Shopping for speakers can be an exercise in confusion. You see the descriptions like “full-range” and “2-way speakers,” but you’re not really clear on what exactly it is and which is better.
So what is the difference between Full-Range and 2-Way speakers?
In general, the difference between full-range and 2-way speakers is that full-range speakers use single drivers designed to produce most of the audible frequency range, whereas 2-way speakers use two separate drivers, a tweeter and a mid-woofer (midbass), for better sound clarity.
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In this article, I’ll explain everything from tweeters and mid-woofers to the critical features of full-range and 2-ways speakers.
I’ll also briefly touch on 3-way speakers so you’ll know all the basics of different speaker setups and which one is the perfect choice for your car.
An Overview of Full-Range Speakers
Full-range speakers are common, especially in low-quality factory sound systems, because they are cheap and easy to make. They do not take too much space, and you can get a sort of acceptable sound quality out of them.
However, many people can’t tell the difference between a full-range speaker and a multi-way speaker system.
Nonetheless, full-range speakers are everywhere.
Most cars have installed full-range speakers like the Skar Audio FSX65 available on Amazon.com. You can mount these speakers in the cabin to get a complete sound image.
Also, they max out at 300 Watts, meaning they can get pretty loud. If your stock car speakers aren’t loud enough, replace them with the FSX65, but do not expect to hear many high-quality tones.
How Do Full-Range Speakers Work?
According to Wikipedia, the main goal of full-range speakers is to produce the broadest audible frequency range possible.
Full-range speakers work and look like regular mid-range or mid-woofer drivers, but they have an added whizzer cone attached to the voice coil, which reproduces higher frequencies.
There are several other tricks that full-range speakers use to minimize distortion. A very effective one is the use of different materials in the cone that Ohm Walsh drivers use.
Since full-range speakers struggle with frequencies lower than 100 Hz, they commonly use subwoofers to achieve a punchier, more powerful bass sound.
To achieve a low and strong bass, you can install a subwoofer in your car. A great example is Skar Audio SDR-1X10D2 from Amazon.com. It works perfectly with any car speakers, including the FSX65. In addition, it’s pre-wired internally, so installing it is straightforward.
This subwoofer has a 600 Watts RMS, and its bass is impossible to beat with any stock speakers.
The Advantages of Full-Range Speakers
Here are some reasons why you should choose full-range speakers:
- They’re cheaper than multi-way speakers. Having only one speaker magnet means lower production costs.
- They’re compact and straightforward to install. Full-range speakers are similar to the stock ones in your car, and you can easily replace them with higher-quality full-range ones.
- The sound comes from a single place. One frequency range won’t overpower another if the sound comes from one speaker and the loudness stays the same throughout the cabin.
- Phase shift won’t happen. Phase shift occurs when two sound waves meet at the same frequency, resulting in cancelation and distortion. It is a massive problem in smaller spaces like your car.
- A crossover isn’t needed. A crossover is a device that splits the sound across frequencies, adding both cost and static noise.
But before you rush out to buy a full-range speaker, there are some significant disadvantages to consider.
Cheap full-range speakers can sound acceptable, but I don’t recommend buying full-range speakers over $50. Instead, get 2-way or 3-way speakers for that money.
For example, FOCAL 165AC from Amazon.com are excellent coaxial car speakers. They use a woofer with a tweeter in the center for superior treble and a wider mid-range.
Or, if you want a full-range 3-way design, get the JBL GTO939 from Amazon.com. It takes up the same space as other full-range speakers, but it can get a bass sound down to 45 Hz.
The Disadvantages of Full-Range Speakers
Of course, a single driver having to reproduce frequencies from 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz will have some challenges, and below I listed few disadvantages of full-range speakers:
- They’re unable to reproduce very low frequencies (including infrasound). As a result, the bass sounds underwhelming on even the best full-range speakers.
- They’re unable to reproduce very high frequencies. Just like you need a subwoofer for good bass, you need a tweeter for good treble. As a result, full-range speakers can’t play powerful high-pitched melodies and voices.
- There’s a lot of intermodulation distortion. When a single driver plays low-frequency and high-frequency sounds, the speaker’s vibrations cause the higher frequencies to distort (e.g., 1,000 Hz become 900 Hz).
- The sound only goes in one direction. If sound, especially high tones go in one direction, you lose volume, and the sound bounces against the car panels and windows. So it’s best when the sound goes everywhere throughout the car.
An Overview of 2-Way Speakers
2-way car speakers look somewhat similar to a full-range speaker, but they are entirely different. A mid-woofer (midbass) and a tweeter complement each other to get superior sound quality and cover more of the audible frequency range.
An average mid-woofer can’t go as low as a dedicated subwoofer, but it can produce a decently punchy bass nonetheless. Moreover, the mid-woofer doubles as a mid-range speaker because it covers most of the mid frequencies.
Depending on the mid-woofer, they can get as high as 5,000 Hz. Above or next to the mid-woofer sits the cute little tweeter (treble speaker).
