Component Vs Coaxial Speakers: Differences, Pros/Cons, And Which Is Best

component vs coaxial speakers featured image

Getting better car or home speakers can make a huge difference in the music you enjoy. Everybody has certain wants, needs, and of course, a budget.

On that subject, it’s helpful to understand component vs coaxial speaker differences why they matter before you go shopping. Not just the differences, but also:

  • Pros and cons of coaxial and component speakers
  • What type of sound coaxial and component speakers put out
  • Which one is best for you, and if there’s really a “better” choice
  • Installation difficulty

I’ll also help you better understand which is a better choice for you. Let’s get started!

Contents

What is the difference between coaxial and component speakers?

Component vs coaxial speaker comparison

What are coaxial speakers?

What are coaxial speakers diagram & parts labeled

Coaxial car speakers are basically a 2-way speaker system built together: the tweeter, woofer, and a simple crossover are assembled into one piece. They’re designed to replace older & lower-quality speakers by fitting in the same hole for easy installation. They provide better sound than a single cone speaker and allow more price options along with easier installation choices.

Coaxial speakers are a 2-way speaker design with a tweeter, woofer, and a simple crossover built into a single speaker assembly. Most provide a woofer cone with a separate tweeter for good full-range sound quality and frequency coverage, unlike basic single-cone speakers.

You can think of coaxial speakers as a compromise between single cone speakers (the cheapest type of speaker, with poor sound quality) and a more advanced component speaker system. They’re very popular as they offer good sound quality but don’t cost as much as more expensive speaker options like component speakers.

Coaxial speakers have some great advantages:

  • Easy sound upgrade: they’re a drop-in replacement for older factory-installed & bad sounding single cone speakers.
  • There’s a wide range of performance & price options for buyers: different levels of tweeter quality, crossover design, cone materials, higher power ratings, and so on.
  • They give somewhat similar performance to separate 2-way component car speakers – but without the need for a separate speaker crossover you have to install, too.
  • They’re easy to find and very popular – in fact, they’re the most popular car speaker upgrade and it’s really easy to find them when shopping.
  • Affordability: good coaxial car speakers can be found for around $25 and up. Very good quality coaxials are only about $50-$65 or so.
  • Coaxial speakers can immediately fix the poor frequency response many people have with their older speakers.

Coaxial vs standard/single cone speakers

Standard vs coaxial speakers comparison image with frequency response graphs

Coaxial speakers provide much better sound than standard low-end single cone speakers – even those with a whizzer cone added to supposedly improve the sound. Coaxial speakers are a type of 2-way design where the job of producing sound is split between them for best results. This way a full range of sound can be produced.

The thing is that plain ‘ole car speakers like you’ll find in many vehicles and home stereo systems are terrible! They’re well-known for bad sound and have been one of the single biggest complaints of my car stereo installation customers for years.

But why? As you can see in my picture above, they’re bad sounding because only have a single speaker (woofer/midrange) isn’t good enough. There’s a big range of sound they can’t produce well – if at all.

The truth is that single cone speakers simply can’t produce great sounding music like coaxial models do. Coaxial speakers make up the difference by using a tweeter to take care of the upped end of the musical sound range, filling in what other speakers can’t produce.

2-way vs 3-way coaxial speakers

2-way vs 3-way coaxial speaker examples image

3-way coaxial speakers are simply an extension of 2-way models with an additional small speaker (usually another tweeter or type of mid range) added for extra sound performance. 

It’s important to understand that just because they might look better doesn’t mean they sound better than a very good 2-way model. Some definitely do have improved sound production, however.

For example, some 3-way full range speakers add a tiny piezo type tweeter than can exceed the upper-frequency limit of standard tweeters, allowing for enhanced sound. Really good models offer not just a higher range of sound frequencies but a nearly flat sound response which is ideal.

The main thing to take away is that a quality and well-designed 2-way speaker can give great sound and most of the time is your best value for the dollar. Don’t spend the time, effort, and money chasing after 3-way speakers due to thinking they’re better just because of the added speaker.

Like many other things, it comes down to the quality and the design details. I recommend shopping primarily for a good quality 2-way coaxial speaker set.

What are component speakers?

What are component speakers diagram

Component speakers are a speaker system in which separately mounted speakers and a more advanced crossover are designed to provide advanced sound quality. They’re the next level above coaxial speakers and offer better performance than coaxials can provide.

Components speakers, which are made up of a separately mounted woofer, tweeter, and crossover, are a more advanced speaker system that provides better sound quality than coaxial speakers.

One reason for this is that component speakers often use better dome tweeter and woofer materials along with a more advanced (and better) speaker crossover. They may also include features such as a tweeter volume reduction option, tweeter fusing to protect against overload, and additional wiring configurations.

Some are even designed to allow assembling them together so they resemble coaxial speakers for easier installation.

Unlike coaxial speakers, component speakers offer:

  • Better frequency response and sound accuracy overall – even entry-level component speaker sets can have really great sound quality!
  • Tweeters with a more rigid and high-performance design: silk, aluminum, ceramic, or other special dome materials are common.
  • More power handling – often 75 watts RMS, 100 watts RMS, or more.
  • -12dB per octave crossover slopes (or greater) versus the standard -6dB/octave crossover used on coaxial tweeters.
  • Better crossover component quality.
  • Better speaker connector terminals and installation accessories.
  • The ability to mount the tweeters at a line-of-sight listening angle and height for better stereo imaging during music playback.

That being said, it’s important to understand that the installation process is harder than for coaxial speakers and can require custom fabrication for the tweeter mounts. Also, you’ll need to mount the crossovers as well, ideally away from moisture, and relatively close to where the speakers are mounted.

They’re also a bit more costly, too, as many component speaker sets cost around 1.5x to several times more than coaxials of the same size.

I’ve been a longtime user of component speakers and love them. Hands down, I can confidently say that a good (not even the most expensive model!) set of them can sound fantastic when used properly and powered by an amplifier.

Coaxial vs component speaker crossover differences

Component vs coaxial speaker crossovers diagram

Shown here is a diagram comparing coaxial vs component speaker crossovers. Coaxial speakers normally use a simple high-pass crossover only for the tweeter to block bass and none for the woofer. The result is overall good sound, but with room for improvement. Component speakers, however, use a more advanced crossover design that filters unwanted sound frequencies from reaching the woofer or tweeter. The result is less distortion, more accurate sound, and a better listening experience.

As I mentioned before, component speakers use more advanced crossovers than coaxials. They use 2 stages of filtering vs the single stage used with coaxials. This means more effective filtering of bass and midrange sound from the tweeter and more high-range sound is blocked from the woofer.

Most coaxials use a single cheap capacitor connected to the tweeter mounted and nothing for the woofer. Instead, they use a lower-cost design that relies on the fact that most woofers “roll off” (gradually stop producing) higher frequencies naturally.

Although it gets the job done and it works, there’s still room for improvement and the sound quality is compromised.

Component speaker crossovers use a better design

Component speakers, by comparison, use an external crossover with a designed for the specific speakers used and are made using better quality capacitors and inductors. They’re much more effective at preventing unwanted sound frequencies from reaching the speakers that aren’t suited for them.

The end result is much better clarity & lower distortion, allowing you to better hear the music as it was intended to be heard.

Even better, some component speaker crossovers include a tweeter volume control option. This is helpful if the tweeter seems too harsh sounding to you. Some also include tweeter overload circuit protection to avoid burning them out during high power delivery.

Wiring component speakers and coaxial speakers

Component vs coaxial speaker wiring diagram

Both types of speakers are fairly easy to wire – aside from the additional wire & labor needed for mounting component speakers properly.

Here’s a simple breakdown of the wiring connections needed:

  • Coaxial speakers: wired from the head unit or amplifier positive wire and negative wire to the same terminals on the speaker, same as factory-installed speakers. (Note that when replacing some factory-installed “premium” speaker systems, you may need to run new speaker wire to bypass the troublesome original wiring).
  • Components: 
  • Connected from the head unit or amplifier’s speaker outputs to the INPUTS of the speaker crossover.
  • Connect the tweeter output of the crossover to the tweeter’s positive and negative terminals.
  • Connect the woofer output from the crossover to the woofer’s positive and negative terminals.

example of component speakers installed in car door

Shown here is a typical component speaker installation: the woofer, tweeter, and crossover are mounted inside a car door. This is a pretty common installation and gives excellent sound, although it takes more time & money to complete.

Note: While it’s not required, I highly recommend using an amplifier with component speakers for the best results and maximum sound quality. (More about that further below)

Which is better, coaxial or component speakers?

Coaxial or component speakers image

The best way for me to answer this question depends on what the definition of “better” means to you. After all, you’re the best judge of what you like, right?

The simplest answer is that component speakers are the best in terms of sound quality, power handling, tweeter & woofer technology options, and installation creativity.

However, that’s not what everyone needs – not everyone cares about super-crisp sound, more power handling, or better speaker crossovers. Perhaps the best thing for me to do is to simplify it with a short comparison below.

There are several differences between coaxial speakers and component speakers you should know:

  • Coaxial speakers fit the entire 2-way speaker system into a single speaker assembly. Most component speaker systems (aside from a few rare designs) are separate and everything has to be mounted individually.
  • Coaxial speakers, in order to keep costs down and fit into a small space, have some compromises. A basic -6dB/octave crossover for the tweeter and many use a lower-cost tweeter material. Component speakers, however, have better crossovers (-12dB/octave minimum, usually) and better tweeter materials like silk, aluminum, or others.
  • Coaxial speakers tend to have lower power ratings while component speakers tend to have higher power rating limits. Coaxials tend to range around say 35W-65W RMS or so while components typically are available in 65W-100W RMS or higher options.
  • Coaxial speakers are simple to install while component speakers are harder and take more time & effort.
  • Component speakers, because of their design, offer better sound quality and clarity than coaxial speakers. Coaxials are good, but many are average (however, still much better than standard single-cone speakers).

It’s a lot easier to find coaxial speakers when shopping than it is to find component speakers. Coaxial speakers, as I mentioned earlier, are a lot more popular and because of it, many stores have them in stock.

Even your local department store, auto parts store, and “mom and pop” electronics stores probably has some in the car audio section.

Coaxial speakers are great for budget sound!

As far as price is concerned, prices for component speakers start at about the same price as a very good pair of coaxial speakers. You’ll pay less for coaxial speakers and have more options to choose from depending on what you can afford.

For example, I installed quite a few average quality coaxial speakers in cars, trucks, and even boats over the years. They’re good enough for many people yet still within reach of what they could afford when you add in the cost of installation.

Most of the time you can expect to pay somewhere around $45 for good coaxials and about $75-$100 for a good component set.

Should I get component or coaxial speakers?

Here’s a comparison to help you decide if you’re unsure.

You should get coaxial speakers if:

  • You don’t have a lot to spend or just need something that’s good enough to sound ok – not “high end” sound
  • You want an easy way to replace your old speakers
  • You’re not planning to amplify your speakers and will use a standard stereo
  • You don’t want to do the extra work or running extra wire needed for component speakers
  • You don’t have the time, tools, or money to spare on a custom installation

You should get component speakers if:

  • Sound quality is your what you’re mainly after
  • Want to use speakers with more advanced materials (especially for the tweeters)
  • You prefer speaker crossovers with a steeper cutoff and/or tweeter volume reduction option
  • Will be doing a custom home, car stereo, or marine speaker installation with higher-end electronics
  • You want improved stereo imaging for music playback and critical listening with high-fidelity recordings
  • You would like to drive your speakers with an amplifier for extra power and clarity

The good news is that there are some component speaker systems that can be used a lot like component speakers, making them easier to install. You’ll save a lot of work & hassle in the process.

As I noted above, component speakers should be driven with an amplifier for the best results. You simply won’t get great sound from them using a low-power stereo unit.

Coaxial style component speaker set example

An example of a component speaker set (in this case by speaker company MB Quart) that can be put together to work like a coaxial speaker for easier installation and using less space.

Do I need an amp for component or coaxial speakers?

Image of a car amplifiers installed with component and coaxial speakers

It would be a bit misleading to say you “need” an amp for your speakers. The better thing for me to say is that there are some great advantages you’ll get by using an amplifier to drive component or coaxial speakers.

Here’s a list of reasons why amplifying your speakers is a good idea:

  • Lower distortion & cleaner sound
  • The ability to block power-robbing & distorting low-end bass by using a crossover
  • Lots of power available for much more volume
  • A lot more flexibility for system set up

For example, most car stereo units, despite the misleading advertising they have, output only about 15-18 watts RMS per channel at the most.

And that’s not clean, great-sounding power, either. They’ll start to distort badly and sound poorly when pushed to their maximum output.

You’ll be fine for every day listening to your speakers at a moderate to moderately high volume with a good car stereo head unit. However, using an amp can take your audio system to the next level.

How does an amp make speakers sound?

Using an amplifier (even a decent one, not a high-end unit) can make a big difference in how your car audio system sounds. Amplifiers will provide several sound options you can’t get from a head unit – even the expensive ones!

Here’s a list of what an amplifier can offer:

  • Built-in high pass crossovers to block distorting and power-robbing low end bass your speakers can’t handle
  • Higher signal-to-noise (SNR) ratio, giving better clarity than a head unit can provide
  • Much better listening volume & power left over, without the high distortion you get when you crank up a head unit
  • More installation options and bass boost

I’ve been powering my component speakers with amplifiers for years and it’s like a night and day difference in sound quality! It’s a bit more work, but well worth it and I’ve had readers report exactly the same too.

I recommend using a decent quality amplifier with 50 watts RMS per channel or higher for best results.

More great speaker and sound articles

Don’t leave just yet – check out my other excellent articles!

Why Do 6×9 Speakers Look Different? A 6×9″ Speaker Facts Guide

Why do 6x9 speakers look different featured image

At first glance, it may seem like there’ no real reason for 6×9″ speakers to have their unusual shape. But as you’ll learn, there are some good reasons for them. Not only that, but they have some advantages you might find interesting!

But why do 6×9 speakers look different? Are they a good choice for your car stereo system?  How do 6x9s compare to other speakers?

Read on and I’ll tell you everything you need to know.

Contents

Why do 6×9 speakers look different?

Example of older car with 6x9 speakers

Why 6×9 speakers?

6×9″ car speakers were originally used to make good use of limited space in vehicles from the factory. This was mainly the deck near the rear window in older vehicles (sometimes called a parcel shelf). In many vehicles – everything from muscle cars to luxury vehicles – there wasn’t much space to fit speakers.

In fact, in a fair amount of cars back in the day, there weren’t any front speakers at all! It wasn’t until further into the 1970s and afterward that adding a decent stereo and better factory speakers became common with vehicle manufacturers.

Back in those days, the car audio speaker sizes we have now weren’t standard so speaker options that would fit were limited.

Their shape offers more sound in a narrower space

As early as the 1960s some cars and other vehicles used 6×9″ car speakers to offer a better sound by using an oval shape. This allowed taking advantage of the longer width (side to side) rather than the shorter back to front panel measurements.

This allows fitting an overall larger speaker cone which wouldn’t be possible otherwise by using a round speaker. Similarly, 4×10 speakers do the same thing but in even more limited rear deck space.

How big are 6×9 speakers?

6x9 speaker size measurements diagram

Example measurements for a typical 6×9″ speaker. The overall measurements vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and can be slightly different for both the outside measurements and the cutout size too.

6×9 inch speakers aren’t standardized in their measurements which means that different brands and models vary a little bit from each other. However, in general, they’re roughly 6.5″ x 9 5/16″ (164mm x 235mm) in size.

The cutout size, in which the speaker basket will fit for top or bottom mounting, is about 5 5/16″ x 9 5/16″ (143mm x 235mm).

One thing that’s important to know is that the depth can be very different. In most cases, 6×9″ speakers with large magnets have a depth of slightly over 3 inches while lower-power and budget models are closer to 2.5″ or 2.75″ or so.

Why 6×9 speakers? 6x9s vs round speakers

Diagram comparing 6x9 speakers vs round speakers

If you compare the area of an ellipse (oval) from a 6×9″ speaker to a similarly sized round speaker, you’ll see that the 6×9 speaker offers much more cone area. (Note: This is a simple comparison – speaker cone area is more complicated to figure out so I’ve used a more basic example).

You might not have realized it, but when it comes to speakers at least, size does matter! It matters a LOT, in fact.

That’s because the larger the surface area of a speaker cone, the more air it can move when in motion. This means for you more volume and especially more bass sound.

What is the difference between 6×8 and 6×9 speakers?

6x8 inch vs 6x9 inch speaker comparison image

6×8 inch speakers are extremely similar to 6×9 speakers and are made for replacing special factory vehicle speakers. They’re just slightly smaller than their counterparts.

6×8 inch speakers are identical to and very close in size to 6×9 inch speakers. They’re simply slightly smaller and look nearly the same.

They’re designed to replace some factory-installed original manufacturer speakers where 6×9″ models won’t fit without modification. They offer a way to get a better-sounding replacement but without the need to modify the car’s speaker openings or use a special adapter.

In fact, in some cases, a 6×9″ speaker can’t fit in the place of a factory 6×8″ speaker due to extremely limited space or not enough clearance for a 6×9″ speaker cone to move freely without touching.

