Component or Coaxial: Building Better Sound Systems for Cars

Breaking Down Car Speakers

Speaker with music notes coming out
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Coaxial, or full range, and component are the two broad categories of speakers that can be used when building, or upgrading, sound systems for cars. The most common type is the coaxial speaker, which is found in virtually every OEM car stereo system that rolls off the line. These speakers each contain more than one driver, which allows them to produce a wide range of audio frequencies. Component speakers are less common, but audiophiles typically rely on them when building performance car audio systems. These speakers are each made up of a single driver, so they are designed to only produce high, mid-range, or low tones.

What Are Component Speakers?

The range of human hearing is about 20 to 20,000 Hz, and that spectrum is generally broken up into a handful of different categories when it comes to speaker technology. Component speakers each handle a single portion, or component, of that range. The highest frequencies are created by tweeters, the lowest by woofers, and mid-range speakers fit in between those extremes. Since component speakers each contain only one cone and one driver, they fit neatly into those categories.

Tweeters

These speakers cover the high end of the audio spectrum from about 2,000 to 20,000 Hz. A lot of attention is paid to bass, but high-quality tweeters often play an important part in filling out an audio soundscape. These speakers are named after the high-pitched tweeting of birds.

Mid-range

The middle range of the audible spectrum consists of sounds that fall between 300 to 5,000 Hz, so there is some overlap between mid-range speakers and tweeters.

Woofers

Deep bass, which falls in the range of about 40 to 1,000 Hz, is handled by woofers. There is also some overlap between woofers and mid-range speakers, but mid-ranges typically aren’t capable of producing the dog-like woofs that give woofers their name.

There are also a few specialty component speakers that can provide extra fidelity at the extremes of the audio spectrum.

Super Tweeters

These speakers are sometimes capable of producing ultrasonic frequencies that are beyond the normal range of human hearing, and their lower ends are significantly higher than the 2,000 Hz that regular tweeters handle. That allows super tweeters to produce higher frequency sounds without any distortion.

Subwoofers

Like super tweeters, subwoofers are designed to provide higher quality sound at one extreme end of the audio spectrum. Consumer-grade subwoofers typically operate in a range from 20 to 200 Hz, but professional sound equipment can be limited to frequencies that are below 80 hz.

What Are Coaxial Speakers?

Coaxial speakers are often called "full range" speakers because they are designed to reproduce a larger range of audio frequencies from a single unit. These speakers contain the same types of drivers that are found in component speakers, but they are combined to save on money and space. The most common configuration is a woofer with a tweeter mounted on top of it, but there are also 3-way coaxial speakers that contain a woofer, mid-range, and tweeter.

Coaxial car speakers were introduced in the early 1970s, and most OEM car audio systems now make use of full range speakers, since OEM car audio system design typically prioritizes cost over quality. These speakers are also available from a variety of aftermarket car audio suppliers, and replacing factory car speakers with high-quality aftermarket units is usually the most cost-effective car audio upgrade available.

Which Are Better in Cars?

Component and coaxial speakers each have benefits and drawbacks, so there is no simple answer to the question of which is better. Some of the strong points offered by each option include:

Full range coaxial speakers:

Component:

  • Superior sound quality
  • More customization

Component speakers are undeniably better in terms of sound quality, but full range speakers are less expensive and easier to install. Since most OEM systems use full range speakers, upgrading is typically a matter of simply dropping in new speakers.

If budget or ease of installation is primary concerns, then full range speakers will be the best choice. High-quality full range speakers may not be able to match or beat component speakers, but they can still provide a good listening experience.

However, component speakers provide a much greater opportunity for customization. In addition to the fact that component speakers provide better sound quality, each speaker can be individually positioned to create the ideal soundscape for a particular vehicle. If sound quality is more important than budget or time, then component speakers are the way to go.