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HiFi Speakers

January 5, 2022


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Choosing the Right HiFi Speakers

Choosing the right Hi-Fi speakers is one of the most crucial decisions when putting together your audio system. In terms of your signal path, speakers are the last piece of the puzzle. Whether you are a first-timer or an avid Hi-Fi fanatic, everything you need to know about choosing the best speakers is right here. If you consider all of the information in the article and do some research, you can't go wrong. Think about how you'd use the speakers today, but also how you might use them down the line. Try to buy speakers that will last as your enthusiasm for audio grows, especially if you spend a substantial amount of money.

 

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What is the primary use of the speakers?


When choosing any new equipment, the first thing to do is eliminate unsuitable options. There are many manufacturers, multiple speaker types, and countless variations; if you don't filter your options, you'll spend hours and hours looking at speakers that aren't fit for purpose anyway. The first step to eliminate unsuitable options is clearly identifying your primary use for the speakers.

 

Listening to Music

If music is your priority, it's solely about enhancing the listening experience. In true audiophile fashion, that means the highest fidelity possible; the cleanest, crispest sound, with little to no distortion.

Whether you're an audiophile or the average music-lover, your end goal is probably to hear music as close to how the artist intended it as possible. People often opt for the speakers with the flattest frequency response, meaning what goes in is what comes out. In other words, the speakers don't color the sound in any discernible way. However, not all speakers perform equally across all frequency ranges; some have more bass, some have much crisper highs, etc.

With that in mind, you'll want to consider the genre of music that you listen to most. If you listen to EDM or Hip-Hop more than anything else, you might want to choose speakers with more bass to get the full effect of the kick drum and bass. Similarly, if you listen to Bebop, like Charlie Parker's Bird on 52nd St, you'll want speakers with the most detailed high-end to reproduce those stunning alto sax lines accurately.

 

TV and Movies

Buying speakers for watching/streaming TV or movies is slightly different. Of course, it's still about enhancing the listening experience, but it's a different kind of experience. The key to a great movie score is tension and release, which is what keeps the audience hooked. A single movie scene can take you through multiple emotions; anxiety, anticipation, fear, relief, and so on. To capture every extreme with stunning clarity, you might want to go for speakers with the greatest dynamic range. Dynamic Range is the distance (measured in decibels) between the lowest and highest output without distortion.

Another consideration is surround sound and creating a more immersive experience. Many 5.1 surround sound bundles are available, but an easier option may be a good soundbar that takes up less space with fewer cables.

 

Gaming

Gaming provides the most immersive listening experience because you aren't just watching a story play out; you are part of it. The right speakers can take your immersive gaming experience to a whole new level. However, if gaming will be your primary use for speakers, we have a few suggestions.

First, we suggest prioritizing surround sound speakers over other types. You don't have time to analyze the sound quality when gaming; it's about how it makes you feel and react. To be clear, we aren't saying you should accept poor quality; just remember what's most important. We recommend a surround sound system or a soundbar if you haven't much space. The Logitech Z906 bundle is good value for money at an entry-level. If you want to stick with more traditional speakers, we suggest not spending too much, unless you plan to listen to music often, too.

 
 

Amazon Amazon is a retailer that we would recommend no matter what you were buying. But, in this case, we like Amazon because it has a wide selection, and with Amazon Prime, most items are available for next-day delivery. Another reason we like Amazon for speakers is that they often have Amazon Exclusives that you won't find elsewhere.  Sponsored

 
 

Decide the Budget


That brings us nicely to our next step; setting your budget. There are two things to consider when setting your budget. The first is simple; it's how much you can afford. Once you know your limit, the second to consider is a price range that is likely to ensure performance and value for money. For example, the cheapest speakers available won't bring the best out of a high-end Hi-Fi system. Similarly, extremely expensive floor-standing speakers would be wasted on streaming your favorite TV shows. Setting a sensible budget will help you eliminate more options and create a shortlist of the best speakers for your needs.
 

Sound Source

Before confirming your budget, think about your sound source. It's no good buying cheap speakers to go with a top-of-the-line turntable or expensive speakers just to stream audio from your iPad. Ideally, the chosen speakers should always be of a quality high enough to get the very best out of your source.

Here are a few example sources; you might use one or all of these.

