January 30, 2014


The official Australian website for the Polk Audio range of home entertainment products

At Polk, we're all about providing great listening experiences for everyone. Read the Polk story to learn about our heritage and what makes our speakers so great. Use our store locator to find your nearest authorised retailer, and make sure you check out our blog for handy tips on how to get the most out of your sound system.

Getting the most out of your first high fidelity speakers

So maybe you've recently heard your first real speakers. Maybe you've never been flush enough to get a real hi-fi system started. Maybe you've just been listening to headphones too long. Whatever the reason, it's time to take it to the next level and start listening to your music the way it should be listened to. How exciting!

What do I need?

There are three primary components in any hi-fi system:

  • A music source
  • Amplification
  • Speakers

Sources

Your source component is where the audio signal originates. This could be a CD player, turntable or radio tuner. These days, it also includes digital files that can be streamed wirelessly or played via a USB input. Your source material plays a huge part in the quality of your final product (the sound), so you want to use the best equipment as well as the highest quality formats.

Depending on what you like to listen to, there's a lot to consider here. If you enjoy, or have recently inherited, a crate full of records, there's a few great entry level turntables on the market. With CD players and turntables, there's often lots of chances for hand-me-downs and second-hand purchases, but make sure you do your research into what you're getting before putting money down. If you have an enormous digital music library, search around for a nice DAC (digital audio converter) or get an amplifier with a built-in one.

Amplification

The next step in your hi-fi system is amplification, consisting of a pre-amplifier and power amplifier.

The job of the pre-amp is to control and mediate the signal by applying gain and adjusting the volume. To some this might seem a bit trivial but it isn't so: music devices that have these abilities, including your computer or mp3 player, have pre-amps. It also receives all your inputs, so if you use a couple of different sources, it's responsible for switching between them.

The power amplifier is in control of amplifying the small signal received from the pre-amplifier so that it covers the entire bandwidth evenly with complete control. Essentially, this is the part that instructs the movement of the speakers to create sound.

You can keep these two components separate, or combine them with an integrated amplifier. There are pros and cons of both situations. Integrated amps are easier, smaller, and generally less expensive, but separate components give you more control, more musical dynamics, and (this one's important) often more power. Depending on the type of speaker you're after, you may need separate components to provide enough power to drive them at their full capacity. This applies to most of our floorstanding speakers - getting the most out of something like our enormous flagship LSiM 707s would definitely require separates.

One other difference to consider is solid-state amps versus tube (or valve) amps. Younger generations might not know what we're talking about right now. Tube amps used to be the only way to power speakers - they use vacuum tubes to amplify the signal, while solid-state amps usually use transistors. Solid-states are a bit easier and more reliable to use, and are characterised by a clean, neutral, detailed sound. Tube amps can be fiddly, get very hot and need to have parts replaced once in a blue moon, but some people love them for their warm, musical sound that softens the edges and details a bit. Our LSiM series speakers are absolutely captivating with certain rock and blues tracks being played through tubes, but it all comes down to personal preference.

The fun part - speakers

Now, there's enough to be said about speakers to fill a library. We'll try and keep this concise, because once we get going it's hard to stop.

The speakers are the final and most important link in the chain here. Some claim that the source is the most influential component on the sound produced, and in a basic sense there's some truth to it - if you put crappy music into your system, you won't get the best out of it, and vice versa. But, providing that you feed your hi-fi system well, your choice of speaker will make the biggest difference to the way you listen to your music.

We won't get too deep into how speakers work, but in brief: each driver is made up of a magnet (1), a coil (2) and a cone (3). The current sent from your amp causes the coil to rapidly switch direction in accordance with the magnet. This vibrates the cone to produce sound. Easy, right?

When picking speakers, it's important to consider the size and shape of the room you plan on putting your speakers in. If it's a large room, more powerful speakers with a full array of drivers are necessary. Our floorstanding range is the way to go to really fill a room with sound, but we've had great experiences with the LSiM 703 bookshelf speakers in mid-sized rooms too, thanks to a powerful mid/woofer driver. You can also pair bookshelf speakers with one of our powered subwoofers for block-rocking bass.

Other things to consider are the height of your ceiling, whether you have carpeting or hardwood floors, the shape of the room, and what furniture you have in it, but only get as technical as you want to. You can always get in contact with us for some more information and advice.

Picking the right hi-fi equipment for your speakers

Now to get a tiny bit technical - it's important to match the ability of your speakers and your amplifier for the best sound and safest operation. A mismatched pair can mean either an incomplete or distorted sound at low or high volumes, or serious damage to your speakers or amplifier.

We list the approximate amplifier power necessary in our speakers' specifications. There's always a broad range of different types and wattages that are able to power speakers, but generally, a higher power will produce a better result. To compare our specifications with an amp's specifications, look at the amp's continuous power output.

It'll look something like this: 120 watts/channel, 20Hz – 20kHz, 0.1% THD, into 8 ohms, all channels driven.

This means that, across a full frequency range, with a low total harmonic distortion (distortion created by the amplifier), playing at a nominal impedance of 8 Ohms, the amp outputs 120 Watts per channel. The impedance refers to how much work your speakers put your amp through - the lower the impedance, the higher the workload. While most of our speakers have a nominal impedance of 8 Ohms (double check just in case), the actual impedance varies depending on the different drivers and the circumstances in which they're being played. If possible, find the output into 4 Ohms as well - it should be rated at least 50% higher.

Putting your system together

Now that you're feeling a bit hi-fi savvy, consider how you want to listen and what you want to listen to. There's lots of combinations to choose from in the realm of hi-fi. If you want to be thrilled by your music, our LSiM series is hard to pass up. If you want to set up your system around a TV and use it for movies as well, consider getting a pair of bookshelf speakers with a powered subwoofer for floor-shaking bass. Someday down the track, you can even get more speakers to set up a full surround home theatre.

Don't hesitate to let us know if you're still a bit lost. It can be a daunting thing to get into, but trust us, it's worth it. All we can say now is - good luck!