IT Show 2014 Buying Guide
The first electronics show of 2014 is finally here! As per the norm, IT Show 2014 will be held at Marina Bay Sands, from the February 27 to March 2, at Levels 1 and B2, from 12 noon to 9pm. And of course, admission is free. As expected, a great number of vendors are present to display their latest wares. Notebooks, tablets, televisions, cameras, and much more are on sale. Bargain hunters will be able to find great discounts and walk away with bountiful freebies.
Before we begin recommendation on speakers, headphones, monitors, and TVs, check out our video roundup of top 10 new gadgets you might want to have a hands-on at the IT Show and who knows, you might get some of them!
Buying Guide Index
HardwareZone IT Show 2014 Portal
For more on IT Show, including maps, brochures, and Twitter updates, click on through to our Tech Show Portal.
Speaker Deals at IT Show 2014
Here are some top speaker deals at this year's IT Show:
Creative Sound Blaster RoarThough it looks like a large book, the Creaive Sound Blaster Roar is a new wireless Bluetooth speaker on the block. With bi-amplified design and the ability to boost loudness, it may be the perfect answer to your portable audio needs.
IT Show 2014 Offer
Level B2, Booth B788
Bose Soundlink III
Newly released, the Bose Soundlink III is the third iteration of the wireless portable speaker. With refined looks and 14 hours of battery life, this product is easily one of the best options available on the market right now.
IT Show 2014 Offer
Level 1, Booth 1329
IT Show 2014 Speakers Portal
Speakers Buying Guide
While headphones are excellent for a personal listening experience, sometimes you need to listen to the audio in a group, and that's where free-standing speakers come in handy. Since they aren't restricted to delivering sound directly to your ear canals, they generally project better soundstage, and provide a more organic listening experience. As you might expect, speakers come in different shapes and sizes intended for a myriad of usage scenarios.
In general, speakers can be sorted based on their size and use case, such as mobile speakers, tabletop speakers, PC speakers, and home theater speakers.
The idea of mobile speakers is as old as portable music players. But increasingly, we're seeing new innovations in this category, and this is no doubt a result of the popularity of the smartphone as the primary music playing device for most people.
For true portability, look for mobile speakers that can operate without the need to plug into a power socket. Typically, this is achieved through built-in lithium-ion batteries. However, there are also mobile speakers that use standard AA or AAA cells; such speakers are useful for travel. Recent mobile speakers also provide wireless connectivity via Bluetooth technology; while some even have the ability to generate their own wireless hotspot. Mobile speakers typically cost anywhere from $30 for small speakers you can carry in your pocket to $500 for high-end models which promise premium quality sound.
Desktop speakers are a step up from mobile speakers, being larger and less portable than the latter. Thanks to the popularity of smart devices, we've a sub-category called docking speakers, which as the name suggests, lets you dock your device on the speaker, which is usually a one-piece stereo system. However, with the problems of transmitting audio over micro-USB (used by Android devices) and Apple’s switch from the 30-pin connector to the new Lightning connector, even such speakers have transitioned to providing wireless playback. Bluetooth is usually the technology employed, though increasing, more are sporting Wi-Fi, AirPlay, and DLNA support. AirPlay provides a great deal of convenience if you're using an iOS device; with DLNA, owners of Android devices can also stream their music just as easily.
Many desktop speakers also incorporate devices capable of playing CDs (remember micro Hi-Fi?), as well as simple bookend 2.0 and 2.1-channel systems intended for use with your desktop or notebook PC. Of course, for those who watch a lot of movies on their computer, there are multi-channel setups that usually consist of five satellite speakers and a subwoofer.
Home Theater Speakers
Home theater speakers are essential for a proper cinematic experience. And a type that's gaining a lot of attention lately is what's called a sound bar. Due to their compactness and horizontal design, they can either be hung on the wall, or placed right in front of the TV. Even with a single cabinet, a high-end sound bar is capable of delivering stereo as well as up to 7.1-channel surround sound effect. Compatibility with popular surround sound formats, such as Dolby Digital and DTS Digital Surround, is very common. For even deeper bass, a sound bar can be accompanied with a subwoofer (usually a wireless active one these days). Like home-theater-in-a-box systems, there are also sound bars that are equipped with a built-in Blu-ray player and smart Internet features.