Are 6×9 speakers good for bass?

6x9 vs 8 inch speaker comparison image

6×9″ speakers offer a big advantage over standard round speakers: despite taking up about the same front to back space as say 6″ or 6.5″ speakers, their width is much bigger, giving them a much larger cone for moving air.

This means 6×9″ speakers can produce more bass compared to others.

Yes, they’re better (in many cases – it depends on the speakers being compared) than other speakers for bass. They’re not a substitute, however, for subwoofers and shouldn’t be used for them.

However, in high quality & properly matched speaker enclosures, it’s possible to get great sound with plenty of bass from them. In fact, 6×9″ speakers have a similar cone size to 8″ woofers!

How much bass do I get from 6×9 speakers?

The amount of low-frequency bass sound you can get from 6×9 depends on a lot of things, but you can roughly expect about the same as mid-level 8 inch woofers.

Some of the things that make a big difference are:

  • The speaker box size – many 6×9″ speaker boxes are too small to produce good bass, so they often work best in trunks or larger boxes.
  • The speaker quality & power rating: speakers with stiffer cones and a higher power rating are better for power-hungry bass.
  • The speaker’s frequency response: You’ll need to pick 6x9s that work well for lower bass. Optionally, you can find 6×9 woofers that are designed just for bass or are part of a 2-way speaker set.

What is the frequency range of 6×9 speakers?

6x9 speaker frequency response examples diagram

Shown here are some graphs showing the frequency response for common 6×9″ speakers you’ll find anywhere. Just like any other type of speaker (6.5″, 4″, and so on) the frequency range depends on the speaker’s design & level of performance.

The frequency range of most full-range 6×9 inch speakers is just like any other size: somewhere between 60hz to 20KHz or so depending on the performance of the speaker.

For example, a 1-way speaker has a more limited range and is a poor performer overall. They’re weak in the upper range with higher-pitched sound response dropping off badly somewhere before 16KHz. That means they have lousy higher-frequency sound production and don’t sound very “crisp.”

High-quality 2-way and 3-way 6x9s add one or more tweeters to cover the additional high-frequency range that the woofer can’t produce. These can produce sound in the range of somewhere around 60Hz to 20Khz and even higher.

While 1-way speakers may have an extra cone called a “whizzer” cone attached for better high-frequency sound, they don’t really add much and these types of speakers have disappointing sound quality.

What about the bass range?

6x9s are just like any other car speaker in that they aren’t subwoofers and most can’t produce very deep bass like a subwoofer can. However, 6x9s, as I mentioned earlier, are some of the best speakers for bass for full-range music.

Some can perform to below 60hz and still produce good bass levels. This is especially true for 6×9″ component speaker sets which separate the tweeter and woofer cones with 2-way crossovers for great sound performance.

Do 6.5 speakers sound better than 6×9?

6x9 vs 6.5 inch speaker comparison

There’s not a “one size fits all” answer to this question because there are many factors that affect car speaker sound. To make a long story short, the best answer is that it depends.

To summarize:

  • A high quality 2-way 6.5 in. speaker will sound better than most 1-way or lower quality 6×9 in. speakers.
  • A high quality, 2 or 3-way 6×9 in. speaker that’s well designed will outperform an identical 6.5 in. speaker.
  • If the installation quality or sound system isn’t done right, even a great quality 6×9 in. speaker can sound worse than a 6.5″ speaker that’s installed & used correctly.

Ultimately, assuming all things are equal (proper installation, the same audio source & power, and the same speaker type) a 6×9 inch speaker will outperform an identical 6.5″ speaker. Don’t forget that as I mentioned earlier they’re the best choice for bass compared to a similar round speaker.

Do I need an amp for my 6×9 speakers?

Image of 6x9 speakers and car amplifier

It would be a bit misleading to say you “need” an amp for 6×9 speakers. The better thing for me to say is that there are some great advantages you’ll get by using an amplifier to drive 6x9s.

Here’s a list of reasons why amplifying your speakers is a good idea:

  • Lower distortion & cleaner sound
  • The ability to block power-robbing & distorting low-end bass by using a crossover
  • Lots of power available for much more volume
  • A lot more flexibility for system set up

For example, most car stereo units, despite the misleading advertising they have, can provide only about 15-18 watts RMS per channel at the most.

And that’s not clean, great-sounding power, either. They’ll start to distort badly and sound poorly when pushed to their maximum output.

You’ll be fine for every day listening to your speakers at a moderate to moderately high volume with a good car stereo head unit. However, using an amp can take your audio system to the next level.

How does an amp make 6×9 speakers sound?

Even a decent budget car amplifier can provide some of the cleanest sound you’ll hear with good car speakers. Since most amplifiers these days have an optional crossover feature built-in, you can block the low-end bass that smaller speaker systems can’t handle.

This will prevent distortion and you can get great volume from your 6x9s while still having really clean & crisp sound.

The sound you’ll get with a good amp and proper installation will be very clear. That’s because an amplifier will have a much higher signal to noise (SNR) ratio compared to an in-dash stereo, meaning the audio will be more clear and accurate.

How big of an amp for car 6×9 speakers do you need?

What to look for in amplifier for 6x9s

The good news is that these days it’s pretty easy to get a great deal on an excellent-sounding car amp for 6x9s. While it’s still true that budget brands don’t have the same technology or ultra-high end specs like more expensive brands like Rockford Fosgate or JL Audio, they’re still pretty good if you shop carefully.

When picking a car amp for 6x9s I recommend you use these guidelines:

  • 50 watts RMS or more power per channel. 65W or 75W or more is even better if you get the option. (Don’t go by the peak power rating listed on an amplifier – it’s very misleading)
  • A good signal-to-noise (SNR) ratio of around 90dB or higher. This is an electrical spec for the level of the internal noise signal to the music signal. The higher, the better, with 100dB being excellent. (90dB is still good for most people)
  • High-pass crossovers for blocking lower-end, distorting, and power-robbing bass below 60Hz. I recommend an adjustable crossover, but that’s not important.
  • For factory systems, you’ll save money by buying an amplifier with speaker level (high-level) inputs built-in. You can use RCA line-level adapters if you like also, of course.

How hard you can push coaxial 6×9 speakers with an amp?

Coaxial 6x9s should be treated like other speakers. The amount of power they can take from an amp will be limited by:

  • The RMS power rating of the speaker
  • Whether or not you’re driving them with heavy low-end bass in the music
  • Clipping from the amplifier (hitting the output limit of the amplifier, driving it to clipping)

Ultimately, you’ll get close to, but not all the way, to the RMS power rating for the speakers assuming it’s accurately stated by the manufacturer.

If you really want to drive them hard, you’ll want to (1) use an amplifier capable of more power per channel than the speakers to avoid clipping, and (2) use a high-pass crossover to block low-end bass.

You’ll need to pick good quality speakers with voice coils suited to more power handling if you want to drive them hard without them burning out.

What is a good 6×9 crossover frequency?

The high-pass crossovers in an amp are usually a preset crossover frequency, a 2-3 selectable switch positions, or an adjustable dial. I recommend using a high-pass frequency of around 56Hz to 60Hz or so with 6x9s for most full range car speakers.

This will block the lower end bass they can’t handle and that should be sent to subwoofers, while still allowing the lower-end range of vocal and drums in music to be heard. Of course, if you’re still getting distortion from your speakers it’s a good idea to try increasing the frequency (100Hz or a bit higher are good).

What is a component 6×9 speaker set?

What is a 6x9 component speaker set example diagram

A 6×9 component speaker set uses separate tweeters and woofer along with a speaker crossover for great sound quality. The speaker crossover filters out midrange & bass sound before it can reach the tweeter. Likewise, the woofer receivers only midrange & bass sound frequencies. The result is very low distortion and very clear & enjoyable musical production.

Component speakers use separate tweeters and woofers, along with a speaker crossover, to provide a higher level of sound quality along with lower distortion and improved musical accuracy. They’re similar to 2-way coaxial 6×9 speakers, but without the compromises required in manufacturing those.

Tweeters distort when subjected to midrange or bass sound. Likewise, woofers perform very poorly when driven with higher-frequency sounds. By blocking these from reaching the speakers they’re not suited for, the speaker crossover splits up the incoming musical signal.

The result is some of the best sound possible. There are a few advantages but also some disadvantages when compared to coaxial 6x9s.

Component vs coaxial 6×9 speakers

Here’s a basic comparison chart to help compare the two.

ItemCoaxialComponentCostCheap to medium priceMedium to high priceSound qualityDecent to goodVery good to excellentInstallationEasy/mediumModerate to hardBuying selectionVery goodFairFeatures availableLowGood (depends on the set)

There are a few things to bear in mind when it comes to choosing coaxial vs component 6×9 speakers:

  • It’s much easier to find coaxial speakers in retail stores than component sets. Also, there’s a very wide range of prices so coaxial speakers are great for people on a budget.
  • Component speakers can take some work to install while coaxial speakers are usually pretty easy. 
  • Coaxial speakers have tweeters that are most often a cheap material like Mylar or PEI. They’re ok, but not very good when compared to those included with a component set.

Most coaxials use a single capacitor to the tweeter mounted on top and use none at all for the woofer. Instead, they use a lower-cost design that relies on the fact that most woofers “roll off” (stop producing) higher frequencies naturally. Despite that, some treble will always get through and affect the sound quality a little bit.

Component speakers, on the other hand, have an external crossover with more advanced circuitry that blocks unwanted frequencies to both the tweeter and the woofer. The end result is better speaker performance and sound, higher volume without distortion, and more clarity.

Not only that, but some component speaker crossovers include a built-in setting to reduce the tweeter volume if it’s too bright (too harsh sounding) to you. Some also may include built-in fusing to prevent you from accidentally blowing the tweeters at high volume.

Which is better, coaxial or component 6×9 speakers?

Component vs coaxial 6x9 speakers image

In my opinion, the best way to answer this question depends on what really matters to you and what you need to enjoy your music. After all, you’re the best judge of what you like, right?

The short answer is that component speakers are better in terms of functionality, power handling, dome tweeter and woofer material options, and of course, they sound better.

However, that’s not what everyone needs – not everyone cares about super-crisp sound, more power handling, or better speaker crossovers.

Should I get component or coaxial 6×9 speakers?

Here’s a comparison to help you if you’re having a hard time deciding.

You should get coaxial 6×9 speakers if:

  • You have a tight budget or just need something that’s fairly good and you’re not super-picky
  • ou want an easy sound upgrade over your existing speakers
  • You’re not using an advanced sound system with amplifiers powering the speakers
  • You don’t want to do the extra work or customization needed for installing component speakers
  • You don’t have the time, tools, or money to spare on a custom installation

You should get component 6×9 speakers if:

  • Sound quality is your most important goal
  • Want to use speakers with more advanced materials (especially for the tweeters)
  • You prefer speaker crossovers with a steeper cutoff and/or tweeter volume reduction option
  • Will be doing a custom home, car stereo, or marine speaker installation with higher-end electronics
  • You want improved stereo imaging for music playback and critical listening with high-fidelity recordings
  • You would like to drive your speakers with an amplifier for extra power and clarity

Ultimately, it’s up to you. Additionally, there are some component speaker systems available that can be used a lot like component speakers, making them easier to install. You’ll save a lot of work & hassle in the process.

As I noted above, component speakers should be driven with an amplifier for the best results. You simply won’t get great sound from them using a low-power stereo unit.

More great speaker-related articles you’ll love

Don’t leave just yet! I’ve got more excellent articles to share lots of helpful info about speakers, speaker wire, and more!

Questions, comments, or suggestions?

Got questions, comments, or feedback? Feel free to leave a comment below or you can use my Contact page.

What Are Coaxial Speakers? The Coaxial Speaker Fact Guide

What are coaxial speakers featured image

You’ve got a lot of choices when it comes to speakers. As it turns out, coaxial speakers are hands-down one of the most popular types of speakers in the world. I’ve installed tons of them over the years myself!

But what are coaxial speakers? How are they different from component speakers, 2-way & 3-way systems, and standard speakers? And why are they so popular?

In this article, I’ll explain what they are, their pros and cons, and show you which coaxial speakers are the best type to buy. I’ll also show how they stack up against component speakers.

Contents

What are coaxial speakers?

What are coaxial speakers diagram & parts labeled

Coaxial speakers are a type of 2-way speaker designed to take up less space and to replace single-cone speakers. Unlike standard single-cone speakers, they include a tweeter and a crossover for improved sound. Coaxial speakers provide not only better sound but also more installation options, they save space and are a good compromise between sound quality and price.

What does coaxial speaker mean?

Coaxial speakers are 2-way speakers mounted on the same “axis” – in other words, multiple speakers built together in the same speaker assembly. Most coaxial speakers provide a woofer cone and a separate tweeter with crossover for improved sound quality over that of a standard single cone speaker.

You can think of them as a middle point between lower-end, lower-cost single cone speakers (used by manufacturers to cut cost) and component speakers (more expensive and complex, but with better sound quality). They’re a good compromise between performance, price, and ease of use.

Those are some of the reasons they’re the most popular type of speakers for car stereo systems. That, and the fact that they’re one of the easiest to install and most affordable sound upgrades you can buy.

Coaxial speakers offer several advantages:

  • Easy sound upgrade: they’re a drop-in replacement for existing poor-sounding single cone speakers.
  • More speaker manufacturing options and price ranges for buyers (different levels of tweeter quality, crossover design, cone materials, etc).
  • Somewhat similar performance to separate 2-way component speakers without the need for a bulky separate crossover box.
  • They’re very common – in fact, they’re the most popular car speaker upgrade and they’re easy to find when shopping.
  • Very affordable: good coaxial speakers can be found for around $25 and up per pair depending on the size & quality.
  • Coaxial speakers can fix the poor frequency response (missing sound frequencies) you find with single-cone speakers. You nearly always get a big improvement in sound right away!

8 ohm coaxial ceiling speakers example

Coaxial speakers are more common for car stereo use but aren’t limited to only that. 8 ohm coaxial speakers are available for both home stereos and sound from walls, the outdoors, and ceilings for music broadcast in business or other buildings, too.

Coaxial vs standard single cone speakers

Standard vs coaxial speakers comparison image with frequency response graphs

Coaxial speakers give you better sound performance than lower-end single-cone speakers – even those with a “whizzer” cone added to supposedly improve higher frequency production. They’re able to do so because unlike a standard speaker that can’t produce the full range of sound your ears can hear (and that is present in music), the additional tweeter added makes up for this. The end result is full-range music production with good high-frequency crispness.

Standard (single cone) speakers are notorious for mediocre and even lousy sound quality. That’s because, as you can see from the picture above, they’re pretty poor when it comes to the range of sound they can reproduce. A woofer cone alone can’t normally produce high frequency sounds well, if at all, and that’s a glaring weakness.

Single cone speakers can’t produce a crisp full-range sound as 2-way coaxial speakers can. Coaxial speakers are designed to improve upon standard low-fidelity speakers by producing the missing upper-frequency sound range your ears expect to let you enjoy your music the way it should be heard.

Are coaxial speakers better?

Image of confused man thinking about car speakers

The short answer is yes: coaxial speakers are better than standard speakers. However, they’re not better than most component speakers systems and some 2-way speaker systems. (More about that later)

While some cheaper standard speakers may have a “whizzer” cone added (a small 2nd cone attached to the dust cap for improved treble sound) they’re still disappointing. I’ve yet to hear one that sounded very good.

Coaxial speakers, on the other hand, use at least one additional speaker (usually a tweeter) to make up the difference and produce crisper & better-sounding higher frequencies.

In fact, in all my years of car speaker installation work I can’t recall a single basic speaker that wasn’t good enough to keep instead of replacing it with a coaxial model.

While factory-installed speakers are often very low cost, coaxial speakers – even for a nice sounding pair – aren’t expensive. You can get a great-sounding pair for $25-$30 or so these days and around $20 if you’re on an extreme budget.

As cheap as that is, you can immediately hear the difference versus factory-installed single cone speakers.

What is a 3-way coaxial speaker?

3 way coaxial speaker examples image

3-way coaxial speakers are the same but with an additional speaker added (usually another tweeter). They offer a slightly different design, especially for extended tweeter performance. I’ve seen some (usually lower quality brands) with a fake 3rd speaker for marketing purposes.

3 way coaxial speakers are simply 2-way coaxial speakers with an additional speaker, usually a tweeter, added for extended or enhanced sound production. These aren’t necessarily better than 2-way coaxial speakers but sometimes offer better performance and sound.

For example, 3-way models typically use a very small piezo tweeter that can produce treble sound at higher frequencies or with better quality for certain ranges to supplement the main tweeter. For well-designed models, you can get better sound quality & performance than more basic 2-way models.

However, that doesn’t mean they’re better in general. In fact, a quality and well-designed 2-way coaxial speaker can sound excellent! Like many other things, it comes down to the quality and the design details.

Tip: I recommend spending your time and money for a very good  2-way coaxial speaker. Don’t spend the effort on search for a 3-way coaxial speaker on the assumption that they’re better.

3-way coaxial speakers with a fake tweeter

One strange thing I’ve run across with lower-end brands is that in some cases, speakers sold as 3-way coaxials may actually be 2-way. Some speakers I’ve seen include a fake miniature tweeter, simply a plastic placeholder, to give you the impression they’re more sophisticated than they really are.

