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Event Coverage
IT Show 2013 - TVs, Projectors, Media Players, Speakers & Headphones Buying Guide
By Team HardwareZone - 7 Mar 2013,8:05pm


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.

Mobile 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

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.



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.

  • 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 connectivity is popular among wireless speakers today due to the pervasiveness of A2DP profile compatibility in devices.

  • 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.

Check out the latest AV systems and speakers at our HardwareZone AV Systems Product Guide and Speakers Product Guide.


Speaker Deals at IT Show 2013

Here are some top speaker deals at this year's IT Show:

X-Mini Kai Mobile Speaker

Rugged and hardy the X-Mini Kai fits in your pocket and provide wireless audio playback via Bluetooth. The mobile speakers also come with built-in radio capabilities and are extremely affordable to boot.

IT Show 2013 Offer

  • IT Show Price: $79.90 (Usual Price: $99.90)
  • IT Show Promotion: N.A
  • Brochure


Level B2, Booth B137

Logitech UE Mobile Boombox Mobile Speakers

A bit larger than the X-Mini competitors, the Logitech UE Mobile Boombox is still small enough to fit in any regular bag. The product is capable of producing enough volume to fill a moderately sized room with sound.

IT Show 2013 Offer

  • IT Show Price: $149 (Usual Price: $149)
  • IT Show Promotion: Free Logitech UE 100 earphones
  • Brochure


Level B2, Booth B131

Bose SoundLink Air Desktop Wireless Speakers

Utilizing AirPlay technology, these desktop speakers deliver a high quality of audio which will impress anyone. Bright highs and strong mids make the Bose SoundLink Air excellent for a wide range of music genres and styles.

IT Show 2013 Offer

  • IT Show Price: $649 (Usual Price: $759)
  • Brochure


Level 1, Booth 1532

Klipsch ProMeda 2.1 Desktop Speakers

The 2.1 configuration still remains extremely popular among desktop speaker enthusiasts due to products like the Klipsch ProMedia 2.1. These speakers are true all rounders and handle movies, music and gaming audio with aplomb.

IT Show 2013 Offer

  • IT Show Price: $314 (Usual Price: $349)
  • Brochure


Level 1, Booth 1405


IT Show 2013 Speakers Portal

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