• DAC

A DAC or digital to analog converter simply converts a digital audio signal from digital devices to an analog signal. Most devices that output audio, like smartphones, tablets, computers, and powered speakers, have built-in DAC's. But, even with expensive gear, the DAC is often the weakest link in the chain. So, if you want to reproduce the audio in its purest form, it's wise to invest in a separate DAC.

• Turntable

Often, the choice of audiophiles who love the experience of vinyl and the sound.

• CD Player

Perhaps the most obvious addition to this list.

• Computer

Streaming audio from hard drives, websites, or online platforms.

• Network Audio Streamer

Think of it as an upgrade from laptop/desktop computer streaming. These devices are commonly added to existing Hi-Fi systems as a way to combine the convenience of streaming with high-quality audio.

Are you adding a streamer to your Hi-Fi setup?

• Handheld Devices

Smartphones, tablets, and so on.

 
 

What Other Equipment Do I Need?


We mentioned the benefits of having an external DAC as part of your Hi-Fi system, but it doesn't stop there. There tends to be confusion about what's needed to create a great Hi-Fi system and how to prioritize the different components. Much of that confusion revolves around preamps and amplifiers, so let's try to clear that up.

 

Preamp

As the name suggests, a preamp is the last stop for the signal before it passes through the amplifier. The preamp's job is to deliver a pristine signal that allows your amplifier and speakers to provide optimal performance. It does this by boosting the voltage of low-level signals to line-level. Once the signal is line-level, it's strong enough for further processing by the amplifier and speakers. Line level is the highest level signal before amplification. It’s the standard signal strength after the preamp stage, and before the amplification stage. Consumer line level is around -10am  dBV, and professional line level is around +4 dBu.

It's possible to have a Hi-Fi setup without a dedicated preamp. For example, a turntable requires a preamp to boost the signal but often has a built-in preamp (phono stage). This built-in preamp will do the job, but a separate dedicated unit will typically perform at a higher level.

Additionally, a good preamp doesn't just boost the signal; it also acts as a control center for switching between different sources. When you use multiple sources, it provides simple and optimal routing. Whether a preamp improves the overall sound is a debate that divides opinions. On the one hand, the boosted signal helps prevent noise, which provides a cleaner output. So, in that sense, that's improved sound, right? It's whether it provides any tonal improvement that divides opinion. It's possible to get a preamp with a built-in EQ, in which case it could color the tone to some extent. Generally speaking, a preamp isn't there to color the tone in your Hi-Fi chain.

 

Amplifier

Choosing the right amplifier is important in creating your ideal system. If you are buying speakers for an existing setup, go ahead, but if you're starting from scratch, you might want to choose your speakers first. Even though the speakers are the last link in your chain, choosing them first will help you find the most suitable amplifier. When pairing an amplifier with speakers, you'll need to consider a few things: amp power, output impedance, impedance, and sensitivity.

• Amp Power

How many watts of power is delivered to each channel.

• Output Impedance

The impedance (ohms)into which an amplifier can deliver maximum power without failing.

• Speaker Impedance

Also measured in ohms, this impedance refers to how difficult a speaker is for an amplifier to drive.

• Sensitivity

Sensitivity refers to how loud a speaker's output will be for any given input.

• Speaker Power

Power rating measured in watts. Ideally, if a speaker has a power rating of 100W and impedance of 8ohms, it should require an amp that can produce 200W into 8ohms. An amp that is more powerful than speakers, when pushed too hard, can produce distortion or clipping, but it's not likely to damage the speakers. If an amp isn't powerful enough for the speakers, it can compensate by feeding the speakers too much high-frequency energy to achieve the desired volume. These harmonics can deliver extra surges of power that can damage your speakers. It's important that you don't get overly concerned or impressed with the power. Sometimes amplifiers that are surprisingly powerful are lacking in attention to detail. There's no point in being able to disturb the entire street with your music if it lacks the clarity required to appreciate it fully. If you want power and attention to detail, it's likely going to cost you more. But, if you are hoping not to overspend, our advice is to find the best balance between the two.

 

Tip: More sensitive speakers are sometimes a good way to balance out a less powerful amp.

 
 

Integrated or Seperates?

