How to choose the right loudspeaker
You can find the right speaker that best fits your spatial audio project by examining several criteria. For us, it's mostly been the following points which really matter: power, sound quality, physical features, design, and price. Let's see what's behind each criteria.
Depending on the type of project you’re planning, you’ll know whether the level of cinema sound pressure is required on all audience's listening positions. Most often, it will hardly be the case, and you can go for far lower sound pressures, which affect the costs dramatically.
For example, when a room is 10 by 10 meters, then the farthest listening position (standing in the middle of the room) is around 7 meters. If you need at maximum 80 dB SPL sound pressure, it's around 94 dB SPL at 1 meter. The sound pressure level at 1 meter distance (SPL@1 m) is usually the standard measurement for speakers. In that case you should look for speakers with 94 dB SPL, or more. You will find a whole lot more loudspeakers models covering 95 dB SPL, than ones with 110 dB SPL.
Sound quality is something you can't really fit into a diagram. That means that you have to check it with your own ears. When we were planning our studio speaker setup, we called our main technical supplier and ordered two pallets of different speakers in order to make a quality contest. We chose the best, i.e., most neutral speaker we knew of (and already owned) to act as a reference – a Geithain RL 900. The winner in the competition was the KRK Rokit RPG8. The only thing that wasn’t satisfactory, and that we needed to fix, was the boost at 300 Hz; we could flatten the curve digitally in the playback system. The Genelec speakers had been of equal quality, but in the price range we considered, the smallest Genelec speaker was simply not powerful enough.
Later on, we complemented this contest by assessing the Mackie MR5 and the M-Audio BX5 D2. The Mackie MR5 is a little bit less powerful, but while sounding just as good as the KRK Rokit RPG8, you'll get them for half of the price.
Finally, the M-Audio BX5 D2 came into our consideration. It was needed for a project with relatively low sound pressure. With its good sound quality, it is our third recommendation.
Mostly, the speakers need to fit in the physical circumstances of the listening space. Sometimes they need to be hung on the ceiling, sometimes they need to be hidden, sometimes transport is the issue… Think about how to handle the speakers. Most of them have a wooden shell, and it's not a big problem to put in some screws in order to adjust them for overhead mounting. flying. Usually, cheap (but good sounding – don’t settle on anything less!) speakers don't come with hanging mounts, so you have improvise a bit.
Studio speakers usually come with a little light diode on the front panel. That's probably nice in the studio, but in an event location that might be disturbing the set design. We observed that it's best not to highlight the technology used to create a sound experience. It might be better to conceal the speakers as best as you can. Thus the speaker size and color might be also important to consider.
We scanned the market several times, and we always find that the most cost effective speakers are active powered. But remember the wiring! When setting up a speaker system, wiring two cables to each speaker costs time. Don't underestimate it and ask for helping hands, or plan a longer setup time.
Don't be dogmatic. Once we were facing an exhibition project where a key design element has been the spatial sound design: atmospheres, sound effects, voices etc – rather than music. The available budget made it almost impossible to realize this project. We knew that we could fix a lot of problems in terms of sound quality by doing the final mix on location, so we decided to go for the JBL Control One,, almost the cheapest possible speaker you can imagine (and frankly, this is also how it sounds). But things turned even worse. Since there were areas where it was simply impossible to put loudspeakers, the only chance to get our sound design implemented into the scenography was to use structure-borne sound converters. It's visually a great idea, because it's invisible, but the frequency response is an adventure. However, with measurement tools and an individual equalizer per channel we got the whole system working. The rest was done with mixing directly on location. In the end it worked out quite well!
Feel free to share your recommendations in the comments!