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Big loudspeakers - do we need total extermination power?

A post by David Mellor
Monday April 17, 2006
An RP visitor comments that some advice recommends small loudspeakers, other advice recommends large. So small or large? Which would you choose?
Big loudspeakers - do we need total extermination power?

Comment from a Audio Masterclass visitor...

"Your article says speakers don't have to be big so why is your sitting room filled up with eeennnornmous speakers? This is a serious, relevant and enquiring comment and requires a personal well thought out response from yourself!"

David Mellor responds...

Clearly an observant reader who has seen my comment elsewhere that I listen on vintage B&W 801 loudspeakers for pleasure at home. They're big.

But yes, I have recommended small loudspeakers. But it depends on the purpose you put them to...

I think it is reasonable to say that loudspeakers should ideally be able to reproduce the full frequency range of human hearing, accurately and at as high a level as you like.

To do this, the low frequency drive unit, or woofer, has to be able to move a lot of air to couple effectively to the room. (Headphones can be loud even though their drivers are very small, but they only have to couple to the small volume of the ear canal.)

To move a lot of air, the diaphragm of the woofer either has to be large, or it has to move a long way in and out ("have a wide excursion"). It is commonly held that it is better for the drive unit to be large. 15 inches (38 cm) is a good size, 12 inches (30 cm) is good too, and you can have multiples of them. There is little advantage in having a larger woofer than 15 inches; it's better to have more of them.

A large woofer requires a large cabinet. It moves as much air to the rear as it does to the front and space is required to cope effectively with all that energy that isn't really wanted.

So the conclusion is that to match our requirements of an ideal loudspeaker, a loudspeaker has to be large. Very large.

But the problem is that most people don't listen on large loudspeakers at home. It is a well-known fact that in any household, one partner in the relationship likes big loudspeakers, the other doesn't. Comments are welcome on that point!

So if people don't listen on large loudspeakers, what sense is a mix made on large loudspeakers going to make when it is transferred to the domestic environment?

Also, music tends to sound good when it is loud with lots of bass energy. But if your monitors are loud and bassy, then your mix will sound good with hardly any effort. To you. But to anyone else, it won't sound anything special. No, you have to work hard to get your mix to sound good on small monitors. And the effort spent doing that will be well repaid. And when you hear that mix on large monitors it will blow you away.

So the conclusion... three points:

1. Listen on large loudspeakers for optimum enjoyment outside of the studio..

2. Work hard to get the best mix you can on small monitors.

3. For preference also check your mix on large monitors to hear if there are any problems in the bass that your small monitors didn't show up.

A post by David Mellor
Monday April 17, 2006 ARCHIVE
David Mellor has been creating music and recording in professional and home studios for more than 30 years. This website is all about learning how to improve and have more fun with music and recording. If you enjoy creating music and recording it, then you're definitely in the right place :-)