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Key sounds: Get better sound for your home entertainment

Soundbars, all-in-ones, keyboards and more

Finding just the right product to solve a problem can throw up some confusing choices. Take soundbars: underslinging a narrow tube filled with miniature speakers is a logical way to upgrade the sound pumped out by your flatscreen telly. See Speaker reviews.

You settled on a larger, wider, thin screen because you wanted a bigger picture without the bulk of an old tube-TV advancing into the room. (That, and the fact that you can no longer buy a CRT set.) But while microelectronics gadgets are getting smaller, the mechanical apparatus required to marshall air into movement to reproduce sound must still follow physical laws. Which means you need decent-size speaker cones. See audio reviews.

Advances in audio engineering mean you can now get a more accurate sound from a smaller speaker - up to a point. But if you want to reproduce the natural sound of your music or films alongside the pictures, proper hi-fi speakers are your best option. Yet most people still settle on compromise with undersized cabinets. Because they’d welcome bulky speakers back into the lounge as much as the hulking glass cathode-ray-tube of the past. See Digital Home Advisor.

Nevertheless, ‘good enough’ sound can be found, despite the compromises of low-energy/low-fidelity amplifiers and too-small speaker cones. Turn to our speaker reviews to find what might provide suitable sound for the pound.

In another recent group test, we pitted the quintessential all-in-one PC, the Apple iMac, against its recent competition. The game’s evolved, though: Windows all-in-ones now tout huge touchscreen panels to anyone who’s tempted to reach out and touch them. Meanwhile, Apple’s evergreen one-stop PC has slimmed its panel edges, but retains its stubborn eschewal of touchscreen gimmickry. That’s what its handheld devices are for, after all.

Far more importantly, the iMac’s IPS display, already the best in the business, is now improved with a build process that brings the image closer, while knocking back reflections. State-of-the-art PC design was never more in reach.

But even the most trenchant of Windows holdouts would concede they still need a keyboard to keep productive on their touchscreen PC. And here there has been less innovation, since the dome-switch keyboard became ‘good enough’ for most users.

Their keys get stiffer with age, and they’re rarely as satisfying for typing as a good mechanical keyboard. Conversely, real switches below each key can make for a keyboard as personal as your shoes. The prices are higher, but so is their value: a £100 premium keyboard will likely last more than 10 times longer than the £10 bundled clatterboard. Pay the full cost upfront, and you won’t be labouring with a naff keyboard for 10 years. See our mechanical keyboard reviews.

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