Since time immemorial, humans have always found solace in music. Although music preferences may differ from person to person, it’s no denying that music is an integral part of our lives. And with technology taking over our lives, a good music system is something that every Indian household craves for!
Thanks to the technological advancements of the past few years, we now have a host of different options available (such as home theaters, soundbars, and external Bluetooth speakers.) Not only do we get to choose from a wide range of brands, but the purposes and specifications of each also differ.
With an increase in the disposable income of the country, music systems have now become as basic as smartphone, laptop, or a TV set at home. Audiophiles swear by Sony’s sound, then there are JBL and Bose fanatics, and of course, boAt (the Indian startup) is literally making the world take notice. Meaning that there’s an overload of options, but how do you know which one is the best for your needs?
Well, that’s where we step in! We have tested over 22 music systems before we finalized our recommendations in this article. It took a lot of teamwork and more than three weeks of time in the complete process. We have taken into account several factors that are essential to look for in a music system i.e. channels, audio quality, quality of subwoofers, connectivity options, etc. (Learn more in the buying guide).
To help you get the best in class music system, shall we begin?
- Best Music Systems for Homes in India (2020)
- 1. Best Overall: Bose SoundTouch 20
- 2. Best 5.1 Home Theater: Sony HT-RT3
- 3. Best Woofer System: JBL Soundbar
- 4. Best Multimedia Speakers: Philips SPA9080B
- 5. Best Budget 5.1 Speakers: F&D F3800X
- 6. Best 4.1 Speakers: Sony SA-D40 C E12
- 7. Best 2.1 Audio System: boAt Aavante Bar 1500
- 8. Good Value for Money: Sony SA-D10
- 9. Cost-Effective Home Theater: Philips MMS-4040F/94
- 10. Cheapest Option: F&D A180X 4200
- The Best Music System Brands in India
- A Beginner’s Guide to the Music System
- How Does a Home Music System Work?
- Types of Speakers
- Frequently Asked Questions
Best Music Systems for Homes in India (2020)
Before we begin: We wanted to clarify that the below-listed music systems are ranked and reviewed based on the performances and extensive sound tests taken by Audio and Music enthusiasts from the Indian Science team. We are not associated with the respective brands. We’ve analyzed options from different price brackets, taken special care to ensure they fit into all kinds of modern home theatre setups, and then given them a place on our list.
Enough, now, let’s just begin with the list!
|F&D F3800X||Check on Amazon|
|Sony SA-D40 C E12|
|boAt Aavante Bar 1500|
|F&D A180X 4200|
1. Best Overall: Bose SoundTouch 20
The Bose SoundTouch 20 is simply magical when it comes to producing high-quality sound. The music radiates to all corners of the room with its powerful bass providing a heavy tone that balances the treble and mid-range very well.
This unibody speaker has a powerful bass element in the sound. It is housed in a sturdy case that protects the speakers inside when moved around. Its sleek design means that it would look elegant in any setting of your home.
And since the system comes with wifi connectivity there is a freedom to move around your house or apartment. Not just that, you can also manage it with Alexa. Great isn’t it? Ethernet connectivity allows you to connect the device to your home network for greater control of the content. Wireless connections tend to have fewer disturbances than wired connections, so that is a bonus.
The device also come with Bluetooth connectivity; phones, tablets, and laptops are thus easily connected. The one-touch music library and playlist work like a dream and make the system very easy and convenient to use.
A USB port allows portable device connections so that you can plug in your external pendrive and enjoy music from your collection. This is the only music system on our list that’s compatible with Alexa. Hence, if you’re someone who prefer wireless devices over wired ones, this one is solid choice for you, otherwise explore more options below.
- Compact unibody design
- Portable music system to take with you anywhere
- Intuitive menu design
- Rich sound with great bass
- Great connectivity
- Sound not powerful enough to fill larger rooms
- Musical instruments don’t sound life-like at higher volumes
2. Best 5.1 Home Theater: Sony HT-RT3
- Channel Configuration: 5.1
- Max Speaker Output Power: 600 Watt
- Connectivity: Bluetooth, NFC, HDMI, Optical, USB
- No. of Speakers: 3
- Dimensions: 100 x 30 x 25 cm
- Weight: 11 Kg
- Warranty: 1 year
Sony HT-RT3 offers you a 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound channel, rear speakers, and an external subwoofer for a real theatrical sound experience. It also has a 3-inch Soundbar to enhance the experience.