From sound bars up, you will discover 5.1-speaker systems, 7.1-speaker systems, and the next generation of home audio evolution in the shape of 9.1 and 9.2-speaker systems. Being stand-alone speakers, they typically have a better sound quality, especially dynamic range. And they can go real loud with the help of an AV receiver, which is often not possible with a sound bar in a large room.
What to Look For
So, what should you look out for when buying speakers today?
- Skipping/Hopping: This is a problem found in mobile speakers. Due to their small stature, they may actually jump/hop/skip slightly at high volumes. Skipping or hopping represents bad construction and should be an instant deal-breaker. Do remember to crank the volumes high before buying mobile speakers so as to ascertain whether this problem exists. High-end mobile speakers such as the Bose SoundLink include features such as waffle cone enclosures for their passive radiators to specifically combat this issue.
- NFC Enabled: If rummaging through the settings menu and clicking the Bluetooth button is too much work for you, modern wireless, portable speakers come with NFC compatibility. This means that pairing your speakers with your smartphone is as simple as tapping your devices together. The inclusion of NFC functionality seems to be next step in the evolution of the Bluetooth, portable speakers market segment.
- Wireless Bluetooth: Like Bluetooth headphones, Bluetooth speakers also use the same lossy transmission format. This means that audio quality will deteriorate. We recommend you ensure your Bluetooth-enabled speakers also come with Apt-X codecs. Apt-X is a real-time digital audio data reduction system which offers linear compression of audio samples by a factor of 4:1, and hence mitigates some of the drop in quality for Bluetooth transmissions.
- Bluetooth vs. DLNA/AirPlay: Bluetooth and DLNA/AirPlay are two competing wireless transmission technologies and they have their own pros and cons. If you are looking for a quick and hassle free way to connect to your speakers, which will work anywhere, anytime, and anyplace, then Bluetooth is your best bet. However, as mentioned previously, you will have to live with the fact that it is a lossy transmission format.
DLNA/AirPlay is able to use your home network to transmit data without any losses. But DLNA/AirPlay requires an initial setup procedure, and will not function if your network is down. You will have to weigh these advantages and disadvantages when making your decision on which wireless connectivity option to go for. Bluetooth is more affordable and lends itself to portability well, while DLNA/AirPlay offers higher quality. Of course, you can always buy a speaker such as the B&O Play BeoLit 12 which gives you the best of both worlds...for more money.
For higher-end speakers, the manufacturers may offer their own wireless streaming tech. One example is Yamaha with its yAired technology that does uncompressed signal transmission, which can be found in several of its sound bars.
- Ports: When it comes to HTIB and integrated sound bar systems, it is important to note that they will serve as the hub for your entire AV ecosystem. For this purpose it is essential to have a good selection of ports. Taking sound bars as the baseline, we would suggest your prospective buys have at least one HDMI output and two HDMI inputs. Throw in composite and component inputs if you're still using analog sources. Of course, to get network connectivity, you need an Ethernet port. A USB port is handy if you want to be able to play music directly from a flash drive. 4K and 3D pass-through are nice additions too if you can afford it.
- Surround Sound: Surround sound is one of the most important, if not the most important, aspect of a good home theater speaker system. The nomenclature, such as 5.1, refers to the number of satellite speakers and subwoofers included in the configuration. So, 5.1 denotes five satellite speakers and one subwoofer. When trying to choose between a 2.1, 5.1 or 7.1-speaker system, do keep in mind the space constraints of your living area. A sound bar can be easily fitted into your existing rack space. However, in order to get the most out of a 5.1 or 7.1-speaker system, speakers will have to be placed at specific points to deliver the best surround sound. If space is tight, you may even have to wall mount them.