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2-Way vs. 3-Way Car Speakers: Which Is Better?

Car speakers

There is arguably no better place to listen to your favorite tunes than in the comfort of your car. It’s just you, the music, and the road, with no one to judge your off-pitch singing. Music provides the soundtrack to a journey, and the right song at the right time can make a long drive infinitely more enjoyable.

That said, if you are a dedicated music junkie, you’ll want to listen to your music with the best audio quality possible. The speakers you choose to install in your car will make the biggest difference to your audio experience.

When it comes to car audio, there are two main types of speakers, or drivers, with distinct differences. These are coaxial, or full-range, speakers, and component speakers. These can further be divided into two-way and three-way options for both systems, with even four-way speakers for real sound purists. However, for most people, a two or three-way speaker will be perfectly suitable.

Component Speakers

Sun audio speaker
Image credit: Sun audio speaker by Caraudiocomp, Pixabay

A component speaker is fairly self-explanatory. These are separate units that combine to make a customizable audio setup in your car. The bigger the speaker, the more rumbling bass it will have. The smaller it is, the more treble frequencies you will hear.

A component system usually consists of:

  • An 8 -to 15-inch sub-woofer for the bass, which puts out frequencies in the 20-200Hz(Hertz) range
  • A 3.5- to 6.6-inch mid-woofer, giving the clarity to your music in the 250-2000Hz range
  • A 0.5- to 1.5-inch tweeter, responsible for the highest frequencies, around 2000-20,000Hz

Coaxial Speakers

JBL Stage 9603 420W Max (140W RMS) 6" x 9" 4 ohms Stage...
  • 6"x9" injection molded polypropylene woofer cone
  • PEI balanced dome tweeter and piezoelectric super tweeter

Simply put, a coaxial speaker has both a woofer and tweeter built into a single unit. The three-way version has an additional midrange driver. The tweeter and midrange speaker sit on a pole running to the middle. This gives them the full range of sound in one compact unit. Coaxials are the most common types of speakers for car audio and usually come preinstalled in most new cars.

Two-Way vs. Three-Way Speakers

Car speakers
Image credit: Car speakers by SleepyCats, Pixabay

A two-way speaker will come either as a combined coaxial unit or as two separate component speakers. These will be a woofer of varying sizes with a built-in tweeter or in a component setup as a separate woofer and tweeter.

Three-way coaxials(or triaxial speakers, in this case) are the same but with a middle frequency driver. In some cases, the mid-range is replaced with a super-tweeter to further enhance the high frequencies. These are for dedicated audiophiles. A three-way component system consists of a separate sub-woofer, a mid-driver, and a tweeter.

There are several other factors to consider when choosing speakers. These are:

  • Sound quality
  • Affordability
  • Customization capability
  • Quality

Let’s take a deep dive into each aspect and define which will best suit your needs.

Sound Quality

There is a significant difference in sound quality between a coaxial and component setup. Your choice of two-way or three-way speakers will further affect the audio quality.

Both component and coaxial speakers need what’s called a crossover. This is an electronic filter that directs the optimal frequency to the best-suited driver. It tells the lows to go to the woofers and the highs to go to the tweeters. A crossover helps give the speaker a more balanced and accurate sound output.

Rockford Fosgate P152 Punch 5.25" 2-Way Full Range Speaker...
  • The Punch P152 is an impressive 2-way full-range speaker designed for fanatics...
  • The P152 5.25" 4-Ohm black speakers come as a pair, have a power handling of 40...

In a two-way or three-way coaxial speaker, the crossovers are built in. This is convenient and prevents the need for the separate crossovers in a component system. However, this will affect sound quality. The inherent nature of a coaxial having the different drivers so close together can cause a muddying or distortion of sound, even with sophisticated built-in crossovers.

A component system will need separate dedicated crossovers. Although this raises the costs, the audio quality is vastly improved. This is because your drivers can be separately placed wherever you desire inside your vehicle, making them infinitely customizable and providing superior audio quality. The bass will be shaking the bolts loose in your car in no time.

Affordability

Due to the nature of two-way and three-way coaxial speakers being a combined unit, they are generally affordable. You’ll have a wide variety of choices, as these are the most popular options for car audio systems. However, this high demand invariably leads to cheap manufacturing, and often, the speakers are built with inferior parts. Another drawback is that if a speaker breaks, you’ll need to replace the entire coaxial speaker, as opposed to just replacing a single component.

car audio speaker
Image credit: Car audio speaker wiring by LQD-Denver, Pixabay

Component speakers are made with audiophiles in mind and thus, with better quality materials, which make them more expensive. Additionally, you will need to purchase separate crossovers, which will push the cost up higher. Coaxials can run fine on your car stereo’s built-in amplifier, but component speakers will need an additional amplifier to run. This because they need much more power to run optimally — that earth-shaking bass comes with a price.

Customization

A coaxial’s customization capabilities consist of the choice between a two-way or three-way speaker. You could combine a two-way speaker consisting of a sub-woofer and a tweeter, with a three-way middle, tweeter, and super tweeter combination. However, that’s pretty much where it ends.

Component speakers, on the other hand, are infinitely customizable. You can mix and match subs, middles, and tweeters to your heart’s desire. Speakers can be placed in separate locations in your car, allowing for greater sound-imaging properties. Your ear hears lows best coming from beneath you, and highs coming from above you. A setup like this will create a surround-sound effect similar to your home theater system.

Installation

A major advantage of coaxials is installation. Because most cars come preinstalled with coaxials, it’s simply a matter of removing the old ones and putting the new ones in their place. Removing a few screws and plugging in the signal cable is all that’s needed. The plug-and-play nature of coaxials makes installation quick and simple.

Engineer installing
Image credit: Engineer installing a speaker by RAEng_Publications, Pixabay

Component speakers take more planning and expertise. Unless you have some experience, this is not a DIY project. Even if you only go with a two-way component system, it still takes a certain amount of skill to mount the speakers in the right places with the correct connections and crossovers. Because you’ll need an experienced professional to do the installation for you, it will also raise the costs a fair amount.

The Best of Both Worlds

If you are attracted to the simplicity of a two- or three-way coaxial but want more bass or high frequencies in the mix, why not combine them? A simple setup would be a bass woofer with a separate crossover and a pair of two-way coaxials to handle the middle and high frequencies. Or, if you want more high-frequency definition: install a pair of three-way coaxial speakers with additional super tweeters. It’s plausible to even have all three, but at that point, it would be a better option to go with a full-on component system.


In Summary

The question of which speaker is best depends on an array of factors, the most important being your subjective needs. If you are a dedicated audiophile who likes to hear the most intricate details of music in your car, a two-way speaker won’t give the clarity you desire. A three-way will provide the middle frequencies or extra highs to give your music more bass, clarity, and definition.

If you just want the company of your favorite songs or radio station to sing along to during your morning commute, a two-way speaker is completely sufficient.

That said, the quality of sound in a three-way coaxial will be a big jump from a two-way. Choosing the component version will step it up even more. If cost is not an issue, a three-way, customized component setup is definitely the way to go.


Featured image credit: Car speakers by wahyutanuwidjaja, Pixabay

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