Home audio encompasses a broad spectrum of gadgets designed to help you do one thing: Get the best sound quality out of your home entertainment center.
Whether you’re looking for a great set of surround-sound speakers to enhance your home movie experience, or an iPod docking station/speaker combination, you can usually find an exceptional device at a reasonable price. Here are some of the best available.
Best Mid-Range AV Receiver
The heart of any true home entertainment center is the AV receiver. This is the device that coordinates your components and allows you to access FM broadcast stations. But not only does it handle any peripheral you wish to throw at it, it can perform plenty of other impressive tricks in style. The Denon AVR-1912 is one of the best in this category.
- Impressive Design. The Denon AVR-1912 is a sharp-looking device thanks to sleek, rounded corners and a soft, fingerprint-resistant matte casing.
- Multiple Connection Points. Connecting peripheral equipment to this receiver is a breeze with the six dedicated HDMI ports. It also has integrated AirPlay technology so you can wirelessly stream audio from any iOS device (iPod touch, iPad, iPhone, etc.) You can also put a remote control application on your iOS device and control every aspect of the receiver.
- Simple Menu Structure. The simple menu structure – plain block lettering against a black background – could be seen as a con, but is intuitive and easy to navigate.
- Good Sound Quality. The sound quality is great, though it will be somewhat dictated by the speakers you have attached.
- Oversized. The Denon AVR-1912 is big and will take up quite a bit of shelf space in your cabinet.
- No Integrated Wi-Fi. This device lacks built-in Wi-Fi, requiring a USB dongle to get Internet connectivity to run Pandora and Rhapsody. Either that or you can hard-wire the device to an Internet connection.
- Lack of HDMI Port in the Front. While the device does have six HDMI ports for connecting all your peripherals, it would have been nice if one of these ports had been added to the front of the device for easy temporary connections.
- No Satellite Radio Support. Surprisingly, this device includes no satellite radio support. XM/Sirius subscribers are out of luck.
The Denon AVR-1912 is one of the best mid-range receivers I’ve seen in a long time. I love the AirPlay technology, which allows you to to stream iPod content to your speaker system by simply selecting a song and clicking “AirPlay.” Movies also sound amazing.
Best Budget Speakers
Energy Take Classic 5.1
Looking for a quality surround sound experience without putting a major dent in your bank account? Look no further than the Energy Take Classic 5.1, which offers one of the best sounds out there and, as an added plus, is relatively affordable.
- Compact Size. The small size of this system is deceiving. The Energy Take Classic 5.1 system offers the usual six-piece surround sound system with a subwoofer, a center channel speaker, and four satellite speakers.
- Good Sound Quality. These speakers sound amazing and are easy to connect to your existing home theater system thanks to the traditional RCA connections and speaker push-clip inputs.
- Easy Installation. The satellite speakers weigh in at 2.9 pounds, so hanging them on the wall with just a screw and screw anchor is possible.
- Bad Port Positioning. The only real drawback to the wall-mounted satellite speakers is that Energy put a port in the back of each one, and covering up the port will reduce some of the bass.
This compact surround sound system earns its high marks for offering a great experience in a small package. The design elements make this system look a lot more expensive than it is. It’s the ultimate external speaker system to add to any LCD TV purchase.
Best Mid-Sized Speaker System
Aperion Intimus 4T Hybrid SD
If a compact sound system isn’t what you are looking for, consider upgrading to a mid-sized speaker system like the Aperion Intimus 4T Hybrid SD. This six-speaker system offers users a rich, warm sound from a variety of sources including your TV, DVD, and gaming consoles.
- Sleek Design. This system is designed to be seen as well as heard. Dressed in real, furniture-quality cherry wood or glossy black finish, you can incorporate these speakers into just about any home decor beautifully.
- Compact Speakers. The subwoofer and center speaker are much more compact than other mid-sized speaker systems, and the towers for two of the satellites are tall and slender. Each of the speakers includes a four-inch woven glass woofer speaker and a one-inch silk dome tweeter. The towers actually have two of the subs packed into their design, which packs quite a bit of boom into a very small space. The subwoofer includes two very capable eight-inch aluminum woofers, one on each side of the cabinet.