Users have commented that the Sony HT-RT3 Real is really easy to set up and does not take a lot of time. Although, some have said that the rear speakers could have been given Bluetooth connectivity to avoid the cumbersome wires.
Ordered via Amazon, the product comes nicely packaged, and within two days of delivery, a Sony technician will arrive to set the system up. The Soundbar has attracted a lot of good reviews. The woofers are also perfectly balanced to suit a homely environment, without compromising on the quality of the sound.
Eight out of ten users are content with the sound quality, but some are disappointed in a few aspects. The bass does not come with a regulator, so there is no option of controlling the intensity. Only the subwoofers can be adjusted for volume.
Overall, there is a lot of positive response, and the users are happy with the product quality. It is a good value for money, but at this price, it would be futile to compare the HT-RT3 with other high-end models or brands like Bose, JBL or Yamaha.
- High-quality soundbar
- Neat and compact packaging
- Installation efficiency
- Value for money
- Intensity regulator
- Weak bass
3. Best Woofer System: JBL Soundbar
- Channel Configuration: 2.1
- Max Speaker Output Power: 300 Watt
- Connectivity: Bluetooth, HDMI, AUX, USB
- No. of Speakers: 2
- Dimensions: 96.5 x 5.8 x 6.8 cm
- Weight: 7.1 Kg
- Warranty: 1 year
What sort of music do you want to listen to? Irrespective of that, JBL Bar with 4 Woofers system offer excellent sound quality, and the JBL Bar 2.1 does not disappoint.
Surround sound is especially enjoyable, and the sound waves from the JBL Bar 2.1 Soundbar speakers spread at a wide-angle, covering a larger area.
The 300-watt output is loud enough for most homes. Plus the wireless subwoofer adds to the depth of the sound. The bass is rich and adds to the strength of the overall sound signature. The Soundbar also has wireless Bluetooth connectivity so that you can connect devices such as phones, tablets, and laptops with ease.
The TV connection port is especially useful, as your favourite movies can now come alive with cinema-quality sound. Your favourite TV music channels will now play with hall quality sound. The JBL 2.1 Soundbar is also fitted with Dolby Digital.
It will reduce and filter most distortions in the source sound, which in our opinion, produces some of the most precise sounds you can find anywhere.
- Massive speaker power output of 300 Watt
- Powerful sound with deep bass
- Supports Bluetooth, Aux, and USB
- Subwoofer to balance out the sound
- Not for a professional audio setup
- The richness of sound drowned out by bass
4. Best Multimedia Speakers: Philips SPA9080B
This set of multimedia home speakers from Philips has a powerful bass element in the sound. It is housed in an elegant cabinet, which means that you can put it anywhere in your house and it will add to the decor.
There is wireless Mic connectivity which means you can sing along with the music and your friends and colleagues can also join in. And since the Mic is wirelessly connected, there is the freedom to move around.
The device has Bluetooth connectivity; phones, tablets, laptops are thus easily connected. Our tests show that pairing devices are high-speed and comfortable, which is an added plus.
The Philips SPA also has an FM Tuner. Play your favourite music programs with a powerful and rich sound. This is one of the best products in the Indian market if you want deep bass and power.
The Phillips Tower Speakers are designed for a great musical experience. The design of the unit makes it look good and fits in and enhances your decor. It provides a rich bass, which gives the music a complete and substantial feel.
The karaoke feature allows friends and family to sing together, making for group enjoyment. The karaoke mode works seamlessly with the Mic without any lag providing a high-quality experience.
- DeepBass Technology providing powerful bass
- Easy to use
- Built-in Radio FM Tuner
- Karaoke feature adds a nice touch
- Bass overpowers the music making it sound flat
- Need a large room to enjoy the sound
5. Best Budget 5.1 Speakers: F&D F3800X
The F&D F3800X is a 5.1 channel music system that is also budget-friendly. It has five satellite speakers with a subwoofer. Its 4.0 version Bluetooth covers a 15 meters range. This wireless facility makes the system work with quick accessibility.
It is equipped with a well-featured remote control and FM connections that work on the latest PLL technology. This improves the storage facility. Our search revealed a vast number of FM stations.
F&D F3800X supports the USB card as well. You can both store and transfer data in a jiffy. Also, the aux wire connects well with television.
The system comes in a powerfully built, smart look. The biggest draw in its look is the multi-colored LED panel on the subwoofer which changes according to the mood of the sound played.
To add to the experience is the unique feature in the subwoofer. The subwoofer contains a 5.25 inches bass driver. This increases sound clarity.
