Audio Myths Busted!

By jsalk


The audio world is rife with theories. They are the source of endless discussion and debate. Some are based on sound priciples. Others, not so much. Here are a few oft-repeated statements we can easily subject to a little critical thinking.

You’ve probably heard or seen these before:

  • Monitors create a wider, deeper soundstage and image better than floor standing speakers.
  • Floor standing speakers play deeper than monitors.

There is an element of truth to each of these statements. And therein lies problem.

Let’s examine that first statement and see how well it holds up to some critical thinking.

Superior dispersion is one characteristic that enhances off-axis response and helps create a deeper and wider sound stage. So for duscussion purposes, let’s take a typcial 5″ driver with excellent dispersion characteristics and mount it in an 8″ baffle. We’ll build a pair of rear-ported monitors and take a listen.

Wow, the soundstage is indeed very deep and wide. (That’s because we did such a good job creating our theoretical speaker.) So now let’s take those same 5″ drivers and put them in floor standing cabinets.

In our original ported design, our 5″ driver required a specific internal volume and a port of a specific length and diameter. So we will keep those and the baffle width constant. In other words, we will build floor standing cabinets tuned exactly the same as our exellent sounding monitor.

As we increase the cabinet height to go from a monitor to a floorstander, we must decrease the cabinet depth in order to maintain the same internal volume. Now, there are some pracitcal considerations here. For example, we still want to maintian some area behind the driver to allow space for it to breathe. But, for the sake of this thought experiment, let’s set issues such as this aside.

If the theory holds true, this floor standing speaker will not create the same quality soundstage as our monitors. Oh, but upon listening, we find that it does – the performance is exactly the same! That should not be surprizing. It is the same driver, same baffle width, same internal volume and the same cabinet tuning. The only difference is the shape of the cabinet.

The driver has no way of knowing that it is mounted in a tall cabinet vs. a shorter, deeper cabinet on a speaker stand. The only thing it knows is that the baffle is 8″ wide, the internal volume is correct and the port tuning is accurate. It’s performance is exactly the same as in our monitor cabinet. It can’t change. (I might point out that the floor standing cabinet takes up no more floor space either. In fact, it could actually take up less since the depth is decreased.)

The bottom line is that there is no inherant advantage to a monitor type cabinet where sound stage or imaging is concerned. Given the same driver with the same internal volume, same baffle width and same port tuning, the results, in terms of sound stage, will be exactly the same. No difference.

Quite often, we are asked if we can produce speaker “X” in a floor standing version rather than a stand-mounted version. When we ask why this might be preferable, the answer often points to a desire for deeper bass response.

So, do floor standers truly play deeper than monitors? Yes, in general they do. But not because they are floor standers. Again, if you use the same driver with the same internal volume and cabinet tuning, the bass extension will be the same.

Now, there are things that can be done with floorstanding speakers to increase bass extension. Given the same driver in a ported and transmission line cabinet, for example, the TL cabinet will normally generate greater bass extension. But you could fold that same line length into a deeper stand-mounted cabinet and achieve the same result. So there is no inherant reason a floor standing speaker would play any deeper than an appropriately designed monitor.

In the end, the only reason there is any merit to either of these statements is that the speakers in either category tend to be different by their very nature. Floor standing speakers usually utilize larger woofers which tend to play deeper. With monitors, you tend to see the use of smaller drivers with better dispersion characteritics. It has nothing to do with the specific format of the cabinets themselves.

Floor standers can image just as well as monitors and monitors can play just as deep as floor standers. It is not an issue of cabinet shape that determines sound staging, imaging and bass extension, but other aspects of the designs in question.

These myths are busted!

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