a multitude of reasons. Rap lovers cannot compromise on bass. Pop fans seek a clean reproduction of vocals, which live in the middle of the sound spectrum, and sports fans want something immersive that will provide the best approximation of being there live.

The right speakers for your home

Anyone who's ever been to a dance club knows that speakers make the most significant difference in sound reproduction for music. An amplifier, a Bluetooth device, an MP3 player, or even a high-quality turntable can be impactful, but speakers are still incredibly relevant at the end of the day.

It's ideal to begin your shopping online to see what's available. As the audio experts at CNET note, this move can make a considerable difference depending on what you want your system to do. But there's no substitute for visiting a showroom and listening for yourself. You should take along samples of music you love and know well. And you'll want to listen for clarity, the separation between the instruments and vocals, and how well you like the response at the high-end (where trumpets and synthesizers often dwell) and low-end of the spectrum (where the bass rumbles and tubas toot).

Failing that, have someone play solo piano music on the system because it's one instrument with a broad sonic and dynamic range — meaning soft to loud. Look out for a variety of speakers, too. You may prefer a smaller system that does perfectly fine in the kitchen while you cook or make coffee in the morning. There are many to choose from, including bookshelf, soundbar, portable, and satellite. And don't be pressured by salespeople into a snap judgment; it's your money and your journey.

Affordable speakers for your home audio system

Are you tired of rewinding to see what your favorite character on TV said? The audiophiles at Lifewire suggest that investing in the Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro 7.1.4 could solve your problem. It includes a subwoofer, two rear speakers, and a soundbar, and if you move around regularly, this device could be the ultimate travel companion.

Turn to the experts at SpeakerForm, and they'll tell you that money isn't everything and that you can get a top-notch home audio system — excluding your flatscreen — for less than $1,000. They provide a side-by-side comparison between budget-friendly options and allow you to make your assessments based on your needs, wish list, and budget.

The Product Analyst takes the same approach, and they agree with SpeakerForm that the Klipsch Reference Theater Surround System is the best value purchase that can meet a wide range of needs, perfect for all sorts of homeowners. Again, this is where their recommendations begin but not where they end. So, it's entirely possible that your desires and expectations will lead you to other expert opinions or elsewhere. The bottom line: Shop carefully to avoid spending money on bells and whistles you don't care about, as they will balloon the cost of your home speaker purchase.

More speaker recommendations

If you're label-loyal, you may want to go with established brands you know you can trust. In that case, it's hard to argue with What Hi-FI? which picks speakers from Bose, a globally respected brand. They're simple and compact in design yet pack a remarkable sonic wallop for their size and expense. BestReviews says that the Bose L1 Compact with Carry Case is one of the best in its field, although, at $899, they're not cheap.

HelloTech places as much emphasis on expense as they do on quality. Their recommendations run from the Panasonic Home Theater System SC-XH105 to the well-respected Onkyo HT-S3700 5.1-Channel Home Theater Receiver/Speaker Package and the Fluance Elite High Definition Surround Sound Home Theater 5.0, which includes a center channel and rear surround speakers as well as floor-standing towers.

At the other end of the spectrum is the unrivaled Phantom line of speakers from the international sound innovator, Devialet, a company with over 160 patents for its technologies. They proudly boast that their products, no matter the volume, can deliver high fidelity and physical impact. These speakers are renowned for their pristine reproduction of sound — the kind that audiophiles claim to be top-of-the-line. The Devialet Phantom speakers cost between $1,400 and $1,800, and they're so exclusive that even the carrying cases are $250 apiece.

Are in-wall speakers a good idea?

Although some folks live in studio apartments, most people are privileged enough to reside in multi-bedroom homes. So if you'd like music throughout your house or apartment, consider whether in-wall speakers are an option. The Music Critic advises that they not only get rid of unsightly cables and clunky prominent speakers, but if properly installed, they can elevate your listening experience, too.

If this idea appeals to you, first consider your living situation and music-listening habits. Wall-mounted speakers may make sense if you live alone in a townhouse or condo — they can bring you joy in the morning shower, relaxation as you read in the living room, or sweet dreams as you nod off. But what if you don't live alone? What you listen to in the bedroom might keep someone else from sleeping, and if you're part of a family, how often will everyone be happy hearing your playlist wafting through every room? Or, for that matter, how happy will you be listening to theirs? Something that may seem like a good idea at the beginning could become the bane of your existence. 

The right audio for the right environment

The speaker experts at New York Times' Wirecutter have weighed in on the best outdoor speakers. They maintain that what's essential outdoors, even more than being Bluetooth compatible, are speakers that will withstand sun, dirt, and bugs while providing the quality sound you crave. To that end, they endorse the OSD Audio Outdoor Patio Speaker option because it reproduces sound reasonably well, is easy to mount, and can be yours for less than $200.

At the other end of the spectrum, if you're going to splurge, do so indoors, where the temperatures are less likely to fluctuate and the acoustics, if not perfect, are at least predictable. While there are passionate hobbyists and billionaires who, according to What Hi-Fi? can spend an upward of $700,000 on the system that will surpass anyone else's on the block — unless you live next door to someone who's recently built a rocket ship.