What makes a speaker too big for a given room?

Aside from the visuals, of course. I've heard people refer to the idea of a speaker being appropriate (or not) for a given room.

Curious to hear people's thoughts as I have a small-ish space and want to upgrade this year.
In general the more drivers and the farther apart the drivers are they are the further back you have to sit for them to integrate. Also speakers with a lot of bass may overwhelm a smell room. But remember, this is a matter of taste. I use to tease a friend that his Tannoy GRFs were the world's largest headphones as he sat right on top of these very large speakers.The advantage of using seperate subs is that you can tune to bass to fit the room more easily. FOR MOST PEOPLE monitor speakers , with or without subs, will work better in a small room but YMMV.
What Stanwall said. If you cant get far enough away, then you might hear each driver seperately instead of as one wavefront. Some time aligned speakers are designed with a certain listening distance in mind. Also, bass notes have a long wavelength, some exceeding 20 feet, so a 25hz note might not even create a single wavelength before it bounces off the rear wall and back on to itself.

Small rooms are better suited to stand mount monitors. I use a NHT Classic 3 in a 11 x 11 room with good success.
It's obvious you guys have never been to Japan !!!! Tiny rooms and humongous speakers are seen more often than not. Like the poster above said, worlds largest headphones !!!!
Some explanations never make se.se to me, here is my question. If I have a monitor speaker with a added sub I get 20hz full range bass, now I can also get a 5ft tall full range floor model that in itself goes to 20hz. Now if my room is considered small people will say go with my first option and may say NEVER consider option 2. But 20hz is 20hz right? So why is one idea too big and other isnt??
I have a question similar to the one posed by Chadnliz. What is the difference in performance between a full range floorstanding speaker and a monitor speaker from the same model line that has the same tweeters and mid range drivers, used with a seperate sub? Is one setup one 'better' than the other. Pros and cons?

What you're saying makes just about perfect sense on paper...

With a sub, you can adjust the crossover and volume output to balance out the amount of bass in the room. With a tower, you can't. Maybe if you had an equalizer, you could decrease lower frequency outputs, but they aren't as specific in frequency and they almost always do more harm than good.

I've lived with speakers that were too big for a room. My PSB Image T55s were overbearing in a 12x10 room I had them in at one point. The bass drowned out pretty much everything else. It had an odd echo effect to it too. In a much larger and open room, they sounded very well balanced. I've heard this at a few dealers' shops too. Can't figure out why someone would buy the speakers based on a demo like that, but to each their own I guess.
Chadnliz and Rok2id, one answer to your question is that if you are listening to acoustically produced music, the vast majority of musicians will tell you that subs simply don't sound natural, no matter how well integrated. I have yet to hear one that does, myself. So for us, it is full-range floorstanders, and the subs are not an option, unless we want them for a separate home theater system. There is extremely little acoustic music that goes below 40hZ, let alone 20, so unless you want to accurately reproduce say the lowest organ pipe, a sub is simply not necessary, and is in fact quite detrimental to timbre. A whole bunch of folks here don't like that sort of talk, though... :)
Learsfool: Thanks. I was hoping that was the answer.
I think monitors are also much easier to integrate into a small to medium size room. You can control the height of the drivers as well which varies with listening position and room size and ear level which is hard to do with most towers as they are fixed in one large cabinet which is heavy and would look silly on stands.

IMO, monitors do the disappearing thing better, have a higher WAF, choose the type of stands you like (style, material, brand, size). In general are better looking and have fewer compromises built into them. Bass below 35Hz no big deal to me. Very little in musical audio.
I would also think that big speakers in a small room take up a lot of acoustic space and interfere in a not quite predictable way with the sound they themselves try to make.
So I would say that this is not a good idea. Now how big is too big?
Stanwal is correct regarding the distance between drivers requiring a farther listening position to get a proper blend of the drivers. Dunlavy speakers (SC-IV and larger models) are a good example. Another consideration is low frequency response and whether the room will allow bass to develop properly.
A very large cabinet can become a problem in itself if the room is too small to distance the speakers far enough from each other. They can have huge reflective surfaces (Dunlavys come to mind again) that can mess with your soundstage and imaging. However, this can be remedied with treatment between the speakers.
I am afraid that the entire room should be treated, and this will not be simple. It is not just big reflective surfaces, it is two big pieces of furniture in a small room. Speakers need space and air to breath, and there wouldn't be much of it. All in all, a bad idea.
Japanese may have their ways, it's a different culture.
Stanwal is right on. I own Dyn C1's (monitor) with a sub but there was a day when I wanted the C2's (floorstander) more for its looks and the added bass that I heard at my dealer. He loaned me a pair for just over a week. At first I loved them but when seriously listening something didn't seem right. Turns out because of the nearfield listening the bass was no better than the C1's in the sweet spot (elsewhere is was a lot better). Also with the C2's there was a huge vertical wall of sound coming at me.