If you stick with reputable brands, though, that won’t be a problem.

What is the difference between coaxial and component speakers?

Coaxial vs component speakers

There are several differences between coaxial speakers and component speakers you should know:

  • Coaxial speakers fit the entire 2-way speaker system into a single speaker assembly. Most component speaker systems (aside from a few rare designs) are separate and everything has to be mounted individually.
  • Coaxial speakers, in order to keep costs down and fit into a small space, have some compromises: a basic -6dB/octave crossover for the tweeter and many use a lower-cost tweeter material. Component speakers, however, have better crossovers (-12dB/octave minimum, usually) and better tweeter materials like silk, aluminum, or others.
  • Coaxial speakers tend to have lower power ratings (say 35W-65W RMS) while component speakers tend to have higher power rating limits. (65W-100W RMS or higher).
  • Component speakers, because of their design, offer better sound quality and clarity than coaxial speakers. Coaxials are good, but many are average (however, still much better than standard single-cone speakers).
  • Coaxial speakers are simple to install and use but component speakers aren’t.

I should also add that it’s far easier to find coaxial speakers in a retail store nearby than it is to find component speakers. Coaxial speakers, as I mentioned earlier, are much more popular and because of it, many stores keep them in stock.

Even your local department store, auto parts store, and “mom and pop” electronics stores probably has some on the shelf.

Coaxial speaker vs component speaker crossover comparison

Coaxial vs component speaker crossover comparison diagram

A comparison of the kinds of crossovers used in most coaxial and component speakers. Because they use a more advanced design and more parts, component speakers sound better than coaxials. That’s because they’re able to better block unwanted sound frequencies from going to the wrong speaker.

As I mentioned earlier, component speakers use more advanced crossovers in most cases. They use a higher “order” crossover, meaning that the level at which they cut off unwanted sound frequencies is better (steeper).

For example, most coaxials use a single capacitor to the tweeter mounted on top and use none at all for the woofer. Instead, they use a lower-cost design that relies on the fact that most woofers “roll off” (stop producing) higher frequencies naturally. Despite that, some treble will always get through and affect the sound quality a little bit.

Component speakers, on the other hand, have an external crossover with more advanced circuitry that blocks unwanted frequencies to both the tweeter and the woofer. The end result is better speaker performance and sound, higher volume without distortion, and more clarity.

Not only that, but some component speaker crossovers include a built-in setting to reduce the tweeter volume if it’s too bright (too harsh sounding) to you. Some also may include built-in fusing to prevent you from accidentally blowing the tweeters at high volume.

Coaxial speakers are great for “good enough” budgets

As far as price is concerned, component speakers start at about the same price as a very good pair of coaxial speakers. You’re simply going to pay less for coaxial speakers and have a lot more options to choose from depending on what you can afford.

For example, I installed quite a few “meh” quality coaxial speakers in cars, trucks, and even boats over the years. They’re good enough for many people yet still within reach of what they could afford when you add in the cost of installation.

Which is better, coaxial or component speakers?

Which is better component or coaxial speakers

In my opinion, the best way to answer this question depends on what the definition of “better” means to you. After all, you’re the best judge of what you like, right?

When it comes down to it, component speakers are better in terms of functionality, power handling, tweeter and woofer material options, and of course, they sound better.

However, that’s not what everyone needs – not everyone cares about super-crisp sound, more power handling, or better speaker crossovers. Perhaps the best thing for me to do is to simplify it with a short comparison below.

Should I get component or coaxial speakers?

Here’s a comparison to help you decide if you’re unsure.

You should get coaxial speakers if:

  • You have a tight budget or just need something that’s fairly good and you’re not super-picky
  • You want an easy sound upgrade over your existing speakers
  • You’re not using an advanced sound system with amplifiers powering the speakers
  • You don’t want to do the extra work or customization needed for installing component speakers
  • You don’t have the time, tools, or money to spare on a custom installation

You should get component speakers if:

  • Sound quality is your most important goal
  • Want to use speakers with more advanced materials (especially for the tweeters)
  • You prefer speaker crossovers with a steeper cutoff and/or tweeter volume reduction option
  • Will be doing a custom home, car stereo, or marine speaker installation with higher-end electronics
  • You want improved stereo imaging for music playback and critical listening with high-fidelity recordings
  • You would like to drive your speakers with an amplifier for extra power and clarity

Ultimately, it’s up to you. Additionally, there are some component speaker systems available that can be used a lot like component speakers, making them easier to install. You’ll save a lot of work & hassle in the process.

As I noted above, component speakers should be driven with an amplifier for the best results. You simply won’t get great sound from them using a low-power stereo unit.

Coaxial style component speaker set example

An example of a component speaker set (in this case by speaker company MB Quart) that can be put together to work like a coaxial speaker for easier installation and using less space.

How to pick coaxial speakers

Coaxial speakers to buy examples and comparison image

There are a number of things you should know before shopping for coaxial speakers, many of which depend on your installation needs, sound quality wishes, budget, and car or outdoor vehicle use. And of course, it goes without saying you’ll want to get the correct size if you’re replacing speakers.

Here are some helpful tips I have as both an installer and a sound fanatic:

  • Vehicles with tight speaker room: (And this is important!) Don’t buy replacement speakers with giant and oversized magnets as in many cases the new speakers won’t fit. If the speakers are too large it may hit the interior of the dashboard, enclosure, or other surface and you won’t be able to install it. Slim-mount coaxial speakers are often the answer for very limited installation space.
  • Sound quality: If you’re a sound quality fan or audiophile like I am, you’ll want to avoid coaxials with mylar tweeters. They’re not “bad”, however, better tweeter types like silk dome, aluminum dome, and others sound much better, smoother, and won’t sound harsh. You’ll usually pay a bit more, however. Unfortunately, mylar tweeter coaxials are the most common type.
  • Marine, motorcycle, Jeep, and outdoor vehicle use: You’ll want to avoid standard speakers with a paper cone material or similar as they’re prone to damage from humidity or moisture. Consider plastic cone speakers, especially marine-rate as they’ll last longer and sound good as expected.
  • Brand names are best: There’s nothing wrong per se with buying no-name-brand speakers, however, they have higher defect rates, worse design (and worse sound), and tend to be a bit more difficult to install sometimes.
  • Get the best you can afford: I recommend overlooking $25 etc speakers (unless you’re nearly broke) and instead spend closer to $50 or higher if possible. There’s a big difference in quality and sound. For about $65 you can get some wonderful-sounding coaxial speakers that you’ll love and will last a long time.
  • Check the speaker’s hole dimensions: It’s always a good idea to be sure that the diameter of a speaker will fit. Check the specs and measure the old speaker opening by measuring it before buying replacements.
  • Watch out for coaxials with tweeters poking out too far. In some cases, I’ve seen coaxial speakers with tweeters that extend way too far out vertically. The end result was that I couldn’t install a speaker grill over them. Be sure to check the old speaker versus the new one you’re thinking about buying.

There are so many speakers to choose from that it’s headache-inducing almost! My advice mainly is to avoid mylar dome tweeter speakers if you can find affordable alternatives.

Silk and aluminum dome (or other advanced material) models from brands like Polk, JBL, Kicker, Infinity, Alpine, and similar are excellent.

For budget options, Pioneer, Rockford Fosgate, Alpine, and Kenwood have some good choices, too.

Be careful which speakers you buy if you own a motorcycle, open-back Jeep Wrangler, or other vehicles exposed to outside air and humidity. Speakers that aren’t moisture resistant can begin to absorb moisture and deteriorate over time. Polymer/mica, metal, carbon fiber, and plastic-type cone speakers usually hold up well.

Do you need an amp for coaxial speakers?

Coaxial speaker and car amplifier installation example image

The truth is that you don’t need an amplifier for coaxial speakers. However, you’ll get even better sound, lower distortion, and potentially more enjoyment (and more volume) out of them if you use one.

Car and home receivers have enough power to drive coaxial speakers with fairly good volume and clarity up to a point. Car stereo head units are very limited in their power output – on average, you’ll get a maximum of about 15-18 watts per channel out of one.

To make matters worse, they’ll begin to distort and “bottom out” quickly if you play music with heavy bass. This sounds terrible! Using an amplifier (and its built-in high-pass crossover) can make an amazing difference in volume and clarity.

You’ll be fine for every day listening to coaxial speakers at a moderate to moderately high volume with a good car stereo head unit. If you’d like to add an amplifier, I recommend using one with a minimum of 50W RMS per channel and a high-pass crossover option.

How hard you can push coaxial car speakers with an amp?

Coaxial speakers should be treated like other speakers. The amount of power they can take from an amp will be limited by:

  • The RMS power rating of the speaker
  • Whether or not you’re driving them with heavy low-end bass in the music
  • Clipping from the amplifier (hitting the output limit of the amplifier, driving it to clipping)

Ultimately, you’ll get close to, but not all the way, to the RMS power rating for the speakers assuming it’s accurately stated by the manufacturer.

If you really want to drive them hard, you’ll want to (1) use an amplifier capable of more power per channel than the speakers to avoid clipping, and (2) use a high-pass crossover to block low-end bass.

What to set the high pass filter to on coaxial speakers

Coaxial speaker amplifier high pass crossover setting example

For better sound and volume, you’ll want to use the high-pass crossover built into your car amp. I recommend about 56 to 60Hz as a good compromise between blocking low-end bass that causes distortion and still allowing music to pass.

For coaxial speakers, I recommend setting your amplifier’s high-pass crossover somewhere between 56 to 60Hz or close to it. That’s enough to let the lower end of musical frequencies pass but still block distortion-causing bass that should be sent to subwoofers.

It doesn’t have to be exact. If your amplifier has an adjustable crossover frequency dial, it’s near impossible to get it exactly right, so don’t worry about that. Get it close to that based on the labels on the dial.

Basically, anywhere under 80Hz or so is fine, but based on my experience I recommend it’s a bit lower. Whatever works best for your ears is good too, of course.

Bass that’s very hard on small speakers is located below 60Hz so preventing it from getting to them is the most important thing.

More helpful speaker info, diagrams, and ideas to read

Check out my other articles as I’m sure you’ll find something useful!

Questions, comments, or suggestions?

Got questions, comments, or feedback? Feel free to leave a comment below or you can use my Contact page.

How To Tell The Impedance Of A Speaker And Understanding Speaker Ohms

How to tell the impedance of a speaker featured image

We take for granted how certain stereos and amplifiers need  2, 4, or 8 ohm speakers to work right. But what is speaker impedance?

And how can you tell the impedance of a speaker if it’s not on the speaker or you can’t find it?

Great news – it’s not that hard! In this helpful article, I’ll explain how speaker impedance works, how you can measure speaker impedance (Ohms), and much more.

There’s also a handy speaker Ohms chart to help you identify what impedance your speaker is to know for sure.

Contents

How to tell the impedance of a speaker

Let’s cover the main ideas before going into more detail as I cover each topic more.

How to find a speaker's impedance
  • If the Ohm rating (impedance) is not available on the speaker, you must measure the impedance of a speaker using a test meter set to the Ohms (resistance) function. This will give the resistance of the voice coil which will let you determine the speaker’s impedance category. (see below for more detail)
  • A speaker’s impedance is usually listed on the speaker magnet, packaging, and/or box and specifications. This is not always the case, however, as it depends on the manufacturer and model.
  • The total impedance changes with frequency as speakers don’t act like resistors but instead have inductance which opposes the flow of current as the audio signal frequency increases. You can calculate impedance based on the formulas included here. Note: you won’t need this just to determine the general impedance range of your speakers.

Long story short, if your speaker doesn’t have the impedance listed anywhere or you can’t find the manufacturer’s specs, the best thing to do is to measure it. That way you can be 100% certain and avoid problems with your stereo, amplifier, and crossovers.

You definitely don’t want to use a speaker with lower impedance than expected as it’s possible to damage your stereo or amplifier permanently!

What is speaker impedance? (Speaker Ohm ratings explained)

What is speaker impedance diagram

Speaker impedance, measured in Ohms, is the voice coil’s total resistance to the flow of electric current as it operates with a musical signal.

Unlike standard electrical conductors, the voice coil’s wire winding forms a loop that has an electrical property called inductance. Inductance is different from resistance as it changes as the frequency changes. This is called inductive reactance.

How does speaker impedance work?

Magnetic fields are created as current flows through the tightly wound wire coil. These fields have an opposition (resistance, also called reactance) to the current flowing through the coil wire. (Similarly, many other electrical components like motors have this too).

Because of how inductance works and the physics involved, the speaker “impedance” (total resistance) isn’t a simple addition of the resistance and the inductive reactance together.

Instead, speaker impedance is found from the algebraic sum (the square root of the sum of the squares) of the coil’s wire resistance and the inductive reactance.

Inductive reactance is commonly written as “Xl”, pronounced “X sub L” and is measured in units of Ohms just like resistance. Inductance is measured using a unit called the “Henrie” and commonly noted with an “H”: “uH” for microHenries, “mH” for milliHendries, and so on.

How to calculate speaker impedance

How to calculate speaker impedance diagram

If you’re a math person, you can see here how speaker impedance is calculated. As I mentioned, it’s the geometric sum of the resistance in the voice copper wire winding and the inductive reactance at a given frequency.

The most important thing to understand about speaker impedance is:

  • The speaker impedance is always equal to or greater than the voice coil wire resistance. You can measure this with an Ohm meter.
  • The impedance number on a speaker is a general guideline for compatibility, not exactly what the speaker measures.
  • The impedance changes slightly (goes up) as the frequency being played increases.

In fact, if you were to use a test meter to measure the Ohms (impedance) of the voice coil on a speaker, you’d find a reading of about 3.2-3.6 ohms or so for a 4 ohm speaker and 6 ohms or higher for an 8 ohm speaker.

Example of calculating speaker impedance

Let’s take an example. We’ll use an example speaker and real-world specifications then do the math.

Calculating speaker impedance example parameters used

Example parameters to use from a real speaker for the voice coil’s resistance (Re) and the winding’s inductance (Le).

Example of calculating the speaker impedance using 1kHz as the frequency:

  1. Calculate the inductive reactance. Use the formula given earlier Xl = 2*Pi*Le*frequency: 2*3.14159*.000028*1,000 = 0.1759 Ohms (Ω)
  2. Find the total impedance (represented by “Z”). Find the root of the sum of the squares of both Re and Xl: Z = ( (3.0)^2 + (0.1759)^2)^-1 = 3.005 Ohms (Ω)

Therefore, for our example speaker, the total impedance at 1kHz is 3.005 Ω, only a tiny bit higher than the voice coil’s own resistance.

This is because (1) most speakers have a very small amount of inductance, and (2) speakers work in the audio range and no higher than 20kHz, meaning the inductive reactance will be limited.

Speaker impedance due to the resonant frequency

That’s not to say that speakers never have a high impedance. In fact, at their resonant frequency where they behave differently, the impedance can be HUGE! In fact, as high as 50 ohms. However, that’s a separate topic.

(Note: as you see from the example speaker’s specs, the parameter “Fs” tells us the resonant frequency of 84.8Hz is where that happens for this particular speaker)

How to measure speaker impedance

How to measure speaker impedance with an Ohm meter example

In this picture, you can see an example of how to measure speaker impedance using an Ohm meter or any standard test meter set to measure resistance in Ohms. To do so, set it to the lowest range that measures units of 1, 0-10, 0-20, or auto-ranging and the meter will measure it accordingly. Hold the test probe leads firmly against clean metal on the speaker terminals with speaker wire removed.

To measure the impedance of a speaker you’ll need a multimeter (test meter with multiple functions) or a dedicated Ohm (resistance) meter.

Use the following steps:

  1. Switch on the meter and set it to measure Ohms on the lowest range. This is often the x1 range, 0-10, 0-20, or auto-ranging setting.
  2. Disconnect one or both speaker wires from the speaker to avoid a false reading due to other resistance that may be connected to it.
  3. Hold the probes firmly against the speaker terminals on a clean, bare metal spot. The meter should quickly settle to a reading. The meter will show the resistance of the voice coil inside the speaker.
  4. Use the measured value to determine the closest approximate speaker impedance (see my chart below for help).
  5. For speakers inside a cabinet or enclosure such 2-way speakers, crossovers may be in use and these can interfere with this reading with a few exceptions. However, in many cases, you still measure the resistance of a woofer fairly well.

The important thing to bear in mind is that you won’t measure exactly 4 ohms, 8 ohms, etc. Speakers are given an impedance rating for stereo purposes that are approximate – or close to – what you’ll measure with a test meter.

Note: Speakers like tweeters with a capacitor connected inline with them will act as an open circuit and will interfere with your measurement.

See my notes below for how to measure those correctly.

Selecting the correct resistance (Ohm) range for speakers

Image showing examples of test meter resistance setting for measuring speaker impedance

Shown are some example test meter resistance range settings to use for typical test meters.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s important to use the correct resistance range on your meter when measuring speaker impedance. That’s because the wrong setting may display nothing or give you the wrong idea that perhaps the speaker is blown when it isn’t.

