Unless you’re a dealer or a distributor of speakers, there are only a couple of ways to pick out a speaker:
- Go down to a dealer or distributor of speakers and listen to a bunch, then go and buy the one you like -or-
- Buy some speakers, listen to them, and pick the one you like. Oh wait! There’s a third way of choosing a speaker!
- Go on the forums, ask people what speaker they’d recommend, buy all the recommendations, listen to them, then pick the one you like.
I know, I know… It all sounds flip. But think about it. How the hell do you choose a speaker? The plain fact of the matter is that you have to listen to it to determine if it works for you. Descriptions, conversations, and recommendations are helpful indeed, but in the end, it’s the sound that the speaker produces that vibrates your eardrums that will be the ultimate deciding factor.
Of all the parts of the signal chain, I’ve found that in comparison with other parts of my signal chain, I’ve probably spent the most research time on speakers; much of it anguishing over having purchased a speaker I thought might work, only to find that it sucked! Let’s face it: A speaker is the endpoint of your signal chain, and produces the sound from everything in the chain before it. If it doesn’t sound good to you, it doesn’t matter how good everything else is in front of it.
There’s no “pat” advice I can give. You just have to listen to a lot of speakers, or take a chance on buying one and hope you get lucky. I’ve been lucky so far with my Fane Medusa 150 and with an evaluation Jensen Jet Electric Lightning that I got from Jensen that I decided to buy because it sounded so good. But there are lots of speakers that I’ve tried that I’ve never written about because they just didn’t work with my rig.
There is sort of a fourth way, and that is to listen to the recommendations from someone who knows your tone. My friend and amp builder Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps is that guy for me. Since he personally built and customized to my specs most of the amps I play, he knows what I like, so when he has recommends speakers, I listen. It was that way with the Jensen Jet Falcon 12″ speakers I have in three of my cabinets. He got one to try out from a distributor, and called me up, asking if I’d test it since he didn’t time. We met a few days later for me to get the speaker from him, and once I installed it in my cab, I loved it so much, I kept it, then bought two more since then to go into other cabinets. Mind you, this replaced a Celestion Blue – which is a GREAT speaker – that costs three times as much!
Oops… got a bit side-tracked. So while it ultimately takes listening to speakers to see if they will work, there are some preparatory things you can do to at least narrow your search:
- Go to the manufacturer’s site and look at the frequency response charts. For instance, check out this chart for the Jensen Jet Falcon 12″:
This told me to expect a bit of a scooped tone as the lows and mids had peaks. Or check out this one for the Celestion Gold:
This shows a more moderate low- and midrange response, with slight emphasis on higher freqs.
- Once you see a pattern that you’d like to explore, start listening to clips, taking note of the gear used.
- Finally, see how you can try one out or hear one in person.
As I mentioned, there is no “pat” way of deciding on what speaker to buy. But with a bit of research, you can narrow the field down significantly.