Audio in the home has never been so powerful. These days, you can have music from your iPod pumping simultaneously through every room in the house, and even out into the garden via a wireless connection. Even if music's not really your thing, but you want to have cinematic quality sound encircling you while you kick back and watch a movie, that can be arranged too - and it's easier than ever before.
When it comes to choosing a home audio system that's right for you, you need to work out what its primary use will be and what your priorities are. Some questions you should consider are:
Is it mainly for TV and movies, or just music? What sort of sources will I use?
If you're only going to be listening to music on your audio system, a set of stereo speakers will be adequate for one room. You might also want to consider a multi-room audio system if you want music distributed around the home, or out into the back yard or your garage. These types of systems allow you to play music anywhere you like, and control your music remotely with a remote control or a smartphone.
If it's a true cinematic experience in your home theatre that you're after, then a good surround sound system is almost certainly the best option. These come in a range of different configurations, even including setups which have speakers hidden behind a projector screen.
Will my system be confined to one room?
If you are only going to be using your home audio system in one room (like your living room or home theatre), you should evaluate in terms of the shape, size and contents of the room, and then decide between a stereo or a surround sound system.
However, if you are regularly entertaining guests, or find yourself moving around a lot and want to hear your music all around the home, you should consider a distributed multi room audio system.
If you're considering a dedicated home theatre setup in particular, installing additional soundproofing is a very good idea, both for the sake of your own enjoyment, and to keep any sensitive neighbours onside.
How will I mount my equipment?
Your choice of home audio system can have a significant impact on your home’s décor - speakers and components come in many sizes, but are often quite large. For that reason, it’s important to think about how you will be mounting your equipment, and what sort of trade-offs you'll need to make between hi-fi equipment and visual aesthetics. Large components in particular may even require special cooling systems to prevent them from overheating.
Some audio systems can be mounted on purpose-built rack mount systems, which will allow them to be more easily managed and maintained. More elaborate systems in particular benefit from this type of setup, which allows for cabling to be tamed, and for cooling to be regulated and directed wherever it's most needed.
If you're really after a minimalist design, there are in-wall or in-ceiling speakers are also available. These types of speakers can perform very well while remaining discreet and unobtrusive.
What's my budget? Do I need anything special?
If it's a top-quality setup you're looking for, your best bet is always to talk to an expert. A trained custom installer will be able to advise on the sorts of systems that will suit your home, which specific types of speakers and components will suit your purposes, and how to properly arrange speakers and soundproof wherever necessary. Audio equipment is rarely cheap, and consulting a professional will help to ensure that you're getting your money's worth from it.