If you’re not sure, check the test meter’s manual. Many modern digital meters often have an auto setting that will automatically adjust for the Ohm measurement it detects and will display the reading & decimal places accordingly. Other meters require you to select the correct range manually.

As a general rule, use the lowest range that includes 0-10 ohms (or similar) then go up if necessary.

That should almost never happen – but in the case of a poor connection, blown (or almost blown) speaker, strange things can happen and you might get a reading that’s far outside the speaker’s normal impedance.

In my experience, however, that’s very rare.

Once you’ve got your measurement, use my speaker impedance chart to find the next closest speaker impedance value listed.

How to measure speaker impedance when there is a crossover

Diagram showing where to measure speaker impedance of tweeters with crossover

Tweeters are one of the most common types of speakers with a crossover. To measure speaker impedance on them, you’ll need to place the test meter’s probes around the capacitor crossover. Otherwise, the reading will be an open circuit or far too high.

Measuring speaker impedance where crossovers are used is a bit of a problem. That’s because capacitors, which are commonly on tweeters as a high-pass filter, act as an open circuit when measuring resistance.

Obviously, that’s a problem as you’ll never get a correct reading if you use the test leads on the speaker wiring.

To avoid this, you’ll want to measure around the capacitor, if used, which is normally on the positive speaker terminal. You should be able to then get a correct reading.

For 2-way speakers, in many cases, no crossover is used on the woofer. In some cases, there’s an inductor in series with it. The good news is that directly reading resistance across a speaker and an inductor doesn’t make much difference – inductors have a tiny resistance value. In fact, they’re usually in milliOhms (thousandths of an Ohm) which is almost nothing.

Diagram showing where to measure speaker impedance with crossover use

For 2-way crossovers, the same applies, too. Following the diagram above, your main concern is avoiding measuring across capacitors.

Speaker impedance example chart (use with speaker measurements)

Speaker impedance label and ohm meter examples

An 8 ohm speaker, in the real world, will have a resistance measurement less than its 8 ohm rating. That’s normal and is due to how the speaker is made. Speakers do not have exact impedance values but instead will fall into a general range close to their rating. You can use that range to identify their impedance if you don’t know it.

To use this chart, take the speaker resistance measurement you got from the instructions earlier and use it to compare to the measurements here. You’ll see your speaker should fall into of the commonly sold speaker impedance standards.

Speaker impedance measurement chart

Speaker measurement range* Speaker impedance rating
3.1-4.0 ohms 4 ohm
6.0-8 ohms 8 ohm
1.2-2 ohms 2 ohms
4.0-6 ohms 6 ohms
0.5-1.0 ohms 1 ohm**
12-16 ohms 16 ohms**

*(This is an approximate range and should cover nearly all speakers but may vary slightly)
**(1 ohm is rare but can be found in some car stereo products such as Bose premium amplified systems. 16 ohm speakers may sometimes be used for home or other speaker systems, but aren’t very common)

What happens if my speaker impedance is too low or too high?

4 ohm vs 8 ohm speaker power comparison graph

This graph shows what happens when a higher impedance speaker is used with an amplifier or stereo rated for a lower impedance speaker. As this example shows, using an 8 ohm speaker in the place of 4 ohm ones means it will develop 1/2 the power and consequently, lower volume than a 4 ohm speaker.

Using a speaker that’s not matched to the stereo or amplifier it’s rated for can have relatively minor – or even horrible – results depending on which case we’re talking about:

  • Using a higher impedance speaker won’t damage equipment. The result will be lower power developed and therefore lower possible volume. You may also introduce problems with speaker crossovers, however.
  • Using a lower than specified impedance speaker will cause radios or amps to suffer extreme heat and even permanent damage because the current output will be much more than what it’s designed for.

For example, if you were to use 8 ohm speakers in the place of 4 ohm car stereo speakers you won’t damage anything, as less current will flow to the speaker. The problem will be (although it will play fine, otherwise) is that the total power available will be 1/2 that of a 4 ohm speaker.

Ohm’s Law and speaker power

Car amplifier power output formulas image

A radio or amplifier is designed to output a certain voltage level for a given volume and so higher impedance speakers won’t have the same power available at the same volume level. That’s because the power to a speaker depends on the voltage available.

By the electrical formulas called Ohm’s Law, P (power, in Watts) = Voltage^2/R (speaker Ohms)

For a low volume (2V output from an amplifier) a 4 ohm speaker would have 1W of power available. An 8 ohm speaker, however, would have only 1/2W. That means for the same amplifier or radio volume, higher impedance speakers can’t produce the same volume.

How does speaker impedance affect sound?

Using the wrong speaker impedance can affect the sound in a few ways:

  • If you mix and match 4 ohm tweeters with 8 ohm woofers, for example, they’ll be mismatched and at some point won’t sound right as the power increases because their volume levels won’t be the same.
  • Using the wrong speaker impedance with speaker crossovers can have a very big impact on the crossover frequency (it will be shift a lot) and will dramatically affect the sound output. Your speakers won’t sound right, can have a lot more distortion, and will generally be much less pleasant to listen to.

What happens to a car stereo if a speaker has a lower impedance than the stereo is rated for?

Using a lower impedance speaker than your stereo or amplifier is rated for is a terrible idea and should never be done! That’s because it’s not designed to handle the excessive amount of current it will have to supply thanks to the decreased resistance of the lower speaker impedance.

If you’re lucky the unit will go into “protect mode” in which it shuts off until the condition is removed and it’s safe to operate. However, from my experience, many electronics become extremely hot and can burn out their output transistors meaning they’re permanently damaged.

Don’t risk it! Always check the minimum Ohm rating of your equipment and be sure to follow it. Never assume the amp, radio, or receiver, etc, will be able to protect itself from damage.

Speaker impedance and crossovers – yes, it’s important!

2 way speaker system and crossover diagram

Crossovers are designed for a specific speaker impedance. Changing the speaker impedance means you’re changing how they function and shifts the crossover frequency, giving worse sound and potentially adding distortion that wasn’t there before.

When using speaker crossovers, it’s really important to understand that you can’t change the speaker load (speaker impedance they see connected) as the results won’t be good.

Changing a 4 ohm speaker to an 8 ohm one, or vice versa, will have a huge impact on the sound because the crossover cutoff frequency will change greatly since it depends critically on the speaker load used.

As a general rule:

  • Doubling the speaker impedance will halve (decrease) the crossover frequency.
  • Halving the speaker impedance will double (raise) the frequency cutoff.

For tweeters, increasing the tweeter impedance means you’ll be allowing in more bass & midrange, leading to poor sound since tweeters can’t produce those ranges. For woofers, that means introducing poor-sounding midrange or treble that they’re not suitable for.

In both cases, just remember that the crossover frequency changes inversely proportional to the speaker load you’ve increased or decreased.

Note: When reducing tweeter volume, using an L-pad or properly designed L-pad resistor network will properly maintain the speaker load the crossover sees so it won’t affect the sound.

More great speaker-related articles you’ll love

Check out my other articles as I’m sure you’ll find something useful!

Questions, comments, or suggestions?

Got questions, comments, or feedback? Feel free to leave a comment below or you can reach me directly via my Contact page here.

How Do Speakers Work? A Speaker Guide For Everyone – With Diagrams

How do speakers work featured image

Have you ever been listening to music and wondered, “How do speakers work?” The problem is that while there are plenty of articles out there, they’re just not very good.

To help, I’ve decided to do something about it! In this detailed article, using clear explanations and diagrams, I’ll explain how they work along with:

  • The parts inside a speaker
  • Single cone vs coaxial speakers
  • 2 way and 3-way speakers explained
  • Speaker crossovers
  • What speaker impedance, sensitivity, and frequency response mean
Contents

First things first: What is inside a speaker?

Diagram showing speaker parts and close up examples
Shown here is a speaker diagram labeled with its parts inside shown for understanding. Nearly all standard magnet-driven speakers have the same basic design: a magnet, voice coil or coils, a speaker cone, and some other supporting parts.

While there are some unique and unusual speakers out there, nearly all speakers, regardless of  their size or sound function, use the same basic design and parts.

What is inside a speaker?

Most speakers are made of the following parts that work together to create sound:

  • Permanent magnet: A magnet is used to provide a fixed magnetic field surrounding the voice coil to make movement possible.
  • Voice coil and bobbin: The bobbin is a round tube attached to the bottom of the speaker cone. A very long and tightly wound coil of wire, called the voice coil, creates a magnetic field as electricity flows through it from the musical signal from an amplifier.
  • Spider: the spider is a wavy-shaped thin woven material that supports the voice coil bobbin assembly and helps push the cone back in place as it moves.
  • Speaker cone & dust cap: the speaker cone is a cone-shaped stiff material that’s moved by the magnet & voice coil together to move air & create sound. The dust cap is a thin material (like a “cap”) that covers the opening in the speaker cone to keep out dust & dirt.
  • Speaker basket: the basket is a cast metal or stamped metal frame that the speaker parts attach to an keeps everything aligned. It also provides a way to mount the speaker assembly to a box.
  • Speaker terminals & braided wire: speaker terminals are metal tabs or connectors that connect speaker wire to the speaker. These connect to the voice coil using a flexible braided wire that moves with the speaker cone.
  • Surround: this is a flexible and durable circular material (usually rubber or some type of foam) that attaches the top edge of the speaker cone to the basket.

What does a speaker cone do?

Speaker cone example labeled

A speaker cone is the main speaker component responsible for creating sound by moving air back and forth rapidly. These are typically made of a lightweight but stiff material such as pressed paper, plastics, carbon fiber, or even thin metal.

The speaker “cone” name refers to its shape: an inverted cone shape with a central opening where the bobbin & voice coil assembly is attached. A dust cap is attached to the cone over this opening at the bottom to prevent contaminants from getting inside.

Speaker cone types vary by the type of speaker. For example, subwoofers produce very large bass sound waves and substantial air movement and need a thicker, more rigid design.

By contrast, tweeters use a very small, dome-shaped, and lightweight design for higher-frequency performance because this sound range uses smaller sound waves.

As electric current flows through the voice coil, a magnetic field is created that moves the cone away from or towards the permanent magnet. This creates sound from the movement of air as the speaker cone moves.

What does a speaker magnet do?

Labeled example of a speaker magnet

Speaker magnets are usually a permanent magnet with a thin circular gap in which the voice coil is suspended. The magnet provides fixed magnetic fields the voice coil can move towards or away from to move the speaker cone.

The purpose of a speaker magnet is to provide a fixed magnetic field area that the voice coil can move towards and away from (alternating) to move the cone and create sound.

A permanent magnet (usually ceramic or neodymium) is most commonly used. Neodymium magnets are are stronger for their size (denser magnetic fields) but ceramic magnets, while larger, are more cost-effective. That’s one reason why ceramic magnets are more popular for speaker use.

The magnet is designed to provide a small circular gap in which the voice coil is suspended to keep it close to the magnet’s polarized fields. Some, but not all, speaker magnets have a hole in the center to help keep the voice coil cool during high power handling.

What is a dual voice coil speaker?

Dual voice coil subwoofer speaker example

Dual voice coil speakers offer a second voice coil winding in the same speaker and on the same voice coil bobbin assembly. These types of speakers allow some additional options that single voice coil speakers do not:

  • Flexibility in how they’re wired (2 ohms, 4 ohms, 8 ohms, etc) for better compatibility with amplifiers and stereo receivers.
  • For subwoofers or other larger speakers, you can power them with more wiring configurations or even 2 amplifiers each which you can’t do with single voice coil models.
  • These can be driven with 2 channels from amplifiers that can’t be bridged for more power.

You’ll most often find subwoofers that are available in a dual voice coil version for a little bit more money.

While they offer more wiring configuration options, dual voice coil (DVC) speakers don’t offer better performance than their single voice coil (SVC) counterparts.

Additionally, speakers like tweeters for treble sound and midrange speakers for instrument & vocals aren’t normally made in a dual voice coil version.

Dual voice coil speaker bobbin examples

Examples of two speaker bobbins with dual voice coils. Left: the two coils are not together while (right) on this example woofer they’re layered one on top of the other.

How do speakers work? Step by step explanation + animated diagram

How do speakers work animated diagram image GIF

In this animated diagram, you can see how a speaker works. A stereo or amplifier drives the speaker with an electrical signal that alternates from positive to negative in the shape of the musical signal.

As it does so, electric current flows through the speaker’s voice coil, creating a magnetic field that causes it to move toward or away from the magnet as it changes from positive to negative. This moves the speaker cone that creates sound waves as the air moves rapidly. Speakers use alternating current (AC).

How does a speaker work? A step by step explanation diagram

how does a speaker work step by step diagram

Speakers (also referred to as loudspeakers, a name from the older days) use an alternating current (AC) electrical power signal and are driven by a stereo or amplifier.

The electrical signal to the speaker is an amplified voltage that’s a duplicate of the original musical signal from an audio source but with enough power to drive the speakers with a good volume.

Here’s a step-by-step detail of how speakers work:

  1. (Starting from the zero output point) An output voltage representing the musical waveform starts and begins to rise. The electrical current starts flowing through the speaker’s voice coil from the positive side to the negative side.
  2. A magnetic field is created around the voice coil and is the same polarity as the permanent magnet attached to the speaker basket (frame). (Remember that identical magnetic fields repel and opposites attract)
  3. The cone begins moving forward and pushes air, creating sound.
  4. As the electrical signal voltage rises towards the top of the sine wave in the musical signal, the current increases, and the voice coil increases its magnetic field strength.
  5. This pushes the speaker cone out even further.
  6. The signal passes the highest output point and begins to fall. The current starts to fall also and the cone will begin to return closer to its off (zero voltage) position.
  7. The signal reaches zero (also called the “zero voltage crossover threshold”) and the cone is back where it started.
  8. The electrical signal begins to reverse as it changes to a negative voltage. When this happens, current flows from the negative voice coil side to the positive, creating a reversed polarity magnetic field.
  9. The voice coil magnetic field is now the opposite of the permanent magnet which attracts it and the cone begins to move from front to rear (instead of the original rear to front).
  10. As the signal continues the speaker cone moves in reverse, creating the other half of the sound waves created by the movement of air.
  11. The amp or stereo output returns to zero and the next audio signal begins as the new signal output voltage starts to rise, with the cycle starting over again.

In a matter of speaking, speakers are just an electric motor of sorts: they do work (moving air using a cone) which duplicates an electrical signal and changes it into a mechanical output in the form of sound you can hear.

Sometimes speakers are referred to, in scientific terms, as transducers. This just means they’re an electrical device that converts electrical signals to sound.

What does speaker impedance mean? (Speaker Ohm ratings explained)

What is speaker impedance diagram

Speaker impedance, measured in Ohms, is the total resistance to the flow of electric current through a speaker voice coil.

Unlike standard conductors, as the voice coil is tightly wound in a coil the makes this complicates things because it adds inductance. Inductance is different from resistance as it changes as the frequency changes and this is called inductive reactance.

In other words, when the magnetic fields of the voice coil are created they oppose the flow of electrical current a bit.

Because of the property of physics and how inductance works, the speaker “impedance” (total resistance) isn’t the sum of the resistance and the inductive reactance – it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Instead, it’s the algebraic sum (the square root of the sum of the squares) of each. Inductive reactance is commonly written as “Xl” and is measured in Ohms just like standard resistance.

Speaker impedance formula

How to calculate speaker impedance diagram

If you like fancy math, you can see here how speaker impedance is calculated. It is the geometric sum of the resistance in the voice copper wire winding and the resistance caused by its inductance at a given frequency.

The most important thing to understand about speaker impedance is:

  • The speaker impedance is always equal to or greater than the voice coil wire resistance. You can measure this with an Ohm meter.
  • The impedance number on a speaker is a general guideline for compatibility, not exactly what the speaker measures.
  • The impedance changes slightly (goes up) as the frequency being played increases.

In fact, if you were to use a test meter to measure the Ohms (impedance) of the voice coil on a speaker, you’d find a reading of about 3.2-3.6 ohms or so for a 4 ohm speaker and 6 ohms or higher for an 8 ohm speaker.

Image showing an example of how to test speaker ohms with a multimeter

Image showing how to measure speaker impedance with an Ohm meter. This measures only the direct current (DC) resistance of the wire in the voice coil, not the total impedance of it with music playing due to inductance. however, it will be very close in most cases and you can tell the speaker Ohm category (4 ohms, 8 ohms, etc).

Where did 4 ohm and 8 ohm speakers come from?

4 ohm speakers (and sometimes 2 ohm) are most commonly used for car stereo systems. The practice began long ago when radios and speakers were first installed from the factory when cars were built. Because only a lower voltage (12V) is available to power them in cars, it’s more difficult to produce power for the speaker than it is for home stereos where plenty of voltage is available.

4 or 2 ohms allows more power to be delivered to speakers with simple & basic electronics as you’ll find in car stereos.

In this way, 4 ohm speakers became the unofficial standard for car speakers as cars came from the factory with them. Over the years, aftermarket manufacturers followed the same practice too and it became common.

Likewise, 8 ohms is most commonly used for home stereo system speakers. Home stereos are powered by a higher voltage source (110V like in the USA) so they’re easier to design and can power higher impedance (8 ohm) speakers easily. 