The five speakers can cover a large room. With the right arrangement, they give a home theatre effect. The sound level of the front speakers is adjustable. Wires connect the woofer and the speakers, and you can control the whole system through Bluetooth.
An added advantage is the long wires provided. You need not look for other connectivity solutions. Additionally, the company offers a 1-year warranty on the product. This product is ideal for entertaining crowds at Indian family parties.
- Excellent sound system.
- Adjustable volumes for each speaker.
- Excellent compatibility with most external devices.
- Very delicate plugs and wiring.
- Rear speakers have deficient volume.
6. Best 4.1 Speakers: Sony SA-D40 C E12
If you are looking for a sturdy and robust music system on a budget, then the Sony SA-D40 C E12 4.1 Speakers will be your best fit.
It has four mini speakers with sufficiently long wires, and so you can place it however and wherever you like. There is a big subwoofer that ensures a broader reach. It also has Bluetooth connectivity and comes with remote control.
On putting it to the test, we saw that the sound quality is pretty excellent, and every sound is distinct. One can make out two different types of guitars and all the other instruments. The bass is decent as well. It has the lows and mids and highs balanced out evenly. Some users have commented that the sound does not seem very loud so it can be concluded that for an average-sized room, this is a good buy.
There is an auto adjustment feature of bass and treble. Although some users have found it to be useful, some have also expressed their disappointment in not having a regulator.
The remote control has fetched mixed reviews. Some users are happy with the addition of a remote. However, most of them have complained about the low battery life, longevity, and the fact that the remote is the only option in controlling volume.
For the price, this stereo is the safest and the best buy. The product will not disappoint, and Sony can always be relied upon.
- Excellent value for money
- The sound range is suitable for most rooms
- Sound quality
- Bluetooth connectivity
- Brand value
- Old fashioned product design
- Plastic finish
- Remote control
- Weak bass
7. Best 2.1 Audio System: boAt Aavante Bar 1500
boAT AAVANTE bar 1500 soundbar is a uniquely designed music system to match 21st century home décor. Gone are the days of boxes of satellite speakers arranged randomly around the house. Here the customer gets a sleek speaker bar along with a subwoofer.
The speaker bar has a compact look to compliment even a 42-inch television screen. It comes with a 120W RMS to give the surround sound effect of a theatre. The sound effect enhances the cinematic experience.
The bar utilises a high-end equalizer technology. This helps to adjust the sound effects to the needs of the audience. It offers a 3D audio mode for the clarity of sound that is ideal for Indian homes.
The subwoofer compliments the sound with a profound bass of 60 W. Its ‘down-firing’ system gives a superior quality to the music. The beats are audible from anywhere in the room.
The boAT AAVANTE bar 1500 has many connectivity options for the customers. The various options are Bluetooth, USB, optic, aux, HDMI as well as a remote control to regulate them. Our tests revealed that more than two devices can be connected at the same time. The listener can switch between them.
Our survey discloses that the AAVANTE bar 1500 speaker is a top-notch audio system at a sensible price. It has the advantage of multiple usages for the Indian market.
- Ideal bass quality
- Excellent sound clarity
- Secure connectivity with a good range
- Premium finish
- The remote is of substandard quality
- HDMI cable has to be purchased separately
- The default volume setting is very high
8. Good Value for Money: Sony SA-D10
Sony SA-D10 is a 4.1 channel speaker system. It has four multimedia speakers; 2 on the right and two on the left, connected to a big-sized subwoofer. All the parts together make it a 4.1 system.
It generates excellent sound quality through improved sound technology. The four speakers deliver precise sound with minimal distortions, and the subwoofer brings out the bass with thumping beats. This gives a surround sound effect comparable to home theatre.
The design of the system is sleek and attractive. It supports wall-mounts for better sound effects. Also, the black colour adds to the great look of the system. The subwoofer has a wooden chassis. The music drivers work from behind a grilled mesh to control distortions.
The latest VACS technology helps reduce noise. The system uses digital amplifiers. It has an in-built microphone to answer calls if the mobile phone is connected.
It is equipped with 12-ohm impedance and 40 to 20 Hz frequency. Thus, the sound can reach the corners of a medium-large room in any Indian house.
The remote control is compact but has all the features needed to run the system. It has three inputs. Sony SA-D10 can connect to many external devices through the USB port.
1-year warranty and a reasonable price make this is an extremely satisfying product for the Indian market.
- The clarity in sound with fantastic bass.
