Creating 'live' sound at home with your hi-fi system: the best equipment on the market
How do you create a 'live' sound while listening at home? BBC Music Magazine's audio expert Chris Haslam guides you through what you need and the best equipment on sale today to listen to classical music at home
Like many of you, I’ve been craving the life-affirming feeling you only get from live performance. But with no concerts on the horizon, I’ve turned my attention to ensuring I get the very best from my hi-fi.
Where to place your speakers to get the best audio quality
Sitting in the ‘sweet spot’ between two speakers is the closest you can get to the best seats in the house. Make sure they’re at least 15cm away from the wall and sit level with your ears when seated. It’s also worth experimenting with the angle of the speakers, as even a few degrees can make a huge difference in experiencing a full orchestral sound.
The best amplifiers for at-home listening
Rearranging the furniture to prioritise your speakers may be a step too far, but good amplifiers have software to help compensate for less-than-ideal positioning. Arcam uses the excellent Dirac Live Room Correction technology, while Sonos cleverly uses the microphone in your smartphone.
Ideally you need an amplifier and speakers with enough power to recreate the feeling of the orchestra moving the air around you. A powerful amplifier will effortlessly drive your loudspeakers, enhancing the excitement of the music – as a rule, more amp power means more control and less distortion.
The best headphones for listening to live recordings
If big speakers aren’t practical, you can still immerse yourself in a live recording with a pair of over-ear headphones from a respected brand like Sennheiser or Audio Technica. Ideally you should pair them with a DAC like the sublime Chord Mojo that transforms your sound in ways you couldn’t have imagined.
What is the best audio quality for live recordings?
The better quality the music file, the more detail you’ll hear: the tap of a baton, the breath of a pianist and buzz of an audience can all be lost on a poor-quality MP3 file, so seek out better-than-CD quality (16-bit/44.1kHz).
The best sound systems for watching live performances at home
Listening to and watching classical performances are very different experiences, but with the right TV sound system you’ll be surprised how immersive it can be. The best way to enjoy concert recordings is through Dolby Atmos, which projects sound up as well as around the room. The Harman Kardon Citation MultiBeam 700 soundbar (£449, harmankardon.co.uk) and Sonos Arc (£799, sonos.com) both have upward-angled speakers, while full surround-sound systems such as the Focal Chora 826-D (from £1,695, focal.com) provide the full cinematic experience.
Sadly, there’s no substitute for the communal experience of a live orchestra, but get the best from your hi-fi, TV and headphones and look on the bright side: at least, for now, you get to avoid those long queues at the bar.
The best headphones for creating a 'live' sound from home
A multi-award winning open-back headphone from a brand synonymous with recreating recordings with a wonderful sense of timing, impressive soundstage and a gorgeous amount of detail to enjoy. grado.co.uk
The best soundbar and screen for creating a 'live' set-up
Philips Bowers & Wilkins 48-Inch OLED+935
A wonderful collaboration between Philips and Bowers & Wilkins combines a classy 4K OLED TV and soundbar with ten drivers including a subwoofer and two upward-firing, roomfilling speakers. philips.co.uk
The best floor-standing speakers for at-home listening
Q Acoustics Concept 500
Tuned to recreate an authentic live sound, these high-end, high-performance floorstanding speakers combine their smart design with a dynamic, powerful soundstage. qacoustics.co.uk
Chris Haslam is a freelance consumer technology journalist, specialising in tech, audio, lifestyle, health and interiors. He is the monthly audio columnist for BBC Music Magazine, rounding up the best audio equipment on the market for classical music lovers. He is also a contributing editor for Wired UK.