Your ears aren’t as carefree as they once were. No longer satisfied with your roommate's bass-overkill speaker or your laptop’s tinny output, they long for something more sophisticated: a thank you for all that you’ve put them through.
What better way to show them you’re sorry for all the times you just had to be in the front row of that club with the buzzy speakers than by starting your own home audio system?
Don’t worry—if the phrase “home audio system” sounds overwhelming, we get it. That’s why we called in an audio expert to help those of us who haven’t engineered hit records know exactly what to look for in our speaker setup.
“What I would suggest to people that they do is to first off recognize that ears are no different than eyes in regards to individuality,” says Susan Rogers, director of the Berklee Music Perception and Cognition Laboratory and former sound engineer for Prince. (Yes, Prince.) “You should be listening to what sounds good to you.”
“Don't let the audio salesperson or even the experts online convince you that there's one brand you have to have or you must do it this way,” she says. However, just because there’s no one-size-fits-all brand doesn’t mean that the pros don’t still have their favorites. “Yamaha, and Crown, Hafler, Bryston—these companies that have been around for decades, for generations… in some cases, that's going to be the good stuff. And that's going to give you a system that you'll have for life,” says Rogers.
We know that music taste is subjective, so to a certain extent, your speaker preferences will be, too. Rogers suggests that you follow the likes and dislikes of your own ears and prioritize speakers that stay true to the audio’s original integrity. How can you tell if they do? There’s one simple test that the pros swear by.
“Rather than play music that you know sounds great on a certain stereo system, [play] music that sounds bad,” recommends Rogers. “You don't want a system that fools you into thinking a crappy sounding record sounds great.” If speakers distort bad audio, that means your high-quality records will sound lousy as well.
The good news is that whether you’re dropping a hundred bucks or a cool five grand on your new home audio system, you can find quality speakers at every price point.
Best Smart Speakers
Think of the Sonos One as a building block. With one speaker, you’ll get a rich, room-filling sound. With two, you can pair the speakers to create stereo sound—which means much more detail and the ability to link up with your home theater.
Rather talk to Siri than Alexa? For those on team Apple, there’s no better smart speaker to start out with than the HomePod mini. It’s tiny yet powerful, and fills any room with high-fidelity sound—meaning, no noise, no distortion; just your audio as it was made to be heard. And, if you choose to build out your home audio system down the line, you’re in luck—the HomePod pairs with other HomePods and AirPlay 2 speakers.
So maybe the term home audio system doesn't apply. If it’s more accurate to say that you’re shopping for a Brooklyn-apartment audio system, you may not be searching for more than one piece right now. If that’s the case, all you need is this Bose smart speaker. You can stick it in the corner of your room to create a surround-sound effect, or place it in the middle for something more uniform. More good news: When you do move up and out, this durable speaker will move with you (and unfortunately, so do the roaches).
Best Outdoor Speakers
Take a lead from Rogers and other experts and let Yamaha transform your patio, porch, or poolside palace. Not only are these speakers weatherproof, they’re also engineered to create a balanced sound. They have a powerful woofer that delivers accurate mid/low frequencies and a dome tweeter that makes sure the high frequencies are as clear as possible. Distortion? Never heard of her.
These speakers let you save a few bucks without giving up your vision of an outdoor sound oasis. They’re built with powerful woofers for thumping bass and tweeters for crisp treble. Combined, you get a super-satisfying listening experience—all for under 100 bones.
Best Waterproof Speakers
What good is a home audio system if you’re still stuck in the shower belting out Cher acapella? Naturally, you don’t want to resign your new these-cost-half-of-rent speakers to the bathroom. Instead, clip this waterproof bad boy to your shower head and cancel your IRL karaoke plans.
Bring it in the pool. The bathtub. Throw it overboard—I dare you. This thing floats better than you do. And no matter where you are, it delivers super-clear, 360-degree sound. With a 15-hour battery life per charge, it’s the perfect speaker for a pool party. (If 15 hours isn’t enough for you, it should be. Get out of the sun.)
Best Home Stereos
Bryston bookshelf speakers are an investment, I know. But think of them as your firstborn. You will take care of them. When you grow old, they will take care of you. It's no wonder Bryston makes some of Rogers' favorite speakers; they sound as beautiful as they look, too, thanks to a midrange driver that creates neutral sound at that critical frequency range. If frequency talk is confusing, all you need to know is that a lot of bookshelf speakers don’t have that. It’s special. Really.
If this speaker was a person, it would be your overachieving coworker. It does everything in its power to prevent distortion. It’s even designed so that the speaker is isolated from the cabinet so that the cabinet vibrations don’t influence the sound. Plus, it’s voice-matched to other speakers in the 600 Anniversary Edition Series, so you can build an entire home audio system around the line if you so please.
Best Turntable Speakers
Getting a turntable setup requires more purchases than one might think. (When I say "one," I mean me, before I bought my turntable and was still naive.) If the thought of learning what a preamp is and how to select one stresses you out, then go for these high-fidelity speakers that already have the preamp built-in. Kanto’s looking out for us.
For audiophile-approved sound quality at just under $500, it’s easy to see why this pair of speakers are the flagship of Audioengine’s award-winning line. Listening to music just got more engaging now that you can hear every little detail of your favorite records. If you weren’t already a vinyl snob, accept your fate now.
If you opt for the Audioengine A5+—or if you go rogue and ignore our picks altogether—you’re going to need a preamp. Keep your search simple and trust the good people of Rega Research. This preamp has a warm, full sound, and it’s ready to rock from the get-go. Sure, it’s a little more pricey than some of the cheap ones you’ll find online, but you’ll never need to upgrade it.
Now, go forth and piss off your neighbors.
The Rec Room staff independently selected all of the stuff featured in this story.