Specifications of Speakers: What you need to know to hire the right speakers

Speaker Hire: Understanding the specifications.

Speaker hire shouldn’t be a daunting task. But as you start to look around, it is very easy to get lost in jargon such as ‘passive system’ and ‘1200w continuous output’. So here, we will look into some of the phrases that are thrown around in the pro audio industry. We’ll discuss which terms you should pay attention to, and which ones you can disregard. Hopefully, by the end of this blog post, you will have a better idea of what speakers you should hire.

Each of the words below have a definition and a rating out of 3 stars as to how much notice you should pay to it when hiring speakers.

Passive (unpowered)

Refers to speakers which require an external amplifier in order to play sound. The main benefit is that they can be used outside, since the amplifier which uses most of the power can be located in a dry location.

Active (powered)

Speakers which have at least one amplifier built in to the cabinet are known as active or powered speakers. They are much easier to set up and use, and more convenient for transportation, but cannot be used in any location where the weather could turn.


An electrical device which makes the electro-audio signal stronger, allowing the sound to be played at much louder volumes.


A device which takes a weak electrical an amplifies it before passing it to the main amplifier. For active speakers, a pre-amplifier is needed to balance the signal between the two or more speakers. Pre amps are often built into mixing desks which also allow multiple signals from microphones etc. to be routed to the speakers.

RMS / Continuous

Refers to the amount of power a set of speakers can handle over a longer period of time. Generally shows the true power of a set of speakers.


Shows the maximum power a set of speakers can safely handle without causing damage.

Sub woofer

A speaker with a large diaphragm cone that is designed to output bass frequencies.


A small diaphragm speaker (often just 1”) that outputs high frequencies.

Frequency Response

The range of frequencies that a speaker system can output. Usually between 20hz – 20,000khz.

+ and – tolerance

The degree of accuracy to which a speaker can recreate the frequencies passed to it from the source. Usually measured in percent %. An example would be 30hz – 30,000khz +/- 1.2% which shows that the speaker can accurately recreate the frequencies in the stated range to an accuracy of plus or minus 1.2%.


Measured in Ohms (Ω), impedance refers to the resistance of an electrical circuit.


Describes how much power a speaker will require to reach certain decibel (dB) levels.

Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR)

Describes how much unwanted noise will be present the output of speaker relative to the input signal level.

As you can see, there are plenty of buzz words being thrown around in the pro audio industry. Generally, a set of active speakers will be much easier to use, and so if you are having a party inside, this is the way to go. This way, you won’t have to worry about matching up the right amplifier to the speakers, you just grab any old pre amp and plug it all in together. In this case, you also won’t need to worry about things such as sensitivity since the manufacturer has already done all the hard work with putting the right amplifiers inside the speakers.

The main difference between budget speakers and high end speakers is the accuracy to which they produce the frequencies. In other words, with regards to sound quality, you get what you pay for. If your budget allows, you should always go for a better quality set of speakers. You may not think that it makes a difference, but a great set of speakers really make a great party.

Other things to consider are: Speaker size, cone size, speaker weight and cabinet quality. Generally a larger speaker cone will produce lower frequencies with more ease and accuracy, and as a general rule of thumb, the heavier the speaker, the better it is. This isn’t always true, but in general, the more solid the cabinet, the less resonance there will be and the more accurate the sound will be. In higher end speakers, the quality of the build will be better, which not only means they will last longer (not something to worry about when hiring speakers), but that the sound will be punchier, smoother and more accurately recreated.

This article was submitted by Jamie from London Sound and Light

For more articles like this, please visit Jamie’s blog

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