08/02/2012 08:40 EDT | Updated 09/18/2012 05:12 EDT

Turn It Up to 11 With Speakers



Eavesdropping on a conversation and only catching the odd word is one of life's great frustrations. Asking people to speak up or moving your chair to join their table is not likely to be met with much enthusiasm.

So what's to be done?


Whether using a parabolic microphone, ear horn, bugging device or even a well placed glass against the wall, you are basically pumping up the volume.


Another great frustration is life is trying to listen to music on crappy speakers. Teeny-weeny laptop speakers, or dare I say it; a phone, will just not cut it when trying to study music online. Sometimes people invest in 'discount' computer speakers, but there are some important considerations when it comes to buying speakers.

First, I recommend powered speakers. The amplifier is built into the right speaker and a cable runs to the left.


  • Stereo: Professionals use mono because the audience hears the same music no matter where they are seated. When using educational music, however, the accompaniment and performance tracks may be separated by track (left and right) and if you have mono, you can't take out the performance track if need be.

    5.1 surround is great in a movie theatre, but setting it up properly in a home is a Herculean task and very little music is produced for it, so you are really only getting stereo anyway.

  • Magnetic Shielding: Have you ever had your speakers make a buzzy sound when there was a lot of white on the screen? When you move the cursor around, does the buzzy sound change? That's the electromagnetic field given off by your monitor interpreted as sound, and what an annoying sound it is! Magnetically shielded speakers stop that from happening.
  • Near Field Monitors: These are better than hifi speakers because the sound comes right out of the speaker and into your face. They don't depend on bouncing sounds off walls and don't need equalization because what is played is what you get. I think of them as out loud headphones.
  • Input: The more and the more varied the better. 1/8" is good for connecting your speakers straight from a laptop or mp3 player. You simply connect the sound source headphone jack to the speakers using a male to male 1/8" cable. I keep a retractable one of those in my purse at all times. RCA (red and white) is good for connecting your speakers to DVD players, media players, video cameras and such. If there is a red, white, and yellow output on your device, it's RCA. The yellow is for video. XLR and 1/4" are what "professionals" use and they are great, but you have to use adapters to connect with any "consumer" products. HDMI and digital are great quality, but they sometimes have compatibility issues with older equipment and if you are planning on entertaining dear old granny and her friends, best to stick to the 1/8" or RCA.
  • Mixing: Speakers that have a mixing feature are wonderful because you can adjust the volume on each input, and that is perfect for playing an amplified instrument along with the accompaniment music. Even when I play flute, I amplify it so it mixes with the backing music, and besides being essential for performing, it also makes practicing much more fun. If you are planning on doing some recording, you will probably need a mixer anyway, so this may not be a deal breaker for you.
  • Power: 20 to 80 watts is ideal. You add the two wattages together. So a 40 watt system is made of two 20 watt speakers. I find 40 watts plenty and have used that size in libraries and store settings with great success. If I'm playing outside or in a large hall, I switch to my 300 watt speakers, but that's another blog.
  • Portability: This may not be an issue for you if you are planning on just playing at home and "near field monitors" are usuall not meant to be trucked all over the place. They often don't have protective covers for the speakers, nor handles, and they are kind of slippery because of the coating.
  • Price: $150 -$300 depending on make and wattage.