So, how should you go about building a hi-fi speaker system? The first and most crucial element is deciding on a budget. That is essentially a personal issue but be aware that certain other factors should be considered when deciding how much you should spend and what you should spend it on. For example, your room has a fundamental impact on the type of system you should get. Larger rooms tend to require larger loudspeakers, which in turn merit better amplification to deliver satisfactory results. Similarly, if your listening space is small, you could find that large speakers are simply inappropriate for your needs. Specialist audio magazines and independent hi-fi dealers can be an invaluable source of advice here, but you should also try to be as realistic as possible about your needs.
Before you begin any in-depth research, the first step is to list the music sources you would like to listen to. This will fundamentally impact on the performance and balance of the hi-fi speaker system you plan to build. If you opt for fewer source components, you’ll be able to spend more of your available budget on each element, thus ensuring better performance for your money. Opting for a system that includes a record player, a CD player and a radio inevitably means splitting your total source component budget three ways, which in turn means less chance of high-quality results. Unless, of course, you can afford to lavish equal sums on premium components straight away. If, on the other hand, you’re prepared to build your system in gradual stages you stand a better chance of creating a set-up that has solid sonic foundations. To that end, consider investing about one-third of your budget on your principal source, which for most music lovers will probably be a CD player.
The next key element in your system is amplification and this also involves some forethought. If you plan to listen at high volumes in a large room, possibly via large floor standing speakers, it’s sensible to budget for an amplifier with ample reserves of power. Unfortunately, power is one of the most commonly misunderstood measures of quality in hi-fi, and watts while important do not dictate performance alone. For example, Rotel’s RA 1520, one of the finest budget hi-fi amplifiers on the market, has a mere 60 watts of output per channel, yet it’s easily capable of very substantial volume levels with most speakers. If, however, you want to use some of the larger designs, such as the acclaimed 800-series range, you’ll have to plan for better-quality hence, more expensive, amplification. Again, for recommendations, you can consult the specialist press or your dealer, but as a guideline, around one-third of your available budget should be invested in amplification.
That leaves loudspeakers, again a broad one third rule of budgeting applies. You’ve more choice over design in this category than in any other, loudspeakers are available in sizes both large and small, with aesthetics both traditional and modern. In general, larger speakers produce bigger, deeper sounds than their smaller siblings. But if you opt for high-performance compact designs like Bowers and Wilkins 805 Bookshelf Speakers, that delineation is less clear-cut. Speakers of this quality can produce bass levels that equal many larger, lesser alternatives, making them an ideal option for rooms where space is at a premium. However, you must remember that Bookshelf speakers will only perform at their best when mounted on dedicated loudspeaker stands, which are an additional cost over and above the price of the speakers themselves.