Big speakers in small rooms

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The room housing your loudspeaker is every bit as important as the device itself. Place a tiny pair of bookshelf speakers in an auditorium and they might get lost. An oversized behemoth in a closet will be unlistenable. Yet, there are reasonable in-betweens worth considering.

Music Room One at PS Audio might be a great example of room vs. speaker. The giant IRSV make what would normally be a generously proportioned listening room into one that appears too small. The speakers easily consume 40% of the available space. Does that make them too big for the room? Not according to most people having the chance to hear them. Yet looks can deceive us.

For a system the size of the IRSV few would argue a bit more breathing room wouldn’t be a benefit, yet I would suggest not something required. The first room I heard the IRS in was even smaller than my own. HP’s much-vaunted Music Salon, home to the IRS, is still a room writers fondly reminisce about.

One of the questions I often get asked is whether or not speakers can be too big or too small for a given room and whether or not you can judge by visual measurement alone. The simple answer is it depends on a number of factors: how close the listener sits, the speaker’s type and proximity to sidewalls—dipoles don’t care, other speakers do—system bass response, ceiling height relative to the speaker box, distance from front and back walls.

In most cases, the answer is no, it does not matter the size of the box relative to the room. Most speaker boxes have a standard complement of drivers: a woofer, a tweeter, perhaps a midrange. The size of the enclosure for those drivers isn’t that important to the room, at least not as meaningful as the other parameters I have already listed.

Here’s the bottom line. Don’t let the relative size of a box fool you into believing big speakers can’t play nice in small rooms. Chances are pretty good you’ll be fine – and a short listening test will help you make a decision.

I’ve put some further thoughts on the matter together into a video you can watch here.