So many choices, manufacturers and specifications, but there are some simple things we can use to make the right choices. You really only need to ask two basic questions:
How many and what type of speakers do you need?
First, a quick lesson on speakers: there are two types of speakers: one that produce the upper range of frequencies (called main speakers) and one that produce only the low frequencies (called subwoofers). In home cinema, the number of each type of speaker is denoted by the first or second number in the specifications. For example: 5.1 means 5 main speakers and 1 subwoofer.
For someone starting out with Home Cinema, I recommend one of two choices:
1. If your room can accommodate 5 speakers and a subwoofer, go for a 5.1 set-up arranged in the following way:
- Two stereo channels at the front (Front Left and Right Speakers)
- One centre channel for dialog (this is optional if you don’t have the room)
- Two stereo channels at the back (Surround Left and Right Speakers)
- One subwoofer channel (the subwoofer can be placed anywhere in the room as long as it sounds good to your ears)
2. If your room cannot accommodate 5-6 speakers, go for a sound bar.
A sound bar is a speaker that is placed under or over your TV and bounces sound around your room to create the surround sound field AS IF you had 6-8 speakers in your room.
I would recommend a sound bar that has a subwoofer in a separate box for the best sound quality and full impact of movie soundtracks.
Although many manufacturers now make sound bars, some manufacturers have more experience in creating virtual surround sound such as Yamaha. Other manufacturers have some great products also, but be sure to read the reviews and audition them to see if you like the sound effects they create.
What kind of amplification do you need?
If you’re going for a 5.1 set-up, you have the option of choosing an all in one package that includes an amplifier or buy separate speakers and amplification. The former is easier to get and set up, but will almost always produce inferior sound to a separates system.
For home cinema, the amplifier is also usually tasked with decoding the audio and passing the video signal to your screen. An amplifier with built-in decoding of audio and video is called an Audio Video Receiver (or AV Receiver for short).
A sound bar 99% of the time includes amplification and decoding of audio from TV, DVD and Blu Ray so you won’t need to buy a separate AV Receiver or Amplifier.