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I am a native german speaker, so I have absolutely no good intuitions when it comes to choosing the right alternative out of a candidate set. Today, one problem was: How should I call the sound-making thingy? Is it a "speaker" or is it a "loud speaker"? Is there any difference?

  • Is one term more technical than the other?
  • Is one term stylistically marked in certain contexts? If so, which?
  • Are there any useful, free, online resources that could help me answer similar questions in the future?
  • Are there any objective criteria?

What I have come up with so far is: If I choose "loud speaker", I no longer might get the "person that is speaking" interpretation, but in the intended usage of the term (a manual for a technical device), such an interpretation should not arise anyways. So, it seems like an arbitrary choice to me.

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

Neither term is more technical. There are certain contexts where there is a difference between the two words. COCA is a good resource for answering such questions in the future. Yes there are objective criteria.

Generally speaking loudspeaker and speaker (in the context of a stereo system) are synonyms. However... I've heard many aficionados use the term loudspeaker pejoratively to indicate the sound quality isn't good enough for them.

The pejorative quality comes from the comparison to speakers used for public announcements. (ie a PA system) Speakers used in PA systems are loud, but otherwise not very good. A corpus search shows that loudspeaker almost always refers to sound systems used by activists, police, firefighters, stadium sports announcers, etc. They are used in public places both outdoors and indoors where loudness is more important that their dynamic range.

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I think your corpus search idea draws a mistaken conclusion. Obviously loudspeaker is a more "disambiguating" term than just speaker, which in context could even refer to a person rather than an electrically-powered transduction device. So there are bound to be more references to speakers in texts known to be about stereo/hi-fi systems, simply because no-one needs that disambiguation there. So it's not that using loudspeakers implies "sonically inferior" - it's just that people talking about good quality kit don't usually bother with those first four letters. – FumbleFingers Sep 21 '11 at 21:02

"Loudspeaker" (one word) seems a bit archaic to me. While not wrong, I feel like I would find it in the context of instructions for a "Hi-Fi system". But it is the name of the device.

"Loud speaker" (two words) implies a person who speaks loudly.

"Speaker" in a technical context seems clear enough. That's what I'd go with.

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Loudspeaker would be perfectly acceptable and potentially more clear in British English. Typically the term might be more appropriate for large devices positioned outdoors in order to broadcast sound over a wide area, but since most such devices are technologically similar regardless of size, it would be quite correct to use it for any such device, of any size and in any situation. I can't imagine a situation in which it could be misunderstood.

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Essentially they both mean a device which produces sound by converting an electrical signal into sound. The only difference being that the term loudspeaker means a speaker which is capable of producing a loud sound i.e. a speaker having a high wattage rating.

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The term "loudspeaker" does not imply anything louder than a "speaker". The common usage is described in the other answers. – Chenmunka Sep 8 '15 at 11:19

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