For most of us, setting up a home stereo music system is a pretty basic procedure. For mainstream consumers, key priorities are convenience (an easy place to park your iPod and enjoy your tunes after work), great sound (maybe not concert-hall quality, but certainly superior levels of definition and control when it comes to enjoying everything from Shakira to Shostakovich with elan) and -- let's be honest -- good looks. Finding all that plus ease of installation isn't too tall an order. Here's how to get started.
1 Location, location, location
Determining where the stereo system is going is the logical first step. If you're in a petite urban loft or condo, space can be at a premium. If you're in a larger house, you need to determine if you need just one home stereo system, additional compact units (for the bedroom or study, for example) – or just multiple speakers throughout the house.
Common areas for housing the main stereo system include the dining room, living room or family room. If you have a home-theatre set-up, you could in theory simply hook up your audio components to the existing home theatre speakers, but in many busier households, that system will be dominated by the TV or gaming components (thanks, kids!). So, in many households, it's wise to have a compact system in the kitchen, where it can provide respite from the booms and crashes coming from the adjoining rooms.
2 Wireless systems
While the flexibility of traditional stereo systems were limited by wires, today's wireless systems allow for hassle-free speaker placement. Not only can you put the speakers wherever you want within a room, in many cases, you can pace them throughout the house to get great sound no matter where you are, including the backyard.
One of the latest wireless systems on the market, the Sonos Multi Room Music System (from $999), actually improves on that premise even further by offering the ability to play different music in different rooms of the house. Using the system's main remote control, you can play digital music files from your collection, Internet radio or certain music sharing services, to any of the different speakers in the house. Or link "zones" so you can hear the same music as you move between living room and kitchen, for instance.
The Sonos product is marketed for its ease of set-up (all you need is a hex key, broadband or DSL cable and router to get the system set up), but most home stereo systems today are designed to be user-friendly -- you don't need to be an audiophile to get started.
3 Compact & portables
Compact or micro systems (also known as "shelf systems") are popular in smaller homes and as secondary systems in larger homes. Today's models offer surprising sound quality given the small size of the units, although they're usually not wireless. But with smaller systems, the speakers are simply book-ended on the same shelf, or are actually connected to the unit itself.
Look for features like an easy-to-connect iPod dock and USB port so you can listen to your digital music collection without having to buy these connection kits separately.
LG's DVD Microsystem with iPod Dock (FB163) ($249.99) has got the goods for a very reasonable price. It's considered the best in its class within the mid-priced units. And it's certainly a beauty with its high gloss, mod black finish.
Meanwhile, Bose's SoundDock Portable ($499.99) is renowned among audiophiles for its small dimensions, portability, long-lasting lithium-ion battery and contemporary styling. It costs a bit more than some systems, especially given its size, but for sound quality and ease of use, it's a sound investment. Why buy multiples, when you can just tote this from your kitchen to home office as your mood dictates?
Image courtesy of Pottery Barn.