TechNotes: Speaker Types and Applications, Part I

TechNotesThe goal of any speaker is to accurately reproduce an original sound recording with accurate tonal quality and dynamic range, all the while achieving consistency across the frequency range. While speakers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, there are really just six primary forms of speakers for residential applications. Here’s a list of the six different forms, listed in order by their level of sound performance:

  1. Tower (floor standing) speakers
  2. Bookshelf speakers
  3. Wall-mounted speakers
  4. In-wall speakers
  5. In-ceiling speakers
  6. Invisible speakers (behind or part of the sheetrock application in walls or ceilings)

All of these speakers will offer a much improved sound experience when they are paired with a subwoofer to handle deep bass and low frequency sounds. This is an entirely separate speaker that is placed in an another area, away from the main speakers.

KlipschTowersTower/floor-standing speakers

Tower speakers usually have an array of at least three speakers, or drivers: a tweeter for high frequencies, a mid for middle frequencies, and a woofer for low frequencies. These three drivers are matched and configured to work together to produce consistent performance across the audible frequency range.In a perfect world, these speakers would be located a minimum of 30 inches from walls, aimed at the listening area and spread out around 30 degrees from the listening area.Advantages

  • Speaker drivers are placed at proper heights relative to the listening position
  • Speakers can be placed at the correct location to eliminate boundary effects, which are changes in tone caused by sound reflecting off nearby surfaces (walls, ceiling, etc.)
  • Delivers full spectrum sound due to fully engineered and matched drivers with crossovers set up to maintain consistent tone and output qualities across the audible frequency range

Disadvantages

  • Tower and floor-standing speakers tend to be large and difficult to fit into a typical living space’s style and decor.

KlipschBookshelvesBookshelf speakers

Bookshelf speakers usually have an array of at least two drivers: a tweeter for reproducing high frequency sound, and a combined mid/woofer for middle and lower frequencies. While many bookshelf speakers produce great sound, it is a compromise from their larger, floor-standing brethren because it combines the mid and woofer drivers into one, compromising clarity. It is also more susceptible to boundary effects due to its typical placement on shelving or in cabinets. (This problem can be rectified by placing it on a stand, away from walls.) For best performance, these speakers are placed as close to ear height as possible and aimed at the listening area. These speakers also benefit greatly with the addition of a subwoofer to provide fuller sound at lower frequencies.Advantages

  • Speaker drivers can be placed at the proper height relative to listening position
  • Speakers can be placed at the proper location to minimize boundary effects
  • Can be integrated into some living spaces without a major impact on the room’s existing decor

Disadvantages

  • Performance is inferior to tower speakers due to placement, boundary effects and lack of a full-spectrum driver array
  • Occasionally difficult to properly integrate into room’s existing interior design

KlipschOnWallOn-wall speakers

The on-wall speaker is essentially a bookshelf speaker with a form factor modified for an on-wall mounting application. On-wall speakers also usually have the same two-driver array where the tweeter takes care of high frequency sounds and a combination mid/woofer handles the lower frequencies. However, since it’s placed on the wall, these speakers are subject to boundary effects,  but many models integrate compensation circuitry to compensate and minimize this.Advantages

  • Speakers mounted on walls provide proper speaker placement relative to wall-mounted TVs
  • Blends in with the style of wall-mounted TVs, creating a uniform look
  • Can be integrated into many living spaces without a negative impact on decor

Disadvantages

  • Performance is inferior to tower and bookshelf speakers due to placement, boundary effects and lack of full driver array

Stay tuned… I’ll review the last three speaker types (in-wall, in-ceiling and invisible) in part two, coming on Monday!

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