Why do we have 2 way and 3 way and 4 way speakers? It’s a common question that we will explain simply in this article along with a comparison of 4 way speakers vs 2 way speakers vs 3 way speakers.
To explain simply, the “ways” refers to the number o audio drivers a speaker has to play different ranges of audio frequencies. Audio frequencies have three ranges – low range, mid range, and high range frequencies. Here’s how these speaker types differ:
Two Way Speaker: A 2 way speaker has 2 drivers that can deliver only two of these frequencies, low (bass) delivered by a bass driver and high frequencies from a tweeter.
Three Way Speakers: A 3 way speaker has three drives, a bass driver for low frequencies, a mid-range driver for mid frequencies, and a tweeter for high frequencies.
(Check out our article on 2 way vs 3 way speakers)
Four Way Speakes: A 4 way speaker has four drivers. They have a bases driver, a mid driver, and two tweeters. The additional tweeter provides better high-range sound. Normally this is negligible to most people, but some audiophiles will notice.
You should note that speakers also incorporate crossover ranges between the low, mid and high frequencies. In fact, there is actually a device in most speaker systems called a crossover that separates the different frequencies and sends them to the relevant driver. Some speakers allow you to set the subwoofer crossover.
So that’s a quick explanation of 2 way vs 4 way vs 3 way speakers. We get into even further details of each speaker type below:
What Are 2 Way Speakers
As mentioned earlier, a 2 way speaker is built with two audio drivers in the same unit. It comes with a tweeter for high-frequency signals and a mid-range and bass woofer, to account for low and mid-level tones.
The sound output is well within the constraints of its design, but some 2 way speakers may mess up the midrange when trying to reach the depths of low-level audio frequencies. However, properly designed 2 way speakers don’t compromise the sound frequencies.
What Are 3 Way Speakers
Also known as tri-axial speakers, they compromise a tweeter, woofer and an extra driver for mid-range tones.
It balances the signal slope and produces the most natural frequencies for the human ear.
What Are 4 Way Speakers
Known as a quad-axial speaker, it contains up to four sound drivers.
It features a woofer for the bass, a mid-range and two tweeters for high-end tones.
The extra tweeter allows the speaker to produce better high-range sound, but it doesn’t necessarily have a big impact on the overall sound quality.
That means that it may sound the same to a 2 way or 3 way speaker at a particular level.
However, the bass extension is better, and the volume is generally louder.
Unlike what most people think, 4 way speakers do not require the crossover to work harder compared to the 2 way speaker.
The crossover is a series of filters that forward different parts of the frequency spectrum to the driver that gives out the best sound.
For example, the treble device (tweeter) or bass device (woofer) should not try to produce midrange signals. That’s because if all the audio drivers were receiving signals from all the frequency ranges, the sound would be inaccurate, muddy and distorted.
Difference Between 4 Way and 2 Way Speakers
Similarities Between 4 Way and 2 Way Speakers
While there are obvious differences when we compare 4 way vs 2 way speakers, they both work in a very similar way.
They are easy to install, and the price is affordable compared to component speaker units. However, there are several drawbacks to these full range speakers.
One of the biggest disadvantages of these speakers is their relatively low sound quality. The audio may have the volume to fill your room, but it lacks a deep and boomy bass.
But don’t get me wrong here, axial speakers are great if you want to have a decent home audio system. However, it may be preferable to use a component speaker setup in commercial audio applications.
For a car’s stereo system, full-range speakers are preferable to most people due to the ease to mount, and they can give a great sound without any wiring modification to interiors.
Axial (Full-Range) Speakers and Component Speaker Systems
Axial (Full-Range) Speakers: Axial full range speakers are single units with more than one inbuilt sound component. That means that a 2 way speaker has two components accounting for all the audio frequencies and sound direction, while a 4 way speaker has four.
It’s also the reason why a 2 way speaker is known as a co-axial speaker, while 3 way and 4 way speakers are tri-and quad-axial.
Component Speaker: On the other hand, a component speaker system has multiple units to direct the sound in a specific direction and also produce certain audio frequencies.
For instance, a subwoofer, mid-range speaker, and tweeter would be in separate units in a standard component speaker set. In a 2 way, 3 way and 4 way speaker, you can find all these components in the same box.
Speaker component sets start at 2.1. This means the speaker system actually contains two directional speakers and a sub-woofer.
How To Choose Between 2 Way or 3 Way or 4 Way Speakers
Most high-end home sound systems are built with 3 way speakers to account for high, mid and low range frequencies.
However, some people prefer to use a simple set up with 2 way speakers, while some can only trust the sound production of a 4 way speaker setup.
And though these speakers are quite different in terms of how they work, they will sound the same to most people.
Your choice of speaker will really come down to the sound fidelity you expect from your sound system. The more components a speaker has, the higher quality sound is produced and the closer you will get to acoustic accuracy.
How Speaker Frequencies Work
When it comes to human hearing, sound frequency is measured in hertz(Hz). The ear is capable of hearing about 20Hz to 20 kHz.
In speakers, that spectrum is divided into different categories to allow smooth and clear reproduction of sound.
2 way speakers come in a design that divides the frequency coming from the amplifier, directing a small portion of the waves to the tweeter, while the large part goes to the woofer.
The woofer handles the low frequencies, and the tweeter becomes both the midrange and high-frequency element.
Which is Better 3 Way Or 4 Way Speakers?
A 4-way speaker provides more tweeters than a 3-way speaker. So, if you are looking for a great range of all the required sound frequencies, a 4-way speaker is much better.
Do 3 Way Speakers Sound Better than 2-Way?
A 3-way speaker produces higher quality sound than a 2-way speaker system. It comes with additional drivers that endeavor to give you a greater range of frequencies. So, a 2-way speaker system is only better if you are operating on a tight budget.
Are 2-Way Speakers Good For Bass?
Yes, if you customize the sound, it’ll meet your personal preferences. You’ll be able to experience quality bass that sounds as if it’s originating from much larger speakers. An example that could give you some serious bass is the Pyle 2Way custom component speaker system.
While most audio systems feature 3 way speakers, coaxial speakers are enough for most listeners.
However, seasoned audiophiles may feel the need to use 4 way speakers, which tend to be more advanced. In some cases, component speakers may be the best. That means you will have the tweeter, woofer and midrange component in separate units.
When it comes to choosing a speaker, it all boils down to your audio needs. In most cases, 2 way speakers are sufficient for a small room, while 4 way speakers are more suited for bigger rooms.
Nevertheless, the audio quality doesn’t differ very much, but 4 way speakers tend to give more bass compared to coaxial units. Keep in mind that there is a range of other factors that you may need to take into consideration when choosing a speaker.
Norvan Martin is the founder of BoomSpeaker.com. He is a professional Electronics Engineer and is passionate about home theater systems and AV electronics. BoomSpeaker was created as an online hub to share his knowledge and experiences as it relates to home theaters and home audio electronics.