Loudspeaker types

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Loudspeaker types
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Small, large, electrostatic? Here's our short, concise guide.





SMALL SHELF MOUNTERS (about 25cm high, 0.3cu ft / 8 litres max.)



Shelf mounters are inexpensive, easy to accommodate in the home and can offer excellent sound quality, in terms of imaging and low colouration, as well as basic tonal accuracy.


They have little deep bass. Worse, miniatures have very low sensitivity and need plenty of power to go loud, at least 40 Watts. Give them too much, however, and they’ll distort or even burn out, because small voice coils have low thermal capacity.

For use hard against a rear wall the port is usually positioned on the front panel and bass will be contoured to compensate for the wall’s influence. Typical of the breed are KEF iQ10s.



STAND MOUNTERS (about 35cm high, 0.8 cu ft / 22 litres max.)



Large stand mounters can go very low, down to 40Hz or so, the limit of string bass instruments, so they commonly have quite weighty bass. Further up the scale their small cabinets and cones keep the sound clean. It’s a good compromise between performance and size.


Too large to fit comfortably on a  shelf, this size of loudspeaker is designed for stand mounting - and that consumes floor space, as much as a floorstander. Neither fish nor foul then. Won’t do heavy subsonics either.


FLOOR STANDERS (about 1m high, 2.4 cu ft / 68 litres max.)



They go low and are able to give floor shaking bass. Modern 1m high or so floor standers can go very low, down to 30Hz or so, although not all manufacturers design for this. B&W and KEF cut their floorstanders off around 40Hz to keep bass sounding ‘fast’.


A 1m high floorstander occupies little more space than a  standmounter, and a narrow front baffle aids imaging, especially if it is curved at its edges.


Finally, floorstanders are usually sensitive, some very sensitive, meaning 90dB or more from just one watt. Big, powerful amplifiers are not needed; 40W will do.


Floorstanders are visually intrusive and are best sited away from walls, meaning they consume a lot of floor space. For best results they should sit firmly on the floor, and are weighty to aid this. Spikes are best used too, for sound quality and stability.


Tuning a port to a low 30Hz or lower adds weight to deep bass, but slows the sound and can produce ponderous bass. If it coincides with a  room mode then 'room boom' will occur.

LARGE FLOORSTANDERS (more than 1.2m high, greater than 3 cu ft /  85 litres)




These have high power handling and deep bass. Many have multiple bass units to handle bass power, whilst some have 12in - 15in bass units. Most are very sensitive, need little power yet will fill a large room, of 30ft - 40ft maximum dimension, easily. Often sounding relaxed and easy going (due to effective coupling to the room load and resultant low bass distortion) they offer life like scale.


Loudspeakers this size are visually intrusive, very heavy and space consuming. They are also expensive.



In essence, these extraordinary loudspeakers drive a sheet of Clingfilm with a varying electrostatic charge. The idea is that the diaphragm moving the air is so light it does not store energy and has no sound of its own (i.e. colouration).  Hi-Fi World have wide experience of using Quad, Martin Logan and Kingsound electrostatics. Read more in our in-depth reviews on them.


Very pure sound, free from colour and distortion. Great imaging. Wonderful vocals and great with classical music, where accuracy and smoothness are important.


Open back panel needs lots of rear room, so best suit rooms 18ft long or more. Large and visually intrusive. Need mains power. Expensive. Are a difficult load for amplifiers, and demand a very good amplifier.


Bass is weak unless the panel is large or a box bass unit is used (e.g. Martin Logan), or a subwoofer. Not ideal for Rock as a result.





A film loudspeaker, like the electrostatic, but the film has a thin, flat conductor etched onto it. The music signal flowing in this interacts with fixed field magnets. See our LFT-08 review. Magnepan also make magnetic planar loudspeakers and the Audiosmile Kensai uses a magnetic planar tweeter.


Like the electrostatic, the magnetic planar loudspeaker sounds smooth and pure, images well and produces great vocals, chorals etc. It has low distortion. Good for classical music where purity and smoothness are important qualities. Needs no mains supply.


It’s an open back panel and needs lots of rear room, so best suit rooms 18ft long or more. Large and visually intrusive. Fairly expensive, but not not as complex and expensive as electrostatics.


Bass is weak unless the panel is large or a box bass unit is used (e.g. LFT-08), or a subwoofer.




In this type of drive unit a thin, light aluminium ribbon carrying the music signal interacts with fixed field magnets, radiating sound as a result.


Light diaphragm driven over its entire area produces very clean, low distortion sound. Not suitable for high excursion bass units so only used for in midrange and treble units.


Limited power handling, and narrow vertical dispersion. Slightly metallic quality.





This is a form of acoustic loading, requiring a large and complex cabinet. The horn shape in the cabinet couples a small, high pressure drive unit to a large mouth that drives the room’s air load, via a long tapered line. It’s an acoustic transformer.


Room moving bass that is ‘fast’ and realistic.


Huge size, weight and cost if done properly. Short horns are a fudge that often work badly and offer no benefit.





Another form of cabinet loading, like the horn. It attempts to ‘lose’ rear radiation  from  the bass unit down a long, ‘lossy’ line, folded into the cabinet, returning some in-phase from a port.


Theoretically close to ideal, it is known for giving very deep bass of good quality. It also makes a loudspeaker a good amplifier load.


Needs a large, complex, heavy and expensive cabinet if done properly. Little better than a good ported reflex design.




This radiates sound all round, to give a big, open and spacious presentation. See our MBL 101e review.


Gives a consistent sound all round a room and a less focused ideal listening position.


The sound stage between the loudspeakers is less focused and concise. Often expensive, because of extra drive units.



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