An audiophile’s guide to understanding smart speakers

Sponsored Content by Marshall, TechCrunch

When shopping for a smart speaker, some consumers prioritize AI capabilities over actual sound quality – but if you’re a real purist, you probably expect a bit more from your home audio. While there are plenty of speakers on the market featuring similar tech, not all speakers actually deliver quality audio. We teamed up with Marshall to outline what an audiophile needs to know about smart speakers, because you shouldn’t ever have to compromise on sound for modern convenience.

We spoke to musician/producer/technologist Josh Craig to get a better understanding of just what separates hi-fi speakers from your average noise-makers. The first thing he laid out was the basic design of a speaker, explaining that what we consider a singular speaker is really a collection of multiple speakers known as tweeters, which handle higher frequencies, and woofers, which handle the lows. While many speakers will have one of each, higher quality speakers may feature one woofer and two or more tweeters, resulting in a more detailed and accurate playback. Some speakers even offer accompanying apps or controls for adjusting the equalization, or EQ. This allows you to further tune your playback, cranking up or turning down the individual treble (high), middle, or bass (low) frequencies.

“This kind of control is great for getting that home theater sound, getting as close as you can to the sound of a theater, club, etc  on a smart speaker for a reasonable price,” says Craig. “The Marshall put out a very low frequency, as low as 62 – 20,000 Hz –  that’s premium bass for a smart speaker. With the bass and treble control (i.e. the dual tweeters) you can control the output signal to your liking. Bass, so much bass!”

For real bass junkies you’ll likely want to look for a speaker offering bass reflex, also known as a ported box. Box refers to the physical speaker enclosure, which is also called the cabinet, and the port is a vent, hole, or duct, cut into the back. When measured effectively, this port brings the sound waves traveling through the air inside and outside the cabinet into phase, which reinforces the bass, resulting in higher output and less distortion.

“True audiophiles look at most smart speakers available to consumers today and laugh,” Craig says. They’re designed by tech companies, not speaker companies, and built for adequate sound in average size spaces. For those who take their sound system more seriously however, your average smart speaker is likely to disappoint and you’ll always get better results pairing a smart device with a speaker made by a company with more experience in amplification and powerful sound than microchips or mail order goods. Craig put it, “the big players in the voice control space may have decent chops when it comes to technology, but when it comes to sound, real heads know the difference.”

From Marshall:

When you are looking for a smart speaker that can deliver the best sound, you need to look beyond gimmicky tech companies to the craftsman who understand quality sound and who have been making speakers and amplifiers for generations. Enter a legend: Marshallspeakers – where explosive sound meets voice activation and looks damn cool. Find your voice and revolutionize the way that you listen to music.

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