What Makes a Good Home Cinema Speaker?

Investing in new speakers for your home cinema set up? Here are a few things to consider before parting with your money...

It’s very easy to look at multichannel audio and make the conclusion that its requirements are the same as stereo but with more speakers in use. This isn’t the best way of looking at the requirements that define a good home cinema speaker. An awesome multichannel audio package performs in a way that is subtly different to a stereo pair of speakers.

There are a few reasons for this but one sits well above all the others. In a stereo system, the speakers generate the main point of attention. With home cinema, it’s not the speakers job to be the focus of attention, that’s what you’re watching! The job of a good multichannel speaker package is to make events on screen more impressive, more understandable and work to further what the eye sees. Even when they’re reproducing events off screen, they’re doing it in a way that’s relevant to what’s on screen. Ultimately, the role of home cinema equipment is to improve your viewing experience.

Although they’re not the ‘main event’, speakers still need to be effective in a home cinema setup. Firstly, the need for voices to sound like voices doesn't change and speakers that can take a large amount of information and present it in a logical and self-explanatory way are exactly the same as they are in stereo. 

Cambridge Audio SX80 Speaker Close Up

Another critical area is the handover from speaker to speaker. A good multichannel package will perform without obvious gaps in the sound that immerses you. Obviously the more speakers you have, the easier this is but even with the basic minimum of five speakers, they need to handover from one to another seamlessly. If something enters the screen from the left, moves across it and exits from the right, you want this to be a continuous arc of sound, not an intermittent one. Enter our BMR drivers! We first made use of them in our Minx packages designed with multichannel use in mind. BMR is ideal as it functions over a wide frequency response, for a smoother and more cohesive sound. They also have a very wide dispersion which means that you get a nice fluid handover between speakers even when they’re far apart.

At the back of the room, there are some key requirements too. A rear speaker (sometimes called an 'effects speaker') needs to be able to place specific sounds where they need to be (a voice, a gunshot etc) but also create a wider sense of ambience that adds realism and presence to what’s on screen. You can use a regular speaker as an effects speaker just fine but for exceptional results, use a speaker designed specifically for the job. We produced the Aero 3 to act as an effects speaker and with some unique functionalities. It has two BMR drivers that can work as a pair in a conventional five channel system or they can be split to act as single drivers in a seven channel setup, without having to find the space for more speakers. 

Speaker parts

It’s pretty easy to overlook the '.1' part of a package as a means of adding a bit more bass, but subwoofers perform a critical role in giving a soundtrack that extra ‘oomph’ to be even more convincing and exciting. A subwoofer needs to be powerful, made from material that makes it as inert as possible and fitted with a driver that allows for low frequencies to be hit cleanly whilst adding some serious low frequency energy to a soundtrack.

This energy is important because with many films, the range in volume between the quietest moments and the loudest (or dynamic range) is larger than it is with any equivalent piece of music. Speakers need to be able to convey a single whispered word one second and then be able to keep control of huge sound pressure levels from explosions the next. This isn’t easy and requires speakers to be extremely flexible in terms of how they perform. This doesn’t offer much factual basis on it’s own – perhaps we could be more upfront and honest about promoting our own range and simply say, We think our …. Range does a particularly good job of this, but don’t take our word for it, it’s always good to stop into a local store and get a proper demo. You can find the nearest place to test our kit here.

Ultimately, home cinema isn’t so different from stereo that speakers cannot be used for both, but there are greater demands on home cinema speakers and the role they play is subtly different to stereo speakers. Through careful engineering and our unique technologies, we’ve ensured our speakers are as effective providing the soundtrack for a cinematic classic as they are a stereo masterpiece.  

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