Like I have been doing practically every morning for the last few years, I peruse my favorite gear forums and came across this thread discussing whether or not 4 X 12 cabinets are a dying breed. There were lots of responses both pro and con, but a sidebar discussion ensued about loudness; specifically SPL (sound pressure level) and perceived loudness. So that got me thinking about the mechanics behind loudness and that led me to the title of this article. So how can a 1 X 12 be louder than a 4 X 12? Well it has to do with a combination of several things, but at least from what I understand, you can boil it down to two things: Speaker efficiency and frequency response. In any case, I found a great article that discusses this subject in detail here. It has some good technical information while maintaining a chatty, conversational tone. It’s a good read, and actually explains how a 1 X 12, given the right combination of amp, speaker sensitivity and frequency response can be louder than a 4 X 12. Pretty cool.
But all this ruminating on loudness also got me thinking of how I got pissed at one of the guitarists in my church band who kept on stepping on everyone this past weekend with the volume of his amp. It got to the point where I finally said, “Look! I’ve had it with your volume; either turn it down or I’ll turn it off.” Thinking back on that situation and the information that I read this morning, I realized that the frequency response of the speaker of his amp – a California Blonde – is probably heavy in an area where he can’t hear it, so he cranks it up so he can. Plus, its spread is really narrow and as he has the amp right in front of him, he probably can only hear only a slight portion of the volume that amp can produce (I have one as well, and that amp really projects). The point to bringing this up is that perceived volume also has to do with where you are in relation to the front of the speaker, and that frequency response plays a huge role. If your speaker produces lots of sound in an area that’s not or less perceptible by the human ear as compared to other frequencies, you’ll perceive it to be not as loud.
For myself, I’m pretty sensitive about the frequency response of my speakers because as the lead guitarist, I need to cut through the mix. The interesting thing about this is that I don’t have to be loud to hear myself as my tone tends to be on the bright side – though I will admit that I like to be loud just because there’s nothing like SPLs. However, that said, as of late, I’ve been much more sensitive to my stage volume, so I’ve reined in the volume a bit. My thinking is that as long as I can hear myself through the mix, it’s all good.