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4 Ways to Bring Stereo Back to Your Audio Experience

Stream your favorite music with that classic left-right sound

spinner image a man surrounded by music player options
Illustration by Mark Wang

In the heyday of stereo systems — the 1960s through the 1980s — the standard home setup included two big, weighty speakers carefully spaced apart from each other.

Remember woofers and tweeters? These days, music lovers are more likely to stream audio into a single, portable, wireless speaker that’s weighed in ounces rather than pounds.

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“Squashing a big, beautiful stereo mix into a little wireless speaker can jumble and muddy the music, robbing you of its subtleties,” says Dennis Burger, cohost of the Audio Unleashed podcast and editor of SoundStage! Access, a publication dedicated to low-cost hi-fi. Consider the classic Dark Side of the Moon album by Pink Floyd, with the sound of cash registers ka-chinging between the speakers at the start of “Money.”

Where to place speakers

A good rule of thumb is to place the speakers as far apart from each other as they are from you or from the center of your group when you’re gathering with friends.

Put another way, the listener and the two speakers should form an equilateral triangle.

“You also hear nuances like the interplay between David Gilmour’s tight rhythm guitar in the left channel and Richard Wright’s funky electric piano in the right,” Burger says.

But streaming music from a mobile device is so convenient. Here are four ways you can get the best of both worlds, Burger says.

1. Stream via an old stereo

If you still have a component stereo, buy a Bluetooth receiver and connect it to your tuner.

These small devices cost as little as around $25. Use standard stereo cables to hook up the Bluetooth unit to the auxiliary input in your stereo, then pair the receiver to your phone, tablet or computer.

2. Stream through active speakers

These sets of stereo speakers, also called powered speakers, have their own built-in amplifiers.

They often are used to connect directly to a turntable, but many of them also work with mobile devices through built-in Bluetooth. They generally start at around $150.

3. Stream through a bookshelf stereo

These are mini stereo systems with detachable speakers, most likely with a CD player and radio built into the unit.

Almost all of them come with Bluetooth capability for streaming these days. They start at around $120.

4. Stream through two portable speakers

If you want speakers that are easy to tote, here’s a trick: Buy two portable speakers.

Many brands include a setting that lets you pair two together so that one plays the music’s left channel and the other plays the right channel. Individual speakers start at around $80.

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