Here’s the problem. THE best loudspeakers do not exist – at any price. And for good reason. Every loudspeaker is designed for optimal performance relative to a multitude of parameters. Which means the exact same loudspeakers can sound awesome in one application and absolutely terrible in another. And of course, that doesn’t even begin to take into account the subjective nature of everyone’s personal tastes and preferences.
So finding THE best loudspeakers becomes a matter of finding THE best solution for your specific needs.
The Very First Consideration
In narrowing your loudspeaker options, the first consideration is easy. Predominantly, what type of sound will the loudspeakers be amplifying? Someone speaking or sounds, such as music? The design and specifications of a loudspeaker used to amplify speech is significantly different than one designed for music.
For speech reinforcement, the best loudspeakers are maximized to deliver the frequency spectrum of the human voice and to deliver it evenly throughout a room with exceptional clarity.
Room coverage and speech intelligibility are a big deal. There needs to be enough power to crisply overcome the ambient noise level. Depending on the size of the room, multiple loudspeakers may be required — side-to-side and/or front-to-back. In such situations, it’s critical the sound is arriving at each of the multiple speakers at the same time. Placement is also critical to ensure full room coverage and account for sound-reflecting and sound-absorbing surfaces.
To handle amplified music, even in small rooms, the loudspeakers are tasked with moving a lot of air in a much wider frequency range. Compared to amplified voice for the same room, this will require more loudspeakers. These loudspeakers must be able to reproduce the full frequency spectrum. And even then, often speakers designed for lower frequencies (i.e. subwoofers) are needed.
While venues, such as courtrooms, lecture halls and entertainment settings have a clear single use for their respective speaker systems, many of our clients are outfitting environments that, over time, need to support both speech and music amplification. And yes, when taking into account additional variables in the room, THE best loudspeakers for these environments are also available.
The Audio Environment
Finding THE best loudspeakers also depends on the physical environment. The space may be acoustically live and highly reflective or very dead with sound being absorbed. The former requires loudspeakers with excellent pattern control to keep sound from bouncing off the walls, ceilings and floors. The latter requires more speakers to energize the space and overcome all the sound absorption.
While we’re on the topic of environment, aesthetics may also be an issue that contributes to determining THE best loudspeakers. Often line of sight and/or architectural features such as columns, ceiling height and composition, weight-bearing capabilities, etc., will dictate one speaker type over another.
The Question of Money
Of course, THE best loudspeakers are the ones you can afford. Speaker systems can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars for small rooms; from $10,000-$50,000 for medium rooms and upwards of $100,000 to almost $1 million for very large rooms. Keep in mind, those estimates are not including key pieces of technology such as amplifiers…which will be a story for another day. Our advice is to figure in the cost of a system that performs just above what you need so that it is not maxed out every time it is used.
Other Points to Ponder
Today, you have a choice between powered and unpowered speakers.
Powered speakers have the amplifier built into the speaker cabinet – unpowered speakers do not. The built-in amplifier ensures optimized tuning right out of the box. If custom tuning is important, the unpowered speaker may be the better option. Naturally, the powered speaker requires an extra cable – the power cable. If that is an issue, the unpowered speaker solves the problem.
If you do any research on loudspeakers, you will likely come across the terms “point source” and “line array,” which refer to types of loudspeakers.
The traditional speaker-in-a-box is a point-source loudspeaker. The term can also refer to multiple speakers placed far apart. As such, point-source loudspeakers broadcast a full range of sound from a single point, which radiates in a spherical pattern.
As the name might imply, a line array consists of multiple identical (or nearly identical) loudspeakers hung close together in a vertical line. The design allows sections of the array to be dedicated to specific portions of the listening area (front row, back row etc.). Its tight pattern control allows specific control of frequency range, volume and time alignment to each section. As you might guess, line array systems are for large venues and often used for concerts.
Even after taking specific needs into consideration, there are hundreds of potential loudspeaker options from which to choose. Luckily, today’s technology lets us accurately predict a speaker’s performance before it is installed in your environment. You will be money, time and quality sound ahead by letting a sound engineer model your environment and crunch the data.
You may be pleasantly surprised to find there are actually multiple “THE best” loudspeaker options for your space, budget and ear. What a nice problem to have.