When you want to upgrade your home audio experience beyond a smartphone with earbuds or a Bluetooth speaker, a sound system offers much more immersive entertainment. These systems include a variety of components including an amplifier, radio tuner, receiver and speakers. They can be complicated, but at their core, all sound systems are the same. An audio signal transducer captures acoustic energy into an electrical signal, which is then processed by one or more processors and fed to a pair of loudspeakers to produce mechanical acoustic energy.
A sound system’s input sources might be external components like a turntable, CD player or iPod or even an Internet streaming device like a Chromecast. Internal processors might mix input signals or add effects to the music, resulting in different kinds of listening experiences. The output from these processing units is then fed to a pair of stereo speakers. The left and right speakers produce a sense of the stage that musicians perform on, allowing you to hear sounds coming from different directions and experiencing the music as if it were happening in front of you.
The sensitivity of the speakers is another important aspect to consider, as higher sensitivity means that you can get the same volume out of them with less power. You can check the sensitivity of a speaker by measuring its output at 1 watt from a distance of one meter.
Most of the time, the speakers will be traditional ones that fire the sound forward – think about the stereo speakers you’re used to seeing in shops and homes. However, there are also special surround speakers, such as bipole and dipole speakers that have two speakers inside that fire in opposite directions simultaneously – this helps to create the illusion of sounds coming from other directions.
A good quality stereo speaker will be able to reproduce music in a wide frequency range, so you’ll enjoy the bass as well as all the highs and mids. A larger speaker will be able to move more air, so it’ll be able to deliver deeper bass notes with greater force.
In Jamaican culture, a sound system refers to a group of DJs or MCs who play ska, rocksteady and reggae music at parties and other events. The sound system culture was brought to the UK with mass migration from Jamaica in the 1950s and 1960s, when British pubs and clubs didn’t offer a space for Jamaicans to listen to their own popular music. These Jamaican communities would bring their own huge speakers, generators and amplifiers into neighbourhood corners and set up makeshift dance halls for partying.
These sound systems often used “Dubplates” – records cut to play in a Sound System that were pressed at independent record labels for dub producers and distributors, rather than by the major labels. This allowed them to circumvent the lengthy release cycle of American music and quickly access new sounds and styles. The popularity of these systems helped to shape the development of new Jamaican music, including ska, rocksteady and reggae.