Guitar Speaker Cabinets: 2×12 vs Oversized vs 4×12

If you are satisfied with your guitar and amp but are looking to tweak your sound a little bit, you may be curious about the differences between speaker cabinet styles. 

Let’s look at a few options for cabinets for 12” speakers and try to make the choice a little clearer for your style and also where you’ll be using it.

Larger speaker cabinets produce stronger bass frequencies and have better sound dispersion. But with the extra weight and cost added to the larger cabs, a classic 2 x 12” design can be a great choice, especially if you are planning to mic your amp for recording or live shows.

Of course, the number of speakers in the cabinet is going to affect the wattage that you can put into it. 

So if you are using a really high-wattage amp your options will probably be limited to cabinets with four speakers.

2 x 12” speaker cabinet characteristics

Cabinets with a couple of 12” speakers are a great choice for most players and this configuration is used in a lot of combo amps as well. 

But these cabs usually only have a maximum of about 160 watts so they won’t work for every amp out there. 

And the smaller cabinet size means you may not have as much low end as you could with a bigger cabinet but this doesn’t seem to bother most players, especially if a bass player is part of the mix. 

So if you are playing mainly at home or at small venues this style will get the job done.

2 x 12” oversized speaker cabinet characteristics

If you really want those low-end frequencies there is the option of two speakers in an oversized cabinet. 

The extra space in the cabinet allows the sound to deliver more lows.

I’m sure there is a complicated technical explanation for why this is but I’m going to leave that part to cabinet manufacturers. 

The bigger cabinet should also give you a larger sound dispersion which can be a big deal if you are playing on stage, not to mention that it looks nice and professional.

4 x 12” speaker cabinet characteristics

Finally, we come to the holy grail of speaker cabinets. These are the cabs that you’ve seen on stage behind the biggest rock and roll bands. 

Think about Jimi Hendrix or AC/DC and you can immediately picture the famous Marshall stacks.

They provide a lot of wattage for powerful amps, strong low-end response, and an all-around full sound to fill the room. 

Another thing that may affect the tone is that multiple speakers provide a smoother sound than one speaker since they may be slightly out-of-phase (not all of the speaker cones are moving exactly in sync). 

So… it’s possible that four speakers instead of two may smooth the sound out even more. 

As for power rating, these cabinets will usually clock in at 240 watts and up. 

They may not be as popular as they once were but they are still at the top of the food chain for players who need maximum volume.

Main differences between 2 x 12”, oversized, and 4 x 12” speaker cabinets

So low-end frequency response (bigger cabinet = better bass), sound dispersion, and volume are the important factors in deciding between the different styles with the oversized 2 x 12” cab providing a nice middle ground. 

But if you choose the 4 x 12” option you have the choice of a straight or angled design (the angled design has two of the speaker tops tilted back to maximize the field of output). 

I think it is also worth discussing speaker cabinets as a platform for your amp. It is most common to set the speaker cabinet on the floor with the amp sitting on top of the cab. 

If you are a “set it and forget it” type of player when it comes to your amp then the height of your amp may not matter much. 

But if you are constantly tweaking the controls on your amp then the oversized or 4 x 12” construction will be more convenient so you don’t have to bend over all the time to reach your amp.

Which one should you choose?

If you mainly play at home I think the 2 x 12” style cab provides plenty of volume and it’s my personal favorite. 

But if you really dig low frequencies, perhaps you like to “down tune” your guitar or play 7-string guitars, then I can understand the appeal of an oversized cab or 4 x 12” to get the sonic advantages of a larger speaker box. 

Style is also a factor to consider; if you play classic rock, hard rock, or metal, then let’s face it, the full-size cabs are part of the look that you (and the audience) expect. 

If you consider yourself the next Slash or Hendrix then the 4 x 12” setup is the obvious choice. Just make sure that you can afford a road crew to move it around for you. 

Besides style and frequency response, I think the most important element for choosing your cabinet is where you are playing because this is where the wattage rating really matters. 

At home, playing in a small room definitely doesn’t warrant having a huge cabinet and at gigs, the sound engineer will probably mic your speaker into the house PA system. 

However, depending on the size of the venue, you may or may not have (working) monitor speakers. 

So if you are using your own speakers as your monitor and you move around a lot, the tilted 4 x 12” cab’s wide output spread could do a lot of good. 

And if you ever play outside… the more power the better because the sound waves will ride off into the sunset if there are no walls to echo off of. 

But unless some of these circumstances apply, a couple of 12” speakers should meet your needs with no problem. 

Finally, wood is getting very expensive these days and the cost of speaker cabinets is affected so if you already own a cabinet with 12” speakers and mainly play at home, don’t forget that you can always try swapping different speakers inside before you make any big decisions.