- Excellent compatibility with three inputs.
- Great looks and adjustable placement of satellites.
- No treble or bass control.
- Completely remote dependent system.
9. Cost-Effective Home Theater: Philips MMS-4040F/94
Philips MMS-4040F/94 2.1 channel multimedia speaker system is a pocket-friendly option with excellent quality. The two speakers and one subwoofer create a surround sound effect that can compete with home theatre.
The excellent quality sound from the speakers is coupled with convenient volume. The richness of the bass is due to the long tubular design of the subwoofer.
It looks sturdy and classy at the same time. Glass finish and black colour compliment the visual appeal. Indian market demands durability as a prime condition, which is a positive point for the Philips MMS-4040F/94 speaker system. The in-built FM is a high plus point too.
Another advantage is its compatibility with multiple devices. The system has aux-cable as well as a USB drive. It connects well with a desktop, notebook, mobile phone, MP3 player, DVD player, and television. In short, it can operate with any gadget that an Indian household might possess.
The remote control offers ease in all kinds of operations. Since most Bluetooth audio systems have connectivity issues, there is no Bluetooth facility here, which is an advantage. The wires work just fine.
Our survey reveals that this is a perfect buy for a medium to large-sized room. It is ideal for a limited budget. The consumer gets a 1-year warranty on this product.
- Powerful sound with good bass
- Durable build
- Value for money
- Bluetooth connectivity is unavailable
- Short wires for satellite speakers
- No display of song list
10. Cheapest Option: F&D A180X 4200
The F&D A180X 4200 can be yours if you are in a search of cheap yet good home theater system. It can be connected to a smartphone or laptop via a USB cord or Bluetooth connectivity. It even comes with an in-built FM system that allows users to listen to the radio.
The model includes two speakers and a subwoofer for superb quality bass and volume controls. We especially liked the enhanced audio quality and the sturdy construction of the speakers that generate excellent acoustics. The wooden framework looks chic, smooth, and is quite durable. The LED display is large enough to clearly show the track that is playing along with other details like volume, sound quality, etc.
The subwoofer doesn’t disappoint either, offering amazing bass quality to the audio. The remote control makes the functionality even simpler. Plus, the speakers are lightweight and portable enough to be carried anywhere you want. You can quickly move the speaker outside as well if you have a connector and a power socket nearby.
We even tried connecting the speakers to the television or desktop via a cable wire, the AV sockets. Surprisingly, the audio and video quality was clear even on the big screen. Versatile, intuitive, and user-friendly, the F&D A180X is an excellent option for Indian households.
- Compact and portable
- Good Bluetooth range also comes with a USB connector
- Can be connected to and accessed from multiple devices
- Great bass and sound quality
- Doesn’t have a memory or storage option
- The FM reception is of a very low quality.
The Best Music System Brands in India
Achieving a name in the industry with the tough competition is not as easy as it sounds. A brand has to make an excellent product that a customer needs, should make sure that the product matches the potential customers’ requirements, and provide excellent support in case something wrong happens.
For instance, you bought a new music system and it stopped working, what would you do? If it is from a known brand, you can visit the nearest customer support and get it solved, but what if it was from an unknown brand? That’s why buying a branded product is our recommendation, no matter what product you buy and the premium value you pay for it!
Usually, new products don’t stop working, but what if your old music system stops working? Buying a new one could cost you money, but getting it repaired could cost much less. If the product is from a reputed brand, you can walk into any of their service centers and get the product repaired. That’s the reason why buying a music system from a known brand is a must!
Based in Framingham, Bose has been a market leader in the world of audio equipment since its establishment 55 years ago. Bose has its manufacturing units spread across the United States, China, Mexico, and Malaysia. Here, each product goes through a series of quality tests and only the best make their way to retail stores and eCommerce warehouses.
The firm has a state-of-the-art R&D facility and has the highest number of patents filed in the genre of audio systems. Bose has a market reputation for being protective of their brand and its trademarks. Thus, if you are planning to bring home the latest audio technologies, Bose is something you can consider.
With its headquarters in Tokyo, Sony Corporation is a multinational corporation that manufactures a diverse range of consumer products. It is among the largest music entertainment business in the world.
Founded in 1929, the company has been one of the fastest to keep up with the technological advancement of the changing times. That has enabled them to deliver industry-best audio systems to homes throughout generations.
With its products available in multiple budgets, Sony has ensured that a good audio system does not remain the exclusive privilege of the rich.
