Audio systems and speakers…you could write a book about them. But this will just be an article, albeit a good one, because we have some interesting news to share with you. Currently, the market is loaded with audio systems and speakers, ranging in price and quality. The good news is it’s virtually impossible to buy a bad audio system and speakers. What really matters is where your system will be installed and how much you want to invest in it.

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That said, let’s go over what you’ll need to know before buying your system.

In a previous article (wireless speakers) we strongly recommended doing your research before setting out to shop. This consists of talking to friends and family members who own audio systems and speakers, reading product reviews, finding out what’s new in the publications that cover this market and checking out the ads in these magazines. Obviously, the reviews are best because they are unbiased and written by professionals who have no agendas…it’s their job.

After the research, try to create a “blueprint” – a rough drawing of where you see the equipment arranged as it will be used. It can be as simple as squares on a piece of paper to more detailed drawings on graph paper drawn to scale. Either way, you will have created a “map” to help you follow your way to the perfect installation.

Next step, you need to decide what brand or brands interest you the most and then start shopping. You will probably want a receiver, DVD player, CD player, maybe a cassette deck, and, of course, speakers. If you’re setting up a home theater system, you will need five speakers: two for left-right sound, one center for fill, two rear units to project left-right sound behind and to the sides and a subwoofer for bass and power (and possibly to connect all the wires from all the speakers). The results should put you in the middle of the soundtrack which should make you feel as though you’re in a movie theater or as close to it as possible.

Remember this mantra: Balance is the byword. This means that all of your speakers should not only sound good…they should all sound the same. Today, the high-quality speaker companies strive to achieve a consistent character of sound, (or timbre), from main to center to surround models, assuring a seamless blend among all channels. So when you’re choosing your speakers make sure they are made by a company that manufactures a variety of sound-matched products. Carefully check to see that the tweeters and the midrange driver cones are made of the same material. What you’re looking to achieve is a speaker system with balanced performance.

Now it’s time to buy your components, so let’s start with the focal point product: the receiver…actually a multi-faceted piece of equipment. It’s a tuner, AM-FM, and, in some new products, could be satellite radio compatible. It’s also a pre-amp, controlling the volume, bass and treble and serving as a switching device for your audio and video sources. You should check to make sure the receiver has enough audio and video inputs and outputs to handle all your current and future sources, not an easy task as new products (with their new bells and whistles) appear almost daily. The receiver also acts as a surround processor, taking the surround sound and directing it to the proper speakers. And just to round things out, the receiver acts as your power amplifier, the component that drives the speakers. A good rule of thumb is the higher the power of the amplifier section (measured in watts), the louder and cleaner the speakers will play.

For optimum listening pleasure, where you place your speakers and where you sit to listen to them will reflect the quality of the sound you will be hearing. Scores of books have been written about this subject but in deference to the space we have, here are some helpful hints.

If there’s a subwoofer in your system, your main speakers should be placed at least two feet from the walls, especially the wall behind the speakers to get the most natural midrange and most open sound. If your system does not have a subwoofer, vary the speakers’ distance from adjacent walls until you get the best balance between bass and the midrange. As for equal distance, the rule of thumb is if the speakers are 24 inches from the side walls, place them at least 32 inches from the front wall. We think you will have to experiment a bit until you are happy with what you’re hearing.

A brief word on wires and subwoofers before we get to the big news. So what kind of wire should you use? Easy…wire specifically designed for speakers; stranded cable. (Please don’t even think about lamp cord or telephone wire!!) Because your choice of wire will affect the sound quality of your system, rely on the salesperson or a “wire-savvy” friend to recommend the quality brands. Basically, for connecting lengths less than 25 feet, use #18 or #16 gauge. For connecting lengths greater than 25 feet. but less than 50 feet. use either #16 or #14. And for lengths greater than 50 feet use #14 or #12.

As for subwoofers, here are some thoughts to ponder. It is possible to create a quality home theater system without a subwoofer. BUT…If you are looking to achieve true movie theater sound quality, with all of the realism and impact that today’s movies are capable of delivering, you will definitely want a subwoofer. Keep in mind that almost all movie soundtracks are designed to be played on systems with subwoofers. And if you’re like most home theater aficionados, you tend to want a little more bass in your movie watching than you do when listening to your music. And now for some very interesting news.

It was only a matter of time before someone started paying attention to the “spouse syndrome”. You know, where one spouse (usually the husband) wants those cool-looking metal speakers and the other spouse (you know who) says something like, “If you think I’m putting those ugly little boxes in my living room, guess again!!” Well, one company, Audiovox Corporation, has come up with a line of speaker systems under the Acoustic Research Home Décor brand, which, for the first time, will allow consumers to consider their home decorating schemes when choosing a home theater speaker system.

Audiovox conducted a number of focus groups which revealed that most speakers are designed to produce great sound, but do very little to help the consumer fit them into specific decors that give their home that special look. Not any more. The Acoustic Research Home Décor Series is specifically designed to produce the highest-quality sound and combine it with a variety of patent-pending innovative speaker covers that can compliment virtually any home décor. Audiovox says that a side benefit is the new products should help eliminate the conflict at retail when a couple shopping for home theater speakers are at odds over how those little high-performance speaker boxes will look in the décor of their home.

The AR Home Décor Home Theater System consists of the HD510 System, five 100-watt satellite speakers and one 10-inch ported subwoofer that features pewter-colored aluminum extruded cabinets, a powerful 175-watt digital subwoofer amplifier, magnetically-shielded 3-1/2-inch midrange, 1-inch high-frequency drivers and Teteron tweeters for a wide sound stage with minimum distortion whether or not the covers are used.

The entire line is designed to match with a wide variety of custom-designed optional speaker covers that include mantel clocks, candle holders, faux books, planters, wall sconces, vases, floor stand baskets as well as vases and trunks to hold the subwoofers.

Each one of the covers has been custom-designed to fit only the Home Décor line of speakers and once matched with a cover, the speakers virtually disappear and blend in with almost any home environment.

While speakers have been disguised for years as rocks, planters, etc., the AR Home Décor line separates itself from these conventional (and very limiting) formats, creating the opportunity for consumers to really express themselves without compromising speaker performance.

The company has several programs available for retailers to carry the line. For example, they can carry the speakers and any mix of covers. Or they can carry the speakers only and fulfill customers’ orders for covers through their website. Additionally, customers will be able to visit the Audiovox website to see the whole line of available covers not carried at retail.

The Acoustic Research HD510 Home Décor Home Theater System will have an MSRP of $899. The decorative covers will range in price from $29.99 to $59.99 for the satellite speakers, and $79.99 to $99.99 for the subwoofer covers.

If you are in the market for a good audio system with high-quality speakers and solid, reliable performance, the time couldn’t be better to shop and buy. You know the drill. Do the research, pick your products and have yourself a great audio experience.

HDW750 Urban Wall Sconce • Black • 40.5x20x20cm (15.9×7.8×7.8)

HDT250 Traditional Wooden Clock • Clock is made of pine wood with wood veneer • Working Clock • 270x180x405mm (10.6x7x15.9 inches)

HDS909 Traditional Leather Trunk (Subwoofer Cover) • Made of hardwood with leather top and leather strap accents • 70x42x40cm product (27.5×16.5×15.7 inches)