Speakers Tips

Read these 18 Speakers Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Speakers tips and hundreds of other topics.

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What is WAF, and how will it affect my speaker purchase?

WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor)

If your listening room is shared space (with your spouse) you may need to consider the Wife Acceptance Factor (WAF). Although most men have no problem putting a pair of 6- foot tall tower speakers in the living room, you may meet with resistance from your significant other.

There are many speakers out there that sound great and can be easily integrated into the decor of a room so that they are virtually invisible. Of course, if you're lucky enough to have sovereignty over a dedicated listening room, by all means get those mammoth tower speakers!

   
Is comparing speakers in a store worthwhile?

In-Store Speaker Review

Many chain stores have rows upon rows of speakers hooked up so you can audition them. Although convenient, this scenario does not give you a true sense of how the speakers sound. It's impossible to make an educated choice in this environment, since speakers interact with the room they are placed in, and the equipment with which they are used. In other words, the way a speaker sounds in the store is not necessarily how they will sound in your home.

   
Why would I want to buy old speakers?

Old Vs. New

Why do some people hunt down and acquire vintage speakers, instead of just buying a new pair from the local mall or chain store? As the saying goes, "they don't make 'em like the used to".

The craftsmanship and build materials available in the 1900's reflect the history of reproduced sound. American companies like JBL, Electrovoice, Altec, Western Electric, AR, KLH, Ohm and British companies like Quad produced some of the finest speakers ever seen. In fact the quality was so great that today some of the rarest vintage speakers can sell for over $20,000 a pair.

   
What is distortion, and why should I worry about it?

Distortion - The Speaker Killer

The easiest way to destroy a perfectly good speaker is to drive it into distortion. Distortion is basically when the speaker emits sounds that are not part of the program material being played through them. There are two main types of distortion: mechanical distortion (like voice coil rub) and electrical distortion (such as amplifier clipping, and ground loops).

Any amplifier asked to play at 80 to 90 % of its potential power will clip and, if given time, destroy speakers. A normal amplifier output signal looks like a sine wave (the peaks and troughs of the wave are smooth and equal). When an amplifier is driven into clipping, the peaks and troughs are chopped off creating massive current surges that feed the speakers. The sound quality of a clipped signal is noticeably worse than a 'clean' signal.

*If you can't get the volume you want from your system you either need more power or more efficient speakers.

   
Does the room I use for my audio sytem matter?

Your Listening Room

Room size is an important factor when choosing an audio speaker. Looking at it in a simplified way, big speakers sound best in a big room and small speakers sound best in a small room.

Big speakers need to breathe. If you put them in a little small room, they will be stifled and that great sound you're looking for will be lost. Conversely, if you purchase some small bookshelf speakers and expect them to fill your home theater with concert-level sound, you will likely be disappointed.

   
Should worry about amplifier power and speaker wattage?

Power Handling

Your speakers should be matched to your amplifier. Any speaker you buy will be rated with particular amplifier wattage. It's possible, however, to under-drive as well as over-drive a speaker. If your speaker is rated for 100 Watts, and your amplifier only has 10 Watts, the tiny amplifier will be driven into distortion trying to power the speakers. You can easily destroy speakers (and amplifiers) doing this.

   
Why should I bother using a tube amplifier on my vintage speakers?

Vintage Speakers and Tube Amplifiers

Up until the early sixties, all power amplifiers were tube-based. With the advent of the acoustic suspension box, however, loudspeaker efficiency took a nose dive and transistors supplanted tubes.

Transistors sacrificed musically acceptable distortion, but brought the high power levels needed by the new loudspeaker designs. If you've gone to the trouble of hunting down a pair of vintage speakers, take the next step and drive them with a vacuum tube amplifier that they were designed for. You won't be sorry!

   
How can I find a decent pair of vintage speakers?

Shopping For Vintage Speakers

When shopping for vintage speakers, compare it to shopping for a vintage car. Try and find a one-owner set of speakers that have lived an easy life. Inspect speakers for:

• Peeling veneer
• Replacement drivers
• Torn grilles
• Hints of overuse
• Signs of possible abuse

There are many online groups dedicated to the collection and preservation of vintage speakers. It's a good idea to ask questions there as well as to check old speaker review articles for the nicer brands of vintage speakers.

   
Should I trust speaker reviews?

Speaker Reviews

There are number of magazines, and websites out there that constantly review speakers for Stereo and Home Theater applications. Although the Reviewer will usually have years of industry experience, you shouldn't rely totally on their opinion.

Everyone's ears are different. Ideally you should review speakers for yourself, in your own listening environment, to get a true feeling on how the speakers interact with your listening room, your equipment, and, most importantly, your EARS.

