2-way vs. 3-way Car Speakers: What’s The Difference?
Few things can compare with the pleasure of playing good music in your car. It's a common occurrence, everybody does it, but the sound systems and speakers are often not the same.
When deciding on an aftermarket speaker system for your car, the terms 2-way and 3-way speakers will often cross your path.
Whether you are an audiophile with a love for pure sound or all you need is a loud thumping bass, understanding 2-way and 3-way speakers is necessary, so you can make the right choice when the time comes.
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2-Way Car Speakers
A 2-way speaker system simply has 2 drivers. A driver is the conical vibrating part of a speaker, which produces the sound that you hear.
Due to restraints from nature and in the materials used for building the drivers, each driver tends to produce more sound around a certain frequency.
By using different materials and driver sizes, engineers are able to better represent the sonic range of human hearing, which is between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz, with 2, 3 or more speaker drivers.
In a 2-way speaker system, you have the woofer and the tweeter. Frequencies above 2,000 Hz get reproduced by the tweeter, while the rest of the frequencies from 2,000 Hz downwards get handled by the woofer.
Additionally, a crossover subtracts certain parts of the incoming audio signal and sends it to the right driver. It will, for example, use a high-pass filter at 2,000 Hz to send signals to the tweeters.
2-way speaker systems reproduce much better sounds than single speaker drivers. Adding a dedicated tweeter gives the sound more air, more clarity, and life.
Its shortcoming lies in its woofer, which has to reproduce a wider range of sounds. The lower basses are often sacrificed to keep up a good sound quality, and this is the reason 2-way speakers rarely have deep sounding basses.
- Cheaper. 2-way speakers are cheaper when compared to their 3-way counterparts. This is because they need fewer materials to make and they also need an easier crossover circuit to split the signals in just 2 ranges. Notwithstanding, some 2-way speaker systems can get quite expensive when made with high-quality materials and engineering know-how.
- Okay with a passive crossover. Many 2-way car audio speakers come with a passive crossover. This is a circuit which only separates the signal into different ranges, but does not amplify it. In other words, 2-way speakers can rely on already amplified sound, remain simple, and save on materials cost.
- Ideal coaxial system. 2-way speakers are ideal for coaxial speaker systems. Coaxial systems are those which have more than one speaker in the same box, with both speakers producing sound on the same axis.
- Poorer sound quality. 2-way speakers produce a poorer quality of sound than 3-way speakers. This is because both bass and mid-range sound reproduction are bundled into the woofer in a 2-way system, but they get separated in 3-way systems.
- Bass is sacrificed. The woofer in a 3-way system handles frequencies between 20 Hz and 2,000 Hz. This is a wide range, which is difficult to cover by just one speaker driver, so most systems end up filtering out both the high tweeter frequencies and the lower bases to make the woofer reproduce more acceptable sounds.
3-Way Car Speakers
A 3-way speaker system is one which uses 3 speaker drivers to reproduce sound. Instead of dividing up the sound into two ranges, as is usually done with 2-way speakers, the sound here gets divided into 3 ranges.
The first range is for the woofer and is usually from 200 Hz downwards. This is the bass range of audible sound. The second range is the mid-range, which covers 200 Hz to about 2,000 Hz and is for voices, trumpets and percussive instruments.
The third and last range is the tweeter which reproduces tambourines, cymbals, and the rest. These 3 ranges are often called low, mid, and high.
3-way speakers are available as both coaxial and component systems. While coaxial systems include the 3 drivers in a single speaker box, a component system uses 3 different boxes for the 3 drivers.
Even when built using top grade materials, 3-way coaxial systems hardly outperform 2-way coaxial systems. For most people, therefore, a 3-way coaxial speaker makes no sense.
The 3-way shines when it comes to component systems anyway. For the audiophile or demanding user who wants the very best, a 3-way component speaker system is the way to go.
It's important to note though, that a lot still depends on the materials quality, which is used in building the drivers, as well as the crossover's quality, to get the final quality of a 3-way speaker.
- Better sound. Theoretically, 3-way speaker systems should reproduce sound with a better quality than 2-way speakers. This assumes that both speaker drivers are made using the same quality of materials. Because the sound gets divided into 3 parts and channeled to the drivers which can best reproduce their ranges, 3-way speakers keep up a higher level of purity.
- Perfect for component systems. It's hard to tell the difference in sound between a good 2-way coaxial speaker system and a good 3-way coaxial system. The nature of coaxial designs makes it so, but when it comes to component systems, 3-way speakers shine. This usually comes as the result of separating the drivers and keeping the tweeters at a higher level closer to the ears, because of the directional nature of higher frequencies.
- Better bass reproduction. Good 3-way speakers reproduce bass frequencies better than 2-way speakers because the woofer is dedicated to the lower frequency range, while the mid-range driver handles the mid range. Bass is an important part of good music and adds richness, rhythm and drive to the environment.
- Can handle more power. One advantage of separating the mid-range from the bass is that the system can handle much more power without distortion than a 2-way system.
- More expensive. 3-way speakers are generally more expensive than 2-way speakers, both in the coaxial and component versions. The reason is mostly the extra materials for the mid-range driver, as well as the improved crossover circuit.
- Requires a good crossover. 3-way speakers need a well-built crossover to worth it, unlike a 2-way system that can easily be powered by any low-quality crossover.
- Not ideal for coaxial systems. There is very little advantage to gain from 3-way coaxial speakers. Most music lovers will not pick up the difference if any. The true value of 3-way speakers becomes audible in a component system.
Making the Right Decision
You need enough information about these two speaker systems to make the right choice. Following is a recap of their major feature differences.
General sound production
Coaxial sound production
Component sound production
Ease of installation
For most people, the decision between the two is relatively easy. It's the choice between a good quality 2-way coaxial and a 3-way component system.
The good quality 2-way coaxial is the answer for anyone on a budget, but who still wants some good music. Else, if money isn't a problem here, the 3-way component system should do you good.