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2-way vs 3-way Speakers: Which Is Better?

Speakers are pretty straightforward bits of engineering. But at the same time, the way we talk about them can be one of the most confusing things ever.

What’s the difference between a speaker, a loudspeaker, a driver, and a speaker cabinet anyway? And what kinds of speakers are best for a home stereo or gaming setup?

So, I’ve decided to answer all of these questions and more. I’ll also focus on the differences between 2-way and 3-way speakers to help you make an informed decision about what you need for your setup. Because when you want the best sound, you need speakers that are going to slam.

What Are ‘Speakers’?

2-way vs 3-way Speakers

It all comes down to the terminology, and this is where things can get confusing. The word “speaker” is short for “loudspeaker.” It’s the usual way people refer to the thingy that noise comes out of in a stereo system.

Alright, what’s confusing about that?

Well, the truth is that a loudspeaker is a device that’s composed of a few different parts. First, you have the cabinet, which is normally a wooden or fiber-board box and holds all the electronic components. Then, you have the driver or drivers.

Drivers are the actual parts of a loudspeaker that make the noise. They do this by taking electronic signals and converting them into sound through cone-shaped moving diaphragms.

OK, so a speaker is a box with some drivers in it. But, those drivers are usually called “speakers” as well, making the whole thing weird. Like, “Hey man, how many speakers are in your speakers?”

2-Way vs 3-Way Speakers – What’s the Difference?

If a speaker is a box with drivers in it, then a 2-way speaker is a box with two different kinds of drivers in it, and a 3-way has three different kinds of drivers. Now that’s pretty simple. So, what are the different speaker drivers, then?

The different drivers you’ve probably heard of include tweeters, woofers, and sub-woofers. Tweeters are small – usually just 1-2 inches (25-50mm) in diameter and are responsible for driving the high-pitched sounds you’ll hear.

Woofers are bigger and have a huskier, deeper, “woofier” sound because they are designed to cover the mid-range frequencies. Sub-woofers are the biggest, deepest speakers (at least 8 inches or 200mm in diameter) and give you that delicious deep bass.

But, there are other types of drivers that you may not have heard of…

A mid-range driver is something in between a smaller tweeter and a larger woofer. A super-tweeter is smaller and brighter than a regular tweeter to handle the highest of high sounds. Furthermore, adding a mid-range driver to a loudspeaker allows the woofer to focus more on the lows while the tweeter can handle only the high-end.

Likewise, adding a super-tweeter relieves the tweeter of its highest-end duties so it can go lower, and then the woofers can focus on lower sounds as well.

So, do I just count the drivers to know if I have 2-way or 3-way speakers?

Well, that’s not quite it. And, this is a place we can get into trouble. A loudspeaker may have only two different types of speaker drivers but still have three drivers (or more) in it.

Allow me to explain…

Let’s take this T652 Tower speaker from Dayton as an example. It has three drivers in it, so is it a 3-way speaker? The answer is no. This tower speaker has a single 5/8” tweeter on the top and two 6 ½” woofers below it.

It has no mid-range driver or sub-woofer. Because it has just two different types of drivers then, it is a 2-way speaker. This goes for any loudspeaker, no matter how many drivers they include. It’s all about the total number of types of drivers.

2-Way vs 3-Way Speakers – What’s Better?

What-s-Better

Well, it all depends on how you judge something to be better. In general, 2-way speakers are cheaper and have to cover a large frequency range with just two types of drivers. But, like most things in life, a 3-way might be preferable, especially for sound quality.

See, 3-way speakers allow for greater clarity of sound, all things being equal. This is because two different channels are going to three different types of drivers. That means each driver is getting a smaller portion of the frequency range.

Think about that last speaker, the Dayton D652. It has a frequency response of 45-20,000Hz, which is pretty darned wide. And the response range will have a cut-off frequency. Meaning that anything above this level will go to the tweeter, and anything below goes to the woofer.

OK, fine, that makes sense…

Now, let’s compare that to a similarly priced speaker, the Sony SSCS3 tower speaker. This tower has four drivers – a ¾” super tweeter, a 1” tweeter, and two 5.12” woofers.

This tower has the same frequency response, 45-20,000Hz (actually 50,000Hz, but your ears can only hear up to 20,000Hz). I don’t know what the crossover frequencies are here, but the same range of 45-20,000Hz is divided up into three parts instead of two.

This lets each driver type handle the ideal frequency range it’s made for and relieves it from handling anything much too high or too low. In turn, this leads to lower distortion and improved clarity.

So, more drivers mean better sound?

Yeah, generally. But, think about this. If more means better, then the ideal for any loudspeaker would be to have an individual driver for every, say, 100Hz. That’s because each driver would then focus on only its specific range. However, this would make for about a 200-way speaker.

And that would look ridiculous. Not to mention be an engineering nightmare and probably cost a mint as well.

So, we have to make do with fewer driver types and rely on clever engineering to make it sound great. Regardless if it’s 2-way speakers vs 3-way speakers, you will always have to do some audio tweaking to get the sound you want.

Need Some Other Speaker Solutions or Recommendations?

You’re in luck. Take a look at our helpful articles on How to Turn a Regular Speaker into a Bluetooth SpeakerHow to Set Crossover Frequency for SpeakersWhat’s the Difference Between a 2.1 and 5.1 Soundbar, and Lower Hz Means More Bass for more useful information.

Also, check out our comprehensive reviews of the Best High End Home Theater Speakers, the Best Floor Standing Speakers, the Best Bookshelf Speakers, the Best Speakers For Vinyl, the Best Wireless TV Speakers, and the Best Powered Speakers you can buy in 2022.

And, don’t miss our in-depth reviews of the Best Bluetooth Speakers With Radio, the Loudest Portable Bluetooth Speakers, the Best Solar Powered Bluetooth Speakers, the Best Party Speakers, and the Best Waterproof Speakers currently on the market.

A Final Word on 2-Way vs 3-Way Speakers

No speaker is perfect. However, a 3-way speaker at least breaks up the workload between more drivers so that they can focus on what they each do best. Of course, this can make them cost more for the same quality of components as a 2-way speaker, so you have to make a choice.

Are you looking for a decent-sounding speaker system at a lower price, or are you willing to pay more for the best sound quality?

Ultimately, it comes down to what it always comes down to – getting the best bang for your buck. That said, there are some great 3-way speakers out there for a good price if you do your homework and have a little bit of luck. So, look around and find the best speakers you can get for your budget.

Good luck and happy listening!

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About Joseph L. Hollen

Joseph is a session musician, writer, and filmmaker from south Florida. He has recorded a number of albums and made numerous short films, as well as contributing music to shorts and commercials. 

He doesn't get as much time to practice and play as he used to, but still manages (just about!) to fulfill all his session requests. According to Joseph, it just gets harder as you get older; you rely on what you learned decades ago and can play without thinking. Thankfully that's what most producers still want from him.

He is a devout gear heat and has been collecting musical instruments all his life. As his wife, Jill, keeps on saying, "You're very good at buying nice instruments, but terrible at selling them!".

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