Part 2: Stereo System Tips

Systems under $200

There are so many stereo systems available under $200; a person could have difficulty trying to choose ten different systems, let alone just one! I compare shopping for a stereo system to trying to pick what to order at a restaurant that has a huge menu; everything is within your budget and it all sounds good. When faced with a tough choice like this, you may start to go through the list of pros and cons that may help sway you to a decision: “Well, the beef sounds good but I get it all the time. I don’t have shrimp scampi often so I will put it higher on the preferred choice list.” It is the other features of the meal and how they relate to our daily lives that influence our overall discussion when faced with that tough choice.

With stereo systems, especially those under $200 dollars, it is the features that usually make or break the deal for the buyer. Of course sound is a major deciding factor, but through my experience, once you get close to the $200 mark, the sonic performances of various systems become pretty evenly matched; this excludes those Super-Awesome sales on more expensive systems that float across the internet sometimes.

As far as features, I can only say that if you know what you want the stereo to do, then you know what features you want it to have. Although I will not be discussing extra features that some stereos may have, I can share with you some knowledge that may help you find the perfect “fit for you” in regards to sound.

This part of our series is a little more complex when we consider the human voice. Many stereo systems reproduce human voices exceptionally well and perform well
during music reproduction. Some digital systems, typically Book Shelf Systems, have preset EQ modes for Voice or Music; the terminology used varies from
system to system. The section below is a reference guide of quick tips about the strong points of particular classes of stereo systems.

$200 or below

Complete Compact Systems (all-in-one):

Recommended for mostly talk radio, near-field listening or background music (desktop, countertop, kitchen, bedroom, etc.). 

  • 3” or larger speakers should be sufficient.
    • Reception will be a big factor for radio listening. Stereo systems typically have much higher fidelity than single speaker systems thus static/radio noise is much more noticeable.
  • The bigger the box, the louder they go.
    • The systems in this price range tend to have limited sound output for music but do really well with talk radio.

Book Shelf Stereo Systems (speakers are movable and independent from each other):

Excellent for small room music and talk radio listening.

  • If the larger size isn’t an issue, these systems are great for talk radio.
  • Typically over $100 for a good system.
    • Best Performers are usually around $150.
  • Usually have many features such as CD/Mp3/Wifi Radio/etc.
    • Higher priced models may be expandable.
  • Best audio performers will be 2-way/3-way speakers. This means that each speaker will have a Tweeter and a Woofer (2-way) or a Tweeter, Midrange and Woofer (3-way).
  • Note: Some of the larger book shelf speakers tend to have a generous amount of bass. This can make talk radio sound a little ‘boomy.’ Bass and Treble controls are a must for these systems.

2.1 Stereo Systems:

2.1 Stereo systems consist of a Left and Right speaker with a single sub-woofer; the “.1” refers to the sub. The sub-woofers only job is to produce bass. By separating the sonic work load of producing bass sounds to a dedicated sub-woofer, the Left and Right speakers – called satellites – can be much smaller in size because larger woofers are not needed to produce bass frequencies. For under $200, 2.1 systems are the next best jump up from Book Shelf Speakers if louder volumes are needed.

For Music, Computer, and Home Entertainment listening.

  • Best performers are right around $200.
  • Because of the abundance of systems on the market, some manufacturers have misleading advertising.
    • Read reviews online; if possible, personally listen to the 2.1 system you are interested in before buying; buy from a trusted manufacturer/company that has a reasonable return policy.
  • Note to radio listeners:
    • These systems are usually just audio amplifiers with speakers. They typically do not have built in radio. You will need to have a radio with an audio output in order to connect to these larger systems.
    • These systems tend to have pretty good fidelity which can make static noise on AM radio more noticeable.
    • These systems perform best if used with high fidelity sources.
      • WiFi Radio
      • CD/Mp3 Players
      • Computers
      • Blu-Ray/DVD players
      • High End AM/FM radio with line-out.

There are a lot of options available when shopping for a Stereo System so having a good understanding of what features you want, will help you narrow down the selection so you can focus on the all-important aspect of sound. Keep in mind there are very few stereo systems that also have good reception (especially on AM) so if radio is a priority, you want to make sure that you have a radio with an audio output and a stereo system with a line input. Got questions? Let us know at and keep an eye out for Part 3: Personal listening, Headphones and Earphones.