2 way vs 3 way speakers… What is the difference…? Is one better than the other…?
These are inevitably the questions one begins to ask when researching or buying new speakers for their car. This information is critical in making speaker-related decisions and purchases as it will impact your sound quality as well as the cost.
It can be overwhelming trying to decode a lot of the information online and form an overall picture of the difference between 2 Way and 3 Way Speakers.
However, if you break down the two types one-by-one while highlighting their strengths and weakness, the answer shall reveal itself….
So, that what I have done in this article so that you can be well informed and empowered to make the right decision for yourself.
Difference between 2 way and 3 way speakers – Understood Through Metaphor
Let’s start off with a metaphor to guide our understanding from a top level before getting into the specifics.
I like to have fun while learning so to that end:
Consider a person without a loud projecting voice, a soft-talker…
Soft-spoken people don’t like shouting…it is difficult and straining on their voice to do so. As their vocal range does not allow for this.
This is similar to speakers…
When it comes to 2 way vs 3 way speakers, it comes down to how well a speaker handles challenges such as high volumes as well as how well it handles the range of frequencies required of it.
3-way speakers are better at producing a full range of frequencies compared to 2-way speakers (but not always…keep reading).
To put it another way:
Think about how you feel when wearing expensive studio monitor headphones versus cheaper earphones! The same song can sound dramatically more full and powerful depending on which one you are using.
So, to apply that logic to speakers…generally speaking, you will have better sound quality with 3-way speaker as opposed to a 2-way speaker.
All the fuss is just for the enjoyment of the music. The 3-way speakers are less likely to distort at higher volumes and produces a wider range of frequencies. The result being, better sound quality.
However, this does not mean that any 3 way speaker is better than any 2 way speaker. The quality of the speaker as well as the type of speaker is important. That brings us to the next section:
2 way vs 3 way speakers in Coaxial and Component systems
Before, we look at the the specifics of 2-way speakers vs 3 way speakers, it is necessary to understand the difference between a Coaxial speaker system and a Component system. Both of these types have 2 way and 3 way options available.
Coaxial speaker are speakers where all the part or components are fitted into one structure. Most cars come standard with coaxial speakers.
Coaxial speakers will be made up of a:
- Mid-range (only in 3-way coaxial speakers)
So as the above has alluded to, you can also get 3 way coaxial speakers. However, if you are going to buy coaxial speakers it is generally recommended to opt for 2 way speakers.
The reason being that it will cost more and you will most likely not get any difference in quality (some people suggest that the sound quality is actually worse than a 2 way speaker).
Component Speaker Systems
In a components system, all the parts are separated and placed in various locations in you car.
Components speakers can have any combination of the following:
- Super tweeter
Which should you choose?
A component speaker will always produce better sound quality than a coaxial speaker. However, they are more expensive and unless you are an extreme audiophile, you may not even notice the difference.
Furthermore, when looking to replace the stock speakers in your car, you will want to consider what system you currently have.
If you currently have a coaxial system then you wont have the slots available to fit component speakers without modification. Therefore, you should stick with coaxial speakers.
A component system will provide better sound quality but that doesn’t matter if you can’t fit them in your current speaker holes.
To confuse the matter, it is better to get a 3 way component speaker over a 2 way but it may actually be worse to get a 3 way coaxial speaker over a 2 way. More on this later…
More info on the difference between coaxial and component speakers here.
What Is A Two Way Speaker?
It is easy to pick out a two-way speaker among a pile of speakers because it merely has two distinct parts, which are the cone (woofer) and the tweeter.
The cone or woofer is calibrated to produce the low sounds commonly referred to as bass. The tweeter produces the higher frequency sounds (treble).
a 2 way speaker is calibrated to produce the widest range or frequencies of sound with the two speakers it has using crossovers.
Crossovers are processors or drivers that separate audio frequencies and feed them to the respective speaker output. Practically, they are small devices that look like equalizers, but instead of the nobs, they have input and output connectors.