If space is at a premium, you might want to consider an integrated pre/power amp. It saves you some space and some work in trying to pair suitable separate units. The downside is that integrated units don't always offer the same quality as dedicated separates. It's also not ideal to have the delicate nature of the preamp so close to the cruder power amp if you can avoid it.

 

Cables

You'll need the right cables for your speaker type and your setup. You can check out this comprehensive guide to make sure you get what you need. There is one misconception we want to clear up, and it's the idea that expensive cables enhance the sound. Cables, no matter how expensive, don't make the sound better; they are just there to transfer the signal as transparently as possible.

 

 

Choosing the right speakers for your room, and where to put them


Many factors play a part in defining the best speakers, and most of them are specific to the listener. There is no universally best speaker system or setup; it depends not only on your primary use but your room, too.

Speaker and Room Size

It's tempting to want the biggest speakers your money can buy, and sometimes bigger is better. All things being equal, bigger speakers generally perform far better in the bass frequencies, and small speakers tend to sound relatively thin. Although, newer technology/methods like speaker throw, passive radiators, and DSP (digital signal processing) allow small speakers to produce surprisingly substantial bass. Remember that bigger isn't always better, and the generalization above isn't always true. High-quality small speakers will always be better than poor-quality big speakers.

It's best to start with a common-sense approach; don't buy huge speakers if you have a tiny room. You'll have to limit their output severely, or they will become overbearing and take the enjoyment out of listening (for your neighbors, too, we suspect). Alternatively, if you have a large space, don't expect tiny speakers to fill it.

If you want to get more technical than good old common sense, there is a concept called Forward Aspect Ratio (FAR). Forward Aspect Ratio uses the dimensions of your room to work out the required coverage angle that speakers will need to fill it well. This formula will help you decide what size of speaker will work best if you follow the steps in this guide.

 

Speaker Position

Just like there is no one-size-fits-all solution, there is no one position that fits all. Positioning speakers in an empty room is different from positioning speakers in a furnished room. So, it makes sense that the layout and extent of your furniture will be a factor in placing your speakers. However, some general guidelines will serve you well, regardless of your room layout.

First and foremost, you need to think about where you'll be sitting. In a typical room with speakers, the sound quality varies as you move around the room. This variation is due to things like the speaker's coverage angle and surfaces that cause reflection, reverberation, and echo, etc. It can be pretty drastic in some spaces and worsen the experience considerably. Use your typical sitting position as an anchor point to find that sweet spot. You want to create an equilateral triangle between yourself and the speakers, meaning the distance between each speaker and yourself is equal. It's not always possible, so don't worry if your triangle isn't quite equilateral.

The next general tip is to make sure the speakers are at ear level. So, when you're sitting, you want the tweeter height to line up with your ears or as close as possible. Never place your speakers flush against a wall; always leave a space of around 8-10" between wall and speaker. Avoid placing your speakers near any side walls when possible, and never put them in a corner. Placing speakers in corners creates what's known as standing waves, which occur when a sound bounces between two or more surfaces. It can result in a tinny, boomy, unpleasant sound.

A great way to minimize reflections and effects of hard surfaces is to add more soft furnishings. Things like curtains, couches, cushions, and bean bags act as dampeners and help prevent sound waves from bouncing around wildly. If you have to place your speakers on a hard surface like a desk or shelf, you should invest in some speakers pads to stop unnecessary reverberation.

Check out what top manufacturer, Cambridge Audio, has to say about speaker position.

 
 

Speaker ReviewsWhathifi - HiFi Reviews

Before you make the move to buy a stereo, it's essential that you check out the latest tests and reviews. Whathifi.com specializes in reviews of HiFi products. The company has been around since 1976 and has made a name for itself in the field of HiFi and home entertainment products. They offer extensive reviews to help you buy the very best stereo for your money, from speakers to soundbars. Everything is tested by a team of in-house reviewers in their audio test rooms.

 
 

The Makings of a Speaker


A typical speaker is made up of three vital components.

• Drivers

The drivers are the cones, horns, ribbons, or domes on the front of speakers. These drivers each handle a different frequency range.

• Tweeter

The tweeter handles the high frequencies above 2000 Hz.

• Midrange

The mid driver handles midrange frequencies around 200 - 2000 Hz

• Woofer

The woofer handles the bass frequencies below 200 Hz.

