How Deep Should an Audio Cabinet Be?

Understanding what kind of space is appropriate for systems that can be cranked up to eleven. April 20, 2007

What is the standard depth for a stereo/audio equipment cabinet (minus TV/monitor) - 18", 20", 24"? I know the depth of TVs and monitors vary greatly. I'm designing entertainment centers to place TV/monitors on.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor L:
Most consumer grade stereo equipment is about 14" deep x 17" wide. This is measured from the knobs up front to the wire jacks on the back. Commercial grade equipment is 19" wide to fit in rackmounts.

To this you need to add at least 4" of depth for the wiring in back. Also, you need to consider heat dissipation. Amplifiers especially generate a fair amount of heat. If not allowed to vent, the cabinet will get warmer than is considered good for the electronics.

Last year I did a remodel on a radio station's broadcast studio. I designed and built the cabinetry but picked the studio engineers' brains a lot while we were in the planning stage. Space was at a premium, so I needed to strike a balance between enough room for the equipment and getting the most usage out of the studio floor plan, since they frequently host live musicians on air. We settled on 20" deep (front to rear, on the inside of the cabinets). I made access doors on the rear for service, but the equipment was rackmounted flush and open, without doors, up front.

Be advised that some commercial equipment is very deep. Check your equipment's size first. I needed to make a few of the cases 24" deep.

From contributor T:
There is no standard. You have to spec your dimensions based on the equipment at hand (plus air space). My best suggestion is always demand a signed invoice of the equipment that the client has bought, then proceed with your design. If you must design a tight fit, then you must consider (larger) air intake and exhaust and a mechanism to move that air other than just convection.

My next best suggestion is always design toward the "more room is better" approach. Designing a tight fit will only come back to bite you for many reasons; not enough air, not enough room for lots of wires, not enough room for service, not enough room for hinges, or other clearance problems, and the kicker, not enough room to add the last piece(s) of equipment that was overlooked or added by, say, the cable or phone companies.

Of course it is needless to say that you must get signed off drawings to protect yourself, but in the end if there is a problem, it does no one any good. Keep in mind that not all equipment needs to visible, so use this to your advantage. The number one killer of electronic equipment is dust. No. 2 is heat. The rest is up to a well thought out and (approved) plan.

From contributor M:
Wouldn't dust really amount to heat as an electronics killer? In other words, doesn't dust kill by coating the internal components of electronic equipment, insulating them for heat dissipation purposes, and causing them to overheat?

From contributor L:
That's a pretty fine parsing of heat and dust, arguably true, but easily separable. The equipment generates its own heat which needs to be dissipated. While the dust will indeed insulate the electronic components and exacerbate problems related to overheating, the dust alone can also wreak havoc on laser reading and the moving parts in CD and DVD players. Both are problems and need attention.

From contributor T:
1) Dust can cause total failure.
2) Overheated parts can be replaced.

From the original questioner:
These entertainment centers I'm designing are for the mass market and are able to blend with other venues such as bedroom and home/office, etc. I'm currently making them 18" deep. I was wondering if that was an adequate depth for these units. The back and side panels can be made in such a way as to allow for proper ventilation. (These panels are removable. The sides can use speaker grill material, etc.) What depth is needed for hard drives, DVD changers, etc.? I'd like to attract some serious audiophiles to this concept without making the units too deep to be utilized with the other venues.

From contributor L:
As was said before, err for more room rather than less. 18" seems like a bare minimum to me. Also, serious audiophiles like amps with tremendous power because their speakers demand it. There is often one for each channel, and pre-amps as well. They even like equipment with vacuum tubes, such as a tubed amp or CD player. They seem to like the warm tone it gives. This also means more heat, needing more air circulation. Most high end audio cabinets will have some sort of fan to aid this. I have yet to find a silent one.

As stated above, there is no standard size. 14" x 17" is an average size for decent consumer grade equipment. Just be aware of the need for wiring chases, and the fact that this stuff is no longer hooked up with zip cord. The connector cables are thick and take some room to exit the equipment and make the turn towards the next piece. High end speaker cable can be as thick as your finger. If the system incorporates a remote video monitor and surround sound, there is still more wiring. Leave plenty of space.

From contributor R:
As a serious audiophile myself, I have to say contributor L is the closest... But 17" wide is a non-starter; 19" is a minimum.

There are really two basic approaches you should decide between: those where the equipment is on display, and those which hide the equipment in furniture. I'd say that there is a lot of competition in the former space, so if I was doing this, I'd concentrate on nice furniture that hides the equipment. Sounds sexist, but this is what gets the wives to let the stereo be in the front room.

Access to the back to hook up cabling is a must. Also a good way to route the power cables separate from the signal cables is required. Ventilation is huge because lots of this stuff will generate a good deal of heat. My amps do a good job of heating the room they are in during the winter!

One thing to consider as well is building into the design a remote IR sensor so the doors can be closed and the remotes still work. Most take a 1/2" hole that can be anywhere. Just make sure it's got a clear shot from wherever the owner will stand using the remote.

Other features could be added depending on how high-end your customers are. Shelf isolation is probably the first step up - designing shelves that incorporate one of the many vibration isolation devices like cones or ceramic bearings, etc. Google for "stillpoints" for what many high end audiophiles consider state of the art. There are of course many options less expensive but this will give you an idea of where the madness can lead and how much money they (we!) will spend.

Consider what your customers will put in. Home theater setups often require space for more equipment than simple stereo setups. Get an inventory of what they are putting in, and remember to allow lots of space in the back for cabling.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor D:
I'm getting a Yamaha A/V receiver. It's not a particularly high-end model, but its dimensions are 17-1/8" W x 6" H x 14-3/8" D. To allow for cables at the back, I would also recommend adding 4", making a bare minimum of 18-3/8" depth for one of these receivers.

There is at least one manufacturer making audio cabinets with passive convection cooling (Sanus). They build ventilation slots into the bottom somewhere (probably by having the bottom smaller than the frame) and the top is raised off of the cabinet with spacers. This method will allow the heated air to escape at the top and draw in cool air at the bottom.

Smoked glass doors on the front of the cabinet are de'rigure for A/V cabinets, so IR remotes will still work with the doors closed (and displays will still be visible).

If you must go for solid doors, there are IR repeaters available which use a sensor to pick up the remote signals, then process them and emit them via IR transmitters that are placed/stuck in front of each device.