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Audio Buying Guide

by Staff Writer

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Girl listening to her home audio headphones

When it comes to music, you have no shortage of options for listening at home, in your car or anywhere else. From personal iPods and MP3 players to car audio and home theaters, this audio buying guide includes some basic information to help you explore the options so you can put together a sound system that will be music to your ears.

Buying Audio Equipment:

  1. Home audio: Home audio applications can be a mix of large and medium-sized stereos and equipment. Your audio system might be a bookshelf stereo or a full home theater surround system that works for music and movies. When planning to add an audio system to a room, consider how sound travels through the space, reflecting or being absorbed by different surfaces. Hardwood floors and low ceilings will reverberate sound more readily than high ceilings and carpet.

  2. Mobile: Digital music players, like MP3 players and iPods, are the perfect solution for taking your music with you anywhere. Digital audio systems can store thousands of songs, hours of video and even hundreds of photos. Portable DVD and CD players work well for mobile entertainment as well. It all depends on how much space you have available when you travel. Look for music players that will be compatible with your home audio system. Many stereo systems now include USB ports or docking stations for your portable MP3 player.

  3. Cables and connections: The audio cables that connect your various stereo system components can impact your audio quality. Better cables allow less interference to enter into the signal, which makes for clearer sound from your speakers. Here are a few points to remember concerning your audio connections:

  4. Resistance: Match the resistance of your speaker wire to the impedance rating on your stereo speakers.

  5. Connections: Gold-plated cable connectors have better conductivity and introduce less interference into your audio signal than other connectors.

  6. Cable length: Once your cables extend over 50 feet, the signal can start to degrade. If you have to run speaker wire or other cables over larger distances, look into adding a signal amplifier to the circuit.

  7. Receivers: A receiver is the heart of the audio system, and it can include the pre-amp, amp, microchips and connection ports for all of your audio components. Your receiver provides power to the speakers. It also decodes stereo and surround sound data from CDs, DVDs and TV signals. A receiver can combine any of several components, like a pre-amp, amplifier, equalizer, radio tuner or CD player. Home theater systems will usually include a DVD player, with video processing and HDMI output for connecting your HDTV. Receiver power is rated in watts, which you can then match to the power ratings on your speakers.

  8. Speakers: Home audio speakers are sold as multiple-speaker systems or as individual speakers. Different speaker drivers handle different audio frequencies for authentic sound reproduction. For a surround sound system, speakers handle different audio channels from the receiver to produce the surround sound effect.

  9. Front: Left and right front speakers are placed in front of listeners to create 3-D sound effects.

  10. Sides: Left and right surround speakers are placed just behind listeners to add depth.

  11. Rear: Rear surround speakers are placed behind the listeners to complete the surround sound effect.

  12. Bass: Subwoofers can be placed nearly anywhere in the room, since they produce nondirectional, low-frequency bass sounds. You can get more punch from your subwoofer if you place it close to a wall, which reflects and directs the audio waves outward.

  13. Other speaker types: Speakers vary as much as the audio systems that use them. Indoor/outdoor speakers tend to be weather-resistant and can send audio into the garden or patio area. Wireless speakers can give you great audio without running speaker wire. The size and type of speaker you choose for home audio depends entirely on your listening area, style and power preferences.

Ideas from Overstock.com:

  1. All this home theater gear also translates over to your car audio system. Overstock.com can set you up with a new car amplifier and car speakers. A complete car stereo or mobile video system can keep passengers happy during long trips, too.

  2. Expand your music collection with Overstock.com's great deals on albums from the latest artists. Your new CDs and MP3s will sound amazing on your new home stereo system.

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