Speakers & Subwoofers Buying Guide

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Speakers & Subwoofers Buying Guide

Experience your music and movies in surround sound or enhance your stereo sound with new speakers and subwoofers. The equipment you need to buy depends on the type of audio you want to hear, the dimensions of your space, and how much time you want to spend setting up speaker equipment.

Get to Know Speakers & Subwoofers

Ideally, each speaker in a set reproduces a separate audio channel. If you want to listen to two-channel stereo recordings from your AM/FM tuner or CDs, you'll need left and right stereo speakers, available in a variety of sizes, that project sound in front of a listener. Purchase additional speakers to immerse yourself in surround sound sporting events, movies, and music from HDTV, DVDs, SACDs, and DVD-Audio.

Home theater speakers

Surround sound recordings contain four or more channels of audio, each reproduced by a separate speaker. A subwoofer makes up the .1, reproducing low-frequency effects and other low-frequency audio. Measure the space where you plan to place your speakers and receiver. Note the length, width, and depth of the speakers that interest you and make sure they will fit in your home.

  • Front speakers: Place front speakers to the left and right of your television. Full-size floor-standing speakers usually sound best overall. The large units should visually fit into your home, so pay attention to cabinet color and images provided in item listings. Choose bookshelf units if you want your speakers to sit on a shelf. You can also place bookshelf speakers on your wall using a wall-mounting kit, a solution that offers easy and temporary installation perfect for students and renters. Just take your speakers off the wall when you move. Your houseguests will be able to see your equipment and (maybe) some wires.
  • Center-channel speakers: Get the largest center-channel surround sound speaker you can, especially if you have large front speakers. It reproduces that sound that seems to come directly from your television.
  • Surround speakers: Position surround speakers to the left and right of your primary listening position. You can use floor-standing speakers, bookshelf speakers, or smaller satellite speakers that fit nicely on end tables or on a stand. Many sets include satellite surround speakers that offer decent performance in a small package.
  • Subwoofers: Fit a subwoofer into a corner of your room. Most subwoofer units include their own power amplifier and subwoofers with larger cabinets and drivers produce deeper bass sounds than smaller subwoofer units.
  • Rear surround speakers: Set a single rear speaker in back of your primary listening position for 6.1 surround sound, or use two rear speakers for 7.1 surround sound. Both rear 7.1 surround sound speakers reproduce the same back channel of audio. 5.1 surround sound speakers optimized for Dolby Digital and DTS playback (formats with five channels of audio) do not include rear speakers.

Space-saving speakers

Hide your speakers from view. Inconspicuous in-wall speakers and in-ceiling speakers lay flush with your walls and most include a grille that you can paint to match your décor. They perfectly complement wall-mounted flat-panel TVs and can be placed in other rooms and hallways, allowing you to play music throughout your home. Installation requires proper positioning and running wires behind walls.

Outdoor speakers

Outdoor speakers add ambience to your deck or yard. These inconspicuous units fit nicely under awnings and have weatherproofing to protect them from the outside elements.

Wireless speakers

Bookshelf-size wireless speakers give you the ability to listen to music in different rooms without running wires or lugging around a boom box. You can also use them to complement your stereo system or complete your surround sound speaker setup. Companies such as RCA, Sony, Sharper Image, JBL, and Acoustic Research produce sets that include left and right stereo speakers with integrated receivers and a transmitter that can operate on battery power or plug into the wall. Although most speakers will work outdoors during good weather, you'll want a water-resistant design if you plan to regularly use your speakers outside or in a moist room such as a bathroom or kitchen.

Wireless speakers usually have a range between 150 to 300 feet and operate on the 900 megahertz or 2.4 gigahertz frequency band (check item listings for details). Many other devices, including cordless phones, microwave ovens, and wireless home networks, also use these bands and may cause some interference. Consider the other types of electronics used in your home before buying wireless speakers.

Choose Surround Sound Speaker Separates

Multi-speaker sets take the guesswork out of matching tone and include instructions for speaker setup, but some music lovers may want to buy surround speaker separates instead. Although they require additional setup time, speaker separates allow an audiophile to make minute adjustments.

  • Match speaker brands: If you already have stereo speakers that you plan to use for your front left and right speakers, buy the same brand surround speakers, center-channel speaker, and subwoofer.
  • Meet your speaker budget: People who put music above movies should spend money on front speakers and a center-channel speaker. Make sure their treble, midrange, and bass balance match. If you prioritize surround sound movies and enhanced audio, distribute your budget equally across all speakers.
  • Get the right size speakers: You can have large speakers and small speakers in the same setup. Just make sure your front speakers are the same size and your surround speakers are the same size.
  • Look at subwoofer size: If you have small surround speakers with 4-inch woofers, get a small subwoofer with an 8-inch woofer. If you have larger surround speakers, buy a larger subwoofer with a 10- to 12-inch woofer.
  • Buy a powered subwoofer: Amplifiers drive most speakers in a system, but you should look for a powered subwoofer that can pull its own weight in your system.

Speakers should have complementary tonal characteristics, which can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and even from model to model. For the most part, speakers made the same year by the same manufacturer should be close. Also make sure your speakers all have the same impedance ratin; mismatched speakers sound distorted.

Compare Speaker Features & Specs

Evaluate speaker quality, paying close attention to speaker direction, drivers, connectors, power handling, sensitivity, and frequency response specifications.