• Crossover

The crossover is what divides the incoming signal and directs each frequency range to the appropriate driver. It's one of the most critical components of a speaker.

• Cabinet

The cabinet holds everything together, and a poorly designed cabinet can lead to poor performance from components.

 
 

Frequency Response


If you listen to people discuss speakers for 10 minutes, you'll probably hear the term frequency response more than a few times. So, it's important that you understand what it means.

The range of frequencies that a speaker can reproduce. Human hearing ranges from 20 Hz to 20 kHz, and ideally, speakers will have a similar range. Frequency response doesn't just refer to the range that can be reproduced; it also refers to how well that range is reproduced. When people talk about a flat frequency response, they talk about one that doesn't boost or attenuate any frequency range. This way, you hear the audio just as the artist intended it. Some people, including many top mix engineers, will argue that there is no such thing as a completely flat frequency response from speakers. Ultimately, the closer you can get, the better.

 
 

Amazon Amazon is a retailer that we would recommend no matter what you were buying. But, in this case, we like Amazon because it has a wide selection, and with Amazon Prime, most items are available for next-day delivery. Another reason we like Amazon for speakers is that they often have Amazon Exclusives that you won't find elsewhere. Sponsored

 
 

What Type of Speakers Should you buy?


There are many variations between speakers, but let's follow from speaker positioning with the main physical speaker types: Bookshelf, Standmount, and Floorstanding.

 

Bookshelf Speakers

Bookshelf speakers are small speakers designed to fit comfortably in small spaces, like on a bookshelf. They are ideal for anyone with limited space who wants something that looks good without being a centerpiece. Due to their small size, they often lack bass unless paired with a sub-woofer.

Pros

• Ideal for small spaces

• Great as part of a surround sound arrangement

• Nice to look at, but not intrusive.

Cons

• Generally lacking in the low-frequency response

• Shelves and surrounding objects will negatively impact the sound

 

Standmount Speakers

Standmount speakers are perhaps the most common choice because they offer the most versatility. They are often referred to as bookshelf speakers, too. The reason is you can mount that bookshelf speakers on stands, and one's that we specifically call standmount speakers are just too big for your bookshelf. That's not to say there is no difference between the two types; the larger speakers typically perform much better in the lower frequency range. Standmount speakers range from cheap buys to as high-end as it gets, so this particular type has something to offer every listener and every budget.

Pros

• Offer great performance in all frequency ranges

• Can look super-cool

• More freedom with speaker placement

Cons

• The wrong stand can affect performance

• Not ideal if you have some enthusiastic, but clumsy party guests

 

Floorstanding Speakers

Floorstanding speakers are just the coolest, well, in our opinion anyway. When you see a lovely wooden speaker cabinet, it just looks more authentic. The sheer size of floorstanding towers means they can potentially provide better frequency response across the board than the other types we have mentioned. The larger, more powerful components and the engineering that goes into crafting the perfect speaker cabinet mean you'll pay a premium for good floorstanding speakers. They are ideal for anyone with a larger space to fill and a larger budget to do so.

Pros

• Often the highest sound quality available

• They look stunning as room furniture

• Great on their own or as part of a surround setup

• Well-balanced performance across the highs, mids, and lows

Cons

• Usually expensive

• Take up more space

 
 

Subwoofers


Now that we've covered the main speaker types in terms of physical form, let's look at a few more choices you'll have to make. Subwoofers are an excellent addition to a surround sound setup or bookshelf speakers lacking low-end. Subwoofers deliver the deepest, richest bass tones. They sound fantastic, especially for bass-heavy music. Of course, you can enhance even speakers with great bass by adding a subwoofer, but in that case, you have to make sure your room really needs it.

Pros

• Unrivaled bass tones

• You'll feel it as well as hear it

• Great for surround sound systems

Cons

• Extremely overbearing in the wrong setting, like a very small room

 
 

Passive, Active or Powered Speakers?


Passive

Passive speakers don't require a power supply but do require external amplification. They are easier to upgrade or replace than their more expensive active counterparts.

Active

Active speakers require a power supply and have built-in power amps per driver. The built-in power amps come after the crossover stage in the signal chain, which provides a far more accurate crossover with less distortion or losses. Active speakers have minimal scope for upgrading and are more expensive, but overall, they provide the best value for money.

