If you have been shopping for a studio monitor or PA loudspeaker, maybe you have come across 2-way and 3-way speakers quite a lot already. These terms appear very straightforward, don’t they? A 2 way speaker simply features two drivers, whereas a 3 way speaker has three drivers. However, is a 3 way speaker really better than a 2 way speaker? How does the number of drivers affect the performance and sound quality of the speaker? Below, we are going to see more about 2-way and 3-way speakers, how things work, and whether it is better to buy a 2-way or 3-way speaker?
Overview: Understanding The Crossover
A speaker can be generally described as a device that transforms audio signals into sound waves. However, a single speaker (driver) is not able to produce all sounds across the frequency range properly. In order to get the best output quality, we need individual drivers that are dedicated to producing either high or low frequencies. Thus, we need to split the audio signals into two groups of high and low frequencies. In order to split the audio signal into different frequency ranges for different drives, a crossover is used.
The entire frequency range can be divided into four groups. Very low frequencies run under 30 Hz, usually produced by a dedicated subwoofer; examples are the bottom notes of a pipe organ and explosions. Low frequencies run from 30 Hz to 160 Hz; those are the sounds produced by the low-frequency driver or woofer. Examples are bass tuba and bass guitar. Mid frequencies run from 160 Hz to 3 kHz; these are the sounds produced by a mid-range driver or woofer. Belonging to this group are human voice, saxophone, trumpet. Anything that goes over 3 kHz is considered as high frequencies, such as cymbals and piccolo. They are produced by the high-frequency driver or tweeter.
Then again, however, a crossover is not able to split the audio signals into packages that start and stop at specific frequencies. Instead, the frequency range tapers off at both ends. Hence, there would be an overlap at the adjacent frequency ranges of two drivers. To get the best sound quality, you have to finely tune the crossover and drivers to produce a precise amount of output. Too little or too much combined output from the overlap can throw off the balance of the sound.
A 2-way loudspeaker features two speakers (drivers) in it. The two drivers are producing different frequency ranges, which can be classified as high and low frequencies. The crossover splits the audio signals into two groups of high and low frequencies to be produced by either the tweeter or the woofer. Different models may have different crossover points, but generally the tweeter is specialized to handle the just the high frequencies, whereas mid-range and low frequencies are handled by the woofer.
Meanwhile, a 3-way loudspeaker obviously comes with three speakers (drivers) in it. Usually, the configuration is one tweeter, one mid-range driver (sometimes also called mid-range woofer), and one low-frequency woofer. Thus, the crossover splits the audio signals into three groups, which are high, mid, and low frequencies. Such design allows the system to have a driver that concentrates solely on producing human voices, trumpets, saxophones, as well as other instruments in the mid frequency range.
2 Way Speakers vs 3 Way Speakers
Naturally, we suspect that a 3-way speaker would sound better than a 2-way speaker due to the additional driver specializing in producing the mid frequencies. However, such assumption is not always true. Of course, the very best 3-way speaker can sound better than the very best 2-way speaker, if no other factor can alter their performance. The additional driver, on paper, can help the speaker produce more detailed and accurate sounds. It will be much easier as well to configure the bass, mid-range, and treble.
In reality, however, there are many other factors that greatly affect a speaker’s performance. A good 2-way speaker can effortlessly beat a mediocre 3-way speaker. It depends on how well the crossover is set up and configured. We have mentioned in the overview above that the balance of the sound is affected by the amount of the combined output of two different drivers. In addition, the quality of the materials used for the speaker also plays an important role in deciding the output quality. The design of the cabinet is also a very important factor because a badly designed cabinet may cause distortions on the sounds produced by the drivers.
The type of the crossover can also affect the sound quality of the speaker more than the number of drivers. Active crossovers generally sound better than passive crossovers, though there are also advantages and disadvantages to each of them.
So, how do we choose a good 2-way or 3-way speaker? The most reliable way is by using our own ears. When we are about to buy a speaker, whether it is a 2-way or 3-way speaker, we should test it out first and hear the sounds. Do not purchase a speaker based on the price alone because the price is not an indicator of the sound quality of the speaker. There are many models available under three hundred bucks that actually sound just as good as $800 speakers. You can also try to find more information about a speaker’s quality by reading its reviews on the Internet. There are many online forums where discussions about speakers take place.
|2-Way Speakers||3-Way Speakers|
|- Has two drivers; the tweeter and the woofer||- Has three drivers; usually a tweeter, a mid-range driver, and a woofer|
|- The crossover splits signals into two frequency ranges||- The crossover splits signals into three frequency ranges|
|- May have less defined bass and midrange, but there are other more significant factors to affect the sound||- May have better sound definition and accuracy, butthere are other more significant factors to affect the sound|
A two-way speaker has a crossover that splits the audio signals into two groups, high frequencies to be produced by the tweeter and low frequencies to be produced by the woofer. The mid frequencies are mainly handled by the woofer as well. A 3-way speaker has a crossover that splits the audio signals into three groups, usually high, mid, and low frequencies. It has three drivers, usually a tweeter, mid-range driver, and woofer. The best 3-way speaker can sound better than the best 2-way speaker. However, there are many other factors that affect the sound quality more, so a good 2-way speaker can sound much better than a mediocre 3-way speaker. The best way to choose is by testing the speaker with our own ears.