Similar to car stereo radios back in the day, 8 ohm speakers became common and sort of became an unofficial standard for home stereo systems as well.

What is speaker frequency response and speaker sensitivity?

What is speaker frequency response?

Example speaker frequency response graph with explanation labeled

An example of a typical speaker frequency response graph is shown here. Speakers aren’t perfect and don’t produce a perfectly even volume over the range of sound we can hear. Because of that, it’s helpful to know their frequency response – or how they perform over the range of music frequencies – to pick the right speaker or correct problems in the sound performance.

Speaker frequency response is the measured performance of a speaker, in decibels (dB) of volume, over a range of sound frequencies. This is usually the 20 Hertz (Hz) to 20 kiloHertz (KHz) range used as the standard for audio speakers.

The 20-20kHz range is used because it’s the range of sound a human with good hearing can perceive and music is often recorded within.

Speaker frequency response is helpful for several reasons:

  • Matching speakers together for 2 or 3-way systems
  • Choosing the best performing speakers for an audio design
  • Designing speaker systems and speaker crossovers
  • Using audio equipment such as an equalizer or digital signal processor (DSP) to correct areas where the speaker produces too much (a peak) or not enough (a dip)

While some speakers include a graph or other specifications to help you understand how they perform, not all do. It’s something you’ll usually find from retailers who stock bare speakers for more advanced speaker design.

Most off-the-shelf car or home speakers don’t include the actual response graph but instead an approximate range instead. More expensive speakers may do so, however.

If you have the right equipment you can also measure it yourself at home using a real-time analyzer (RTA) program and a high-quality microphone for this purpose.

What is speaker sensitivity?

Diagram showing how speaker sensitivity is measured

A speaker’s sensitivity is a measurement made by the manufacturer. It’s a measurement of the volume produced at a fixed sound frequency and (usually) with 1 watt of power is delivered to the speaker at 1 meter (3.28 feet) from the test microphone.

Speaker sensitivity is a manufacturer-provided specification useful for comparing or matching speakers. It’s a measurement of the volume produced, in decibels (dB), from a speaker at 1 meter (3.28 feet) from a test microphone for a single frequency.

The sensitivity parameter is usually expressed as “89dB @ 1W/1M” for example.

In most cases, the standard measurement is the dB volume at one watt of power at 1 meter distance and often a sound frequency like 1KHz (depending on the type of speaker) may be used.

The sensitivity varies from speaker to speaker, with tweeters being more “efficient” (producing more sound at the same power level) than others and with subwoofers being less efficient as they need more power to move the heavy cone and create sound.

Subwoofers tend to have a sensitivity around 87dB, midrange speakers around 89dB or so, and tweeters as high at 93-102dB depending on the type.

Sensitivity measurement differences

Sensitivity is sometimes measured slightly differently. That’s because a different voltage is needed for 4 ohm vs 8 ohm speakers to produce the same amount of power as the resistance in Ohms (speaker impedance) is different.

Therefore less current flows through an 8 ohm speaker, causing it to receive less power for the same voltage as a 4 ohm speaker.

In that case, a sensitivity of dB at 2.83V/1M may be used for 8 ohm speakers. At 2.83V an 8 ohm speaker develops 1 watt of power. Similarly, for 4 ohm speakers, a dB of 2V/1M may be used.

These measurements aren’t really standardized in the speaker industry, so the measurements provided by a manufacturer may be “1W/M” or “xV/M”, depending on what they happen to provide. When using this measurement to compare or match speakers it’s important to pay attention to this.

What are coaxial speakers?

What are coaxial speakers diagram & parts labeled

Coaxial speakers are type of 2-way speaker designed to take up less space and to replace single-cone speakers. They usually include a separate tweeter and one or more crossovers built-in. Coaxial speakers provide improved sound over a single cone speaker and allow more pricing choices and installation options.

Coaxial speakers are 2-way speakers mounted on the same “axis” or in the same speaker assembly. Most coaxial speakers provide a woofer cone and add a separate tweeter with crossover for improved sound quality & frequency response versus a standard single cone speaker.

Think of coaxial speakers as a middle point between single cone speakers (the most basic speakers, with mediocre or poor sound quality) and component speakers (separate speakers with an external speaker crossover). They offer good sound quality at an affordable price in most cases.

Coaxial speakers offer several advantages:

  • Easy sound upgrade: they’re a drop-in replacement for existing poor-sounding single cone speakers.
  • More speaker manufacturing options and price ranges for buyers (different levels of tweeter quality, crossover design, cone materials, etc).
  • Somewhat similar performance to separate 2-way component speakers without the need for a bulky separate crossover box.
  • They’re very common – in fact, they’re the most popular car speaker upgrade and they’re easy to find when shopping.
  • Very affordable: good coaxial speakers can be found for around $25 and up per pair depending on the size & quality.
  • Coaxial speakers can fix the poor frequency response (missing sound frequencies) you find with single-cone speakers.

Coaxial vs standard/single cone speakers

Standard vs coaxial speakers comparison image with frequency response graphs

Coaxial speakers offer better sound performance than standard single-cone speakers, even those with a “whizzer” cone added to improve the treble sound. Coaxial speakers can provide better frequency response and sound quality because they add one or more speaker cones (usually a tweeter) to produce the sound that a single cone woofer speaker is poor at.

Standard (single cone) speakers are notorious for mediocre – or bad – sound quality. But why? As you can see from the image above, they’re poor performers because having only a woofer cone isn’t good enough.

Single cone speakers can’t produce a great-sounding full-range sound as 2-way coaxial speakers can. Coaxial speakers are designed to improve upon standard low-fidelity speakers by filling in the missing range of sound and providing a much more enjoyable listening experience.

Coaxial speakers sound better

While some cheaper standard speakers may have a “whizzer” cone added, which is a small 2nd cone attached to the dust cap, for improved treble, they’re still disappointing. I’ve yet to hear one that sounded very good.

Coaxial speakers, on the other hand, use at least one additional speaker cone (usually a tweeter) to make up the difference and produce crisper & better-sounding higher frequencies.

In fact, in all my years of car speaker installation work I can’t recall a single standard speaker that wasn’t good enough to keep vs replacing it with a coaxial model.

While factory-installed speakers are often very low cost, coaxial speakers – even for a nice sounding pair – aren’t expensive. You can get a great-sounding pair for $25-$30 or more these days and around $20 if you’re on an extreme budget.

What is a 2 way speaker? What is a 3 way speaker?

What is a 2 way speaker?

What is a 2 way speaker example image

2 way speakers use a tweeter and separate woofer, working together, to the full range of music reproduction with better sound quality. In this type of speaker system, tweeters are supplied only a high frequency sound from a high-pass crossover while the woofer is fed midrange and bass from the low-pass crossover. The result is a very clear & enjoyable sound.

2-way speakers are the most common low-cost speaker design in use today both for home and car stereos.

2-way speakers use a tweeter, receiving only higher frequencies from a high-pass crossover, and a woofer, receiving only bass & midrange sounds from a low-pass crossover, to produce the full range of sound with better clarity & performance.

In other words, 2-way speakers separate the sound you hear between two speakers for better results than a single speaker alone.

This is done because woofers can’t produce higher frequency sounds well and should be prevented from producing treble frequencies. Similarly, tweeters become distorted when attempting to produce bass or lower-frequency sounds.

The use of a 2-way speaker crossover system limits the range of sound each receives, allowing for lower distortion and better sound quality at higher volumes, too.

Note: Coaxial speakers are 2-way speakers as well – they also separate the sound produced into 2 (or more) separate speaker drivers.

How does a 2 way speaker crossover work?

what is a 2 way speaker crossover use example diagram

2-way speakers sound great thanks to the crossovers they use to split the audio signals between the tweeter and the woofer. The end result is good full-range sound.

2-way crossovers use electrical components to filter and split the electrical music signal from an amplifier or stereo and divide it between the tweeter and woofer.

The high-pass crossover blocks distortion-causing bass & midrange the tweeter can’t handle. Likewise, the low-pass filter blocks higher frequencies that a woofer cannot reproduce well and that would cause a poor sound quality if produced by it.

As the speakers play, the divided crossover output results in a complete full-range audio output that’s much better than what a single speaker could produce.

Examples of 2 way crossovers and diagram

What is a 3-way speaker?

What is a 3 way speaker example & crossover diagram

3-way speakers are an extension of 2-way speakers with the addition of a 3rd speaker using a bandpass crossover. The 3rd speaker allows improved midrange and even better sound production, lowered distortion, and clarity by offloading midrange sound to a dedicated midrange speaker.

However, the crossover design (depending on the crossover order, or the steepness of the cutoff) is more complicated for those with a sharper cutoff to block unwanted frequencies.

3-way speakers are less common due to the added cost & complexity but are a good choice for speaker builders and audiophiles who want more advanced performance. They also offer the option to get improved sound by using high-performance midrange speakers that are better suited to it than a woofer with its larger cone.

More great speaker info, articles, & diagrams

There’s lots more to learn! Check out these great articles also on my site:

Got comments or questions?

I welcome comments, questions, or whatever’s on your mind. Feel free to leave a comment below or you can reach out via my Contact page.

Can I Connect Speakers Directly To My TV? Facts About TVs, Amps, & Speaker Wire Use

Can I connect speakers directly to my TV featured image

Yeah, I know how it feels: lots of TVs out there have terrible speaker sound quality. Or maybe you just want to enjoy better volume with your favorite movies or shows.

In this article, I’ll help you find out if you can connect speakers directly to your TV and what your options are. I hope to help you get the right kind of sound you need and enjoy your television experience!

Contents

Can I connect speakers directly to my TV?

Let’s get to the answers to the main question right away.

TV and speaker fast facts
  • No, you cannot connect speakers directly to a TV. TVs do not provide speaker outputs that can drive speakers directly as that requires an amplifier of some sort to power them.
  • Most TVs do, however, provide audio outputs that allow you to connect them to self-powered (computer) speakers, a small external amplifier, or home stereo receiver.
  • The types of speaker system electronics & cables you need depend on your TV’s output jacks. There’s no standard set of TV audio outputs, although most have RCA (stereo) jacks, a 3.5mm jack, or something similar.

So, unfortunately, the bad news is that you can’t hook up speakers directly to a TV (I’ll explain why as we go). However, the good news is you can connect speakers to a TV in other ways – and fairly easily, too!

How TV audio outputs work + the common types

Diagram of TV audio outputs analog and digital

Televisions usually have one or more types of audio outputs: analog (which can be amplified to drive speakers or connect to a home stereo receiver) or digital. Digital signals have to be converted back to analog before they can be used to drive speakers.

The most important thing to know first is that TVs do not offer speaker outputs. Instead, they usually provide analog (and digital, sometimes) low-level outputs to connect to an amplifier, powered speakers, or a home stereo.

Just like with any audio electronics without speaker outputs, the audio signal you can connect to comes directly from the internal electronics from the media you’re enjoying. In this case, the audio is extracted from the TV signal, separated, and copied sent to both the internal speakers (if present) and the audio output jacks.

Analog vs digital TV audio outputs

Analog outputs can be connected to nearly any audio amplifier, powered speakers, or receiver with RCA or similar analog inputs. They’re extremely common – however, not all TVs have them these days.

Digital audio outputs, on the other hand, must be converted to an analog sound signal either using a converter box or can be connected to some home stereo/home theater receivers with digital audio inputs. 

The standard digital audio outputs and what they support are:

  • Coaxial (RCA jack) digital output: very common for home subwoofer signal output, but can also carry full-range sound too as an alternative to a TOSLINK connector.
  • Fiber optic output jack: This is almost always a TOSLINK type connector which uses a plug-in fiber optic cable you can buy (not expensive).

The internal speakers in your TV use an inexpensive audio amplifier chip that supplies enough power to drive with decent, but not great, power & volume.

Common TV analog outputs are:

  • RCA stereo jacks: left & right stereo signal outputs, which can be connected to a home receiver’s AUX input RCA or to powered speakers.
  • 3.5mm (1/8″) headphone sized stereo jack: left, right, and ground signal connections

Do I need an amp to connect speakers to my TV?

Diagram showing how amplifier works to boost TV audio output for speakers

Shown: A basic diagram showing why you need an amplifier to drive speakers with TV sound and how they work.

Yes, you’ll need an amplifier to connect speakers to your TV, either separately or built into powered speakers like computer speakers. A home theater receiver or stereo amplifier with auxiliary audio inputs can also be used.

However, if you don’t already have an amplifier and only have basic needs (like enough power to drive small speakers with ok sound) you don’t have to spend a lot of money.

Note: Computer PC speakers are really easy to use and very affordable, making them a hassle-free way to connect speakers to your TV. You can get anything from a high-fidelity speaker set complete with subwoofer to a basic budget stereo speaker pair depending on your budget.

If you already have a home stereo receiver you can fairly easily take advantage of that. I’ll cover all of these options below.

How to connect speakers to a TV: diagram with examples

How to connect speakers to a TV diagram showing examples

You’ve got several basic options when it comes to connecting speakers to your TV, most of which do require spending a little bit of money. However, some ways such as using self-powered PC speakers, are a snap to do in only minutes.

As you can see from my diagram above, there are 4 main ways to get sound by using external TV speakers. These are:

  1. Using a computer (self-powered) speaker set. This may need a 3.5mm to RCA adapter cable.
  2. Using a mini amplifier for powering small bookshelf style or other home stereo speakers.
  3. Connecting the TV sound to a home receiver for using your existing speakers.
  4. Digital output use: With a digital to analog converter, it’s possible to connect to any stereo receiver, powered speakers, or auxiliary input you like.

1. Using computer speakers

Image showing example of computer speakers

Shown: An example of self-powered computer speakers with 3.5mm audio connection and USB power connector.

Computer speakers are the easiest way to add speakers to your TV. Nearly all come with an audio amplifier built into them and either use an AC-DC adaper or a 5V USB power connection. If your TV doesn’t have a USB power port (most don’t) you can simply use a USB phone adapter.

These speaker types can give great sound quality if you shop carefully and are very affordable, too. A decent pair start close to $15 and above, while there are cheaper products out there. However, the cheaper models tend to have a very “thin” sound: poor treble, poor bass, and overall a very bland sound response.

More advanced speaker sets include a self-powered subwoofer for even better bass response. Since PC speakers use small speaker cones many times they can’t produce much bass without one.

How to connect computer speakers to a TV without a headphone jack

Image of male RCA to female 3.5mm headphone adapter

Most PC speaker sets use a standard 1/8″ (3.5mm) stereo headphone connector, so for TVs without a 3.5mm jack you may need an RCA to 3.5mm adapter cable.

They’re usually about $3 or less and available at many online retailers and sometimes your local retail audio/video store, too.

2. Using a small amplifier and separate speakers

Exanole of external amplifier and speakers for TV sound

Example of a miniature amplifier and bookshelf speakers you can use with a TV for great sound.

You might think that you’ll need to spend a ton of money to power a higher-quality pair of “real” speakers like some great 4 1/2″ or 6 1/2″ just like a regular (and much more expensive) home stereo receiver. It’s not the case at all!

If you shop carefully, it’s possible to use a very basic – and affordable – mini amp and external speakers on a budget. For average TV, movie, and music channel listening you’ll only need 5W or more per channel amp power.

Amplifiers of this kind start in price around $20 with 15W per channel and a great-sounding pair of bookshelf speakers can be found for about $26 and up. Like many things, it depends on your needs and your budget.

As shown in the diagram, you’ll need to connect the amplifier to the TV’s audio outputs using RCA cable or in some cases, and 3.5mm adapter also. Most mini amps come with an AC-DC wall power supply you’ll plug in.

Next, you’ll connect the amp to the speaker terminals using speaker wire and you’re ready.

3. Using a home stereo receiver

Home stereo receiver digital and analog inputs example image

Already have a home theater sound system or home stereo receiver? Great news: in nearly all cases they offer at least one auxiliary (“AUX”) input RCA input pair to make it easy to connect your TV for excellent sound.

You’ll just need to connect RCA cables to one of the receiver’s auxiliary inputs. These are sometimes market for TV, cable, and/or DVD or Blu-Ray inputs selected from the main sound control.

On some models, they’re located on the front of the receiver and may be called “AUX” inputs. If your TV doesn’t have analog (RCA or 3.5mm) outputs, the digital inputs can be used. Those are nearly always optical (TOSLINK) or coaxial (RCA style) connectors.

4. Connecting speakers to a TV with digital audio outputs

Digital audio optical and coaxial output examplesExamples of digital audio output connectors some TVs use.

What if your television only has digital audio outputs? While it is a little bit more complicated, the good news is that you’ll be fine. To use digital audio connections, you’ll need: (1) A stereo receiver with digital audio inputs OR (2) a digital to analog (RCA) converter.

Digital to analog audio converter box example labeled

A digital to analog converter is a small box with a wall power input (adapter is supplied) and input & output jacks on both ends. It allows connecting a device with only digital audio out to any standard receiver or amplifier.

Using a digital to analog converter allows you to connect a TV without analog outputs (RCA jacks or a 3.5mm audio jack) to any equipment, making them super handy. Most sell for $15-$25 or so, depending on the brand and seller.

