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In a nutshell. A home stereo system includes two speakers for two good reasons. Most recordings have two separate and distinct channels. And you have two ears.
When you listen in stereo, recorded music sounds more like a live performance. It's a feeling you won't get from a single wireless speaker.
Most stereo systems include three things:
This article will help you choose a home stereo system that suits your lifestyle and your listening space.
Wireless speakers are super convenient. One box is all you need. And some of them sound surprisingly good. For background music, I love them.
But stereo recordings have discrete left and right channels for a reason. They give you the unmistakable impression that you’re in the room with the performers. In this regard, a pair of speakers always beats one.
With stereo, different instruments come at you from different points between and beyond the speakers. You hear your music in three dimensions – just like you hear real musicians positioned in different places on an actual stage. You experience the music and the space in which it’s played.
A home stereo system typically includes three main ingredients:
The music source could be an external component, such as a turntable or CD player. It could be a receiver’s built-in AM/FM tuner. Or it could be a wireless connection to a smartphone or a home network.
Traditional stereo receivers combine an AM/FM radio tuner with a 2-channel power amplifier and a preamp section. The preamp section gives you control over source selection, volume, tone and balance.
An integrated amplifier is just like a receiver, but without the radio. Some models are as large as a typical receiver. But there are plenty of compact amps, too. For more info, see our integrated amplifiers buying guide.
If you’re looking for an even more compact system to liven up a dorm room, kitchen, or small apartment, consider a pair of powered stereo speakers. With the amplifier (and, in some cases, the Bluetooth receiver) built in, these speakers save a lot of space.
Some wireless multi-room speakers can be linked together in stereo mode. If you alread have a wireless speaker, check to see if you can pair it with another identical speaker.
For example, if you're a Sonos owner, you can add a second Play:1, Play:5, or Sonos One in the same room. Use the Sonos app to pair them. One of the speakers will play the right channels, and the other will play the left channel.
Want to enjoy the benefits of a wireless multi-room audio system, but with real stereo speakers in at least one room?
Consider mating a pair of regular (non-powered) stereo speakers with a powered zone component like the Sonos amp. It’s a very compact wireless multi-room music player with a stereo amplifier built in. Amplified zone players are also made by Yamaha, Denon, and Bluesound.
Your library, home office, spare bedroom, or any other small, relatively private room can become your sonic sanctuary. Bookshelf speakers are perfect for small rooms. They can be wall-mounted or placed on speaker stands.
Floor-standing speakers are great for large rooms. They produce plenty of deep bass. They're hard to beat for big, room-filling sound.
For more speaker selection tips, see our article on choosing stereo speakers.
Most speakers don't come with any wire. You'll need to get some to connect the speakers to your receiver or amplifier. For more info, see our article on choosing and installing speaker wire.
If you’re buying a pre-packaged system, you don’t have to worry about the finer points of matching speakers and amps.
If you’d like to put together an a la carte system, you can get some advice from one of our expert advisors. Or you can follow these simple guidelines:
If you already have an amp (or you'd rather pick your amp first), make sure the speakers you choose can handle the power it puts out.
If you’re using 4-ohm speakers, make sure the amp you choose is compatible.
To get the most from a small amplifier, choose efficient speakers (as reflected in their sensitivity rating). The higher the number (in decibels or dB), the more efficient the speaker, and the louder it plays with a given amount of power.