Owned by a subsidiary of Samsung Electronics, JBL is an American company that exclusively produces audio equipment. It has two independent divisions, and JBL Consumer is responsible for the manufacture of their home music systems.
The marketing and distribution network of JBL is the best in the industry, and that is one of the reasons why one can find JBL home systems in any part of the world today.
JBL’s R&D team is very active. JBL was a pioneer in the development of the THX loudspeaker standard. As a result, competitors find it very difficult to come up with products that are at par the high benchmarks set by the firm.
Koninklijke Philips NV is a Dutch multinational company with its headquarters in Amsterdam and goes by the common name of Philips. The Consumer Health and Well-being division of the company brings out its range of home audio products.
The range of home audio systems includes Hi-Fi, Boombox, docking station, radio, and alarm clock. The music system for your home may any of these or a combination of them.
With its offices in more than 100 companies, Philips has online shopping portals delivering its products across the globe. It is their vast network that has ensured that music reaches your ears through their industry-best audio systems irrespective of where you reside.
Founded in 2016, Boat is an Indian company that has established its position in a market of multinational giants. What sets Boat apart from the rest is the fact that their products are not just durable, but they are also extremely fashionable.
Having a home audio system by Boat in your living room will amp up the style quotient of your home. The in-house design team (based in Mumbai) handles the R&D and product design. The manufacturing plant for the audio systems is in China. The boAt has established itself as a market leader in the world of mid-range home audio systems.
Established in 1993, Fenda Audio was one of the pioneer home audio manufacturing brands. The core idea of the firm was to bring advanced audio acoustics to the reach of the common man. F&D has succeeded in achieving that for more than two decades now.
With a distribution network of 10 direct branch locations and more than 1000 dealers across the country, F&D has successfully reached every nook and corner of the country. Today, F&D has a strong device presence across all Indian states.
The great customer reviews for its range of home music systems are a testimony to the fact that the core values of customer satisfaction implemented by the firm, have stood tall to the test of time.
A Beginner’s Guide to the Music System
The demand for high-quality home music systems has risen in India as customers have become more aware of newer technologies. Whether you are watching TV, playing games on your projector, or listening to music from your laptop or computer, it is essential to own a good set of speakers.
Who does not want to shake a leg to the thumping music of Kajra Re (or Ek Do Teen if you are old fashioned?)
Home music systems (also variously called multimedia speakers or home theatres) are available with a wide array of features. Most of these are quite technical, and the salesperson is not any more knowledgeable about this topic than a layman.
Therefore if you are looking for a fabulous home music system, then you have to understand what it is and how it works to make an informed choice. Only then can you relax back on your sofa and let the lovely sound wash all over you.
How Does a Home Music System Work?
The speaker system is a device that converts an electrical signal to sound waves. The system is made of several speakers that work together to reproduce the soundtrack from a movie or plays music. Speakers come in assorted shapes and sizes and have different functions.
Most speakers are made of a thin sheet of stiff paper known as the diaphragm. The usual shape is circular though oval speakers are not entirely unknown.
This diaphragm is vibrated many times every second to reproduce sound. The oscillation happens with the help of a coil. The coil consists of thousands of turns of copper wire which turns into an electromagnet when electrical current passes through it.
The coil is placed next to a permanent magnet. As you know from school physics – unlike poles attract and like poles repel. The electrical impulse passing through the coil moves it closer to or away from the permanent magnet.
Since the diaphragm is attached to the coil, it too moves back and forth. This causes the vibration of air and produces sound.
The vibration of the speaker happens many hundreds or even thousands of times every second. The lower the vibration, the deeper the sound, and the higher the vibration, the greater will be the pitch.
The human voice is between 900 and 3000 vibrations (known as Hertz or Hz) per second. If your voice is recorded and played back over a speaker, the diaphragm of the speaker will vibrate precisely at the same frequency of your voice box.
The frequency of a bass drum is about 90 Hz and that of a violin to about 8 kHz (or 8,000 Hz).
Why is this understanding essential? We shall describe in the following section.
Types of Speakers
Music or sound is not one frequency alone. There are multiple sound waves combined that produce any sound – from the sputtering of your neighbor’s scooter to the melody of raga Ahir Bhairav playing back early morning on the radio.
All speakers cannot reproduce all frequencies. This is because different sound waves require a different size and stiffness of the diaphragm. Also, the larger the diaphragm, the larger will be the rest of the speaker.
There are mostly three types of speakers that are part of home music systems.
