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2 Way Vs 3 Way Speakers: Audio Options For Music Lovers

Last Updated on: July 1, 2022

The traditional speaker used in home entertainment systems and car stereos is the 2-way speaker. With innovation and the desire to improve sound quality for consumers, the 3-way speakers came along. 

Remember:

If you need to figure out between the 2-way vs 3-way speakers, which is better, there are a few factors to consider. 

A speaker with a good crossover setup, frequency ranges, and quality materials will sound better whether it is a 2-way or 3-way model. Let us delve into it a bit deeper. 

Main Differences Between the 2-Way vs 3-Way Speaker

The main differences between the 2-way vs 3-way speakers are:

  • 2-way speakers have two drivers, whereas 3-way systems have three drivers.
  • The 2-way speaker has one crossover, whereas the 3-way system has two crossovers.
  • The 2-way speaker features a low-cost design, whereas the 3-way system has a complex setup for detailed sound.
  • 2-way speakers produce balanced sound with less bass, whereas the 3-way speakers deliver fuller, clear audio with lower bass.
  • 2-way speakers are easy to install, whereas 3-way units are ideal for customizing car audio systems.

What Are 2-Way Speakers?

Two-way speakers have two drivers, the tweeter and woofer drivers, enclosed in one unit. The tweeter produces the high-frequency audio, and the woofer covers the mid and low-frequency range.

You can tell from this description that two-way speakers don’t have detailed mid-range sounds, and you get limited bass output. 

However, a two-way speaker like the Infinity Kappa 62IX is an excellent option if you have limited space in your car or home (think of bookshelf speakers like the Klipsch R-41M) and want low power requirements.

Infinity Kappa 62IX
Klipsch R-41M

They also have a simple crossover design that costs less than the three-way speakers because they are easier to build. 

What Are 3-Way Speakers?

A three-way speaker comes with an additional low-range driver called the subwoofer to produce low-frequency sounds. The advantage is you have three drivers dedicated to specific sound frequencies, resulting in more detailed audio.

These speakers are uncommon in the market due to their complex design that costs more to build. A three-way speaker like this Rockford Fosgate P1683 is great for audiophiles due to its sound clarity and bass output.

Rockford Fosgate P1683

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On the other hand, you’ll need more space because the speaker enclosure is larger than the two-way speaker. 

Coaxial vs Component Speakers

Coaxial speakers are two or three speakers mounted in the same assembly. Most coaxial speakers are 2-way systems featuring a woofer and tweeter with a high pass crossover.

A coaxial speaker like the JBL GTO629 is affordable, easy to install, and takes up minimal space in the car, making them the most popular aftermarket car speakers. Three-way coaxial speakers feature an additional tweeter to supplement the main tweeter.

JBL GTO629

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In component systems, the drivers come separately for installation in different locations in your car.

They are great for people who want to customize their sound system as one can set the soundstage to their preference, and the sound quality is much better.

However, they drain more power than coaxial units, are more complicated to install, and tend to cost more due to their design. The component speaker system also features an external crossover setup for better audio quality.

The 2-way component system features a set of tweeters and woofers in two separate speakers, while the 3-way systems have the woofer, tweeter, and midrange driver as individual drivers.

What Is a Speaker Crossover?

Speaker Crossover

A crossover is an electronic circuit that separates an incoming audio signal into different frequencies and directs them to the various drivers in a speaker system. Crossovers can be active or passive, and crossover filters work to block a particular frequency range from reaching the driver.

For 2-way speakers, the filter divides the signal into middle and high frequencies for the tweeter and woofer drivers. The crossover separates the signal into low, high, and mid-range frequencies in the three-way speakers. 

Here is a quick breakdown of the frequency range of sound signals. On a side note, the frequency range of the human ear is between 20Hz to 20kHz.

  • The sub-bass frequency range is 20Hz – 60Hz
  • Low-end bass frequencies for subwoofers run from 60Hz – 250Hz. Most music genres with bass fall between the 90Hz – 200Hz range.
  • Mid-range frequencies for woofers are between 250Hz to about 4kHz. Low mid-range at 250Hz – 500Hz is the bass presence range. Boosting the sound at 300Hz adds clarity to the bass. Mid-range frequency range 500Hz – 2kHz, and the Upper mid-range is from 2kHz – 4kHz.
  • The high-frequency sounds are between 4kHz to 20kHz. It includes the Presence range for good definition and clarity between 4kHz to 6kHz, and the Brilliance frequency range lies between 6kHz to 20kHz.

A crossover combines capacitors, resistors, and inductors to filter unwanted frequencies from the designated drivers. 

Inductors are typically copper wires used to pass low frequencies. Some more expensive models use silver or copper foil inductors. Electrolytic capacitors are the cheapest and don’t pass high frequencies as well as Mylar capacitors and Metalized Polypropylene capacitors.

Tweeters and woofer drivers use metal oxide layer resistors, while subwoofers use wire-wound sand-cast resistors. 

Frequency Response

The frequency response, measured in Hertz (Hz), is the frequency range a car speaker can produce. Speakers typically have a crossover point or crossover frequency where frequencies beyond this point get cut off.

However, crossovers are not perfect in completely blocking a signal past the cut-off point. 

Instead, the signal gradually reduces the further it gets from the cut-off point, often presented as a crossover slope. The steepness of the slope, listed as decibels per octave, indicates how effective the crossover is.

Most car amplifiers with built-in crossovers offer 12dB/octave slopes. Some car speakers will come with a frequency response graph, or the manufacturer will list the usable frequency range in the product specs.

The graph is generally a better representation because it shows the areas where the speakers have poor output, unlike the specs that only indicate the frequency range. 

For example, 2-way car speakers may have a high-frequency range of 3kHz to 18kHz for the tweeter and 60Hz – 3kHz midrange for the woofer. A three-way speaker system will have a mid-range driver to run 300Hz to 3kHz and a bass range 60Hz to 300Hz.

By splitting the speaker sound into more frequency bands and having more drivers, the 3-way speakers will have more detailed sound in the mid-range. 

Quality of Components 

The design and materials of the speakers also determine the overall sound quality. Tweeters can feature soft domes made using fabric materials such as silk or hard dome tweeters made with metals such as aluminum, titanium, and beryllium.

Metal tweeter domes do not have the damping quality of soft domes, making them sound harsh unless damped with a good quality surround material such as butyl rubber and treated cloth instead of foam.

Common woofer cone materials include paper pulp, polypropylene, thermoplastic resins, and metal. High-end speakers may feature non-woven materials, cross-ply materials, glass and carbon fibers, and aramids like Kevlar.

The voice coil design and speaker magnet used are also factors to consider. While quality materials often determine the price, the brand also matters. 


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Conclusion

To sum up, 2-way car speakers feature two drivers while 3-way feature three drivers. While the 2-way models deliver more balanced sound than you get with factory-installed speakers, the 3-way units offer better sound clarity at the mid-range. 

3-way speakers are a better choice if your music has bass like hip-hop, rock, and RnB, while 2-way units are ideal for upbeat music like pop.  

Overall, your choice depends on your preference and budget. Also, we recommend looking at other factors such as build quality, frequency response, and the crossover set up to help you choose the best one for your needs.

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