On a side note, there are some ‘single’ speakers which a basically just woofers that have been calibrated to produce a full range of frequencies.
To use metaphor again, people with average voices, not too pitchy and not too low, can be compared to 2-way speakers. The audio output of 2 way speakers are balanced to produce the widest range possible but that means that there has to be a compromise on either side (high or low).
Advantages of a 2 Way Speaker
Have better clarity than stock options
If you are upgrading your stock speakers, you will notice a big improvement. The reason being, that many vehicle speakers from the factory are made from cheaper materials, which means that they rarely last as long and prone to wear and tear after being exposed to long periods of high temperatures.
Aftermarket 2-way speakers produce audio that has better clarity because they are designed to solve most of the problems that affect stock speakers.
They are a more affordable upgrade
As pointed out by an authority on automobile news, manufacturers use less material when it comes to 2-way speakers’ production, which in turn lowers the selling price. That way, smaller speakers can occupy less space and still produce more lively audio.
Installation is generally more straightforward than 3 way speakers
It is just one speaker setup, making replacement easier because you are just replacing the old with the new. Therefore, you can pretty much just plug and play.
Most audiophiles prefer installing speakers by themselves, especially when upgrading a factory setup to 2-way aftermarket speakers. A detailed DIY installation guide can be found at sites such as ooberpad and here.
They articulate vocals better
The processors that power the 2-way speakers tend to maximize the balance between highs and low frequencies, which is the range most vocals can be found. 2-way speakers may not be the best producers of bass but they make up for it by boosting the vocal frequencies.
Disadvantages of a Two Way Speaker
The inability to produce a rich bass sound
Ask any audiophile, and they will point to this as a limiting factor of the two way when comparing 2 way and 3 way speakers. This is because your woofer has to be calibrated to take over more of the midrange frequences. Thus, it cannot focus on just producing the best bass.
The speakers always has to compromise to get the full range of sound
The name of these speakers is derived from the fact that they are made from two speakers. Once that is meant to produce high frequencies and the other meant to produce lower frequencies. To get the midrange frequencies the low sounds are compromised.
As humans, we tend to enjoy the sound with a balance of the low, midrange, and high frequencies. Subconsciously, we can tell when the speaker’s output is not as full or as powerful. In such cases, it is likely because there has been a compromise in the range of frequencies.
Good music is mastered to take advantage of specific frequencies, and that is why, for example, a reggae beat won’t sound as good without the bass guitar rhythms. Vehicle owners tend to upgrade to 3-way speakers when they discover that those 2-way speakers do injustice to their favourite music.
What is a 3 Way Speaker?
A government study on audio points out that listening to loud music produces excitement and enhanced sense of personal identity. For some people, the association they have with loud music allows them to release their stress.
To be a little tongue-in-cheek, one could say that the ability of 3 way speaker system to produce great sound, even at high volumes means that they are better at releasing stress. It science people (sort of).
Regardless, of their ability to release stress, their ability to produce a wider range of frequencies is clear. This is because a 3 way speaker includes 3 speakers, each aimed at a different frequency range.
So, there will be a woofer, a mid-range speaker and a tweeter.
Thus, the crossovers for a 3-way speaker require less compromise as each speaker can focus on the range it was made for.
Advantages Of A Three Way Speaker
As we have alluded to already, when it comes to 3 way speakers, you should really consider them for a component system. In a coaxial system it can actually impair your sound quality. So the advantages below are advantages only in component speakers systems.
Effortlessly outputs surround sound
The fact that the speaker are placed in different locations in your car contributes to the surround sound.
When installing a component 3-way speaker in your vehicle, best practive is to stick the woofers in the cargo area, the tweeters at eye level, or head level, and then the midranges should be on the sides or in front.
That way, when you enter a vehicle, it feels as if you are in the middle of the song listening to every aspect of it from around you.
