I've been practicing singing recently (hard rock/metal), with the intention of joining a band in the near future. I am working on recording some demos, but currently I am just monitoring and playing back through my PC speakers, which doesn't sound terribly good.

I am considering buying a better pa speaker of some kind, to try to improve the sound quality I am getting for practicing/monitoring. My question is: is it possible to over-size a speaker system for a given practice space? For example, if I get a pa speaker that can output several hundred watts (with the intention that I might also be able to use it for performances later on) could the sound quality suffer, if I use it on a very low volume setting for practicing in my basement? If so, are there any 'rules-of-thumb' for gauging where that low-end sound quality limit is?

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    Rule of thumb is "it can never be too big, only too small." Running a system at 5% power is going to hurt nothing, running one at full-tilt is going to sound abysmal. – Tetsujin Aug 6 '18 at 17:58

I think the best answer to your question is No.

If you want to get pedantic, we can go to extremes where the sound system is so large that it doesn't fit or takes up too much room, or requires more power than is available.

But if you're considering a pair of powered speakers or a single stereo power amp for a pair of passive speakers, then you pretty much can't buy too much power for any size space. That's partly because there are limits to how much power a single power amp or pair of powered speakers can be designed to provide. Above 2,000 Watts per side, or so, you usually have to have four or more speakers or two or more power amps.

You could end up spending more money than necessary, and the one possible legit concern is the noise floor on higher wattage equipment can be higher. usually you can turn down the overall level of those things to reduce the noise, but not always. And it can be harder to set a quiet volume level on higher-powered equipment.

  • Thanks for the advice Todd, this is very helpful. So, seems like I shouldn't be able to go too far wrong if I go for the highest-power option that will fit in the space, which my budget can reasonably afford? – Time4Tea Aug 6 '18 at 18:25
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    @Time4Tea Correct. – Todd Wilcox Aug 6 '18 at 18:26

A 20000W PA system is designed to sound balanced at a distance of 15m and keep focus on an area of a few thousand square meters. "PA" stands for "Public Address", not "Personal Amp".

What you actually want is a singer's amp and/or monitor. Now as opposed to a guitar amp, requirements want reproduction of higher frequency ranges and usually less coloring of the notes. But for example a solid bass reproduction, necessary for a keyboard amp or full-scale PA or drummer's amp, just isn't of much use.

Monitoring and playback/recording are also different applications: monitoring is "short-throw" just for the singer/player and cuts out low frequencies intentionally (as those would come out omnidirectionally for reasonably sized equipment) while playback/sounding amps are long-throw mainly for the benefit of the audience (and the recording mics).

So expecting to be able to do everything with one oversized piece of PA equipment would be optimistic. PAs tend to want more room than warranted for a recording session (even live recording of concerts tend to employ more than just the acoustics in the audience) and are just misdesigned for monitoring which is supposed to be just for the player himself, not the audience.

Maybe check out a music store?

  • Agree on the importance of how far away from the speaker the sound is expected to be heard. This is more than the "power" of the system. Close up, stadium size PA systems sound really ugly with a lot of hiss and very bad frequency response. At the intended distance, the sound is balanced and the hiss disappears. So, yes, definitely, a PA system can be too big (as well ass too small). – ghellquist Aug 6 '18 at 19:16
  • Aside from the fact that there’s no way the asker could inadvertently buy 20,000 Watts and fit that much PA in a reasonable space, there are several inaccuracies in this answer. – Todd Wilcox Aug 6 '18 at 20:47
  • As @ToddWilcox suggests, I had no intention of (or budget for) buying anything even approaching 'stadium' level, although regarding the general question, I think the 'extreme' situation is worth exploring theoretically. I am interested in what you say regarding 'short-throw' vs 'long-throw'. That is something I hadn't considered - I thought a speaker is basically a speaker (i.e. a cone that makes sound waves), but maybe that's simplistic? – Time4Tea Aug 6 '18 at 20:56
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    @Time4Tea As far as I can tell "throw" is really about directivity - that is how narrow or wide the dispersion pattern of the speaker is. At your end of the market, you're pretty much getting the directivity you are gonna get. I wouldn't think about it too much. It does start to matter when you buy monitor wedges, which should be very focused with the most even off-axis response possible, but that's getting into midrange and high-end PA stuff. One or two decent powered speakers from a major brand (JBL, Mackie, QSC) will be great for what you need. – Todd Wilcox Aug 7 '18 at 14:03
  • @ToddWilcox thank you again, this is most helpful. – Time4Tea Aug 7 '18 at 18:15

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