A woofer is a speaker that produces a very low-frequency sound between 20-500 Hz. In a typical music system, it is not less than 6 inches wide and can be up to 9 or 12 inches. The size is a significant factor in creating a low frequency: the larger, the better in the case of woofers.
A woofer capable of producing intense sound is known as a subwoofer. Home music systems rarely have woofers (to reduce costs) on all channels but restrict themselves to one subwoofer.
It is a simplified arrangement but usually works quite well. Drumbeats are a typical example of the sound produced by woofers.
A typical mid-range speaker is between 3 inches and 5 inches in size. They could be smaller, of course, but that will not be adequate. The mid-range delivers sound between 500-4,000 Hz range or middle range.
It includes most of the sound spectrum from the human voice to the sitar, piano, and guitar. A good mid-range is essential for a fabulous music system.
These are small speakers often only an inch or less across. They are responsible for reproducing all sound frequencies above 4,000 Hz. Most modern tweeters do not use paper diaphragm but one made from polyester or silk.
Many tweeters are dome tweeters meaning they send out the sound in all directions.
4. Form Factor
2.0 systems: 2.0 systems have a left and right channel speaker. It is a traditional stereo configuration. Stereo means that sound is reproduced in the same location where it was recorded. Mono or one channel sound is not recorded except by news channels.
It is most noticeable in movies but also, to no small extent found in music. If someone to the left of the screen speaks, the voice should come from the left (and from the right, as the case may be.) If someone in the centre of the frame speaks, then the sound would be equally reproduced by both the left and right speakers, making it appear as if it is coming from the centre of the room.
This gives a sense of animation when you watch a movie. If a car screeches to a halt, then the sound will carry from one speaker to another as the vehicle comes to a standstill. Similarly, if a singer is walking across the stage, the sound localization must shift accordingly and make it appear as life-like as possible.
Depending on the price, a 2.0 system will have a woofer, mid-range, and tweeter or a mid-range and a tweeter or merely a mid-range speaker. They can never have only two tweeters or woofers. High-end music systems in India use the 2.0 configuration alone.
2.1 systems: This is the most popular configuration for home music systems. The dot 1 stands for a subwoofer. The two speakers on either side have mid-range and tweeter or simply a mid-range speaker. It would be better to think of it as 2 + 1 instead of 2.1.
The reason for this is because low-frequency sounds like drumbeats are not directional. No matter the position of the subwoofer, the music will be evenly echoed through the room. Therefore for the sake of economy, two woofers can be replaced by one subwoofer which should ideally be placed at the center. On the other hand, tweeters are highly directional and send out a focused sound beam.
5.1 systems: This is a development of 2.1. There is a subwoofer and with it a front right and left pair, a rear right and left pair, and a rear center speaker. It gives a powerful 360° sound, also known as surround sound. It is accomplished using multiple channels for sound in place of the traditional left and right channels. This provides depth and adds to the enjoyment of the listener.
Of course, music is not recorded for 5.1 systems, but movie recordings often have a 5.1 configuration. You have to check the front cover of the DVD which will specify the recording format. Usually, you will see a Dolby or DTS Laboratories logo.
Netflix also provides a 5.1 sound on its premium plans on offer in India.
7.1 systems: This is a development of the 5.1 system. However, it has the addition of another pair of speakers that are conventionally placed a little ahead of the rear pair but behind the listener. Netflix does not offer 7.1 channels, and in-home entertainment, it is only available on Blu Ray.
You must note that no matter what the configuration, it is backward compatible with stereo. If you are playing back an old Hindi movie from the 80s, the 5.1 will only play one left (front and rear) and one right (front and rear) channel.
Sound Bar: Sound Bars have become increasingly popular in the last decade, mostly due to flat-panel televisions. If you do not want to clutter up the front of a sleek looking TV set with speakers, then you must buy a soundbar. Soundbars start from 5000 rupees and go up to 30,000 INR depending on channels, brand, etc.
A soundbar is a long and flat speaker configuration that can contain between 4 and 10 speakers. They boast of a lot of technical wizardries, and the high-end brands claim that they can give a near-perfect 360° reproduction even though it is located right in front. Of course, how they do that is a matter of trade secret. Not perfect 360° sound is possible from one soundbar, but they are a massive improvement over the TV’s speakers.
In recent years sound bar makers have relented and begun to add satellite speakers to be placed elsewhere in the room. Even if they are without at least a pair of satellites, most models of soundbars have a subwoofer to help with bass reproduction.