   
What's the best way clean my wood veneered speakers?

Caring for Real-Wood Cabinets

Many high-end speakers are finished in real-wood veneer (similar to the type found on some furniture). Real wood veneer should be treated carefully as it can stain and be scratched easily.

The best way to keep your real wood veneered speakers looking new is not use them as plant stands or coasters! Water marks and other stains can be removed, but the process is a bit involved and time consuming. If you keep your speakers polished with a good old-school paste wax (like Butcher's), it will give the speakers more resistance to moisture. Small scratches can be removed with very fine steel wool, and careful application of a wood dye pen. Taking proper care of your real-wood veneered speakers can keep them looking new for a long time.

   
I think I might be an audiophile; what should I do?

You Might Be An Audiophile

Once bitten by the 'audio bug', it's hard to go back. You strive to recreate music in your home that embodies the spirit of the original recording. An audiophile's dream is to close their eyes, open their ears, and be transported back to the point in time when that music was created. The audiophile will try 10 different speaker wires just to try for that last 1 % of realism.

Do you have an addiction to vintage tube equipment? Do your speakers cost more than your car? If this sounds like you, you might be an audiophile. Fear not, however, you are definitely no alone. In fact, there are many online communities which cater to your affliction where you can find support and get new ideas for the next big upgrade.

   
How much money should I speand on speakers?

The Cost Factor

A good rule of thumb is you should reserve anywhere from half to 60% of your system budget for your speakers. Speakers are the voice of your system. If you blow your budget on the latest receiver with 20 surround modes and 5000 watts, it won't do you any good playing it through little computer speakers. Conversely, if you spend 90% of your budget on a pair of speakers based on the latest speaker review, you'll only have a fraction of budget left to spend on your receiver, cables, DVD player, etc. There is a definite balance to maintain if you want a cohesive, enjoyable sound system.

   
What's the big deal with Alnico magnets?

Alnico Magnets And Vintage Speakers

Up until the early 60's, cone speakers used Alnico as a magnet, as opposed to today where it is an ceramic construction (or NeBeFb). Vintage speaker buffs prize Alnico for its efficiency and strength.

*Alnico magnets were the most powerful available in their time

   
Can vintage speakers be restored?

Restoring Vintage Speakers

A pair of audio speakers that has lasted 50 odd years is bound to have some issues. Water damage, lifted veneer, blown speakers, and faulty crossovers are very normal when a speaker reaches this age. If you don't have the time or skill to restore your speakers, consider sending them to a specialist for a professional restoration.

   
Should I spend lots of money on a pair of speakers?

Speakers Are An Investment

There is a large contingent of audiophiles who collect vintage audio speakers and other equipment. As with cars, some good quality vintage speakers can be worth ten times their original value. The lesser brands, however, are practically worthless and best used as planters.

A good pair of speakers can last decades if they are treated well. Speakers are a lot like cars in that they have an immediate drop in value as soon as you bring them home and plug them in. Like cars, this depreciation continues to a point. If the speaker is from a reputable manufacturer, over time (10 - 30 years) that speaker will actually increase in value.

   
What's the best way clean my vinyl clad speakers?

Caring for Vinyl Clad and Plastic Cabinets

Newer style plastic and vinyl-clad speakers are pretty easy to care for:

• Periodic dusting takes care of most issues

• Spills on the speaker's finish should be addressed by wiping up all standing liquid and then wiping it down with a mild window cleaner

• Scratches, although difficult to repair, can sometimes be removed using very fine steel wool or super fine sandpaper (400 - 600 grit) to lightly scuff the scratch and blend it in with the existing finish

   
What's a transducer?

A Speaker Is A Transducer

Speakers can be referred to as different things but a name won't change the quality of the product. A speaker is the same thing as transducer or a driver. If a company wants to market their speaker to the high-end market, they'll sometimes refer to it as a transducer. Sounds fancy, doesn't it? Just make sure you don't pay more for the fancy name. It all boils down to how a speaker sounds to YOU. If the $1000 speakers sound better than the $5000 transducers, save your money!

   
What's the best way to audition speakers?

In-Home Speaker Review

Some companies will allow you to audition their speakers in your own home for an extended period of time to ensure you're making an informed decision. This is ideal. If this isn't a possibility, however, the next best thing would be to find someone near you who has already purchased speakers you are considering.

There are many online communities where you can meet other audiophiles near you to facilitate a good 'speaker tasting' event. Make sure to listen to familiar music and/ or movies to get a true sense of how the speakers sound.

   
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PJ Campbell