Practical Speaker Buying Guide
There are a LOT of home theater speaker buying guides out there. They will list off a number of speakers that they’ve reviewed (or not) and tell you why you should buy them. These are often accompanied by affiliate links. There is nothing wrong with these speaker buying guides except that they aren’t very practical. They often recommend brands you’ve never heard of before or brands that aren’t available in your area. Do you just trust them? Or do you keep searching for recommendations until you find something that you can actually buy? Neither! Let’s talk about how to shop for speakers without us ever recommending a single brand!
Step 0: There is No Perfect Deal and Most Things Aren’t Truly Terrible
Before you start your home theater speaker shopping journey, you need to readjust your expectations. Too often people are searching for the absolute best deal possible while avoiding those options that are truly terrible. First of all, regardless of what people on Reddit say, most products aren’t truly terrible. You may overpay for what you get, but you will certainly end up with something that does what it says on the tin.
That said, there is no “perfect” deal. Even if you’ve picked up some super high-end speaker on clearance from a store that was going out of business for pennies on the dollar, someone out there will claim to have gotten them for less. Get the idea that you must get the very best deal out of your head.
Step 1: Don’t Start with Reviews
If you are truly new to the home theater game, the first thing you need is experience. You’ve been to movie theaters, but you were likely paying much more attention to the plot and the image than to the sound. Sure, you noticed the bass, but you weren’t paying attention to the overall sound quality. Let’s change that.
It’s time to do some shopping! Go out to your local hi-fi stores (yes, this includes Best Buy with their Magnolia rooms) and demo some speakers. Let them give you their spiel. They are going to try to sell you something. Let them know you are not buying today, but just trying to narrow your options.
Listen to everything. Don’t worry about the prices. This will give you the experience you need to continue shopping. Take notes. Write down the makes and models of the speakers and what you liked and didn’t like about each.
Step 2: Read Reviews and Be Prepared to Be Annoyed
Now that you’ve got some experience, look up the speakers you heard online for reviews. You’ll probably be surprised to learn that you may not be able to find professional reviews about the specific speakers you heard! How’s that possible? There are tons of options out there. You aren’t going to find a review of every single model. Especially if it isn’t the top-of-the-line model (reviewers rarely want to review mid- or entry-level products).
Don’t worry! You can use user reviews, you just have to read them carefully. Beyond that, of the professional reviews you do find, how do your impressions stack up? You took notes on what you liked and didn’t like. Do the professional reviews agree? Chances are, more often than not, they do. This should give you the confidence you need to trust your own instincts.
Step 3: Prioritize
The most important part of our practical speaker buying guide is to figure out your priorities. What is important to you in a speaker purchase? Not what is important to others. They may prioritize gloss black finish or performance or bass response. You may prioritize footprint, stability, or other factors. While performance is important, remember Step: 0 in our practical speaker buying guide. With very few exceptions, you can find speakers that fit your priorities without sacrificing too much performance.
Step 4: Time to Search the Interwebs
Now that you have your experience and priorities, it’s time to start shopping on the web. You are looking for speakers that fit your priorities but also have reviews that match up with what you liked about the speakers you heard in person. This is where you will start limiting your choices by price. Depending on your priorities, you may find that your budget may or may not be reasonable.
At the end of this process, you will have a list of speakers that all “fit the bill” as far as what you want. They should all be within your budget and have all the correct performance and aesthetic metrics. Some of these you will be able to demo locally, others you may not. That’s okay. We aren’t buying anything yet.
Remember Step: 0. With even a modicum of research, you should be able to determine if any speaker (even ones that you’ve never heard) is of sufficient quality. If there are professional reviews of a speaker, then you should have a much better idea of their performance. If they sound (from the review) that they will be good, then they probably will be.
Step 5: Ranking
Take a look at your list. Some of these options will stand out as clear frontrunners while others just don’t seem as attractive. If you are having any doubt about a specific option, delete it. If you still have more than one option left, rank them. What you use to rank them is up to you. The reality is that these will be your speakers. Our practical speaker buying guide isn’t designed to get you the best speakers ever, but the best speakers for you! You may rank them on price, looks, gut feeling…it doesn’t matter. However you rank them is valid. It’s your purchase.
Step 6: Sleep On It
You’ve had your nose to the grindstone for quite a while now. You’ve been working on your list and you think you’ve got it right. In fact, you’re sure of it! You’re ready to buy.
Take a break. Close your file, put your notebook away, and take a break. We say you should sleep on it, but you should probably take more time than just a night. You’ve now narrowed your list down to a couple of options that you feel really good about. That’s fantastic! Rather than purchase right away, let this decision percolate for a little. Do a bit more research. Listen to a few more speakers. Every time you go back to your list and still feel good about your top choice will get you that much closer to being happy with your purchase. Buyer’s remorse? No way!
Step 7: It’s Time to Buy
Now that you’ve done your research, made your list, and taken some time to reflect, it’s time to buy. You’ve earned this. You can buy with confidence that you’ve done your due diligence. Will someone online tell you that you should have bought something else? Absolutely. But with you doing all the above work, you can feel confident that you bought the best speakers for you. And that’s what is most important.
Want more help? Here are some more resources for buying speakers:
- Six Things I Wish I Knew Before Buying My First Home Theater Speakers
- Terrible Reasons for Buying (or Not Buying) Speakers
- Buying Used Home Theater Speakers: 5 Step Guide to Success!
- Home Theater on a Budget: Buying Used Speakers
- Active Speakers Types and Buying Guide
- 10 Biggest Mistakes When Shopping for Speakers (Part 1)
- 10 Biggest Mistakes When Shopping for Speakers (Part 2)
- “But They Sounded Great in the Store!” Your New Speakers Sound Like Crap…What Happened?