More helpful info about speakers, speaker wire, and diagrams

Here are more great articles I’ve written to help you get your speakers working or learn the basics:

Got questions, suggestions, or comments?

Feel free to reach out if you’ve got a suggestion or leave a comment below. If I didn’t cover your TV & speaker situation, I’d love to hear how I can improve my article. Thanks!

How To Wire A Dual Voice Coil Speaker + Subwoofer Wiring Diagrams

How to wire a dual voice coil speaker featured image

Dual voice speakers (which are usually subwoofers) can be confusing, that’s for sure. To make matters worse, if you don’t know how to properly choose or wire a dual voice coil speaker you can get less sound & power than you expect!

To help you figure it all out, I’ve put together this friendly how-to guide with detailed diagrams, answers to several common questions, and more. You can download & print the subwoofer wiring diagrams if you like.

Want to know how to wire your dual voice coil subwoofer or match the right kind to your amplifier? Read on to find out more.

Contents

What is a dual voice coil speaker?

What is a dual voice coil speaker exploded view diagram labeled

Dual voice coil speakers are extremely similar to single voice coil models except for having a 2nd voice coil winding, wire, and wire terminals. They both use a small gauge wire tightly wound on a speaker “bobbin” (tube) that rests inside a magnet attached to the cone. They produce sound when a musical signal is supplied.

Dual voice coil (DVC) speakers, which are most often subwoofers, are almost the same as standard single voice coil speakers. The difference lies in their design & how they’re used.

What is the difference in dual voice coil and single voice coil subwoofers?

Standard speakers or subwoofers have the following parts:

  • A metal basket in which the speaker parts are housed and a magnet is attached to
  • Large permanent magnet
  • Speaker cone surround
  • Speaker cone surround & dust cap
  • Voice coil bobbin (tube where the coil is made)
  • A “spider” which is a stiff but flexible material that suspends the voice coil assembly
  • Voice coil: tightly wound small gauge wire of a large length (this is suspended inside a gap in the magnet)
  • Voice coil wire leads & connection terminals

Single voice coil subwoofers have only one speaker voice coil winding while dual voice coil models have a 2nd voice coil of the same Ohm rating (impedance) added in the bobbin.

A 2nd pair of wire leads and speaker wire terminals are added, too.

Do dual voice coil speakers have performance differences?

There aren’t any direct performance differences between a single and dual voice coil model of the same design. However, there are definitely some really nice advantages I’ll explain later.

In most cases, dual voice coil subwoofers are slightly more expensive than the same model with single voice coil design – but not by very much. Power handling ratings are usually very similar (always double-check to be sure) but might be a bit different.

If you’re into speaker box design, it’s helpful to know that dual voice coil speakers often have slightly different Thiele/Small parameters. Thiele/Small parameters are just the highly detailed technical characteristics of a speaker that help know how it behaves in certain speaker boxes or audio crossover designs.

Single vs dual voice coil subs: which is better?

Single vs dual voice coil subwoofer comparison article section image

There isn’t a “best” choice when it comes to single or dual voice coil speakers & subwoofers.

When it comes to choosing one or the other, the answer is “it depends.” Whether or not you should use single or DVC subwoofers depends on a combination of things:

  • The minimum speaker load (Ohms) rating of your amplifier
  • Whether your amp is stereo only or bridgeable
  • How many speakers/subwoofers you’ll be using

Most, but not all, higher power car amplifiers are bridgeable while home stereo amplifiers in many cases aren’t. As a reminder, never assume your amplifier is bridgeable – always check!

Dual voice coil subwoofer advantages

Diagram showing examples of dual voice coil subwoofer advantages

It’s true that standard (single voice coil) subwoofers are fine for many systems. But without question, a lot of people are limited by using them, while dual voice coil subwoofers offer some great flexibility & advantages.

1. Maximum amp power output

These days, most car amplifiers have certain power ratings (in Watts) at a specific speaker load Ohm rating. For example, a mono amplifier might have the following power ratings:

  • 350W RMS at 4 ohms speaker load
  • 600W RMS at 2 ohms
  • 1,000W RMS at 1 ohm

Let’s say you’d like to use a single (mono) bass setup and only one subwoofer. Ordinarily, you’d be limited to getting a maximum of 600W from the amp since you’ll usually only find 2 ohms or higher subwoofers available.

While you could add a 2nd 2 ohm subwoofer and wire both in parallel, that would mean having to get a bigger box, spend more money, use more installation space, and so on.

A 2 ohm DVC subwoofer could be used and wired in parallel to allow the amp to put out its full power. Otherwise, you’ll never reach the power capacity you paid for with your amplifier.

That’s especially true today since modern class D amplifiers have ratings like this and some are 1 ohm capable.

2. Amplifier channels and special setups

As I mentioned earlier, not all amplifiers can be bridged. That’s a big problem if you’ve got a single 4 channel amplifier, for example. How can you add a subwoofer and supply it with enough power without having to buy a second amp?

With a dual voice coil subwoofer, you could use one channel for each of the voice coils to drive the subwoofer with enough power. Likewise, for truly powerful systems, it’s possible to one amp per each voice coil for single or multi-subwoofer systems.

3. Multiple subwoofers/amp impedance matching

When you’re wiring several subwoofers to the same amplifier channel or mono bridging two channels, the Ohms load you amp sees depends on the series or parallel wiring combination of the subwoofers.

Dual voice coils subs offer several more options as they let you choose more total Ohm load combinations that can better match your amp’s minimum rating.

4. Ability to use them for home for car stereo systems

Ordinarily, it’s not possible to use 8 ohm subwoofers efficiently for car audio since they can’t produce the same power as a 4 ohm speaker of the same kind. Car subwoofers with 2 or 4 ohm ratings can’t be used with home stereo amplifiers because they’re below the minimum amp spec.

They’ll cause a home amp to overheat, shutdown, and even become damaged permanently.

Dual voice coil speakers have a unique benefit here as you could use a dual 4 ohm subwoofer for both car or home use:

  • Wired in series for 8 ohms for home stereo use
  • Using a single 4 ohm or parallelled to 2 ohms for car stereo amp use

It’s especially nice if you’re able to get a great price on speakers as you’ll be able to use them when otherwise you couldn’t.

How to choose & match a dual voice coil subwoofer to your amp

Choosing the right dual voice coil subwoofer

To get the right dual voice coil subwoofers, you’ll need to note a few things:

  • The minimum speaker load (Ohms rating) of your amplifier at the power level you’re interested in
  • How many subwoofers you’d like to use

The rest is relatively easy! Just use my wiring connection diagrams below and you’ll find the right subwoofer(s) configuration you should use.

You’ll need to check the owner’s manual (or labeled printed) for the amplifier to get the minimum speaker load you can use along with the maximum power rating Ohm load. Then pick the right number of dual voice coil subwoofers that can be wired to match that required by the amp.

If you’re unsure of anything feel free to ask me by commenting below or sending a message.

4 Ohm dual voice coil sub wiring diagram

4 Ohm dual voice coil subwoofer wiring diagram

Click here to download the .PDF version you can view or print

2 Ohm dual voice coil sub wiring diagram

2 Ohm dual voice coil subwoofer wiring diagram

Click here to download the .PDF version you can view or print

8 Ohm dual voice coil sub wiring diagram

8 Ohm dual voice coil subwoofer wiring diagram

Click here to download the .PDF version you can view or print

Additional reading + if you have questions

I’ve got some great (and very detailed) guides to help you with your audio needs:

Got questions or need help?

If you’re still a bit confused on how to wire a dual voice coil speaker or subwoofer, just leave me a comment below with the details. You can also message me directly here. 

I’ll be happy to help!

Does speaker wire affect sound quality? No Myths, Just Facts

Does speaker wire affect sound quality featured image

Audio accessories like cables and especially speaker wire are one of the most commonly overpriced and hyped things you can buy. But what’s the truth? Does speaker wire affect sound quality?

Should you spend a lot of money on “special” speaker wire? What do you need to know for the best sound for your car or home speaker systems?

I’ll tell you this and more in clear & simple to understand terms – along with all the facts you need. Read on!

Contents

Quick answers: Does speaker wire affect sound quality?

Speaker wire & sound quality fast facts
  • Under normal circumstances, the answer is NO: speaker wire does not affect sound quality. However, in some cases, (explained in further below) sound quality or volume can be affected somewhat.
  • There’s no scientific test data to back up the (misleading) idea that “special” or “audiophile” speaker wires provide better sound than a regular good quality speaker wire of the correct size.
  • Using non-standard wire or cables instead of speaker wire can result in sound changes, although very minor. Excessively long or other high-resistance wire can affect the sound by causing a drop in speaker volume.
  • For best results, do not coil long lengths of speaker wire as this can create inductance that reduces some sound frequencies as a crossover does.
  • The wire between speaker crossovers and the speakers should be kept fairly short. Excessively long wire to the crossover & at the speakers can cause the crossover’s behavior to change & alter the sound response of the speaker.

Audiophile & hyped-up wire & cables

One of the largest problems I’ve seen over the years is the amount of hype & exaggeration used to sell overpriced cables of all types: speaker wire, audio interconnects (like RCA cables), video cables, and even computer & data cables.

It’s not limited to home stereo & video either – there has been plenty of it in the car stereo world, too.

Fancy audio cables & wire are based on nonsense

Often claims are made by companies & audiophiles that their highly-priced cables offer better sound because of some type of technical advantage over standard wire or cables. The problem is that there’s no scientific test data to back it up. Most of the time it’s just for making a larger profit.

In fact, when it comes to electronics, audio accessories like cable and wire are one of the most profitable categories for retailers!

The science of speaker wire and sound quality

Clip art image of man listening to music with capacitive and inductive reactance formulas

Here’s a list of reasons why you won’t notice any difference with sound quality due to speaker wire. There are a few exceptions that aren’t typical which I’ll explain later.

It’s important to explain one thing, though: for the sake of this article we’re referring to normal cases where the correct size & good quality wire of a reasonable length are used.

Speaker wire sound quality facts:

  • While it’s true that many electrical components & conductors do have capacitance and inductance that can affect the sound, the speaker wire has very little. Far less than what is needed to have a real impact on sound quality & the frequency response of a speaker system.
  • Things like speaker performance, voice coil inductance, speaker crossovers, and more have a much more significant impact on the sound quality of a system – hundreds of times larger, in fact.
  • Speaker wires are made up of a bundle of thin conductors that touch each other which keeps capacitance and inductance to a level so small it’s negligible for audio. Other types of cable (like individually insulated conductors) can have an impact on sound – but they’re not speaker wire.
  • The electrical conductor phenomenon known as skin effect doesn’t apply to the audio frequency range. It’s not a concern until dealing with much higher frequencies (megahertz and higher ranges). Audio frequencies span about 20Hz to 20kHz in range.
  • While it’s true that blind listening tests have been done to try and “prove” that special audio wires or cables sound better to people, they’re never able to prove it. In fact, the tests are almost always badly flawed and have no hard scientific audio test data to back them up. To make matters worse, the placebo effect has an impact on the test along with people have different levels of hearing.

Speaker wire electrical resistance, capacitance, and inductance explained

Schematic diagram showing electrical model of speaker wire: resistance, capacitance, and inductance
A diagram showing a model of how you can think of speaker wire or other conductors. The wire has a very small amount of resistance, inductance, and capacitance in it.

You can think of speaker wire – much like other electrical conductors, as being made up of a resistor, an inductor, and a capacitor, as nearly all conductors have at least a tiny bit of each. Resistors oppose the flow of electrical current and cause some voltage to be lost.

Capacitors and inductors are sort of like resistors but their “resistance” (called impedance in this case) changes with frequency. Because of it, they’re bad to have in wires that carry an alternating current (AC) signal like music, but extremely useful in things like speaker crossovers.

Image showing speaker crossover examples and resistor, capacitor, and inductors

You might be thinking, “If speaker wire has some inductance and capacitance, wouldn’t that hurt the sound?” 

The answer, in this case, is no.

That’s because unlike speaker crossovers where we use large values of capacitors and inductors to filter out or block certain sound ranges to speakers, speaker wire has an incredibly tiny amount. Not enough to have any real effect in most cases.

For example, we could use a capacitor in line with a tweeter to block distorting & damaging bass from reaching it. That’s possible because the impedance (or resistance to electrical current flow) decreases with the frequency, meaning that lower frequencies get reduced a lot and effectively filtered out.

Even basic speaker wire is good!

In the case of speaker wire, if the capacitance were a high value it would be possible for higher frequencies that reach the speaker to be greatly reduced & cause a poor sound quality.

Likewise, if the inductance were high enough to matter it could affect sound quality too. As I mentioned before, however, speaker wire has very low values of each. Ordinary lamp power wire (extremely similar to 18AWG or 16AWG wire) has only about 10-20pFarad capacitance per foot, give less than 1% loss in the audible range for a 50 foot length.

(For comparison, a picoFarad is .000 000 000 001, or a billionth of a Farad unit of capacitance. Capacitors used in audio speaker systems are around a few hundredths of a Farad.)

What is in speaker wire?

What is in speaker wire diagram

Speaker wire is made up of fine strands of wire, usually copper or copper-clad aluminum (CCA), that are bundled together and electrically separated from each other inside flexible insulation. Other kinds exist too, like those that are also bundled with a thin shield or other special features.

The insulation usually has a thin section in the middle which can be torn easily for separating the wires when stripping it, connecting it, and so on. Most of the time one wire is marked with a positive indicator of some kind.

Does splicing affect sound quality?

Schematic diagram showing electrical model of speaker wire and connector resistance

This diagram, like the speaker wire electrical model, shows how you can think of a speaker wire connector. Both the wire and the connector do have some resistance, although a tiny amount that’s negligible when used correctly. Sound quality isn’t a problem unless there’s an unusually bad connection.

Adding a connector to speaker wire by splicing, either by soldering, crimp connectors, or other ways doesn’t normally affect sound quality. It can’t – it’s just another electrical path for the electrical current & audio signal to flow through.

However, it is possible for an unusually poor connection to have a bad enough resistance that the speaker could have noticeably less volume & power loss. That’s because when a very bad connection causes a high amount of resistance to the flow of current, it also causes a large voltage drop across it, too.

That means less power is available to the speaker than normally would be at the same volume setting. It’s a waste of power.

To avoid this:

  • Always use a high-quality connection for speaker wire splices. Soldering is the best of all, but good quality crimp connectors are excellent too.
  • Wire connection strips (wire terminal barrier strips) with clean nickel or other plated metal contacts are suitable as well for speaker systems.
  • Gold plating is not very important and won’t make a large difference in practical use.

Image showing examples of good wire connections with crimped connectors and soldered wire

Good quality crimp connectors (left) and solder (right) are great choices for speaker wire.

The most important thing is to make a tight & clean connection with great wire-to-wire contact.

In some cases like marine & boat use, connectors can corrode & galvanize, causing other issues that do limit sound quality. That’s much less common, however. (In that case, using an anti-corrosion liquid or spray can keep the wire from getting to that point)

Does the length of speaker wire affect the sound?

It’s definitely possible to lose speaker sound quality a little bit by using an excessively long wire that’s not large enough.

That’s because:

  • Very long lengths of speaker wire (say 50+ ft in length, especially 100ft or more) have more resistance and will cause a small volume & power drop especially at maximum amplifier power levels.
  • Very long lengths of wire will have more capacitance that can slightly affect the frequency response at the speaker. It depends on the particular wire.

Unfortunately, even if you’re technically inclined, almost no speaker wire makers offer any technical specs to help you figure out what you can expect for very long lengths. We can, however, use the American Wire Gauge (AWG) standard to know the resistance per foot for most stranded wire.

How long can you run speaker wire without impacting quality?

The length depends on a few things & the AWG size (wire gauge) you’re using. There are a few things that make a big difference:

  • The impedance (Ohms rating) of your speakers. This is usually 6-8 Ohms for home stereo speakers and 4 or sometimes 2 for car audio.
  • Amplifier power level you’ll use.

Here’s a basic wire size & length chart to help.

Simplified speaker wire size & length table
Wire Size Recommended For
18 Ga. Car and home speakers up to 25 ft with average power levels (50W RMS and below)
16 Ga. Longer speaker runs for car & home stereo speakers; Moderate power subwoofers (under 225W)
14 Ga. Long (100ft+) speaker runs or higher power applications such as high-power 2 or 4 ohm subwoofers.

This does make a few assumptions, though: most people almost never use their amplifier & speakers at maximum power & volume, so you’re generally fine with the recommendations listed here.

Also, most people do not run extra pairs of speakers in parallel on the same wire which would require wire 2 gauges bigger due to twice the power (and electrical current) being supplied on the same wire.

To keep the sound quality good & power loss to a minimum, for longer lengths go up at least two gauges in wire size for 50 feet or above. Example: when using 18AWG wire normally, go up to 18AWG->16AWG->14AWG wire for keeping losses down.

Does using small speaker wire affect sound quality?

Using a smaller speaker wire than you need won’t exactly affect sound quality, but instead can cause you to waste power and lose speaker volume. Typically, most people need about 18AWG wire for speaker systems up to 50W for 4 ohm speakers & about 100W for 8 ohm speakers in relatively short distances (25ft or less).

One thing to bear in mind is that you can’t use copper clad aluminum (CCA) wire for the same power levels as you can copper wire.