As far as a sub I partially agree with Learsfool. But only in the FACT there isn't much below 40hz. I think the key to using a sub is to get it to blend with your speakers and not make it shake the foundation (which newbee's with subs tend to do - myself included). When set up properly you will think the deepest bass is coming from the monitors and NOT where the sub is positioned. Also when set up properly the sub will add to the mids making the soundstage a little fuller. The key with adding a sub is getting it set up correctly which is not all that simple. Getting the timing right is the hardest part. You don't want the output from the sub to lead or lag that which is coming out of the speakers.

That has been my experience - yours may vary
My wife can tell you if a speaker is too big for a given room in a split second, withour even listening to them. I don't know how she does it - it's a gift.
A speaker can be too large for a room for any of the reasons already cited. However, specifically as to low bass and room size ("20hz is 20hz"):

Quarter wave cancellation (reflections of omnidirectional low frequency waves - usually off the wall behind the speakers) causes irregular bass response. This cancellation is a function of the distance from the speaker to the nearest large reflective boundary (i.e. the wall mentioned above). Usually - tho not always - this distance is also a function of room size. You might put a speaker 5 feet out in a 20' room, you are less likely to do so in a 12' room.

As to "20hz is 20hz" (subwoofer vs floorstander):

You can place a subwoofer flush to the wall and eliminate a lot of this destructive cancellation at low frequencies. A 20hz wave generated in free space behaves very differently than a 20hz wave generated at the wall. A HIGH QUALITY subwoofer will also typically (as near as I can tell from published data) - tho perhaps not always - exhibit much less low frequency distortion at any given SPL than a full range floorstander rated for similar LF extension.

So, one reason a speaker is too big for a room is that it must, as a practical matter, sit too close to the wall to allow smooth bass response.


PS This doesn't mean a subwoofer is "better", just that smooth, clean deep deep response is usually easier to achieve with a subwoofer.
My speakers have side firing woofers. How does this factor into room placement? Does this have any impact on the rules of speaker placement?
Your wife can tell this immediately because she knows when she doesn't have enough room to breath. She only needs to "listen" to herself to know it not speakers.
So, Rrog, "whether the room will allow the bass to develop properly". I was trying to think along those lines. Should this mean you want your bass produced by smaller drivers? say, 7" drivers? Because typically in larger speakers you're going to get larger drivers for the low end--maybe 10, 12, even 15" drivers (woofers, cones, whatever). In fact, a lot of subwoofers have those larger drivers--10" at least so it seems antithetical to insert a subwoofer into any small room based on that. On the other hand, a small room may not give you enough bass simply for lack of room volume and if you can get enough air movement via the larger driver (subwoofer or no) then it seems that the argument fails. I've got a 11.5' wide by 15.5' long space, open on one side and I'm debating whether I should bring in B&W 803 Diamonds (larger) or the 804 Diamonds (smaller, but still floor standers).
Full range speakers with no adjustment for bass loudness in a small room will not work no matter if the bass drivers are 3-7" or 1-15". The reason subs with monitors are suggested for small rooms is you can independly adjust bass output for the room.

There are some full range speakers that do allow adjustment of the bass level but these are basically just built in subs. My speakers have this feature and it makes them much more flexible.

The farther the individual speakers are apart on the baffle the farther away you need to sit from the speaker for the sound to integrate. You need to sit at least 9 to 12 ft away from most 3 or 4 way speakers for the sound to integrate well. Then you also need space behind the speaker or bass will be boomy among other problems.

Regarding B&W 803 vs 804 the 803's don't really put out that much more bass than the 804's. I used to have 805's with a sub many years ago. I have only heard the 803's at the dealer in a large room. That said I think you could get away with the 803's in your room. Just don't try and stuff 802's or bigger in there. The 803's would benefit from a good sub as well IMO. As far as I know they only go down to mid 30 hz. Unless their specs have gotten better over the years.

The fact that the drivers on the B&W speakers are close together on the baffle should help them integrate better in your room.


Since it seems that many people are a bit confused about this topic, I hope you guys do not mind if I sum up the good responses posted so far and also add some of my own believes and experience on the discussed topics.

Large speakers in small room problems:

1) Amount of bass. Large speakers (with large drivers) can easily overpower a small rooms by producing too much bass. Since most speakers do not allow one to adjust the amount of bass, tuning the bass output of a speaker for a given room can be extremely difficult (often impossible).

2) Speaker placement. Speaker placement in a room is crucial not only for stereo image and sound stage but also spectra balance. Placing a large speaker into a small room will limit considerably the ability to move the speaker around in order to minimize the speaker-room interaction, e.g. reflection, resonances.

3) Integration of the drivers. Large speakers with many drivers require one to sit farther away from them for perfect integration. Depending on the situation this may be impossible to achieve with large speakers in a small room.

