Victoria Consumer: Tips on Buying a Stereo
Here's how to shop for a good stereo:
- Choose a reputable dealer, ideally one who has been in business a few years. If you ever have a problem with your system, you want them to be around to fix it. If stereo systems are not their main business (beds, or clothing..) they may not be able to provide the specialized sales and service support you need.
- Tell the salesperson about your needs. Is the system for a small apartment or a large house? How loud can the stereo get? Will it be for music, home theatre, or both? What kind of music do you listen to? If you are looking at speakers, volume controls, security systems, and remote controls in various rooms of your house, get an all-in-one solution (not necessarily one system or brand). This may require specialized installation.
- Spend on good connectors and wiring. You are going to pay more for good equipment made of pure copper, gold plating, and polished aluminum, than a system made of tin and plastic. A good stereo system is only as strong as its weakest link. Get high quality cabling, and gold-plated connectors for a better quality sound.
- Decide how much power you want. The power to the speakers is supplied by the amplifier. Amplifiers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and most often fall into the categories of power amplifiers, integrated amplifiers, or amplifier receivers.
All of these amplifiers may be able to do surround-sound processing for home theatre. This processing may include Dolby, Pro-Logic, THX, and AC-3. The salesperson can demonstrate the differences.
- Power amplifiers are typically big components to send a bunch of electric current to your speakers. Power amplifiers are hooked up to a preamplifier to tell the amplifier what device is playing.
- Integrated amplifiers combine the amplifier and preamplifier into one unit, which offers convenience but usually with less power.
- Receiver amplifiers are integrated amplifiers that also include a radio tuner, for those who want everything in one package.
- What other devices do want to connect? A compact disc player is critical, and you can choose between a single disc or multi-disc player. True audiophiles will believe a single disc gives superior sound reproduction, while most others will prefer to load several discs and let the system play them either sequentially or randomly. Cassette decks are another component, useful for taping CDs for your Walkman portable stereo. Turntables are almost extinct, but if you own lots of vinyl albums,you need patience to find a good one. You can also hook up your VCR or laserdisc player to your system.
- Invest in good speakers. Good speakers are most people's first impression of a stereo, so this is not a place to skimp! There is great variety in speaker technologies: you have a choice of electrostatic, tower, bipolar, dipolar, in-wall, subwoofer, bookshelf, shielded, a several other types of speakers. What you listen to and how loud you like it are key factors in determining what speakers you need. Agains, spend good money on your speaker cabling!
- Try out the systems. Some dealers have "sound rooms" so you can listen to each piece of equipment. The hook-ups should be just like it will be at home. Try hooking up different compact disc players or different speakers to the same amplifier and listen to the differences. Maybe you can hear the difference, maybe you can't!
- Get a stand for your equipment. Piling your sound system on the floor probably isn't a good idea. Get a good solid stand, because a complete system may be 100 pounds of equipment! A stand also hides unsightly wires and connectors.