The pregame from hell — we’ve all been there. There are a million different reasons why it never got off the ground: too many dudes, not enough booze, the list goes on. But nothing is guaranteed to hold your party back like a lack of music, and if you want good music, you’ll need a good set of speakers. It’s not always obvious, but a decent sound system can dramatically improve your bachelor pad or frat house, and I'm here to show you how to get the best set-up for your place.
There are a million different options for piping in tunes, but not all of them are created equal. Most systems fall into one of two categories: self-contained (i.e. iPod docks) or receiver-based (pretty much everything else). Each comes with its own set of pros and cons, and I'll give you a breakdown of both to help you find the best system for your needs
Generally speaking, the two main benefits of a self-contained system are the fact that it’s a) much easier to set up, and b) it’s usually more cost-effective, especially for a smaller space. The set-up part is a no-brainer; they usually come ready right out of the box, and you can pretty much take them anywhere there’s a power outlet, meaning you can keep the music going from finals week to beach week without a problem. Depending on the size of the space and how much you’re willing to spend, you can get a good set-up starting around $150. (Anything less than $100 is just crap with terrible sound quality.) Systems like the Altec Lansing Octiv 650 (above) are a good start. At around 200 bucks it won’t break the bank, and it strikes a good balance between size and performance; it fits easily into a tiny dorm room but still manages to spit out some fat bass (due to the built-in subwoofer hidden underneath), even at high volumes.
For a bigger budget (and space), check out something like a system from Bose. The top-end model, the SoundDock10 (above) retails for close to $600, and packs a punch. The sound quality is superb, and the system can easily fill a medium-size room, making it perfect for a house party (a buddy I lived with in college had one of these, and we used to bring it out for parties on our top floor. I’m pretty sure we never needed to turn it up more than halfway). It’s probably a bit too big for most small dorm rooms, but Bose does make other models that are a bit smaller and cheaper to fit a wide range of needs.
If you’re looking for something really portable, check out the Logitech S715i (above). It’s small enough to fit in a backpack, but sounds huge, and at only $150 it’s a hard deal to beat. The one major drawback to these systems is that, in general, using them with anything other than an iPod can range from difficult to impossible. While this may be fine for some users, if you want to take full advantage of your music library, you’ll need a different system.
While all-in-one-systems are great, I’m a big believer in the old school set-up, which at its core is a receiver connected to some high quality speakers. Like I said earlier, you’ll definitely have to drop more cash to get a decent system, but I believe it’s well worth it. This is especially a good idea if you live in a frat house and everyone can chip in a few dollars via the house fund. If you opt for this set-up, the first thing you’ll need is a receiver, which is basically a big box that allows you to connect everything together (such as an iPod, computer, turntable, or pretty much anything that plays audio) and supplies the power to your system. More power (measured in watts) in your receiver generally equals more power from your speakers; most receivers on the market today average around anywhere from 65 to 120 watts per speaker, and this should be plenty for most spaces. Most receivers allow you to connect anywhere from two to seven speakers, plus a subwoofer.
I’ve found that a receiver that allows you to connect at least four speakers on two different channels works well for most situations; you can hook up two bookshelf speakers for normal use to one channel, and throw two bigger speakers onto the second channel for parties and the like. Receivers, like all high-end audio equipment can vary wildly in price; most decent receivers start around $250 and go up from there, so shop around and find something that fits your needs and your budget.
Models like the Pioneer VSX-821-K, which both retail for around $350 at places like Amazon, are great starter models with plenty of power and features.
The other big component is obviously your choice of speaker; the possibilities (and the amount of money you can spend) are pretty much endless. Good speakers fall into two basic categories: bookshelf and floorstanding. Bookshelf speakers are great for a decent-sized dorm or bedroom since you can turn them up high enough to hit their “sweet-spot” without the neighbors calling the cops. A good pair starts at around $200 and can go way up from there, so like receivers, it’s worth shopping around (Polk makes some great units at a range of different prices.
Floorstanding units are a bit beefier, and you should definitely be able to feel a bit of a rumble from the bass, making them better for bigger situations. They’re also substantially more expensive, so look at what you really need before you buy.
Beyond the fact that you get to design your own system, one of the other main reasons why I’m a big fan of the receiver-based system is that you also have a lot of options for how you want to play your music. Good speakers do wonders for some old-school vinyl (a record player is almost impossible to connect to most iPod docks), and by connecting your computer to your receiver, you can use programs like Spotify to play almost any song on demand. Perhaps the best thing you can do is to connect your receiver to an Apple AirPort Express (although some receivers now come with built in AirPlay) and stream your music wirelessly from your laptop (you can also use your iPhone as a remote). Nothing sets the mood faster when you bring a girl back to your place than when you can hit the Marvin Gaye before you even walk in the door. Trust me.
There are a million different ways to set up your sound system, but hopefully this got you started down the right path. Sound off in the comments with any of your own advice.