Tweeters are excellent at producing high-frequency sounds. That’s where they got the onomatopoeic name from because birds make beautiful high-pitched sounds.
So, a 2-way speaker can both bark like a dog and sing like a bird. Moreover, as you can probably guess by now, 2-way speakers generally sound better than full-range speakers.
The Advantages of 2-Way Speakers
2-way speakers are generally much better than full-range speakers. Here are a few advantages:
- They offer better sound clarity. 2-way speakers don’t have nearly as much intermodulation distortion because the tweeter takes care of the higher frequencies.
- They have a better frequency range than full-range speakers. The tweeter allows 2-way speakers to cover more of the audible frequency range on both sides of the spectrum.
- They have greater efficiency. When the mid-woofer and tweeter work together, the sound is split into two frequency ranges, resulting in less distortion and a better sound balance.
- They’re cheaper than 3-way speakers. Adding a subwoofer and replacing the mid-woofer with a mid-range speaker significantly increases the final product cost.
The Disadvantages of 2-Way Speakers
Of course, 2-way speakers aren’t perfect either. Here are a few cons that you should be aware of:
- They’re unable to reproduce very low frequencies (including infrasound). A typical mid-woofer can’t go below 80 Hz, making the bass sound and feel less punchy. You can’t hear infrasound, but you can feel it. It makes your car shake but in a good way.
- 2-way speakers use a crossover. Audio crossovers add to the cost and can create significant static noise. In some cases, you can hear the static if the music isn’t loud enough.
- Phase shift is a significant issue that affects sound quality. When two sound waves meet at the same frequency, they cancel each other out. Hint: that’s how active noise cancellation works.
- On average, they are more expensive than full-range speakers. This is because tweeters don’t grow on trees (pun intended), and high-quality ones can be costly. Thankfully, you can get some 2-way speakers with cheaper plastic tweeters, but do you want plastic tweeters? Well, me neither.
What Are 3-Way Speakers?
3-way speakers use a subwoofer, a tweeter, and a mid-range driver to produce sound. As a result, they can cover most of the audible range without affecting sound quality.
3-way speakers are 2-way speakers with an added subwoofer and a mid-range speaker in place of the mid-woofer.
Of course, 3-way speakers sound incredible. The bass is powerful enough to shake the building, and the treble is so high-pitched that it could break glasses.
What’s surprising is that some manufacturers offer 3-way speakers at meager prices. Infinity Reference 9633IX from Amazon.com is a steal at that price.
With 100 Watts RMS to get very loud, making the bass satisfyingly punchy without becoming overwhelming.
Choosing the Right Speaker
Both full-range and 2-way speakers can sound impressive, but which one you choose ultimately depends on your situation.
Full-range speakers don’t sound as good as 2-way speakers, but they might be easier to install.
They’re also less expensive to produce than 2-way speakers, making them a better budget-conscious choice. However, 2-way and 3-way speakers have crept down in price over the years.
Full-range speakers use only one driver to reproduce as much of the audible frequency range as possible. On the other hand, 2-way speakers are much better because they combine a mid-woofer that takes care of bass and mid-range with a tweeter for the higher frequencies.
Full-Range Speakers Are Great for budget basic stereo systems.
You must have seen some cars with insane speaker setups inside the cabin. Unfortunately, they take up most of the trunk space, leaving you with no free cargo space for baggage or groceries.
If you want to have a decent sound output and combine it with a bass that makes the car shake, add a smaller subwoofer in the back, and you’ll be good to go.
Coaxial speakers are very compact without sounding tinny. In addition, the sound comes from one direction, so there won’t be any distortion.
There are a few 2-way speakers on the market that use a separate tweeter and woofer. Unfortunately, these can be tricky to install in your car because there’s no good place to mount the tweeters.
That’s why I recommend going with coaxial 2-way speakers. Unlike component speakers, coaxial speakers have everything built into one package.
Moreover, the sound comes from only one direction. Music sounds more balanced than when you have tweeters in one place and woofers in another.
What Is the Difference Between Mid Woofers and Mid Range Speakers?
The main difference between a mid-range speaker and a mid-woofer is that a mid-woofer can reach lower frequencies but can’t go as high as a mid-range speaker. As a result, they both look similar and share a similar role, but they don’t sound the same.
So, how can you tell the two apart? It’s pretty simple. A mid-range speaker, also called a squawker, is always part of a 3-way system and only takes care of the mid-frequencies.
The subwoofer takes care of the bass, and the tweeter hits those crisp high frequencies.
A mid-woofer is a type of woofer whose purpose is to reproduce a punchy bass. However, it has the additional role of taking care of the midrange.
That’s why mid-woofers go well with tweeters that kick up at frequencies above 2000 Hz. Everything below 2000 Hz – 5000 Hz (depending on the model) is the mid-woofer range.
So, both mid-range speakers and mid-woofers hold an essential place in sound systems. But of course, since you won’t be buying them as standalone units anyway, the difference isn’t that important.
If you’re looking to buy a new speaker and are considering either a full range or 2-way, remember that full-range speakers tend to be more compact and less expensive. However, the sound won’t be as clear.