5. Powered vs Passive: Which One?
The speaker set requires an electrical signal to work. But how does it get access to the signal? The output of a TV set or a laptop is few milliamps and not enough to drive speakers.
Passive speakers need an external set of amplifiers which placed is between the source (TV or laptop or mobile phone) and the speaker. It amplifies or increases the strength of the signal. The amplifier is plugged into the mains and draw power from it that it runs through electronic circuits to generate the amplified signal.
Of course, this arrangement will be more expensive because there is not one but two distinct sets of equipment to be purchased. Most home music systems resort to powered speakers. They have an amplifier inside the subwoofer unit. That, of course, means that the subwoofer has to be connected to the electrical mains. This is relatively inexpensive.
Which is better? A discrete amplifier is by far better. But most discrete amplifiers are also enormously expensive. Though purists may scoff at a powered speaker system, it makes the most sense to buy one if you have a lack of space or resources.
There is a third type that has to be mentioned. These are tiny 2.0 systems that are passively powered by the output of a TV set or a laptop through the USB port. Such a speaker system has a single high-quality 2.5-inch mid-range speaker for each channel.
Though far from ideal, they cannot be dismissed altogether if you want a second music system for your guest bedroom or kitchen.
This is the most confusing part of buying home music systems. There are all types of marketing gimmicks that are tried to attract a customer, although the better brands do not use such methods.
Some speakers will have huge letters mentioning 1200 watt PMPO or peak music power output. But 1200 watt is enough power to run a microwave oven! How can the loudspeaker have access to such power? It does not since it is a marketing ploy and has been used for close to three decades.
To understand the wattage, refer to the device manual or guide or even the side of the speaker box. It will mention (for example) 20 watt x 2 + 1 x 50 watt (for a 2.1 system). This means the satellites draw 20 watt each and the subwoofer 50 watt for a total of 90 watt. For every hour of use, it will consume 1.5 times more power than a 60-watt bulb or tube light. This is known as RMS wattage or true wattage.
7. How many RMS wattage is good enough?
This is a tough one to answer. At least 10 watt total is needed for a 10 by 10 feet room. Preferably it should be higher by many multiples – between 30 and 100 watt.
The rule of thumb says more wattage is better. It allows louder volume without distortion. A movie theatre uses about 3000-6000 watt, but it is also far larger than your room.
However, while more watt is better, 90 watt played back by a home music system built by a local manufacturer is not the same as 20 watt played back by a Bose or Harman Kardon music system. That brings us to sound quality.
8. Sound Quality
High-end music systems are better than their low-end siblings because they can deliver the same volume using far less amplifier power. This is measured in decibels (dB). Without going into the technicalities, we shall describe decibels as the loudness of sound. This loudness is not measured linearly but instead rises exponentially.
If 0 dB is pin-drop silence then a whisper is 30 dB, a quiet library is 40 dB, a vacuum cleaner measures 60 dB, and a discotheque speaker produces 100 dB. Most speakers are rated between 85 and 100 dB. Speakers that are less than 85 dB are not worth purchasing. Home music systems produce 60 dB consistently with peak sounds reaching 100 dB.
Also, look for THD or total harmonic distortion numbers. These are given as a percent value. Home music systems have a THD of about 0.5%. Lesser is better. It measures the amount of noise introduced into the signal by the amplifier.
9. Connectivity & Input
There are many ways of connecting the input from a device to a music system. Not all home music systems sport all types of connectors. There are so many that barring a full-sized amplifier there is not enough space.
Therefore check the type of connection you are going to use and choose accordingly.
- RCA connecters: They are also called phono connectors, and you must have seen them connect your cable set-top box to your TV. Even the most modern TVs have these plugs for use as an output. It is a convenient way to connect your output device to the home music system.
- 3.5 mm input: This female input is usually coloured green and is capable of accepting a 3.5 mm audio jack or headphone jack. It is identical to the earphone output of your laptop or mobile phone.
- HDMI: By far, the best type of connectivity. The above two are analogue connectors, but most soundbars accept HDMI connectors. HDMI means High-Definition Multimedia Interface and transmits digital signals. HDMI plugs have 19 pins and a flat hexagonal shape.
- Aux-in: It means auxiliary input. It could be RCA or 3.5 mm depending on the model. Aux-in is a way of connecting another device without disrupting the connection with the primary input device. Such as, if your music system is hooked up to your TV, and you find the need to connect your DVD player to watch movies from your collection Aux-in is particularly useful.