Speaker direction

Surround speakers can direct sound straight toward a listener or to their sides.

  • Monopole speakers: Monopole speakers offer the most versatility, fitting in with budget-to-high-end setups. They push sound in one direction and come standard in home theater and entry-levels sets. They also make a great choice for fans of multichannel audio formats.

Speaker drivers

Woofers and tweeters drive your speakers. Look at woofer size when comparing floor-standing speakers and bookshelf speakers. Five-inch woofers can produce some bass while 8-inch and larger woofers give you agood amount of bass response. Expect price to increase and performance to improve with more drivers.

  • Full-range speakers: Less expensive full-range speakers feed an entire audio signal into an unspecialized driver.
  • Two-way speakers: Two-way speakers with a woofer and tweeter typically outperform one-way speakers.
  • Three-way speakers: Three-way speakers with a woofer, tweeter, and midrange typically sound better than two-way speakers. Speakers with multiple woofers or midranges are also considered three-way.


Look for speakers with binding posts instead of the spring clips found on entry-level speakers. Some high-end speakers have two sets of female connectors, one for a tweeter and the other for a woofer. This type of biwiring may produce better speaker sound with higher bass definition, but new-to-intermediate users probably won't need it.

Speaker power-handling

Different speaker manufacturers use different power-handling specifications. Only compare power-handling ratings when looking at speakers from the same manufacturer to find out if one speaker model can handle more power than another.

  • Peak speaker power: Indicates how much power a speaker can handle in short bursts.
  • RMS capacity: Indicates how much constant power a speaker can handle over a long period of time.
  • Minimum recommended power: Indicates the minimum amount of power needed to efficiently drive your speakers. It tells you if a set of speakers will work with your amplifier. If your amplifier can only provide the minimum amount of power your speakers need, the resulting distortion sounds bad and can damage your speakers.

Speaker sensitivity

More efficient speakers require less power to reach a specific volume. For example, in order to produce sound at a specific volume, a speaker with a sensitivity rating of 3 decibels greater than another requires half the power. Sensitivity above 90 decibels is good, sensitivity between 88 decibels and 90 decibels is average, and sensitivity below 85 decibels can push your amp.

Frequency response

Manufacturers list the high- and low-frequency limits of a speaker as a range, usually indicating that it won't deviate more than a few decibels from perfect, flat response. For example, 30 Hertz to 20 kilohertz, +/-3 decibels. A low-frequency limit below 30 Hertz offers intense bass sound, perfect for sci-fi and action movies, but 40 Hertz will work fine for most people. The low range should be no greater than 50 Hertz. (The average range of human hearing is 20 Hertz to 20 kilohertz [20,000 Hertz].) The more speakers deviate from flat response, the less accurate their sound reproduction.

Find Speakers & Subwoofers on eBay

Now that you know what you need, go to eBay's Consumer Electronics portal and click Speakers & Subwoofers to start your shopping experience.

  • Product Finder: Located on the left side of each listings page, the Speakers & Subwoofers Finder has a set of drop-down menus that help narrow down item listings by speaker type, brand, cabinet color, and condition. Click the wireless checkbox if you prefer wireless speakers.
  • Keywords: Let eBay find items for you by entering the keywords you want to find into the Product Finder's Keywords search box or into eBay's general Search box. Visit eBay's Search Tips page to get more information about searching with keywords.
  • Let sellers help: If you want to know about information not included in an item listing, email the seller your question by clicking "Ask seller a question" under the seller's profile.

If you can't find exactly what you want, try shopping eBay Stores, tell the eBay Community what you want by creating a post on Want It Now, or save a search on My eBay and eBay will email you when a match becomes available.

Remember to buy cables

When you find the speakers you need, go to eBay's Home Audio Accessories & Cables section to buy high-quality speaker cables and subwoofer cable. These cables reliably carry audio signals from your speakers to your receiver and allow less noise than the cables that come with your components. To find out how much cable you need to buy, measure the distance between each component that needs a cable connection, taking areas that need extra length (windows, door frames, corners) into consideration. Buy cable on the long side; usually at least two feet more than you think you need.

Buy Speakers & Subwoofers With Confidence

Before making your purchase, make sure you know exactly what you're buying, research your seller, and understand how eBay and PayPal protect you.

Know your purchase

Carefully read the details in item listings.

Figure delivery costs into your final price. If you spend a lot of money, make sure the seller will insure the item when it ships.

If you want more information, ask by clicking the "Ask seller a question" link under the seller's profile.

Always make sure to complete your transaction on eBay (with a bid, Buy It Now, or Best Offer). Transactions conducted outside of eBay are not covered by eBay protection programs.

Never pay for your eBay item using instant cash wire transfer services through Western Union or MoneyGram. These payment methods are unsafe when paying someone you do not know.

Know your seller

Research your seller so you feel positive and secure about every transaction.

What is the seller's Feedback rating? How many transactions have they completed? What percentage of positive responses do they have?

What do buyers say in their Feedback? Did the seller receive praise?

Most top eBay sellers operate like retail stores and have return policies. Do they offer a money-back guarantee? What are the terms and conditions?

Buyer protection

In the unlikely event that you don't receive your item or it is not as described, eBay Buyer Protection will cover your purchase price plus original shipping. Learn more.
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