Powered Speakers

Active speakers are all powered speakers, but not all powered speakers are active. Powered speakers have built-in amplification, but the amplification comes before the crossover stage, unlike active speakers. The amp position means powered speakers have the same signal path as passive speakers.

 
 

Bi-Wired or Single-Wired?


• Single Wired

The standard configuration where a single cable carries the entire audio signal.

• Bi-Wired

Two cables carry the audio signal; one carrying the high-frequencies (tweeter) and one carrying the low-frequencies (woofer).

Some people will tell you that splitting the frequency ranges delivers better performance with an enhanced midrange. Others will tell you that there is no discernible difference, and it's a shortcut to messier cables/routing. Not all speakers give you the option of a bi-wired setup.

 
 

Wireless or Wired Speakers


Wireless technology is neater without cables, and it's becoming more reliable all the time. Although typically thought of as lower-end convenience, travel speakers, some wireless speakers cost more than some floorstanding towers. While some sound incredible, we still recommend wired speakers if you prioritize sound quality over convenience.

 
 

Don't underestimate the Aesthetics

Looks will never be worth more than performance. But, your new speakers are something you will see almost every day. There are plenty of speakers that sound great and look great, so there's no reason for them to be the ugliest thing in the room.

 
 

Stereo or Surround Sound


This decision is simple and depends entirely on your primary use. As we mentioned, surround sound can dramatically enhance the immersive experience of gaming or watching movies. But, if your primary need for speakers is for listening to music, then stereo is what you need. Music is mastered in stereo; therefore, listening in surround sound won't improve quality or clarity. It will only make it louder because you have more speakers, and it will cause distortion in some cases.

 
 

Best Places to Buy Speakers Online


Buying online comes with a few advantages, like convenience, online-only discounts and a wider selection than any one physical store. Despite the convenience of ordering online, visiting a physical store has its own advantages. Speaking in person is more beneficial than phone or live chat and you can see and touch the equipment before you buy it. And offcourse you can listen to the speakers before you buy (listening rooms). If you already know which speakers you want then the web stores below are our favorites.

 

Crutchfield

Crutchfield is a fantastic store that offers a wide range of audio/visual products. They offer something to suit every budget, from entry-level hobbyists to seasoned audiophiles. Besides the vast selection, the thing that makes Crutchfield one of the best places to buy speakers is customer service and support. Before making a purchase, you can speak to an expert via live chat or phone, who will answer any questions and help you make the best choice.

 

Amazon

Amazon is a retailer that we would recommend no matter what you were buying. But, in this case, we like Amazon because it has a wide selection, and with Amazon Prime, most items are available for next-day delivery. Another reason we like Amazon for speakers is that they often have Amazon Exclusives that you won't find elsewhere.

 

eBay

We love eBay, but it's one to approach cautiously. Rest assured, eBay is a safe place to buy, but you need to read the small print carefully when purchasing used equipment. Ensure the item is what you want, make sure the condition is suitable, check the returns policy and delivery terms, and most importantly, check the seller feedback. If all looks good, eBay is a fantastic place to grab a bargain. (New items available on eBay, too).

 

Best Buy

Best Buy might be a surprising choice to some, but you'll find many of the best speaker brands in the world at Best Buy. Along with the high-end brands, there are plenty of entry-level offerings. Best Buy provides live chat support, a price-match guarantee, and useful buyers guides to help make your decision.

 

B&H Photo Video Audio

We highly recommend B&H Photo Video Audio because it has an extremely user-friendly website. It's easy to navigate and find exactly what you need. Like some of the others, they also offer live chat support if you need some help. You'd struggle to find an online store with a more stellar reputation, so you can order with confidence.

 
 

Speaker Brands You Should Know


 

Dali Speakers

Dali is a Danish manufacturer that offers speakers for all budgets and settings. In recent years (including 2021), Dali has won multiple What Hi-Fi Best Buy awards for both individual products and bundles. In the lower price ranges, Dali offers a real touch of class without spending a fortune.

 

 

Wharfedale

With around 90 years of experience, Wharfedale is one of the most trusted manufacturers in the UK. Wharfedale has been able to stick around so long because they consistently adapt to industry standards to satisfy customers. The Diamond series offers some of the best value for money products on the market.

