Your Questions: Why Do Rubbish-Looking Speakers Sometimes Sound So Good?

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pa systems speakers wedding djing
Last updated 3 August, 2017

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You just know that this Jamaican soundsystem rocked, don't you?
You just know that this Jamaican soundsystem rocked, don’t you?

Reader DJ Malarky writes: “I was having a conversation with a couple of DJs regarding sound systems. We were at a mobile DJ jam night with several DJs mixing sets. Well I thought the best DJ was the one with what I thought was the best-sounding system, but not the best-looking: older, carpet-covered speakers and I couldn’t tell the brand or model.

“I wasn’t sure of his amps or processors, I just loved the clean, crisp sound with wonderful low end to complement his blend style of mixing wich was awesome as well. All of the other DJs had very nice looking LED facades with extremely clean speaker systems. I did see JBL and Mackie with one B-52 Matrix sound system but they just didn’t seem to sound as nice. Now if you were doing, say, a wedding set, what would be better? The better sounding but not so neat system or the very neat but not that great sounding system? How important is the look quality vs. the sound quality?”

Digital DJ Tips says:

Great question, and it raises a number of important points.

  • It’s not what you’ve got, it’s how you use it – If the winning DJ was using great sounding music, well mastered/pressed, played through decent gear, with a well set-up PA, and he respected his levels, and was watchful of his EQing, and had a sense of how his PA sounds when you’re out on the floor, he is likely to have sounded better than unskilled DJs using any equipment, however pricey
  • Speakers need to be cared for – Any PA system, whoever makes it, needs regular servicing. Cones need checking and cleaning at the very minimum. Without proper maintenance, any PA will end up sounding bad. The winning DJ may well have been keeping his basic-looking PA in tip-top condition
  • DIY speakers are still quite common – In the UK (for instance), dub/reggae sound systems run by Caribbean immigrants started the whole amplified dance thing many years before house, and sound system collectives almost invariably built their own custom cabinets and systems. Building speakers was very common back then and still happens today. It’s what’s inside that counts! You can rest assured that someone who takes the time to build their own PA understands all the above and while it may look home-made, it will sound anything but.

Let me give you an example: I DJ in bars and clubs. No need for a PA. But every now and then, I play parties in houses (like someone’s living room). A couple of years ago, I saw a PA system in the paper, second-hand (but unused), for pennies. I bought it so I have something to take to parties with me. It’s pretty basic, and looks it. But if you don’t drive it, you put the speakers in good positions, and you balance the EQs sympathetically, it’s far better better than blowing someone’s home speakers up! Because I understand its limitations and work within them, it does me fine for the one or two house parties a year I DJ at. In fact, it sounds great!

So regarding your question: I think sound always trumps looks. Obviously both is ideal, but people will forget almost instantly what a DJ’s gear looks like once they start dancing – but their ears will still be ringing in the morning if you blast them with harsh sound all night.

What’s your experience with PA systems and those that sound the best? Have you build your own speakers? Have you heard great systems made to sound awful? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!