Floor-standers vs. monitors + subwoofer

1) Volume level. Except for very expensive models, most floor-standers need to be cracked up quite a bit in order to get decent bass out of them. Often this is needed also in order to get the midrange to open up. Thus, IMO many floor-standers do not performed well at low volume levels. On the other hand, monitors excel here.

2) Speaker-room interaction. Monitors interact less with a room as they have a) smaller and more rigid cabinet walls, b) it is easier to place them in a room in such a way to minimize reflections, c) do not produce that much bass. Further, having the ability to move the bass source (the subwoofer) around the room is another huge advantage as almost always the speaker position that yields the best midrange integration and spectra balance differs from the position that yields the best bass integration in a room. Furthermore, most modern subwoofers provide additional adjustments, e.g. parametric equalizer, phase, crossover point, etc, that further aids the integration of the speaker system in the room.

3) Quality of low bass. Most decent subwoofer will have much more accurate and healthy bass than most good and very good floor-standers.

4) Mid-bass. Many argue here that most decent floor-standers get this region right while even expensive monitor - subwoofer combinations fail to do so.

Best wishes,
Wow thats a tough on DUDE!!
FWIW, I have a pair of Dali Helicon 400's in a smallish room, and they sound quite nice at low and mid-volume levels! I have a CJ PV-15 pre-amp feeding into a JWN tube amp, which has 8 el34 output tubes. Lance Cochrane estimate it at around 100 watts per channel. The amp itself has a higher sensitivity than my old solid state CJ AMP, and it controls the bass better as well. I get an incredible soundstage with lots of three dimensional detail. Something about the ribbon tweeters in the speakers makes them sound almost like panels in the mids and the highs, which are to die for.

I have the speakers around 7 feet apart, and I sit about 10 feet back.
Poor design. For if the loudspeaker is large but designed to integrate and work in smaller spaces it can. Its many of the smaller designs that are compromised and under sized for proper sound quality. And may require near-field use in small rooms due to extensive Thermo and dynamic compression. Most Subwoofer designs again are compromised in design and one ends up with a large excursion driver in overly small cabinets thus requiring massive power and floor or corner boundary reinforcement to produce lower frequencies. And again Thermo compression rears its head as large power is forced into voice coil. Reducing efficiency, dynamics, transients and adding distortion.
Good points Johnk. How many speaker manufacturers actually build big speakers designed to work well in small rooms?

Everybody seems to want the smallest form factor they can get away with. Unfortunately that leads to the problems you addressed.

It would be nice if manufactures would list what room dimensions are optimal for each model they make. Might make it easier for the consumer to figure out.
My guess would be woofers that create to much bass energy(air movement) and then sounds bloated.
Seems to me that the point of the exercise is to maximize the enjoyment for your budget. If the system is too big physically that it pisses you off then clearly its too big. if the speakers are too big (performance wise) and still sound better then your other options and the money is right then whats the big deal. I recently heard some aerial 20T's in a small room and man that was nice. way better than my more modest units. If I had the cash I'd consider that in a heartbeat. It may be running the aerials in a non ideal state but if you like the sound then who cares. thoughts?
Manufacturers should not only know the dimensions of your listening room, but about the furniture, carpet, drapery, exactly where you plan to put the speakers, and should also conduct a lengthy interview (perhaps in the listening room over at least a couple of days) with you regarding your personal taste, how much you care about the opinions of others, and, of course, examine your finances.

Also, I recently read an essay in some HiFi mag about high quality subwoofing. Although technically maybe there isn't much below 40hz or so that should concern you, the writer was listening to mandolin music with and without his REL sub. It sounded much better WITH the sub even though logic dictates it shouldn't. It seems that a well designed and properly placed sub seemingly "charges" the air in the room with energy of some hard to measure nature. Having done this experiment myself with my trusty old REL Q150e, I experienced the same thing. If I dial out the sub it seems to drain the natural life out of the sound, leaving me in a despondent state of woe not unlike the demeanor often displayed by subless minimonitor users shuffling around their tiny apartments in tattered tweed jackets pausing only to look out the window at a full range world.
big speaker vs small speaker

less imaging performance, slower bass, less life and poor low volume performance due to larger drivers
Larger loudspeakers do not have in general slower bass,less life or poor low volume level performance and if one did it wasn't properly designed. For larger loudspeakers actually have less weakness than smaller designs which are total design compromised. Overly small drivers, tweeter covering to much range limited SPL, higher thermo compression,no low frequency and if a attempt is made at reproducing lower frequency you reduce SPL and raise distortion even more. Sure everything has its place and many need or want smaller loudspeakers but to think that the laws of physics does not apply to smaller designs shows a misunderstanding of how loudspeakers function.
Good question.

Drivers are too far apart to sound coherent in close proximity.

Also bass can be too much sometimes and muddy up the sound even

Also most speakers do imaging and soundstage better if away from walls
and this can practically be harder to accomplish with large speakers in a
small room.