The speaker of a guitar amp makes a very significant difference to the tone and volume of the instrument. One of the biggest aspects to consider, is the size of the speaker. Two of the most common speaker sizes are 10″ and 12″, so I’ll be comparing them directly in this article.
Here’s the quick answer…
Assuming all other variables are kept the same, a 12″ speaker will sound the warmest, an 8″ speaker will sound the brightest and thinnest and a 10″ speaker will sound more balanced. The larger the speaker, the more low-end bass frequencies will be produced, resulting in a looser and warmer sound.
Does the Tone Change?
Using a larger guitar amp speaker typically results in more low-end bass frequencies being emphasised so produce a warmer and fuller sound in comparison to smaller speakers. This is because there’s more room in the speaker. A smaller speaker sounds brighter and more focused by comparison as it doesn’t have as much low-end to warm it up.
Smaller speakers are often described as sounding more controlled compared to larger speakers and have more ability to cut through the sound of the rest of the band, whereas the sound produced by the larger speakers is more likely to become “lost” in the mix.
- 8″ speakers sound brighter and richer and cut through the mix more compared to 10″ speakers
- 10″ speakers sound brighter and richer and cut through the mix more compared to 12″ speakers
- 12″ speakers sound warmer and less focused compared to 10″ and 8″ speakers
Check out this YouTube video by Johan Segeborn to hear the different size speakers in action.
You’ll notice that the 12″ speaker sounds warmer and looser compared to the 10″ speaker which sounds tighter and more punchy. The 8″ speaker sounds very bright and lacks a low of low-end so doesn’t sound as full as the 10″ or 12″ speaker.
The larger the speaker, the louder it will be as it is capable of moving more air.
An interesting experiment was performed by Chuck’s Guitar Geekery where he compared the volume of a 12″ and 10″ speaker. He noted that the 12″ speaker was around 5 dB louder than the 10″ speaker. Check out his YouTube video below.
Although when all things are equal, a 12″ speaker will be the loudest, there are a lot of other variables involved to consider as well. Hence, in some cases 10″ and 12″ speakers may be very similar in volume. It also depends what the speakers are rated to, as this may be a limiting factor.
It’s also worth noting that smaller speakers are also less directional compared to larger speakers which makes it easier for the entire crowd to hear the the guitar better in a live performance situation, without a certain section of the crowd getting blasted with the amp.
Smaller speakers have less “headroom” compared to larger speakers.
Headroom is the term used to describe how powerful the signal can be before the sound starts to distort. With a larger speaker, you will be able to turn the volume up more on the amp and maintain a cleaner signal compared to with a smaller speaker.
For this reason, 8″ and 10″ speakers are described as more gritty and overdriven compared to 12″ speakers which maintain a slightly cleaner tone.
The difference isn’t huge, and it’s only worth mentioning when all other variables are the same except for the speaker size.
Which Speaker Size is Best?
This is all down to personal preference.
For me, I like a 10″ speaker as it sounds a bit tighter compared to a 12″ speaker, but still nice and full. It varies from amp to amp, but in general I find that 8″ speakers sound a bit too thin and sharp personally.
I prefer 10″ and 12″ speakers, but have a preference for that more focused 10″ sound compared to the warmer, looser tone of a 12″ speaker.
It’s important to directly compare the amps/ speakers that you’re interested in to see which sound you like the most.
Check out my comparison between 1×12 and 2×12 amp cabinets.
Check out my comparison between open and closed back cabinets.