How To Choose A New Speaker

Published on
January 18, 2021 3:44:16 PM PST January 18, 2021 3:44:16 PM PSTth, January 18, 2021 3:44:16 PM PST
Alright everyone, are you ready to open up a giant can of worms?Of course I’m only joking, but this is going to be a somewhat touchy subject as speakers have a HUGE impact on the overall sound of a circuit.Please remember as we are going forward that this is absolutely not an attempt to tell you what speakers are going to sound best in your setup, and that all matters of sound quality are completely subjective.

SPEAKER SIZE

Let’s start with one of the easier factors: speaker size.Typical speaker sizes for guitar rigs are 8”, 10”, 12”, and 15”. Generally speaking, you can tend to count on larger speakers having more low end and being slightly louder. Larger speakers also tend to break up later, but this all has to do with how you drive them, how many speakers are in your cab, etc.So, how do you decide what size speakers to go with?Luckily, most of us are bound by the size of the speaker cutouts in our baffles, so don’t think about this too hard unless you’re willing to get extremely creative.Another good thing to remember is that, whether you’re aware of it or not, I’d be willing to bet a ton of your favorite recordings feature a HUGE sounding guitar tone that actually came from an 8” Fender Champ rig and a really mean guitar player.

POWER HANDLING
Next, we are going to talk briefly about power ratings.Things get a bit more tricky here as we need to be aware of the power rating of your amp and how it may or may not interact with the power rating of various speakers.This is also where a bit more of your personal preference comes in as we start getting into the idea of speaker breakup.If you prefer the sound of your amp to be reproduced in the cleanest way possible, it is recommended that you allow the total wattage of your speakers to exceed the wattage of your amplifier.For example if you are playing a 50 watt amp and you want a super clean tone with as little speaker breakup as possible, you’ll want to choose at LEAST a 50 watt speaker, but preferably something more along the lines of a 75 watt speaker.Choosing a lower wattage speaker, in general, will increase the amount of speaker breakup present in your signal.This tends to “flub out” a bit in the low end of your tone but has also historically produced some desirable sounds for many guitarists across different genres. Overpowering a speaker has been known to create some cool and unique sounds, but is also known for reducing the life of a speaker over time, so keep that in mind when making a selection.

VOICE COIL
For the sake of time we are only going to focus on voice coil size for now.In a separate article, however, we will address the use of different materials in the construction of the voice coil and how they affect sound and integrity of build.

To put it plainly, we often find that larger voice coils will be louder with more mids and lows, but slightly dialed back treble.Smaller coils are often used in speakers that tend to break up sooner but are often very tactile and bright.These are good for players whose are very dynamic with their attack as they open a clear dialog between the player and their final sound.

MAGNET
To date, there have been three types of magnets used in guitar speakers.The first is AlNiCo, which is an iron alloy composed of Aluminum, Nickel, and Cobalt.Traditionally, AlNiCo speakers tend to be more expensive and often have a lower power rating.They are also said to be a more “musical” speaker than those made with ceramic magnets. Again, sound characteristics are completely subjective but most users refer to AlNiCo speakers as being chimey and glassy with intricate highs and softer lows.

The production of AlNiCo speakers experienced a heavy exodus when the cost of cobalt shot through the roof and many manufacturers moved over to ceramic magnets. Even today, ceramic magnets are a well-revered, affordable alternative to AlNiCo and have been used by some of the most renown tone hounds on the planet.Ceramic magnets tend to have less high end bite than AlNiCo with tighter lows and a nice fat punch in the midrange area.

Lastly, we come to neodymium speakers.It might surprise you to learn that neodymium magnets are the strongest type of natural magnet in the world.For this reason, they can pack a ton of magnetic power without a great deal of the physical weight needed for AlNiCo or ceramic.This produces an adequate amount of magnetic energy to create quality sound without making your speaker cabinet weight-prohibitive.As a result, these speakers have become popular with many touring musicians especially those using larger speaker cabinets.Many players believe the neodymium speakers are not as refined sonically as ceramic or AlNiCo speakers and that their sound is not as smooth as some.With this said, it is worth trying them as all descriptions of sound are subjective and even the slightest change elsewhere in a circuit can yield immaculate overall tone.

CONE
Most commonly, speaker cones (for guitar speakers) are made from paper pulp. There are other materials out on the market but that is another article for another time.For now let’s talk about a couple major factors in speaker cone construction: cone thickness and ribbing.Just because a cone is made out of paper doesn’t mean they are all exactly the same.The thickness of the paper can have a large influence over the rigidity of the cone and its inherent responsiveness.A thinner cone will often be more touch sensitive, bright, and quicker to break up, where a thicker cone will break up less quickly and exhibit a little less high end.

When amps began to get louder and more powerful, driving speakers harder and harder, manufacturers started stiffening their cones so they would be more tolerant. This included adding ribs to their cones which tend to decrease the rate at which a speaker will break up and/or warp, and add rigidity without jacking up the overall weight of the cone.Early guitar speakers, and reproductions thereof, had smoother cones which would break up fairly easily and were also less detailed than their ribbed counterparts.Certain materials used on the surround of the speaker, such as cloth, would also cause more high end dampening and color the overall sound of the speaker.

CONCLUSION
There are quite obviously a ton of factors that feed into why a certain speaker sound the way it does.As with just about anything in the tone world, it’s never as simple as it seems. That being said, it is worth getting to know as many speakers as you possibly can, and this includes getting to know them in conjunction with different amps and guitars.Every little tweak can change your sound and a speaker is probably the fastest and potentially least expensive way to completely overhaul your sound.So be daring, and be curious.