 

 

Missionhifi

Mission is an expert in targeting a specific customer type and price range. Mission is a brand that won't consistently deliver the best product overall but will often provide the best in class. What we mean by that is that whatever you spend on Mission speakers, you'll very likely get more than your money's worth.

 


Focal

French manufacturer Focal produces some of the best high-fidelity loudspeakers for most purposes. Besides extremely high sound quality, the thing that sets Focal apart is the super-sleek design. Whatever end of the price spectrum you choose, focal speakers look sleek, modern, and ultra-cool.

 


JBL

JBL is a brand that is fanatic about sound. It doesn't matter if you are working out, watching movies, or making music; JBL wants you to get the best sound possible. They are always a solid choice, from headphones to soundbars to studio monitors.

 


Bose

Bose is one of the most popular names in consumer and professional audio. They are one of the leading manufacturers of Bluetooth speakers and high-quality bookshelf speakers. What makes smaller Bose speakers great is that they deliver power and clarity, usually reserved for larger speakers.

 


Sony

Sony speakers consistently receive high scores from trusted review platforms across a wide range of tests. In particular, Sony shine when it comes to wireless speakers. Sony Hi-Fi speakers typically perform very well in the bass-frequencies, so try Sony if you like bass-heavy music.

 


Yamaha

Yamaha has been around forever, it seems, and it's a brand that functions in many areas. If you are looking for true specialist speakers, Yamaha might not be the right place to start. But, if you want a wide selection from a trusted brand, few are better.

 


Pioneer DJ

As the name suggests, Pioneer DJ produces speakers for performers and music lovers, and they are very good at it. If you are a music lover or producer looking to make the most of a small space, Pioneer DJ's home studio monitors are amongst the best value for money around.

 


Sennheiser

Sennheiser is a brand that is very well-known in the pro-audio world. While many consumers know them best for great headphones, they make some excellent speakers. If you want to enhance your home cinema setup, What Hi-Fi says Sennheiser makes some of the best soundbars they ever tested.

 


Burmester

Coming out of Berlin in the late 1970s, it's no surprise that Burmester speakers have a strong relationship with Mercedes Benz, but they quickly became famous for more than car stereo systems. Burmester is an example of German engineering at its best (if you have the budget).

 


Klipsch

Klipsch speakers are commonly considered mid-range in terms of sound quality and price. There are exceptions, of course, but if you have a bit more than entry-level money to spend and want a comprehensive feature set, Klipsch could be for you.

 


Sonos

Sonos is the name most people think of when it comes to spreading music throughout your household. They have produced some of the best surround sound and smart speaker systems for two decades. Although not always cheap, Sonos often delivers quality far above the average consumer-level product.

 


Bowers Wilkins

Bowers & Wilkins are typically considered to be a brand for audiophiles with a great ear. But they offer budget-friendly options, too, many of which get no complaints from What Hi-Fi. In fact, across the board, What Hi-Fi says B&W speakers are some of the best ever to grace their testing room.

 

 

Polk Audio

Polk Audio has been around for five decades, and they are one of the most popular consumer speaker brands in America. If you want affordable entry-level speakers that will do a solid job, Polk Audio is for you.

 


SV Sound

SV Sound is a high-end manufacturer that produces some of the best speakers on the market. When spending a lot of money, we always advise that you are extra careful making your choice. However, if you do your research correctly, SV Sound is a winner more often than not.

 


Dynaudio

Dynaudio is a brand that sometimes divides opinion with its signature sound. But, you will find many 5-star reviews on What Hi-Fi, and that's no small achievement. If you want classic looks with a modern sound and feature set, look no further.

 


harmankardon

Harman Kardon is the parent company of JBL and offers something a little different to most. While the sound is always the priority, Harman Kardon emphasizes good looks like no other. If you need to look good and sound good, check them out.

 


 Kef

Kef is a shining example of British innovation and has been for over 50 years. Most of their speakers feature the proprietary Uni-Q Driver, and it's something that sets them apart. Kef is always at the forefront of innovation and should never be overlooked.

 


Bang & Olufsen

Bang & Olufsen is a brand name that is synonymous with luxury. They are known for detailed, articulate sound and artistic styling. Although you could spend tens of thousands on a single product, they have stepped far more into affordable ranges in recent years.

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