Tweeters are without question critical for great sound from a stereo speaker system. But what type of tweeter is best?
In this article I’ll cover that and a lot more!
- What are the different types of tweeters?
- What type of tweeter is best?
- How do I choose a good tweeter?
- Do super tweeters make a difference? What about bullet super tweeters?
What are the different types of tweeters?
7 major tweeter speaker types
1. Piezo tweeters
Piezo tweeters are somewhat of a lower-end type of tweeter. They’re a type of paper cone tweeter driven by a piezoelectric driver instead of a magnet and voice coil.
They’re not great in terms of sound quality but do have some advantages:
- High efficiency means a higher decibel (dB) output (high sensitivity)
- Many do not need a crossover due to their natural lower frequency roll-off
- Very inexpensive and simple to replace usually
- Widely available for purchase
They’re also sometimes called Motorola tweeters. Piezo types are available for both home & outdoor speaker designs as well as car stereo systems. They’re extremely inexpensive as some go for as little as about $1 each.
2. Mylar, plastic synthetics, and PEI tweeters
Mylar tweeters and other plastic dome tweeter types use an inexpensive plastic material as an alternative to slightly more expensive silk or cloth dome tweeters. While plastic dome tweeters are stiff, they’re generally not great for sound quality.
They’re very common as car tweeters especially in coaxial speakers for car audio as they keep costs down. With mylar tweeters (and similar types) the frequency response is generally not very good and the sound isn’t crisp or very enjoyable compared to others.
Polyetherimide (PEI) thermoplastic dome models, on the other hand, often have a higher price point and can be good performers. They’re less common, however.
Mylar and plastic dome types have one major advantage: they’re good for marine audio as they’re moisture-resistant.
3. silk dome tweeters / soft dome tweeter types
Soft dome tweeter types such as silk dome tweeters and textile (cloth) dome tweeters are often a favorite choice for home audio speakers as well as car audio installation. They use a soft dome material that’s treated with a coating in many cases.
Soft dome tweeter models are usually a good compromise between price and sound quality. Even a budget $25-30 pair can sound nice when used right.
Silk dome tweeter types have a reputation for being “smooth” sounding and less harsh than metal dome tweeters although that depends on many other things. They’re pretty common in good quality car stereo component speakers.
4. Metal dome tweeters
Metal dome tweeters are typically in a higher price bracket above soft dome tweeters. They use a lightweight and stiff metal or metal hybrid design to deliver crisp, detailed output even at higher levels without breakup.
However, metal tweeters have a reputation for being “harsh” or similar, most likely due to not being properly matched or tuned with equalization.
If you’re wanting some of the best performance possible and have the means to make adjustments to your system’s high frequency response output they can be an excellent choice. Surprisingly, some wonderful models are available these days for about the same price as silk dome tweeters.
5. Horn tweeters and compression horn tweeter types
Horn loaded compression drivers and horn tweeter models typically use a plastic or resin material horn, sometimes called a waveguide, to create high-output sound with a controlled dispersion (output).
Horn tweeter models are usually technically not true tweeters because many have a frequency response that includes midrange frequencies. Unlike piezo drivers, they do need a high pass speaker crossover.
Compression drivers have a small throat (output) often threaded to screw into a horn waveguide. Most use a standard magnet & voice coil design with a dome made from anything such as Mylar, silk, metal, and more.
They’re often some of the best-performing speakers available and have been used in some of the most realistic and best-regarded home stereo speaker systems. Less expensive types are also found in an outdoor speaker system used for DJ music, music concerts, or public address (PA) systems where high volume is important.
Although very rare and expensive, some models have been produced for car audio system use and have even been a part of award-winning sound quality competition vehicles.
6. Concentric ring tweeters
Concentric ring tweeters have a design made up of several circular rings around a protruding phase plug (“bullet” shape) and a cone material made of silk or other textiles. Concentric tweeters have very good on-axis (straight, direct) sound performance, making them ideally suited for use where off-axis (side) listening isn’t important.
These types are primarily only used in home stereo speaker systems and not car audio.
7. Ribbon tweeter, air motion transformer, planar magnetic tweeter, electrostatic tweeter types
These are very unique – and nice sounding – types of tweeters that don’t use a conventional tweeter dome to produce sound. Instead, they create sound by moving air using a Kapton ribbon or similar diagram.
The manner in which the motion is created depends on the particular type:
- Air motion transformer (AMT) types “squeeze” a pleated diagram by “pinching” it between conductive foil like an accordion.
- Planar and ribbon tweeter designs use a thin material like Kapton or synthetic materials with a conductive side moved using magnetic fields to create sound.
- Electrostatic tweeters are similar to those above, having a thin diaphragm (a plastic material or PET film for example) with a conductive coating between metal plates called stators.
These types are known for very detailed sound, with AMT tweeters (and some others) having a unique advantage: unlike traditional magnet & voice coil designs many have a nearly flat speaker impedance. This makes them well-behaved with passive crossovers.
They also tend to be better for vertical sound output as opposed to horizontal (side to side). AMT tweeter models are often confused with true ribbon tweeters.
What type of tweeter is best?
Because the word “best” varies from person to person and what each of us wants or needs, I’ll break this down into 2 categories:
- The best tweeter options in terms of sound quality and performance
- The best tweeter options for most people who want good sound but have a budget
The best tweeters in terms of performance and sound
The short answer is that technically speaking, there isn’t a single best type of tweeter. It depends on the tweeter design, quality, and performance of each. However, there are several types that generally perform the best:
- Soft dome silk or textile tweeters
- Metal dome tweeters, ceramic tweeters, and other hybrid hard dome types
- Compression horn (horn loaded compression driver) tweeters
- Concentric ring tweeters
- Ribbon, planar, and air motion transformer (AMT) models
Of the ones listed above, for standard 2 way speaker systems soft dome and metal dome tweeters are often the easiest to install or use. Concentric ring models are similar.
