Small is beautiful !

Isn’t it beautiful to look at exotic small mini monitors sitting on imposing stands and placed almost in the middle of a listening room …

Yes I know, be able to get audiophiles to buy tinny speakers is a big plus for manufacturers. It’s cheaper to build, to design, to test, to ship and to stock. It’s an easy to sell concept since space allowed for audio gear have been reduced over time and the WAF is what it is. You don’t see huge horn speakers in home interior design magazines but you expect to see nice looking bang&olufsen gears sitting somewhere that show them just enough so you can expect some serious money was invested but doesn’t affect the room decor too much.

What are the selling points of tinny speakers ?

Imaging !

Yes the appeal of sound stage, the famous positioning of the instruments. Don’t forget the details you will get.

More quality than quantity !

You don’t get much bass but what’s present is “FAST”.

My take on this is that size compromised speakers comes with MAJOR drawbacks

Sure it sound detailed and fast (whatever it means to you) when you remove everything under 60-80hz so you end up with unbalanced audio bandwidth tilted to the top octaves.

You know -3db at 45hz doesn’t means you get useful bass down to 45hz. Some company will measure that in room and almost corner loaded but will tell you best sound is achieved when there is 3-4 feets of air behind the speakers. It also mean that you probably have a couple db of suck out from 60hz to 140hz until the bass reflex bump hit somewhere at 45hz. 1-2 db (or more) of suck out is very audible when it extend to a large bandwidth like this. i hope you like to listen to female vocal because Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits won’t sound like they should.

In room measurement of a -3db at 45hz specified mini speaker show most of the time a lack of energy as soon as 80-100hz and a poor lower mid range reproduction. Quality of bass around port tuning is also expected to be poor at best.

The trick for manufacturer is to make them impressive (considering your expectation of such small speakers) whatever the total distortion involved when playing at any reasonable sound level. The famous BBC bump is one way to impress while having a very compromised low frequency extension.

Power …

Why are small speakers so hard to drive ? It’s simply a compromise where you trade efficiency for some low extension in small volume. Add to that a complexe cross over and correction network used for : frequency corrections, drivers integration, phase correction, baffle step compensation … and you end up with power hungry speakers.

Small size cabinets are a compromise between lower frequency extension and sensitivity. You won’t get both and still, both will be compromised.

Also drivers designers have followed the trend and developed drivers where low resonant frequency and long excursion are traded in exchange of lower sensitivity. The perfect drivers to give acceptable results in small enclosures.

“You know Mr. we can sell you a big powerful amplifier to go with your new speakers”

It’s not like you can do otherwise anyway.

Big powerful amplifiers means lot’s of components, paralleled output transistors/mosfets and huge amount of local and/or global feedback to stabilize everything and don’t think it comes cheap or in small size.

Now you can feed them with thousands of watts if you want, truth is compression will get most of it. I don’t know what audiophiles think their tinny speakers voice coils are made of to try feeding them with that much power but in small woofers and tweeters there is small voice coils with very limited power handling. Small woofers means small amount of air displacement even if they are of extended excursion. Heated up voice coils need some place to dump this heat and guess what, there is not much air in tinny speakers. Power (thermal) compression means limited dynamic range and this is, for me, what differentiate mostly musical reproduction to live production.

Complex cross-overs doesn’t help a bit with compression. When you remove the cross-over from a speaker and drive the drivers directly through an active cross-over and multi-amplification you can clearly hear part of the problem going away.

Anyway, the small 4-5-6″ woofers used may be able to handle lots of watts from the specs but try to put 10 watts of 20hz sine wave on them and fetch the popcorn, because it should be fun to watch.

So should I get a huge amplifiers ? I personally think you should’t and just accept limited spl and dynamic range else you are deep in the diminished returns law.

Imaging …

Sure it’s imaging like crazy, that’s pretty much the only thing left for you to enjoy. Imaging is a very visual concept used to compensate musical instruments dynamic range, bandwidth, tonalities if you ask me. I know we are a very visual specie that likes to visualize musical reproduction as much we do while reading books. I don’t know for you but when I’m sitting at a live concert one of the last thing I do is try to evaluate the sound stage. What comes to me is immediacy, power, control, tonalities … but never imaging.

Small size also mean that bass reflex will be favored. Small size also mean that there is no space for long ports inside the box so small diameter ports are used. Small port diameter means high air velocity to blurry those low bass notes.

Are you really saving space with mini monitors or tinny floor stander ? I doubt it considering the space you need to leave behind and around them to “image” like they should that space can be use for larger cabinet speakers that works well close to walls (room gain).

Don’t worry, I’ve got caught it this also

I’ve been on the tinny speakers with huge amplifiers route too. I had to, considering that at that time I was firstly in the peak of the “small is beautiful” and secondly was reading way too many audio reviews and was visiting a lot of audio boutiques.

I don’t miss this era of my audio life.

Well I do think that small speakers are for some of us after all

If you have very limited space or WAF problem and listen mostly near field at low sound level it may be for you and enjoyable to some levels. I would use them for secondary sound system or ambiant music playback happily but would never invest excessive money for this purpose.

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