There has been a lot of debate, trash talk, and condescension over the years about which type of car speaker sounds the best: 2-way speakers or 3-way speakers?
While purported “experts” and “industry specialists” have all written and ranted on the idea that 3-way sounds better than 2-way based on various technical specifications and audio engineering data, there is a very clear and simple answer to this question: you have to have some general idea of what the terms 2-Way and 3-Way actually mean.
If you've read our comparison between the best car speakers of this year, you've probably seen a lot of both types of speaker. Let's dig down to see how they differ.
2-Way Speakers: What They Are, and How They Work
2-Way car speakers are essentially the combination of a full range speaker (sometimes referred to as a woofer cone), and a much smaller high-frequency speaker cone called a tweeter.
Upper range frequency sound is directed to the tweeter cone by way of a crossover network, which only allows sound signals within that specified range to transmit via the tweeter.
Lower range and mid-range sounds are split off from the upper range frequency signals within the crossover and directed to the full range speaker cone.
Since hey split the sound two ways, they were dubbed 2-way speakers This configuration allows for a significant increase in the clarity of high frequency and mid-to-low range sounds because the speakers are able to resonate the signal independently.
The configuration of woofer, tweeter, and crossover largely determines the overall sound quality of the speaker setup itself.
There are two types of speaker kits for 2-Way speakers:.
Mount the tweeter in the center of the woofer cone to make the speaker easier to mount inside existing car door speaker enclosures.
Component 2-Way Speakers
Come in sets of six components: 2 full range speakers, 2 tweeters, and a pair of crossover networks.
Instead of mounting the tweeters in the center of the full range cone, the tiny speakers come ready to be mounted elsewhere in the vehicle, usually in the corners of the dashboard or higher up on the door (most care already have tweeter cutouts right where the inside of the sideview mirror mounts on the front doors).
Once the tweeters are mounted independently, the full range cones replace the existing speakers.
Both speakers are wired to their own crossover network, which is then wired to the car stereo speaker outputs.
3-Way Speakers: What They Are, and How They Work
These car speakers get their name due to their integrated crossover networks and combination of two tweeters and one larger woofer cone.
The two tweeters are always mounted side by side coaxially over the woofer cone.
The reason behind this is not a sound engineering decision, but rather a financial one.
The materials for high-quality tweeters (such as neodymium) are often quite expensive, which made the overall cost of replacement car speakers higher as well. In order to reduce the overall materials cost for aftermarket car speakers, manufacturers started using less expensive tweeter materials such as mylar (a type of plastic).
These cheaper tweeters certainly delivered the goods, but they were not nearly as loud as their neodymium or titanium tweeter counterparts.
To solve this problem, car audio engineers added a second tweeter mounted side by side with the first tweeter to double the volume output.
Crossover Networks: How They Work With 2 and 3 Way Speakers
Crossover networks are the circuit brains of car speaker systems.
They are the box like devices that split high and low frequency sound from a single car stereo audio signal and redirect those dual signals to the correct speaker.
In terms of quality, the larger your crossover network, the better the sound quality and signal fidelity will be when it reaches the tweeter or woofer.
Integrated crossovers are less efficient electrically, and so they do not produce the same level of clarity and quality that an independent crossover network can.
Which Is Superior?
In terms of overall audio quality and fidelity to source signal, a 2-Way speaker is going to provide better clarity and quality than a 3-Way Speaker.
Here are the reasons why:
- Coaxial Mounting Only: 3-Way speakers are generally only built with the tweeters mounted coaxially over the full range woofer cone. This means that they are blocking a significant amount of sound produced by the woofer cone, often reducing both volume and clarity.
- 3-Way Tweeters Built Cheap: Most tweeters in 3-Way car speakers are made out of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or similar plastic materials. This means that they are not going to produce the same crisp highs as most mid to high range 2-way component tweeters.
- 3-Way Speakers Have Integrated Crossovers: While they are certainly much easier to install and sound find with most existing factory and aftermarket car stereos, they simply will not give you your money’s worth in terms of how they are wired when connected to a car audio amplifier.
