While video technologies have been the driving force in the consumer electronics marketplace for some time now, attention to audio performance has taken an unfortunate backseat. Since home theater has reached the masses, becoming an "in-the-box" solution in some cases, and HDTV prices have plummeted to unbelievably affordable levels, one thing we find near the bottom of most consumers' minds is their sound system. Sound is 50% of the movie watching experience, so your sound system should be up to the task of matching the performance of your shiny new HDTV. This does not mean, necessarily, that your sound system has to cost as much, or more than, your video display, but buying a system based on the two worst approaches to purchasing audio equipment - it sounds better than the TV speakers and costs less than the TV - is not the path to home theater bliss. A new HDTV and Blu-ray player are certainly worthy investments when it comes to building a quality system, but the system's speaker package is the best investment anyone putting together a home theater system can make.
"The best investment I can make?" Yes, your speaker system is flat-out the best allocation of money when purchasing your home theater system. Here's why. While digital technologies continue to advance, speakers have remained analog devices. Every digital audio signal must be converted to an analog signal before being sent to a speaker. How well a speaker reproduces that analog signal is determined by how well that speaker is engineered and built. A poorly designed speaker, using inexpensive components, will not render a lifelike presentation of a film's soundtrack or music recording. The result is a system that sounds colored and unnatural, is dislocated from the picture, and is unable to present a realistic and seamless soundstage. While an HDTV can reproduce images in almost infinite detail, resulting in a viewing experience that rivals reality, a poorly executed speaker system can only mimic the sounds of reality and not fully reproduce those sounds properly and clearly.
An engineer's goal is to build a speaker capable of reproducing the motion picture and music experience as close as possible to being there. A properly designed speaker system should almost disappear and immerse you in a full-range, 3D soundstage that is clear, precise, and involving in its presentation. Again, sound is 50% of the movie watching experience. A sound system that rivals your HDTV's picture will engage you more with the images onscreen since dialog will sound real and alive, music passages will have more presence and sound like real instruments, and action scenes will crackle and explode with more clarity and depth placing you directly in the middle of the mayhem and virtually slamming you in the chest. Since audio is half of our sensory perception of a motion picture, the soundtrack of a movie gets us more emotionally involved in our overall experience of our favorite films. For example, classics like Jaws and Halloween are not frightening at all with the sound turned off. A big, beautiful HDTV accompanied by unrealistic, unclear, and anemic sound achieves only half of the true home theater experience.
As a consumer weighing your budgetary options for your new system, the two most important reasons to devoting more of your attention to a quality speaker system is that, when you buy the right speakers, you will never feel the need to replace them, and they will never become obsolete. Your HDTV will change eventually due to the upcoming 2160p resolution, known as 4K TV, or advancing panel and projection technologies, but great speakers will always have the necessary analog tools to complete and enhance whatever new digital technologies are introduced.