Produces richer audio better than 2-way speakers and single speakers
3-way speakers have a mechanism where the three drivers produce balanced audio producing the best combination of low, mid and high frequencies. Thus, sound quality is richer.
The feeling of listening to rich audio can be described as though the artist is right there, singing into your sweet, sweet ear holes.
Offers the listener more control over output
Having a more full range of frequencies to work with provide much better customisation of the sound. From an equalization (EQ) perspective you can adjust the sound to suit your taste with the larger range.
Easy to maintain and diagnose issues
When an expensive coaxial speaker gets faulty, it is easier to replace the whole thing as it is difficult to diagnose which part of the speaker is malfunctioning.
However, with a 3-way component speaker system you can easily determine which speaker is faulty. This allows you to replace or repair only what is actually broken.
Disadvantages of 3 Way Speakers
Expensive when comparing
When comparing 2 way vs 3 way speakers the first thing that comes up is the price difference.
Stock speakers are the cheaper of the lot, followed by 2-way speakers, and a well-engineered 3-way speaker could cost ten times more.
The installation of the 3-way speaker is not as straightforward
In a 3 way component system, installation is more complicated because there a more slots to fill and you have to make sure that they are linked together correctly.
Furthermore, you need to be more careful when picking the size of your speakers. You want to make sure that they will fit the current screw-holes you have. If the speaker model you purchased does not fit, you may end up damaging the vehicle’s paneling or you will have to purchase separate brackets at an extra cost.
They may suck more juice from your car
3-way component speakers come with a separate crossover component, which ends up consuming more power. However, this will also depend on the Wattage of your speaker so keep this in mind when purchasing.
Stock speakers are designed to consume the right amount of power so as not to interfere with the vehicle’s inner working. Sometimes aftermarket three-way speakers will sacrifice more power for better audio quality. That is because custom aftermarket 3-way speakers have varied voltage consumption, which may not be optimized for a 12 volts battery.
Sometimes, you might fry a new speaker because you never bothered to read the manual and check what kind of electrical output you’re feeding the audio device.
Car enthusiasts relish importing foreign parts and adding them to their vehicles. However, that means that the parts may be from a country that uses different voltages. So, be careful to read the labels before plugging anything during the installation of your 3-way speakers system.
2 Way VS 3 Way Speakers – Which is better after all?
This fact of the matter is that it depends on your setup. So let’s break it down.
Generally speaking a component speaker is better than a coaxial speaker.
Consequently, you best option if you can afford/fit a component speaker system, both 2 way speakers and 3-way speakers are great. 3 way speakers will provide you with a fuller range of frequencies and better sound.
When it comes to coaxial speakers a good quality 2-way speaker is almost certainly better than a 3-way speaker. Often the addition of a midrange speaker in a coaxial setup actually blocks the woofer and the resulting sound is actually worse than a 2 way alternative.
So, at the end of the day, when deciding to go with a 2-way or 3 way speaker system the things youneed to consider are as follows:
- Coaxial vs. component: Component is better assuming you have the budget and slots in your car to fit them.
- Budget: Component speaker systems are more expensive.
- Current configuration: Is your current setup coaxial or component.
- Technical skill level: How well do you understand speaker system and what is your level of confidence with fitting a new system.
So, the best option is the one that best fits your budget and circumstances. If you are looking to replace your current speakers with aftermarket coaxial speakers, have a look at our review of the best 6 ¾ speakers.
As, you may have noticed, when it comes to 2 way vs 3 way speakers, the answer depends on your preferences and circumstances.
To summarise though:
A 2-way speaker effectively supports two frequencies, the lows and the highs. A 3-way speaker, on the other hand, includes a third frequency, the midrange.
If audio quality is very important to you your best option is a 3 way component speaker setup. Assuming you can afford it and you have the slots to fit all the speakers into yous vehicle.
On the other hand, if you do not have the available slots or affordability, then 2 way coaxial speakers are the perfect option.