- Satisfaction Guarantee. Aperion offers a 30-day satisfaction guarantee. If you don’t like what you hear, you can return it. Aperion even picks up the tab for return shipping.
- Complex Tuning. Equalizing the subwoofer is rather difficult. You might need some professional help dialing this one in perfectly.
This is an exceptional speaker system. It looks good, it sounds good, and it’s backed by a money-back, no-questions-asked guarantee.
Best Sound Bar Home Theater System
The sheer number of sound bar systems on the market today makes the task of finding the right one intimidating. However most of these systems lack one vital component: HDMI connections. Just about every home theater component allows for HDMI connectivity in order to get the best sound and video quality (and ease of connectivity), but so far very few sound bar home theater systems offer it – except the Sony HT-CT150.
- Multiple HDMI Ports. The Sony HT-CT150 actually has three HDMI connection ports. This means you can connect your TV (or cable receiver), game console, and DVD and/or Blu-ray player directly into the sound bar in order to get optimal sound without the hassle of figuring out connection flows or adding an AV receiver.
- 3D Compatibility. The HDMI ports are even 3D compatible now, an upgrade from last year’s model. This means that it can pass a 3D video signal through the system to a 3D-enabled TV.
- Good Sound Quality. You can hear the rich bass tones without fear of distortion or vibration, even at higher volume levels, which produce a great contrast to the high and mid-range tones.
- Poor Subwoofer Remote Control Design. The subwoofer design is problematic. The infrared remote control connection point makes placement a little tougher than it should be. Bluetooth connectivity would definitely have been a boon – that way you could have tucked the subwoofer behind your cabinet or furniture if you desired.
- Lack of Wireless Capability. Of course, this would have been all well and good if the subwoofer had been wireless as well, but it’s not.
- Poor Remote Control Design. The remote control is a little cluttered and somewhat overly complicated than it needs to be. All the functionality is there, but it’s just difficult to figure out. Dark room use is not an option until after you’ve spent plenty of time memorizing the keys.
The Sony HT-CT150 offers users an exceptional sound experience, and includes some features that competitors lack, such as HDMI connectivity and 3D pass-through technology. You can get all of this for less than $300.
Best Budget Streaming Music Gadget
Logitech Squeezebox Radio
Remember the old portable transistor radios? Back in the day, they were the only way to take your music with you. However, with all the portable music gadgets out there today, the Logitech Squeezebox Radio is one of the only ones that lets you stream music from your favorite Internet radio or subscription service using nothing more than a Wi-Fi signal.
- Built-in Wi-Fi Receiver. This is a completely self-contained unit, packing its own Wi-Fi antenna. The radio will allow you to access any one of hundreds of free Internet radio stations, such as Pandora, Last.fm, Slacker, Rhapsody, Sirius, and many more, as well as podcasts and audiobooks. You can also access the music files you have stored on your PC or Mac if the radio and computer are on the same network.
- Solid Design. The design is compact, and includes a decent-sounding integrated speaker and color LCD display.
- Multiple File Format Decoding Capabilities. There is no need to convert files from one format to another since this particular radio can decode just about any audio file format in use today.
- iOS Remote App Integration. You can download an app to control it through your iPhone or computer.
- Colorful LCD Display. The LCD screen has a bright, 2.4-inch display where playback information, including album art, is displayed. And thanks to this particular radio’s relatively small size and functionality, it can double as an alarm clock.
- Lack of Included Battery. In order to be truly portable, you have to have a battery. And Logitech offers one – you just have to purchase it separately for about $50 extra.
- Lack of Included Remote. If you want a remote, you need to purchase that separately as well.
- Decent Sound Quality. While the sound is good, it’s not as good as the Squeezebox Boom, the step-up Logitech Wi-Fi radio, which will set you back $450.
Though there are a few drawbacks to buying this Wi-Fi radio – especially the extra cost for a battery pack and remote – the Logitech Squeezebox Radio is well worth the money. It is truly capable of giving you a great streaming audio experience.
Having a great sound system means the difference between merely listening to your audio and truly experiencing it. Regardless of whether you are trying to be in the moment while watching your favorite movie, want to jam to your favorite music while you do housework, or just need a great external speaker system to play your iOS device music files on, getting the best deal on quality home audio is the key to total enjoyment.
What is your favorite home audio equipment?