If you’re looking to dial in your own custom sound, one of the best ways to start is by changing up the speakers in your combo amp or speaker cabinet. The speakers that come stock are generally great all-rounders, but if you’re strictly playing metal, the best way to bring the “chug” will be to upgrade to speakers that are specifically voiced for metal.
In this review I’ll be looking at the 3 best speakers designed for metal. For each speaker I’ll compare the tonal range, the voicing (American vs. British), and the output. All of these speakers come in multiple sizes, but again, for a fair comparison I’ll only be looking at the 12” version in each speaker.
To ensure consistency, each speaker will be tested in the same amp – my Bugera V22 Infinium, with a ProCo RAT distortion stomp box.
Our Top Three Picks
- Eminence DV-77 Mick Thomson Signature – Best value guitar speaker for metal
- Eminence Swamp Thang – Best budget guitar speaker for metal
- Celestion Vintage 30 – Best all round guitar speaker for metal
Fans and practitioners of the metal genre generally understand that there is no one specific tone associated with metal. Between the metal pioneers of the early 60s to the current artists of today, the sounds have changed, but none are any less metal – just different.
There are a couple of areas of speaker construction that will influence the characteristics of a speaker, and they include:
Most modern speakers are equipped with one of three different magnet types – ceramic, alnico, or neodymium.
Alnico magnet equipped speakers are generally the warmest sounding at low volume, but add to a great sounding breakup at higher levels. They boost speaker reactivity, helping to improve note separation and clarity.
Ceramic magnets, sometimes called ferrite, were designed to act as a cost effective alternative to the pricey alnico magnets that were traditionally used in speaker manufacturing. They became very popular with metal players because of their excellent versatility, ability to hand power, and their great sound at high volume.
Neodymium is a newer material, and offers a great attack, and a nicely balanced frequency response. Their biggest advantage is their light weight, making them a great choice for players concerned about transporting gear.
The power rating of your speakers is limited by the diameter of their voice coils and the magnet’s mass. The rule of thumb – the heavier the magnet and the larger the voice coil, the greater the power rating. In an ideal world, you should match your speakers to the power of the amp.
If you’re looking to improve low frequency responsiveness, then you can opt for a speaker rated higher than the amp, but you should never equip a speaker with a lower power rating than your amplifier’s output. It will physically work, and may give some interesting distortion, there’s a good chance you’ll destroy the speaker quite quickly.
Eminence DV-77 Mick Thomson Signature – Our Top Pick
A highly anticipated speaker that genuinely lives up to the hype
Eminence has quickly become one of the industry leaders in speakers for metal guitarists, and this is evidenced by their partnership with Slipknot’s Mick Thomson for his signature DV-77 speaker. The whole unit was designed “from the ground up”, avoiding the typical sway between the American or British sound. Eminence wanted the DV-77 to have a tone all of its own, and I really think they succeeded in this.
While the tones that make up the metal genre are widely varied, one thing most people agree on is that the mids need to be tight and focused, and the DV-77s are amongst the thickest and tightest out there, without falling off the other side and becoming brittle or shrill. Despite the focus, when I pushed it hard through my 22 watt all tube amp, it still left plenty of room in the middle of the mix for other instruments, and particularly for aggressive vocals to shine through. If you play in drop tuning, or if you’re planning to use one or more of these speakers for bass amps, you’ll be pleased to know that the lows are massive.
These speakers are rated for 70 watts and have a 70Hz resonance. I was blown away with the amount of character that the Eminence DV-77 boasts. The sound balance was excellent, which really helped to avoid unnecessary EQ balancing, leaving me more time to enjoy the speaker.
They use a ferrite magnet which struck a nice blend of sharp attack while maintaining versatility across the volume range.
Verdict: The Eminence DV-77 absolutely leaps out of any mix. It’s bold and in your face, and doesn’t sound harsh at any volume or gain level . It’s made with the best of the best components, including a hand selected Kurt Mueller cone, which gives this speaker such a unique tone while still keeping an unmistakably metal voice.
Eminence Swamp Thang – Best Budget Option
A great choice for players looking for a massive bottom end
The Eminence Swamp Thang is a fantastic budget option and was clearly built to compliment heavier players. It really focuses on the bottom end, which becomes immediately apparent when you hear the huge amount of tight bass, which is pretty rare in a 12” cone.
I found that it was more than capable of bringing the hard bite that is prized in thrash and other heavier metal styles, without coming across as being too raspy. Up in the mids, it became clear that this speaker is biased towards the lower end, which made the sound a little too muddy at lower volumes, although it did still offer a pleasing amount of breakup when pushed, which lent some versatility to this speaker.
The Swamp Thang is one of the most powerful 12” speakers on the market, with an impressive 150 watt rating. This kind of power does make it a great choice for anybody planning to play large venues, but if you’re just using it for bedroom, or even garage practice, you should probably consider a lower powered option like the DV-77 or the Vintage 30, or you may find it hard to let the character of your amp come through.
One benefit of the huge power rating, however, is the massive amount of headroom left at high volume – this became even more apparent due to the fact that it was tested with just 22 watts of power through the Bugera V22. The ceramic magnet kept player response sharp, and really responds well when cranked to 11.
Verdict: The Eminence Swamp Thang is a great choice if you’re looking for something at a good price that can handle large venues. If you’re using a lot of pedal based effects, the headroom that comes with the huge power rating really helps to let the genuine character of the pedals come through, too. These speakers are reliable and well made, but are definitely better suited to use in an extension cab than as a solo speaker in a combo amp.
Celestion Vintage 30 – KGR Editor’s Choice
The definitive metal speakers continue to impress
Launched in 1986, during the heyday of metal, the Celestion Vintage 30 offers a modest power rating of 60 watts, which is far from the highest rating out there. Having a lower power rating can assist with distortion and get you some great metal tones, but it can also cause some reliability issues if you push your speakers hard for extended periods.
For tones, the Vintage 30 has a big, British voicing, and it really brought the noise across the range, including tight and focused lows and a beautiful range of overtones across the spectrum. It put out some of the richest mids I’ve ever heard. Even the highs were filled with incredible sounding harmonics.
With gain maxed and my RAT at full distortion, the Vintage 30 still provided awesome note separation, and because of its high quality construction, heat dissipation was superb, ensuring that performance was reliable and consistent even during extended play through a hot, all-tube amp.
Verdict: Some may say that the Celestion Vintage 30 is getting a little long in the tooth, and in some respects, they may be right. Because the Celestion Vintage 30 is pretty much the industry standard when it comes to speakers for metal, they have subconsciously influenced the musical tastes of many metal fans, and this can make it hard to stand out if you’re trying to sound unique. Despite this, they really have earned their reputation over the years with a combination of excellent build quality, and big “in your face” mids – which are exactly where you want them to be on a speaker for metal.
There is such a vast difference between different speakers that it becomes readily apparent that getting the sound you’re looking for is about more than your guitar and amp. Switching out the speakers, even on a high end combo or cabinet to a set that will yield the tone you’re looking for can have a huge impact, and if you’re building your own cabinet, any of these is a great starting point.