The Big Audio Question: Stereo vs. Surround Sound
The advent of home theater has put multi-channel sound (aka. surround sound) into our lives forever and while that was an elevating experience for movies, it couldn’t quite replace the warmth and finesse of a good stereo when it came to reproducing music. There was something emotionally uplifting about putting on your favorite, record or CD! Certainly surround sound is extremely cool, but listening to music the way most of it was recorded, in two channels, takes us beyond the physical sounds or words and brings us closer to that emotional connection to our past, present and future.
Can you remember what songs you and your friends were listening to in high school? Can you remember what song was playing when you got married or had your first child? We all can! Just like photographs, we mark special moments in our life by the music of the times or the songs we liked. Why is all this important? The answer is simple: dedicating the space and budget necessary to create a high quality two channel experience in your home is an investment that will give you years of enjoyment.
We suggest finding speakers that perform to your taste and are right for your room. The speakers are arguably the most critical element in a stereo and since each person hears differently, it is a good idea to start by finding speakers that you love. Here’s a tip: Speakers that sound good with music will also sound good with theater, but the opposite is rarely true. Theater speakers can deliver the dynamics and impact of music, but often fall short when it comes to warmth and finesse. Additionally, the cabinet plays a very important role in the loudspeakers’ ability to faithfully recreate sound. It is for this reason that most really good two channel stereos do not incorporate in-wall type loudspeakers. One last important note: just as the cabinet has a significant impact on the sound of the speaker, so does the room influence how that speaker will sound. If there is a lot of glass in the room, you probably want to temper your desire for metal dome tweeters, as the resulting sound could potentially be “bright and shrilly” sounding.
The next step is to choose the right amplification. This will usually be in the form of an integrated amp or a separate power amp and pre-amp combination. You will need to consider several strategic factors: Will it match well sonically with my loudspeaker? Does it have the power and speed to adequately drive my loudspeakers? Does it image (recreate the position of the instruments on the stage) well enough for the speakers to mentally disappear. Tube amplifiers are growing again as a category, because they tend to provide a certain emotional connection that is not generally associated with solid state designs. Try to incorporate separate components.
The third step will be to determine what sources of music you and your family will be listening to. You may have CDs, SACDs, HD Radio, XM, digital media and more. There are affordable and high performance choices available for all these formats. Maybe you remember records? Turntable sales were up 37% in 2009. Also in 2009 record sales jumped a whopping 33% to 2.5 million copies. 2008 boasted 1.8 million copies sold and 990,000 vinyl albums were sold in 2007. Records are coming back and why, because many music experts believe they sound better.
There are even more things to be considered such as the cables and interconnects you will need, stands for the speakers (if necessary), furniture to house the electronics and possibly even room treatments or control technology. The really fabulous news is, once you have ventured down this road, you will feel like a kid again! You will want to listen to YOUR music again and you may even want to buy some new music again! Stereo / two channel audio systems are infectious and will impact how you spend your time at home.
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