The best tweeters for good sound that you can afford (car and home)
For the average person who wants a good compromise between price, sound quality, and ease of use a few stand out as the best tweeters to choose. It’s no coincidence they’re some of the most common, too:
The best home stereo tweeters
There’s a wide range of choices for home stereo tweeters, but the best compromise between sound quality, price, and ease of use tends to be these:
- Silk dome tweeters
- Metal dome tweeters (aluminum dome, titanium dome, etc.)
- Horn tweeters
The best car tweeter types
When it comes to car speakers your choices are definitely more limited than home tweeters. Additionally, they need to be reasonably easy to install as well. Here are some of the best kinds of car tweeters:
- Silk tweeters or hybrid textile types
- PEI dome tweeters (high quality models)
- Aluminum or titanium metal tweeters
The best tweeters for marine use
For marine/boat use, a few types are good choices although some brands offer marine-rated options that work too:
- Plastic dome (mylar and other plastic types) or PEI
- Marine-rated silk dome
- Metal dome
How do I choose a good tweeter?
6 criteria for choosing a good tweeter
Because there’s no “perfect” tweeter for everyone or all applications, it’s best to choose a tweeter that meets your needs, your budget, and some basic criteria.
I recommend you choose a tweeter based on the following 6 things:
- Matched output level: The efficiency (dB output at 1 watt/1 meter) is the same or greater than your other speakers.
- Overall good frequency response performance (where the info is provided)
- The cutoff frequency will work for your other speakers, where applicable
- Adequate power handling for your system
- Not too difficult to install or use
- Good quality / the tweeter dome or driver uses one of the better types
1. Matched output level
For example, if you’re picking tweeters for 2-way bookshelf speakers using a midrange speaker with a cutoff frequency of 3.5KHz and rated efficiency of 89dB 1W/1M, you’ll want a tweeter to match.
In most cases, you’ll want a tweeter with an output of 89dB 1W/1M or above.
2. Good frequency response
A good tweeter will be able to produce sound frequencies fairly well from its high pass cutoff frequency to the upper limit (near 20kHz) without a bad dropoff. Unfortunately, not all manufacturers provide a response graph so sometimes you may have to overlook this.
3. Cutoff frequency matching
In the example above we want to match a tweeter with an existing woofer that has a rated frequency range with a low frequency cutoff at 3.5kHz. In that case, we’ll need a tweeter rated for 3.5kHz or below.
For example, if we’re interested in a certain tweeter with a rated frequency range of 3,000 Hz and above it would work ok.
4. Adequate power handling
This should be somewhat self-explanatory but you’ll want a tweeter with an RMS / continuous power rating fairly close to your amplifier or stereo receiver’s rated power output. Don’t use the “maximum” or “peak” power as those are often misleading.
5. Installation & use difficulty
My advice here is to avoid tweeters that will need an unusual amount of work or workarounds to install and use unless you’re very comfortable with custom work and tools. In many cases it’s just not worth it.
That’s not to say you should avoid it at all – especially it’s common that aftermarket car tweeters require a little bit of custom work to install. However, don’t get tweeters that will take hours and hours to install in speaker cabinets or a vehicle just because.
6. Good quality / good tweeter dome material
I strongly recommend you avoid using these types of tweeters unless you have a specific reason to do so:
- Piezo tweeter types
- Mylar or other plastic dome tweeters (aside from good quality PEI types)
- Tweeters with no dome material listed on the package as they’re generally poor
- Super tweeters in car stereo applications (unless you’re after a high SPL system)
Avoid tweeters with an unknown dome or cone material or paper cones as they’re generally pretty poor for performance.
As I mentioned earlier, you’ll rarely go wrong with a good quality silk dome or metal tweeter. Alternatively, compression horn models are very nice for home systems.
Do super tweeters make a difference? What about bullet super tweeters?
It’s important to make a distinction here as there are two different kinds referred to as “super tweeters“:
- Bullet tweeters that are higher-volume types are sometimes called a super tweeter.
- Tweeters with above-average high frequency sound performance.
1. Bullet tweeters
Shown here is an example Power Acoustik bullet tweeter, sometimes called a super tweeter.
A typical super tweeter, or “bullet tweeter”, is essentially a higher output version of standard dome tweeters. Many have a few differences such as:
- A phase plug (“bullet”) centered on the dome or cone tweeter
- A larger magnet and voice coil
- Higher power handling and sound pressure level (SPL) capability
Bullet style super tweeters make a difference in power handling, volume, and are good for systems where higher SPL is your main goal. They don’t have any advantages for sound quality and in fact are not usually the best choice if that’s your main goal.
However their efficiency is higher than regular tweeters: for example, the bullet tweeters shown above have an efficiency of 107dB vs about 89-92dB for dome tweeters typically.
The tweeter bullet, or phase plug, helps with sound dispersion and audio wave phase control for better audio production especially stereo imaging.
2. Super tweeters
Super tweeters in the proper name are those with exceptional frequency response and are capable of extremely good sound accuracy and tonal production. They make a difference in sound quality and performance although that will be limited by the quality of your music format.
Some can produce sound frequencies as high as 80kHz to 100kHz, way past the limit of human hearing. However, most people have an upper hearing range of roughly 16kHz to around 20kHz. Bluetooth and some other compressed music formats don’t carry the full range of audio frequency playback as their upper limit is around16kHz or so.
That means the extended range of a super tweeter set won’t directly be meaningful but their sound quality will be. They’re very costly (often several hundred dollars per set) so they’re a high-end option but not really necessary for high-fidelity music playback.