You the listener, the room and the loudspeakers are the three greatest variables in any system, so it’s not surprising that speakers are difficult to choose.

There’s another point worth making: if you don’t like the sound coming out of the speakers it may not be their fault. They are reproducing whatever is in the chain so don’t rush to change them, ie don’t shoot the messenger!

There’s a lot going on in the system, from the wall plug to the drive unit, that will affect the sound – and then there’s the interaction with the room. Read about room acoustics and speaker positioning: Room acoustics

Some things to bear in mind when choosing loudspeakers:

  • Check both sensitivity and minimum impedance when considering your choice. Both place a load on the amplifier but a low impedance (say 2 Ohm) at a low frequency can suck massive amounts of power, leaving the sound flat and undynamic.
  • Consider the manufacturer’s advice for amplifier power requirements – say, 50 to 150W – but don’t be afraid to have more on tap, unless there’s a danger of somebody turning up the volume indiscriminately. In normal circumstances a big amplifier with power reserves will sound more dynamic yet relaxed, ‘just doing it’, rather like a car with a big engine.
  • There’s actually more risk of damage with a low power solid state amp if it’s driven into ‘clipping’ when it can generate huge amounts of high frequency energy that will burn out the tweeter. Amplifier power Amp advice
  • Match the speaker size and capability to the room volume (including height and open plan area). Drive units have to move air and small cones will sound anaemic in a 30ft living room, especially if you sit some distance away. Equally, large floor-standers, however well-reviewed, can overface a small room with far too much bass output.
  • Even in large rooms speakers with significant bass extension and power below 30Hz can be difficult to place, balancing bass control with standing waves and imaging – see Room acoustics
  • We much prefer to see speakers tailing off towards 30Hz and then to supply the bass appropriate to the room size from controllable subwoofers – see Subwoofers – those that have controls for the bottom end of the range so that they don’t over-drive the room.

If you are starting from scratch with a new system a valid approach is to choose the loudspeakers first to suit the room and then to work backwards through the system. Bear in mind, whichever end you start, that the speakers might reveal too much if they are better than the source or amplifier. In other words, if you have to make some compromises be sure they are at the speaker end, not the source.

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