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How MDF Speakers are Made

MDF, or medium density fiberboard is used in most mid-level speakers and in many high end ones as well. Speaker companies use it because it is easy to work with, inexpensive and is extremely rigid. The rigidity and density is important so that the speaker cabinet does not color the sound as it bounces around inside the cabinet.

Do MDF speakers look worse than real wood?
In short, no. A high quality speaker company will make them look very nice. Since MDF is made from wood fibers glued under heat and pressure, it offers a extremely dense material that is, unlike wood, dimensionally stable. This gives you a very uniform material to make speaker cabinets from. Unfortunately in its native state, MDF is pretty ugly. To address this, manufacturers attach either a wood veneer (real wood) or vinyl woodgrain (not real wood : ^) outer covering on the MDF before making the speaker cabinet.

How are they Made?

1. Vinyl woodgrain or wood veneer are glued to the MDF. This is a permanent process, but of course the quality and thickness of the vinyl or veneer come into play. The thicker the veneer or vinyl, the more sturdy it will be over time.
2. A Groove Cutter cuts a V groove into the MDF right down to the vinyl or veneer.
3. The MDF is then "folded' to create the cabinet.

In better speakers a brace is usually added for extra support and to add rigidity.

Good as Wood or Better
Overall MDF speakers look and sound every bit as good as a speaker cabinet made of wood alone, probably better. In most cases they will look better, no knots or other imperfections, and sound better due to higher density and conformity of the material.

Yahama Receiver with Built in Subwoofer

Yamaha YHT-S400BL Front Surround Unique Home Theater Package (Black)Ok, this has to go down as one of the strangest ideas I've ever seen. This is Yamaha's answer to a really low space receiver/soundbar system.

The Yamaha YHT-S400BL has a subwoofer built into the receiver, and a very skinny soundbar.

Hight Ratings
Here's the weird thing. This unit gets 4 stars from Amazon buyers. I understand the convenience of not having to have a separate subwoofer on the floor somewhere, really I can. But the design has some real flaws when you stop and think about it.
  • The electronic components will be subjected to constant shaking from the sub
  • The receiver will likely be in a cabinet, which will also be shaken by the subwofer
  • If there is a TV sitting on the cabinet then it too will be shaken by the subwoofer
None of these things should be shaking, especially the electronic components in the receiver. There is a good reason companies like Onkyo, Denon and Marantz spend so much effort on chassis and feet design on their receivers so they DON'T shake.

If you must have a system that takes up a little space, consider one of these. They do not include the receiver so no shaken electronics but they will still move the cabinet they are in.

Speaker Height Placement

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SANUS SYSTEMS BF-31B Wood Speaker StandsThe height your speakers are at makes a difference in how they will sound. Makes sense right? In general speakers should be placed so the tweeter is pretty much at ear level of the listener. This is because many tweeters don't have a very good dispersion range. This means as you go off-axis on them you start to lose some volume and possibly tone. While it may be difficult to get all listeners directly in front of the speakers it is much easier to get them at ear level.

Things To Consider When Choosing a Speakers Height
  • Floorstanding speakers usually have tweeters at the correct height
  • Bookshelf speakers are best on an open shelf or on a speaker stand
  • In general speakers should be placed with the woofer at the bottom
  • If you need to put speakers on their side, position them so the tweeters mirror each other
  • Do not mount rear ported speakers against a wall, it will diminish the bass output
Height Placement of Surround Sound Speakers

Surround sound speakers should follow the same rules as the main front speakers. This is usually not ideal however. Since surround speakers can be much smaller, many people opt to mount them on the wall, in the corner between the wall and ceiling, or just purchase in-ceiling speakers for the task. Surround sound speakers can also be placed on a stand. As long as the surround sound speakers are pointed toward the listening seats they will sound fine.

Speaker Safety
  • Speakers mounted on a wall should be securely fastened to avoid injury if one falls
  • If possible anchor speaker stands to a wall if small children are in the house
Shop for speaker stand sales and reviews

Get More Bass From Your Speakers

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Even if you have a small bookshelf or tower speaker, if it has a rear port, you can likely get more bass than you are getting today.

The rear port on a  bass reflex speaker design is there to increase the bass response of the speaker. These ports are usually tuned to a frequency that compliments the overall tonality of the speaker.

Simple Changes that Increase Bass
Ideally a rear ported speaker should be at least 1 to 2 inches off the wall. Speakers create sound by moving air. The port on the speaker creates sound in the same way as when you blow in to an empty or partially empty bottle. If the speaker is against the wall or the back of a bookshelf, then you're keeping the air from coming out, as well as the sound. Blocking the port will also add additional air pressure against the inside of the cabinet,changing the way the main driver will sound. Not good.

