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Sound system suggestions

If you think buying a new stereo system is tough, then just the thought of purchasing a new pair of speakers must seem overwhelming. The problem with buying speakers is that there is no standard method of evaluating performance while standing next to a salesperson. Because individual speaker systems sound different depending on which amplifier they are connected to, you would have to bring your entire stereo system to an audio store just to see how the new speakers sound with your old equipment.

However, the acoustics of a particular room can also change the sound characteristics of a speaker, so while you are listening to a pair of speakers in the dealer's showroom _ designed for near-perfect acoustics _ how do you know they will sound as good when you get them home?

Some dealers leap this hurdle by allowing potential purchasers to "test-drive" speakers in their homes before making a decision. The only problem with this method is that it can be tiresome to lug speakers back and forth and difficult to keep them free of scratches and dents.

The first way to narrow your search for new speakers is to look inside your wallet and determine a budget. This will immediately allow you to zero in on the units that fit your price range.

A good rule of thumb in buying a pair of speakers is to spend no more than $100 over the price you paid for your amplifier. This will also prevent you from bringing home speakers that are far superior to the amplifier that will be driving them.

Then look at your decorating needs. If the speakers are going into an impeccably appointed room, you may opt for a pair of small (but big-sounding) speakers that can be placed on a shelf or hidden next to a plant. Another option is in-the-wall speakers.

In-the-wall speakers are mounted inside the drywall and between the studs of a wall. They feature a flush-mounted exterior grill that can be painted to match just about any decor.

Until recently, the sound generated from these speakers was mundane at best. However, new technologies have helped them produce sounds that make their bulky, wooden-boxed counterparts green with envy.

The newest entry in the in-the-wall category is B.I.C. America with its Muro line of speakers. What makes these speakers different from other in-the-wall units is that they are designed to be easy to install, as well as affordably priced.

To simplify the installation process, the Muros include step-by-step instructions and easy-to-use retrofit brackets that clamp into the drywall from both sides. However, non-do-it-yourselfers may contract a professional to install these units.

After testing the Muro speakers, I was greatly impressed by their sound quality _ especially for the price. They are available in two sizes and retail for $170 and $230 a pair. For more information, call (216) 928-2011.

An alternative to installed speakers could be mounted speakers. Instead of having to cut out a piece of the wall, you can mount these units on a bracket that adheres to a wall. One unusual wall-mounted speaker system is Jamo's new Convertas.

Shaped more like a UFO than a speaker, these semi-sphere units are designed to hang from the ceiling, mount on a stand or attach to a wall.

What really makes these 9-inch-diameter speakers outstanding is the big sound they generate. Each speaker includes a 4{-inch bass and a 1-inch dome tweeter speaker that combine to deliver a rich, full-bodied sound quality.

The Jamo Convertas is currently available in black, steel, white, mint green, pink and violet and retails for $400 a pair. For more information, call (708) 498-4648.

Have a question? Write to the Gadget Guru c/o the St. Petersburg Times, 95 White Bridge Road, Suite 503, Nashville, Tenn. 37205. The FAX number is (615) 356-9596.