Overall, 2-Way component speakers may be more work and require a little more wiring and time spent installing them, but they provide far superior sound quality compared to any 3-Way Speaker due to their non-coaxial mounting and independent crossover network.
The reason so many assume that 3-Way speakers must be better is largely due to the fact that consumers look at electronics and automatically assume that more equals better.
For example, take a look at these 2-Way and 3-Way car speakers.
When you read their specs closely and pay attention to their overall configuration, you can more easily see which is the better buy.
2 Way Speakers Reviews
1. Morel TEMPO ULTRA INTEGRA 692 6x9 Coaxial.
- Sensitivity: 92 dB
- RMS: 140 Watts
- Peak Power: 250 Watts
- Frequency Response: 35Hz -22kHz
- 2way/3way/4way: 2-Way Coaxial
These coaxial 6x9s have some impressive power handling and excellent frequency response.
They also use copper wire voice coils in the woofer, and the tweeters are similarly made of copper rather than plastic.
They are good speakers, but they are still coaxially mounted, and while the materials used in their construction are good, they still don’t measure up to this second set of speakers from Rockford Fosgate.
2. Rockford Fosgate Punch P165-SE 6.5 Component.
- Sensitivity: 88 dB
- RMS: 60 Watts
- Peak Power: 120 Watts
- Frequency Response: 43Hz-20kHz
- 2way/3way/4way: 2-Way Component
On paper, these speakers are not necessarily as powerful as the Morel Tempo Ultras above, but in terms of overall performance in clarity and fidelity, they are going to produce superior sound due to their independent crossovers and the ability to mount the tweeters separately to prevent muddying up the sound coming from the woofer cones.
As I said previously, component systems require a little more work when it comes to installation but they produce far superior sound quality when compared to coaxially mounted 2-way speakers.
3 Way Speakers Reviews
If you are just looking for some good speakers to replace your factory original speakers, then 3-way speakers are by no means a bad option, just not the best option long term if you opt to boost your power with an amplifier later on.
Take a look at these two speakers to determine whih is the better buy.
1. Hertz DCX 690.3 (DCX690.3) 3-Way Dieci Series Car Coaxial Speakers
- Sensitivity: 93 dB
- RMS: 90 Watts
- Peak Power: 180 Watts
- Frequency Response: 45Hz-21kHz
- 2way/3way/4way: 3-Way Coaxial
What you want to look at for comparison here is the frequency response range (which is good) and the overall RMS wattage (also good) when compared to the second example.
The last thing to check is how much obstruction the coaxial mounted tweeters cause for the woofer cone.
Related: Best 6x9 Car Speakers of the Year
Hertz has designed this particular speaker to mitigate the interruption of soundflow by the tweeters as much as possible, making them a good value overall.
2. Rockford Fosgate R165X3 Prime 6.5-Inch Coaxial.
- Sensitivity: 91 dB
- RMS: 45 Watts
- Peak Power: 90 Watts
- Frequency Response: 52Hz-20kHz
- 2way/3way/4way: 3-Way Coaxial
Clearly, this speaker can’t compete with the Hertz model on several levels.
First of all, the frequency range response is narrower, and these speakers are roughly half as powerful in terms of RMS output.
The sensitivity is also slightly better for the Hertz speakers as well, which means they are louder and clearer at lower power levels than the Rockford Fosgate Primes.
Finally, if you look at the coaxial mounting, the tweeters aren’t as narrow or mounted as high as the Hertz tweeters, meaning that they are cutting off more sound projection from the woofer cones.
Overall, 2-Way component car speakers are the way to go if you have the time and patience for their lengthier installation process, especially if overall sound quality is your primary concern.
For factory replacements without an amplifier, 3-Way speakers are more than sufficient for your needs, just be aware that 2-Way coaxial mounted speakers do provide better quality in a smaller package if space for mounting is a concern.
As always, do your homework before purchasing car speakers, and look at what the facts are and ignore the hearsay from supposed “experts”.
With time, patience, and a little self-education, you can make sure that you get the best sounding speakers that fit both your car and your budget.