Copper-clad aluminum vs copper speaker wire quality differences

Copper clad aluminum vs copper speaker wire illustrated diagram

Copper clad aluminum (CCA) wire has, in the last few years, become more and more common as the price of copper wiring has gone up. It’s one of those “little things” you might not know when buying that companies aren’t telling you.

Unlike pure copper wire, copper-clad aluminum uses an aluminum wire core with a thin copper plating. From the outside, it misleadingly looks the same because of the plating.

Aluminum offers a lighter weight and lower cost than copper, so it’s at first glance it may seem like a great way to replace more expensive copper wiring. However, there’s an important difference that wire makers often won’t tell you!

How good is copper-covered aluminum speaker wire?

The good news is that CCA wire has the same sound quality as copper wire, meaning it’s fine for great sound. The problem is that aluminum isn’t as good of an electrical conductor as copper.

Aluminum has only 61% of the conductivity of copper (in other words, it has 39% more resistance) meaning it will take larger aluminum wires to get the same wire quality. 

What to know before buying CCA speaker wire

In most cases like average listening & typical power levels, it’s not really a problem in day-to-day use. However, if you’re going to drive speakers at higher power levels or want the absolute best for your money, you’ll need to be sure to look for packaging that clearly states 100% pure copper.

Otherwise, copper-clad aluminum will work just as well if you follow this rule: when buying CCA speaker wire, to get the same quality as true copper wire go up one gauge in size.

For example, to replace 18 gauge copper wire use a 16 gauge CCA wire.

Cases where speaker sound response, volume, or quality can be affected

Straight vs coiled speaker wire comparison

For best results, do not coil up excess lengths of speaker wire. Keep the free wire straight & curved instead. Coiled wire can act as an inductor and potentially affect the sound in some cases. (An inductor is a coil of wire that builds magnetic fields)

There are some cases where using wire the wrong way (or using the wrong kind of wire) lead to bad sound quality:

  • Using non-standard wire or cable as speaker wire
  • Winding long lengths of wire into a loop, creating a coil (creating an inductor basically)
  • Breaks or cuts in speaker wire that cause problems with power flow
  • Poor connections like twisting wire together instead of using a proper connector or solder
  • Heavily oxidized wire
  • Loosely connected speaker box posts or terminals

To avoid nicking the wire inside, avoid using a razor or utility knife to strip wires. Use a stripper or other tool instead.

Exposed copper wire can oxidize badly over time and cause a very poor connection, especially after being exposed to moisture and especially other air outdoors. Be sure to check and cut & re-strip if necessary or use a nice clean connector or solder to eliminate this.

Speaker wire terminals in speaker boxes can become loose and get hot once the connection is bad enough, causing a lot of power to be lost and give poor sound. It’s a great idea to check and tighten or replace terminals if you’re having sound quality issues.

Examples of poor choices of cables to be used as speaker wire

Even though you may be tempted to save money by reusing some extra wire or cable you’ve got lying around, some times of cables are bad choices for speaker wire. Coaxial cable, for example, can have higher capacitance and cause sound quality problems.

Microphone and network cables usually have much smaller conductors that can’t carry the power you need for speakers, as well as being more susceptible to break if they’re solid conductors.

More speaker wire articles

I’ve got more helpful articles related to speaker wire, too:

Feel free to leave any comments or questions below – I’d love to hear from you!

What Size Speaker Wire Is Right? The Right Gauge, Type, And More

What speaker size guide featured image

Wondering what size speaker wire you need? You’re not alone – there’s a lot of confusion when it comes to hooking up speakers & getting the right type and gauge of wire.

In this guide, I’ll show you the right gauge and type of speaker wire you’ll need. I’ll also cover a lot more, too:

  • What speaker wire “gauge” means
  • How to check which speaker wire is positive or negative
  • How to connect speaker wire to terminals or splice it
  • Copper clad aluminum (CCA) vs pure copper wire

Read on to learn more!

Contents

Infographic – Speaker wire fast facts

Infographic for speaker wire size fast facts guide

Quick answer: What size speaker wire do I need? 

Speaker wire size quick guide
  • For most cases using home or car speakers (not subwoofers) 18 gauge (18AWG) is fine.  18AWG wire is good for about 50W for 4 ohm (car) speakers and 100W for 8 ohm (home stereo) speakers.
  • For higher power systems or longer lengths, 16 gauge is a great choice.
  • For longer lengths (50-100ft)/(15-30.5m) you’ll need to go up 2 gauges (14 ga.) to avoid losing power. Very long lengths of speaker wire lose a bit of power over the long distance due to resistance. Using larger wire can help reduce or avoid this. (See my detailed chart later for more info)

First and foremost, it’s important to know that you shouldn’t spend money on bigger speaker wire than you need.

It’s a waste of your hard-earned money to get wire that’s bigger (and costs more) than what you need. It won’t improve the sound or anything like that, despite what salespeople may tell you.

The size of speaker wire you need is based on 3 things you can easily check:

  1. Your stereo or amplifier’s power output (usually listed as watts “RMS”)
  2. The Ohm rating (“impedance”) of your speakers
  3. Length needed

However, if you’d like a simplified answer here’s a chart to fit the needs of most people.

Simplified speaker wire size chart

Wire Size Recommended For
18 Ga. Car and home speakers up to 25 ft with average power levels (50W RMS and below)
16 Ga. Longer speaker runs for car & home stereo speakers; Moderate power subwoofers (under 225W)
14 Ga. Long (100ft+) speaker runs or higher power applications such as high-power 2 or 4 ohm subwoofers.

In most cases for everyday listening at medium or low power levels (50W RMS or under), 18 gauge (18AWG) wire is what you need.

It’s a good compromise between price and handling as it’s usually priced well and easy to find.

Choosing speaker wire for long distances

The table above works well for most cases. But what if you need say 50ft or even 100ft of length? In that case, you’ll want to double the size by choosing a wire gauge 2 sizes up.

Wire gauge (the amount of copper in them) doubles by moving to not the next gauge, but instead the one after that.

Example:

18AWG wire will lose about 4 watts at maximum power if it’s 50ft long. To avoid this, we’ll pick a wire gauge 2 sizes up: 18 -> 16 -> 14 gauge.

Speaker wire power & size chart

If you’d like save money by using a smaller gauge wire here’s a handy chart I’ve made based on the maximum power you can use with wire for different lengths. With it, you can pick the right wire based on your type of speaker, how much power you’ll use, and one of several close lengths you may need.

Wire Gauge Length/Power for 8 Ohm Speakers Length/Power for 4 Ohm Speakers Length/Power for 2 Ohm Speakers
20AWG 3ft: 263W, 16ft: 49W, 25ft, 32W 50ft: 16W 3ft: 131W, 16ft: 25W, 25ft: 16W, 50ft: 8W 3ft: 66W, 16ft: 12W, 25ft: 8W, 50ft: 4W
18AWG 3ft: 418W, 16ft: 78W, 25ft: 50W, 50ft: 25W 3ft: 209W, 16ft: 39W, 25ft: 25W, 50ft: 13W 3ft: 104W, 16ft: 20W, 25ft: 13W, 50ft: 6W
16AWG 3ft: 664W, 16ft: 125W, 25ft: 80W, 50ft: 40W 3ft: 332W, 16ft: 62W, 25ft: 40W, 50ft: 20W 3ft: 166W, 16ft: 31W, 25ft: 20W, 50ft: 10W
14AWG 3ft: 1056W, 16ft: 198W, 25ft: 127W, 50ft: 63W 3ft: 528W, 16ft: 99W, 25ft: 63W, 50ft: 32W 3ft: 264W, 16ft: 50W, 25ft: 32W, 50ft: 16W
12AWG 3ft: 1679W, 16ft: 315W, 25ft: 202W, 50ft: 101W 3ft: 840W, 16ft: 157W, 25ft: 101W, 50ft: 50W 3ft: 420W, 16ft: 79W, 25ft: 50W, 50ft: 25W

For example, a 2 Ohm car subwoofer with up to 250W of power from an amp but only needing 3ft of length can use 14AWG wire. (Instead of a larger, more expensive wire)

What gauge is speaker wire?

Image showing a comparison of common speaker wire gauge sizes

Speaker wire doesn’t have just one size (gauge). Most speaker wire follows the American Wire Gauge (AWG) standard that uses a chart of different gauges. It assigns a number to each standard size & electrical conductor rating. Likewise, each size is rated for a certain amount of electrical current capacity.

Speaker wire comes in a wide range of standard sizes based on the American Wire Gauge (AWG) standard. The American Wire Gauge standard, also less commonly known as the Brown & Sharpe wire gauge, is a standardized wire gauge system used since 1857 for the diameters of round electrically conducting wire.

Diagram showing example scale sizes of AWG wire gauges 18 to 12

AWG wire charts use a numbering system where a smaller number is larger wire with more copper conductors. Likewise, a larger number is used for smaller wire with fewer conductors. I realize it seems kind of odd, but once you start using it you’ll get used to it pretty quickly.

Why wire gauge matters

The AWG is very important because it means you can be sure what size of speaker wire you’re getting just like any other power wire you’d buy. Speaker wire is treated the same (since it is the same, basically!) as regular power hook up wire which also follows the AWG standard.

Most speaker wire sold today is made up of 2 wires attached as a pair with one marked as the positive wire (I’ll cover this later here). Gauges available usually range from about 20 or 22 gauge to 10 gauge, with 18 gauge being the most popular.

Stranded vs solid wire

Comparison of solid vs stranded wire

Solid wire (left) is a terrible choice for speakers & audio systems. It’s very hard to bend & curve, it can break when exposed to constant vibration, and it’s also harder to make connections with. Stranded wire (right) is tremendously easier to deal with. Stranded wire is made up of a large number of tiny copper wire strands, making it very flexible and also easier to strip, crimp to connectors, and work with by hand.

All speaker wire solid is stranded wire – meaning it’s made up of a bundle of 16-60 or more tiny copper stands. It’s very flexible and also easy to deal with for stripping the wire & adding connectors or twisting it by hand. Solid wire, however, has only one conductor.

Since it’s commonly used for home & industrial electrical wiring, you might be tempted to use leftover solid wire for your speakers. Solid wire is a terrible choice for nearly all audio systems and especially car audio installations. But why?

Use stranded, not solid wire for speakers

Solid wire is fine for homes or buildings since it’s never moved once installed. However, it’s very hard to bend into place and is also subject to damage over time when exposed to constant vibration like in a car or truck. Over time, the wire can develop weak spots which break!

I strongly recommend you don’t bother with solid wire as it’s not worth the risk or hassle. Many kinds of solid wire (like for home outlet wiring) have insulation that’s super hard to strip, too.

How much wire do you need?

Speaker wire length estimation diagram

It’s always best to measure to make sure – but since many people use speaker wire for almost the same things there are some common lengths that work. In the diagram above you can see some common lengths for speaker wire that should be in the “ballpark.”

Buying & using speaker wire is definitely one of those cases where the old advice “better to have too much than not enough” applies! You don’t want to run out of wire because of not planning well.

To figure out how much speaker wire you need, my suggestions is to use one of the following:

  • A tape measure
  • A long length of strength to run

Be sure to try to take curves & bends into account but don’t worry about getting it exactly right. Measure the distance and then add a few feet (2 or so is good) to account for little differences.

A tape measure works well and so does string or rope you can place along the path where the wire will go.

Mark the length, then measure it. I like to add at least  1 foot of length for each wire section for home stereo use and 2 feet each for car stereo installations to play it safe.

Figuring out how much wire to buy

When it comes to buying speaker wire, one thing to know is that it adds up fast! Here are two examples to show what I mean:

Speaker wire length example #1

Home stereo example: 

  • Front speaker lengths measured: 2 x 6ft
  • Rear speakers measured: 16 & 22 ft

Total wire needed: 6 + 6 + 16 + 22 = 50ft (15.2m)

Speaker wire length example #2

Car stereo example: Running wire from the dashboard head unit to front door speakers and to rear deck speakers.

  • Front speaker lengths measured: 2 x 8ft
  • Rear speakers measured: 16 & 20 ft

Total wire needed: 8 + 8 + 16 + 20 = 52ft (15.9m)

Speaker wire is normally sold in rolls such as 25ft, 50ft, and 100ft, although some retailers offer it by the foot as well.

Precut lengths are also available sometimes, too. Those are usually around 6, 12, or 18 ft. However, more often than not you’ll save money by buying a good quality by the roll. Just be sure you don’t buy poor-quality wire or overpriced wire (more about that later).

Just remember this rule: never take chances with speaker wire length – don’t guess. Buy at least a little bit more than your estimate.

Which speaker wire is positive? Which is negative?

How do I check if a speaker wire is positive or negative?

Which speaker wire is positive diagram with examples

The most common kinds of positive wire markings are shown here as examples. 99% of the time, figuring out which wire is positive is really easy once you know what to look for.

The good news is that once you know what to look for, 99% of the time it’s very easy to tell which speaker wire is positive and which is negative.

Here’s a list of the most common positive speaker indicators:

  1. A printed line or series of lines is on the positive wire
  2. One wire’s insulation is red or a different color than the negative wire (most often red is used)
  3. One wire has a copper color and one has a silver finish
  4. The positive wire may have small “+” symbols and/or wire gauge info printed on it
  5. An imprint or molded stripe is made in the positive wire’s insulation

Of the 5 kinds, imprints can occasionally be a little bit harder to notice so sometimes you need to look very closely under good lighting. Also, positive wires that use a “+” print can be a little hard to read sometimes, too.

Which is positive: copper or silver?

Closeup example of positive & silver speaker wire

These are less common, but of speaker & power wires that have a copper and a silver color, you can pick one of the two to be positive. However, as a rule the copper wire is treated as the positive.

The “silver” wire is actually copper wire that’s been lightly coated (“tinned”) in most cases.

Once you know which is the positive wire then the other is the negative wire. Music uses alternating current (AC) signals and doesn’t flow in only one direction. We use one wire as the positive one when connecting speakers to be consistent when connecting them.

That’s to avoid having some speakers wired “out of phase”, which just means speakers playing with the opposite motion as the others which results in poor sound. It’s important to be sure to connect your speakers all the same way for the best results.

How to cut and strip speaker wire

Wire stripper tool examples

Examples of the most common wire stripping & cutting tools. A wire stripper can cut & strip most wire while a crimp tool can strip and also crimp connectors for wire. Wire cutting pliers are very handy for cutting small to large wire. Automatic wire strippers make stripping wire super easy.

There are a number of affordable tools for cutting or stripping speaker wire. All of the tools pictured above can cut and strip wire. If you’re using crimp connectors, a crimping tool is best. 

For the easiest possible remove of wire insulation, automatic wire strippers, available from about $15, are wonderful and make the work super easy to do.

Expect to spend about $7-10 for the basic hand tool you need. 

Note: You can use wire cutting pliers for both cutting and stripping speaker wire. Just pinch the wire insulation tightly and pull it to the side, and it will pop off.

How to splice & extend speaker wire

How to splice speaker wire diagram

Splicing speaker wire isn’t very hard and there are a few ways to go about it. However, I do not recommend just twisting wire together. It’s unreliable and will come apart over time. 

You can also potentially damage your stereo or amplifier if the wire becomes exposed and creates a short circuit.

Instead, here are 2 ways you can splice speaker wire with professional results:

  1. By soldering and insulating
  2. Using crimp connectors

Soldering is a bit harder to do, but the benefit is it’s the most reliable way to connect wires. You’ll need a soldering iron (at least 15W, although I recommend a 25W or higher one), solder, electrical tape, and a tool to strip the wire.

Image showing example crimp tool and crimp connectors

A crimp tool (left) is often affordable and easy to find. Some include crimp connectors. Blue crimp, or “butt” connectors (right) work well for splicing the ends of speaker wire.

Crimp connectors are reliable and easier to use, too. It’s a simple as stripping the speaker wire, twisting the wire strands tightly, then inserting them into the connector and then crimping it tightly on each end.

A crimp tool can be found for under $10 if you shop carefully.

Copper-clad aluminum vs copper speaker wire

Copper clad aluminum vs copper speaker wire illustrated diagram

Copper clad aluminum (CCA) wire has, in the last few years, become more and more common as the price of copper wiring has gone up. It’s one of those “little things” you might not know when buying that companies aren’t telling you.

Unlike pure copper wire, copper-clad aluminum uses an aluminum wire core with a thin copper plating. From the outside, it misleadingly looks the same because of the plating.

Aluminum offers a lighter weight and lower cost than copper, so it’s at first glance it may seem like a great way to replace more expensive copper wiring. However, the problem is that aluminum isn’t as good of an electrical conductor as copper.

Aluminum has only 61% of the conductivity of copper (in other words, it has 39% more resistance) meaning it will take larger aluminum wires to get the same wire quality.

Everyday use & what to know

In most cases like average listening & typical power levels, it’s not really a problem in day-to-day use. However, if you’re going to drive speakers at higher power levels or want the absolute best for your money, you’ll need be sure to look for packaging that specifies wire is 100% pure copper.

When buying CCA speaker wire, to get the same quality as true copper wire move up one gauge in size. For example, to replace 18 gauge copper wire use a 16 gauge CCA wire.