- Bluetooth: As little as ten years ago, Bluetooth was seen as something extraordinary in India. But as technology has become more advanced, Bluetooth is now commonplace. Bluetooth is a form of radio that can work across short distances. This makes it ideal for transmission of data and files inside the same room.
- The advantages of Bluetooth equipped music systems are distinct. You do not have to fiddle with several types of connectors or run a wire from TV, laptop, and smartphone to the subwoofer that has the input panel.
- Just select the device and pair it. That is all that you need to worry about. There are several generations of Bluetooth. In general, most modern music systems are capable of Bluetooth version 3 and 4.
- Wi-Fi: Not essential but indeed useful. It is an additional layer of connectivity over and above Bluetooth. Whereas Bluetooth requires the paired devices to be close, Wi-Fi allows playback in any corner of the house. So if you have a laptop in your bedroom, it could stream music to the home music system in your living room.
- It is much easy to connect the music system to your home network and let there be interconnectivity between all of the devices. That way, it can access music comfortably from your collection stored on any hard drive.
- Radio: FM channels remain a common source of entertainment in India and abroad. FM radio is built-in functionality of most home music systems. The advantage of radio is that you can tune in and let it play in the background without the worry of creating a playlist or running out of songs to play from a particular genre.
There’s no need to hunt through hundreds of files to decide what you want to hear. Just tune it to a channel and forget all about it.
10. Remote Control
For most of us, this is an indispensable feature for a home music system. You have just selected a loud disco song and settled on your sofa when your friend calls. To get up, walk across the room and lower the volume is a real chore. It will happen so many times when you use the music system that without it, you will feel lost.
If you don’t believe, count how many times during the evening, you mute the volume of your television. It is not that remote control models cost a lot.
Believe it or not, it is essential. Music systems are reasonably large and sit front and centre. They have to be unobtrusive or complement the existing style. In any conventional living room, you would hardly want something that looks like a spaceship that has lost its way and landed at your home.
Usually, it is best to steer clear of equipment with flashing disco lights that are a huge distraction.
12. LED Indicator
Expensive models have a tiny LED indicator that shows the status of the device and various parameters such as volume, FM station, etc. It is great to have one but not essential. Most of all, the LED panel must not interfere with your TV viewing. The panel is usually in the subwoofer unit that sits in front of you and can become uncomfortable to have in your peripheral vision.
Frequently Asked Questions
There will be a power cord from the subwoofer to the mains. There will be an audio input cord from the input device to the subwoofer. There will be wires from the subwoofer to every satellite (2, 5, or 7).
It is impossible to test the sound quality in a showroom since they are large and do not have proper acoustics. Most speakers sound quite flat in a showroom. You should, however, carry audio and video files for testing. Otherwise, you can use Google and play the respective YouTube audio from the headphone output of your mobile phone.
You should test for:
1. Left-right audio separation (Google “left-right audio check” and playback the video on your phone; connect the phone to the music system and test left and right separation)
2. Surround sound test (Google “surround sound test” and do the same for a 5.1 or 7.1 system)
3. Test Bluetooth range and playback quality
4. Test Wi-Fi range
If you are not able to set it up, ask a friend. Only high-end sets provide a home demo. If you are unable to find a friend who can set it up, a local computer maintenance specialist will gladly do it for a minimal amount.
The speakers take time to “break-in.” For about two weeks do not turn them up really high. After two weeks or about 50 hours of playback, you can use them as you wish. Speakers mature with age.
A music system has to be regularly turned on. If you let it sit for 1-2 months in humid Indian conditions, it may develop considerable distortion. Running it for long hours does not reduce life. But not using affects it.
After testing almost ten music systems, ranging from Sony to JBL to F&D et cetera, and after surveying the Indian market, we found out that the two best options are the Bose SoundTouch 20 Series III Wireless Music System and the JBL Bar 2.1 SoundBar with Wireless Subwoofer.
The Bose SoundTouch, with its unibody speaker, packs powerful bass. On top of that, it has Ethernet connectivity, Bluetooth, and USB ports that make the device portable. It offers excellent connectivity so you can enjoy your music without abrupt breaks.
The second option that is the JBL Bar 2.1 SoundBar has a 300 Watt power output and has a rich bass as well. It has Bluetooth connectivity, and the TV connection port makes your favourite shows and movies come alive with a booming sound. It has Dolby Digital sound that drowns most of the noise and gives you a rich, smooth cinematic experience only.
At their prices, these two are the best buys that you can have.