Big speakers, are they really the best way to get great sound?

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to listen to some very large speakers that are considered to be at, or close to, the pinnacle in speaker design and ability. Needless to say, the speakers retail in the mid to high $300k range. These speakers, and I will not be naming them, were sourced by about $800k of upstream gear. Room size was about thirty by twenty, maybe a little larger.
To say the the overall sound was BIG would be accurate, but also I noticed something else, that I typically hear with big speaker systems. Generally, the speakers were right on edge of overloading the room, depending on music, the dreaded bass boom could be heard. But, the whole presentation was greater in impact than most any smaller speaker system, yet it was almost unlistenable for the long term.

The question I asked myself, is do we really want this type of presentation in our home audio systems? The speakers threw a pretty large soundstage, but also made things sound somewhat larger than life. I also thought that this type of speaker is akin to the large box dynamic speakers of yesteryear. For example, a set of large horns from Altec Lansing or similar was reminiscent of this sound. Makes me believe that if one has a big room, a similar sound can be obtained from most any large speaker system and at a fraction of the price.

I listen in a very small room, and by necessity in the near field, yet I think the overall intimacy of this type of listening experience is better for me, your thoughts?


Headphones. Bookshelves near-field. Towers midfield. Large towers at a distance. Those setups will have their inherent strengths and weaknesses. 

You may prefer one the most, or you may just have the most intimate experience with one type for longer periods. Someone else suggested as 'your reference point'. 

I like crawling inside a mix. Headphones and near-field bookshelves firing directly at my ear holes with subs to pressurize a small to medium sized room is the most financially "sound" way for me to truly feel the music and indulge my listening. 

My PBN Montana XPS speakers are designed for rooms larger than 2,700 cubic ft. My house of stereo is only slightly bigger than that. With the proper acoustic treatment, they sound magnificent and 100% worth the investment. They replaced the also excellent Ascent Acoustic Sierra towers with raal tweeters. While those were deeply satisfying, the PBN take it to an entire different level. GRAND is the best one word I could use to describe the experience and that's exactly what I go for. If I were a chamber music type of guy, the Sierras would still be my reference speakers. Meaning it cones down to multiple factors, size room, acoustic treatments and type of music preferred. I found my combo and it includes LARGE speakers.


I recently heard the Sonus Faber Lilium speakers driven by McIntosh MC451 dual mono amps via MSB streamer/DAC/pre in a room best described as medium and it sounded beautiful. 

I’d like to present 2 examples of the extremes in room/enviroment that we were involved with.

First, back in the disco era we provided music systems for highly energetic young people at the peak of their physical attractiveness and athletic dexterity, not afraid to put both out there on display. One such system was designed for outdoor use with bass bins large enough to sit in. (One participant actually did). I also recall a tweeter array with 16 piezo-electric tweeters. Hey, these were good enough for Jon Dalquist, so why not outdoor venues? (I think the design goals and application might have been slightlly different). I’m pretty confident these would quality as "big speakers" designed to play very loud, full bandwidth sound in a 1 billion cubic foot "room."

One the other end of the spectrum, we decided to build a project where we installed a full 7.1 surround system in a 30" x 30" replica of a British phone booth. We removed the front baffles of B&W mini-monitors (3 1/2" 2-ways), hand built a fascia, and made custom enclosures for a pair of JL audio thin-profile 10" subs mounted in the floor. The system was powered by a high quality 100x7 AV receiver, with outboard mono amp running the subs. Our quick math determined that it was the equilivant of large speakers driven by 4k of power in "average" listening room. Yes, it got loud. And raised eyebrows (and skirts) when the bass hit.

Moral of the story: Related to speaker size: the room matters.

Back when I started in this wacky world of ours, I had a set of Bozak A’s, then B’s. When I played the 1812 Overture, you could feel it!  Now, with the way speakers have improved and subwoofers have improved, you don’t necessarily need big speakers to get the same effect.