Experiment with Speaker Placement for Optimum Bass
As we mentioned, keeping the speaker away from the wall will change the sound. Moving it different distances from the wall will also change the sound. Play with it until you get the sound that works best for you. It is also recommended that:
  • Each speaker is at an equal distance form the wall
  • The wall is material is the same for each speaker
  • The speakers are at the same height
Special Note on Corners
Corner placement of a speaker can have undesirable consequences and is best avoided if possible. If you must put a speaker in a corner be sure to play with the placement till you get an acceptable sound.

Boston Acoustics vs Polk Entry Level Soundbars

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Soundbars for bedroom or second room home theater setups are one of the fastest growing speaker categories. It's easy to see why. Why, here is a list.
  • East to set up
  • Take up little space
  • Usually has a wireless subwoofer
  • Much easier to use than complex AV receivers
  • Relatively cheap
  • Virtual Surround Sound has gotten much better (don't need rear speakers)
However some soundbars can be very expensive, upwards of $1,000. So we decided to highlight two entry level soundbars we believe will meet most folks needs from Boston Acoustics and Polk Audio.

Below is a table comparing the features of each. As you can see there is not much difference in the overall specs. In fact these two brands usually have a very similar sound profile as well. Both BA and Polk have solid industry reputations and should meet your small home theater needs for a long time.

Boston Acoustics TVee Model 25 2.1-Inch System with Sleek Sound Bar and Wireless Subwoofer (Black)
Boston Acoustics TVee Model 25 2.1-Inch System with Sleek Sound Bar and Wireless Subwoofer (Black)

Polk Audio Surroundbar IHT 3000 Home Entertainment System (Black)
Polk Audio Surroundbar IHT 3000 Home Entertainment System (Black)

Main Features

Polk audio Surround bar IHT 3000

Boston Acoustics TVee Model 25
Wireless subwooer

Optical and analog inputs
YES with included optical cable

Virtual Digital Surround

Soundbar Product Dimensions
30.5 x 4.4 x 4 inches;  
31.4 X 4.4 x 4.4 inches ;  
Rear Speakers

Subwoofer Size
6.5” down firing
6.5” down firing
100 watts Soundbar
80 watts Subwoofer
150 watts total
2X 6” full range

2 - 1.5X6” full range

Both brands have several higher end soundbars that will also sound great and be more effective in larger rooms. You can search Amazon from the links below.

 Search for polk soundbars
Search for boston acoustics soundbars

Time to buy Outdoor Speakers on Sale

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Niles OS5.5 - Speaker - 2-wayIt's June and in the 90's on the east coast and we've been outside by the pool. Time to crank my outdoor speakers as loud as they can go. In the true tradition of retailing most vendors have already moved on to Fall items, which means it is a good time to look for sales on outdoor spekaers. A few we really like are from Polk, Boston , Acoustics Voyager speakers and Niles outdoor speakers.

Considerations when purchaing outdoor speakers.
  • Waterproof vs Water Resistant - most outdoor spekaers are NOT water-proof. In other words they need to be either mounted under cover or somewhere else where they won't get directly rained on. Boston acoustics does make a speaker they consider water proof, the voyager series but you should still take some care.
  • Acoustic suspension vs bass reflex. - to be truly water proof a speaker would have to be acoustic suspension since a large hole in the front would hardly be condusive to keeping out water. However a ported or bass reflex speaker will give you better bass, especially in an open outdoor environment.
Care and Feeding of Outdoor Speakers

If you live in a colder environment it is a good idea to take your outdoor speakers inside for the winter. We'll cover how to care for them in a short article come September.

Outdoor speakers on sale at Amazon.

New AirPlay & DLNA Receivers from Pioneer

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Pioneer announced 5 new Pioneer Elite AV receivers. Most will support AirPlay and DLNA. This is good news for those who want to use these technologies to make their receiver their entertainment hub. I favor DLNA just slightly over AirPlay for its open platform That said there is something to be said for Apple's total system and its easy integration.

The new receivers—the VSX-40, VSX-50, VSX-51, VSX-52, and VSX-53—will all work with the iPad, iPhone, and iPod” and support 7-channel audio, a USB/video cable to attache an iOS devices right into the receivers. All support HDMI 1.4a input and output with 3D and ARC support. Starting with the VSX-50, they start to pick up networking and mobile features: the VSX-5x models can all be controlled from an iPad or iPhone using custom apps, support wireless access to users’ iTunes library via AirPlay, along with DLNA/vTuner technology to pull in media from other devices on a home network. The high end of the line, the VSX-52 and VX-53 also support Pandora, Rhapsody.  All the units support two or three zones of audio. This is great for those of us who are looking for more reasons to buy more speakers! Prices range from $450 to $1,100. Not really high-end but they should suffice for most movie and music listeners.

View all Pioneer AV Recievers here with Reviews
Search for pioneer VSX-50

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