Additional reading

Wondering how to wire up your home or car speakers and need examples? Check out my speaker wiring diagram article here for more info.

For help installing a car amplifier & speaker, you’ll find some great information in my guide showing you how to wire a 4 channel amp to front and rear speakers here.

Got comments or questions?

I’d love to hear from you, & your questions can help me make this guide better! Feel free to leave a comment or question below.

What Is A Crossover Frequency? What Does A Crossover Do? A Helpful Guide

What does a crossover do? What is a crossover frequency? Featured image

Wondering what crossovers do and what a crossover frequency is? Trust me, I know – it can be a bit confusing at first.

Crossovers are incredibly important for a great-sounding stereo system whether in your home, car or nearly anywhere that speakers and an amplifier are used.

In this detailed post, I’ll explain what they are, how they work, and much, much more in a way that anyone can understand.  

Contents

Infographic – Audio crossover facts

What does a crossover do infographic diagram

What is a crossover frequency? What does a crossover do?

Crossover frequency and crossover basics summarized
  • Crossovers are used to separate an incoming musical signal into 1 or more outputs. They offer a way to “cut off” certain sound ranges to send the best range to each type of speaker (For example, tweeters and woofers in a 2-way speaker system)
  • A crossover works using the principle of electronic filters to filter out (block) a range of musical sound frequencies as desired.
  • A crossover frequency is the sound frequency that starts the cutoff point for crossover filters. It’s the frequency point at which signals are reduced by 3 decibels (represented as -3dB)
  • A crossover’s outputs are the signal ranges allowed to pass such as high-pass (lower frequencies are blocked) and low-pass (higher frequencies are blocked)
  • There are 2 types of crossovers: active (electronic) and passive (speaker) types. Both types are very commonly found in home, car stereo, and professional audio systems

When we think about musical signals we don’t always realize the important things going on behind the scenes. In fact, you’ll almost never find a good-sounding speaker system that isn’t using 1 or more types of crossovers.

That’s how important they are!

A crossover (audio crossover) is an electrical or electronic assembly that separates a musical sound source and provides outputs best suited for certain types of speakers.

There are 2 types of crossovers:

  • Active (electronic) crossovers
  • Passive (speaker) crossovers

Crossover frequencies explained

Shown: One of the most common crossovers used directly on speakers and the crossover frequency as a real-world example. As tweeters can’t produce bass sounds, they distort and can even be damaged by heavy bass. Using a crossover, therefore, makes it possible to block (filter out) unwanted sounds below the crossover frequency. (Shown is a typical frequency used at 3,500 Hz [3.5 KiloHertz]).

The crossover frequency is the sound frequency point at which sounds after that will be greatly reduced, effectively blocking them.

We use it as a reference point at which the output to a speaker (or the input to an amplifier, when using active crossovers) is reduced by 3 decibels (-3dB). Normally the crossover frequency is used as a starting point in mathematical computations for crossover design.

In the world of electronics, it’s also sometimes called the corner frequency or cutoff frequency.

What’s the simple answer?

All sound frequencies after the crossover frequency are cut more and more past it, with an increasingly steep reduction – to the point where they’re almost completely blocked.

In other words, a crossover filters out a range of sound you’d like to prevent reaching speakers, starting at the crossover frequency.

What does sound “frequency” mean?

Diagram explaining sound frequency definitionIn this simple diagram, you can see what I mean by “frequency.” After all, the word simply means “how many times something happens.” Likewise, sound frequencies are assigned a number by the number of times they occur per second.

When we talk about “frequency” we’re referring to a number range for the human ear. For math & engineering purposes most of the time we use the range of 20 to 20,000 Hertz (20 to 20 KiloHertz, or 20 thousand Hertz).

In reality, the human ear can only hear down to around 30 Hz and near 16 KiloHertz, although it depends on your ears.

Hertz is a label used to represent frequency in terms of cycles per second. It’s because all sound waves (and electronic audio signals too) are alternating waves that happen many times per second.

“Hz”, “KiloHertz”, “kHz” are shorter ways of writing it (Kilo = the thousands marker, as you might recall from math class).

As an example, here are some of the most common sound frequencies that crossovers help with:

  • Bass: 20-100Hz or so
  • Midrange: (vocals, instruments, and more) ~100Hz to around 3Khz
  • Treble: (high-frequency sounds) Around 3KHz to 20Khz

How does a crossover work? What is a speaker crossover?

As I mentioned earlier, there are 2 kinds of crossovers. That’s true even if they’re built into an amplifier or speaker cabinet itself. The same basic designs are used just in a different package.

1. Active (electronic) crossovers

Illustrated diagram of an electronic (active) crossover example

A typical example of a separate electronic (“active”) crossover. In this example of a separate crossover used with car stereo amplifiers (nearly identical to those used in home stereos, too) you can see the RCA jack audio inputs and the crossover’s adjustable/switchable outputs. One set of output jacks provides a high-pass signal to connect to an amp for driving tweeters or full-range speakers while blocking bass. The 2nd output is for providing a bass-only signal to the amp for woofers.

Illustrated view of a car amplifier built-in crossover and componentsA typical car amplifier’s built-in electronic crossover circuitry illustrated. Sometimes called the “front end”, an amplifier’s internal crossover section is made up of a few basic electronic parts: Variable resistors, operational amplifier chips, capacitors, and fixed value resistors. They’re designed just like separate crossovers to give adjustable features & variable crossover frequency settings.

Electronic crossovers are also sometimes called “active” crossovers as unlike speaker crossovers, they need a power supply connection to work. Also, unlike speaker crossovers, they’re used before an amplifier.

While speaker crossovers connect directly to the higher-power output terminals of an amp and then to speakers, electronic crossovers work only with small signals. They’re connected to the outputs of a stereo in most cases.

How electronic crossovers work

Image showing a typical op amp IC and low pass crossover circuit example

Left: A typical operational amplifier (Op amp) integrated circuit (IC), the Texas Instruments TL072. Right: An example of a low-pass crossover circuit using an op-amp to filter out high-frequency sounds.

Electronic crossovers may sound very complicated (and they are, at least in some ways) but they’re actually based on pretty basic principles.

They work using a variety of electronic filter circuits based around a very common electronic component: the operational amplifier (“op amp”). Op amps are tiny multi-purpose amplifiers that are very useful for amplifying or changing an input signal in many ways.

They, together with resistors and capacitors, can be used to control how a music signal is output and will block certain ranges of frequencies.

Alpine car amp electronic crossover schematic exmaple

A schematic of a typical electronic crossover. In this case, the left stereo channel of an Alpine car amplifier’s built-in crossover circuitry is shown.

Electronic crossover functional diagram showing the basic blocks of operation

When put together in a way in which you can select your preferred filter (high or low pass, for example) and adjust the crossover frequency they form a complete crossover unit.

Basically, they offer several adjustable filters so you can prevent a range of musical frequencies from going to the wrong speakers. The crossover frequency is usually adjustable using switches or dials to allow you to change it as you like.

Once an input signal is applied, you’ll get the following outputs (depending on the type, as there are many options available):

  • High-pass outputs to block bass from tweeters or to block low-end bass from main speakers. This allows more volume without distortion as small speakers can’t handle heavy bass well.
  • Low-pass outputs for bass: When used, this blocks the vocals and other higher frequency sounds that woofers and subwoofers can’t reproduce well. The result is good, clear, heavy-hitting bass.

2. Speaker (passive) crossovers

Home and car stereo speaker crossover examples illustrated and labeled

Top: A typical car stereo speaker crossover, with the main parts labeled. Bottom: A typical home stereo speaker crossover, which is extremely similar. (These are normally installed inside the speaker cabinet) Both use capacitors and inductors to form crossover filters and control the sound sent to tweeters, midrange speakers, or woofers for best audio sound quality.

Speaker crossovers are sometimes called “passive” crossovers as they don’t need an external power supply connection. They work using passive components: capacitors and inductors.

A speaker crossover is an electrical circuit that uses inductors and capacitors to filter a speaker signal and split it among 1 or more outputs. The outputs depend upon the frequency response of the speakers used.

Unlike electronic crossovers, normally they’re connected to the outputs of an amplifier and then to the speakers you’d like to use.

2 way speaker system and crossover diagram

One of the most common speaker crossover types in use today: A 2nd-order 2-way speaker crossover with tweeter and midrange/woofer outputs. Inductors are represented with an “L” symbol and capacitors with a “C” symbol. A “2nd order” crossover just means that the second stage of parts is used to make the crossover filter out the unwanted frequencies even more effectively.

Capacitors and inductors have some interesting properties depending upon the frequency of a signal applied to them:

  • Capacitors have more “resistance” (called impedance, in this case) to a low-frequency signal than a higher one. The lower the frequency, the less signal that is allowed to pass.
  • Inductors are coils of wire that have more resistance to a high-frequency signal than a lower one. Therefore they filter out higher sound frequencies.

This works because when a capacitor or inductor has a signal applied to it that’s past the crossover frequency (depending on how it’s used), the resistance increases, which reduces the speaker voltage.

This means the speaker will receive less and less of the speaker signal that we want to block.

In all cases, the part value is chosen according to the speaker “Ohms” (impedance rating) it’s planned to be used with. That’s super important!

Note: Speaker crossovers can only be used with the speaker impedance they’re designed for, or they won’t sound the same.

For example, using an 8 Ohm home speaker crossover with a 4 Ohm car speaker won’t work correctly. That’s because the part values were chosen for one impedance only. When you change that, it dramatically changes the crossover frequency!

Image of a tweeter used with inline bass blocker capacitor speaker crossover example diagramWhen used in series with a tweeter, a crossover blocks damaging and distorting bass that tweeters can’t handle. Capacitors like in this example can be used as a simple speaker crossover for tweeters.

Speaker crossovers are designed in many ways but all have the same basic design structure – only the details change.

They’re also often labeled with names like “1st order”, -6dB/octave, “2nd order”, -12dB/octave, and so on. I’ll explain a bit more about that as we go.

For now, you only really need to know that 2nd order and 3rd order crossovers are the same thing but with more crossover stages, or “orders”, added to make the filtering ability even more effective.

What are decibels and why do we use them for audio?

Diagram showing the formula for crossover voltage in decibels with example math problem solved

Crossovers (and a lot of other audio electronics & equipment) are measured using Decibels. Decibels (“dB”) are a convenient mathematical way of dealing with numbers that occur as powers of 10, unlike linear numbers, which occur in a straight line. Shown is an example of figuring out the reduction, in dB, of a crossover output.

In the real world, lots of measurements deal with things that don’t increase or decrease in a straight line (“linear”) but instead on a curve (“non-linear”, or logarithms).

I won’t bore you with heavy math here, but we use Decibels in the world of audio as a mathematical way of dealing with musical electrical signals. That’s because a lot of it happens not in a straight line but in curves.

That is, much of the audio world works with powers of 10 (logarithms, which you might remember from your algebra class). Hence the need for a way to deal with those – that’s where the dB representation comes in handy.

And it’s not just crossovers that work with decibels but even your own ears are “logarithmic”! That is, the volume your ears perceive is measured in dB, too.

What is a crossover “slope”?

Crossover slope diagram and examples illustrated

Diagram showing the crossover slope, or cutoff steepness, for the most common crossover types. Crossovers have “orders” – that is, 2nd, 3rd, or more stages that increase their ability to filter out the unwanted sounds frequencies sent to a speaker.

A crossover slope is the steepness of a crossover’s filtering ability. In other words, it’s how much a crossover’s blocking (filtering) ability is past the crossover frequency point.

Slopes, just like the crossover frequency, are determined according to a level in decibels (dB). The negative symbol is used to show they represent an attenuation, or reduction, of the signal. (Which of course is how crossovers work!)

As you might have guessed, the larger the steepness (greater the slope), the more effective the crossover is at filtering out bass sent to a tweeter, as an example. Likewise for other speakers connected to it.

In the audio world, we commonly refer to frequencies in octavesAn octave is a doubling or halving of a frequency number.

For example, when we refer to a crossover having a cutoff of -6dB per octave, we mean it will continue to cut the input signal more by a factor of 6dB for every doubling of the previous frequency.

Like this: (Low pass crossover frequency) -6dB @ 1KHz, -12dB @ 2KHz, -18dB @ 4KHz, -24dB @ 8KHz, –32dB @ 16KHz, up to 20KHz.

What are the most common and best crossover slopes?

12dB per octave speaker crossover example image

There’s a lot more to say here, but crossovers are designed to be a good compromised between complexity, price, and sound quality. While you might think “the higher order, the better” would always apply, things get much more complicated once you get past 3rd or 4th order crossovers.

Generally speaking, a -12dB crossover slope is one of the best compromises and works well for most speaker systems used today.

One reason is that it’s simple. has fewer design complications, but still gives a good cutoff ability that works great both for single speakers or 2-way speakers.

In general, the most commonly used are:

  • -6dB
  • -12dB (the most popular, by far)
  • -18dB

Electronic and 2-way speaker crossovers are nearly always -12dB models.

What is a two way speaker?

Image showing diagram with home and car stereo 2-way speaker examples

Examples of very common 2-way speakers you’ll find in either car or home stereos (in addition to other types as well). They have nearly the same things in common except that home stereo speakers are usually placed in a speaker box (speaker cabinet/enclosure) while car speakers may be installed separately in many cases. Both use a 2-way crossover to produce a very nice sound.

What are 2 way speakers?
  • 2-way speakers are a speaker system in which 2 speakers work together to produce the full range of sound. Audio from a stereo amplifier is divided between the speakers by a 2-way speaker crossover.
  • 2-way speakers are the most common type in the world, and many offer low-cost with great sound
  • These types of speakers use a tweeter for high frequencies and a woofer speaker for the midrange and bass portions of the music.
  • While the type of crossover varies from model to model, one of the most common and best-performing is the 2nd order crossover with a slope of -12dB per octave.

2-way speakers use 2 speakers on each channel and a crossover to divide the audio frequencies reproduced between the two. Each speaker receives a signal range it’s best suited for.

Illustrated diagram showing examples of 2 way home and car stereo speakers with 2 way crossovers

For example in 2-way speaker design:

  • Tweeters receive only high frequencies – typically around 3.5KHz and above
  • Woofers only receive lower frequencies – typically around 3.5KHz and below

The crossover frequency used varies by design needs, to there’s no “one” crossover frequency that works in all cases. Additionally, crossovers must be matched to the right impedance (Ohms rating) for the speakers they’re designed to work with.

The 2-way crossover evenly splits the incoming sound and sends it to the correct speaker such as the tweeter and a woofer.

Image of coaxial 2 way car speaker example

Coaxial speakers are 2-way speakers, too. In fact, in the example shown here, you can see crossovers on the rear of the speaker. Just like separate crossovers, lower frequencies are directed to the large woofer and highs are sent to the tweeter.

The result is that the sound produced is a full range of sound, but without distortion or poor performance you’d get when trying to play the same range in only 1 speaker. In other words, a 2-way speaker design can produce a clean, detailed sound.

In many systems, you won’t necessarily need expensive components or speakers to get great sound. Even low-cost 2-way speakers can sound very nice!

What is a good crossover frequency? What crossover frequency should I use?

The truth is, there’s no good set of crossover frequencies that work for every speaker. It depends on a lot of things.

However, here are some of the most common frequencies that work well in many cases. This is based on my experience with speaker design and many stereo installations.

Recommended crossover frequency table

Speaker/System Type Crossover Freq. & Type Notes
Subwoofers 70-80 Hz (low pass)

Good low-pass frequency range for subwoofer bass & blocking midrange sounds. Best for pure, clear bass sound that "hits."

Car main (full range) speakers 56-60Hz (high pass)

Blocks low-end bass that causes distortion or speakers to "bottom out." Great compromise between full-range sound and midrange bass capability.

Tweeters or 2-way speakers 3-3.5KHz (high pass, or high/low-pass)

Most 2-way or 1-way (tweeter) crossovers use a frequency near this as most tweeters can't handle sounds below this range. Same for woofers above this range.

Midrange/woofer 1K-3.5KHz (low pass)

Woofers and many midrange speakers do not perform well above this general range. They're poor for treble and a tweeter should be added.

3-way system 500Hz & 3.5KHz (Woofer/tweeter crossover points)

Similar to 2-way systems the upper freq. would be the same. Midrange drivers in a 3-way system often do not perform well below 500Hz or 250Hz in many cases.

Recommended reading

Product image of the Loudspeaker Design Cookbook by Vance Dickason

Want to learn a lot more and truly understand speakers, crossovers, and how to design a great sounding system of your own? Here’s the very book I learned a lot from myself.

You can pick up your own copy of the famous Loudspeaker Design Cookbook at Amazon today. It’s an excellent source of information including formulas you too can use to build your own car or home loudspeaker projects.

Interested in learning more about what tweeters do and the different kinds? Check out my wonderful guide to tweeters here.

For some great articles about crossovers, speakers, and lots of DIY projects, check out the Elliot Sound Products page.

Did I leave anything out? Drop a note!

I hope you’ve found my post helpful, clear, informative, and most of all what you were looking for. If you’ve still got questions, suggestions, or just want to say hi, leave a comment below or send me a message from my contact page.