A Closer Look At 2-Way And 3-Way Speaker Systems

If you’ve ever shopped around for studio monitors or PA loudspeakers, chances are you’ve come across the terms 2-way and 3-way. These two terms are pretty straightforward – they designate the number of speakers featured in the monitor. While that might seem simple, there's a lot more going on that just the number of speakers. Below, we take a closer look at these type of systems and things to think about when deciding between the two.


The Benefit Of 2-Way And 3-Way Speaker Systems

The reason behind creating monitors and loudspeakers with individual speakers handling a certain range is because different sound waves are better produced by different sizes. For example, bass frequencies require a large movement of air, a task better handled by a large speaker (known as a woofer). On the other hand, high-end frequencies require a very fast movement of air, which gets harder to do the larger the speaker size. Therefore, speakers that handle the high-end frequencies (known as tweeters) tend to be relatively smaller than woofers. In a 3-way system, a speaker that handles the midrange is added. This mid-range speaker is smaller than the woofer but larger than a tweeter. While there are monitors out there that use a single speaker, you will get much better results by using a 2-way or 3-way system, with each speaker focusing on reproducing its own range.


tweeter An example of a typical 3-way speaker system consisting of a tweeter, mid-range driver and woofer.

Understanding Crossovers

crossover In order to get the proper amount of combined output from the overlapping frequency range of two adjacent speakers, the crossover must be precisely tuned.

In order to split the audible frequency range between different speakers, crossovers are used.  But because they can’t divide these ranges into nice little packages that start and stop at a specific frequency (instead they taper off at both ends), there will be an overlap at the adjacent ranges of two speakers.

In order to get good output from the overlapping frequency range, both speakers need to be finely tuned to contribute a precise amount of output. Too much or too little combined output and the balance of the sound reproduction will be thrown off.  Because of this, how the crossover is set up is crucial to the overall sound quality of a 2-way or 3-way speaker system.


2-Way Versus 3-Way

Naturally, you might suspect that because a 3-way speaker has an extra speaker involved, that it should sound better than a 2-way system. The reality is – it depends.  Although it makes sense that splitting up the job between three instead of two speakers should provide better sound reproduction, you have to take into account several other factors. For example, how well the crossover is set up, the quality of the components, the design of the cabinet and how the speakers are matched to each other. Because of this, you don’t have to look too hard to find a high-quality 2-way system that can outperform a mediocre 3-way system. You also need to consider the application you will be using them on. For more information on 2-way versus 3-way systems, check out the video below:



Because of all of the factors that go into speaker system design, the reality between which is better has to be taken on a case by case, speaker by speaker, basis. If you will be deciding on a certain speaker system based on reviews or general word of mouth, we highly suggest you take into account what type of music or audio they were listening to along with the location of their setup. But in the end, there's no better way than by trying them with your own ears and setup. And in case you didn't know, we offer 45-day satisfaction guarantee on all of our items so you don't have to worry about being stuck with a bad speaker set if they don't pan out. Trust me, the last thing you want to do is spend your hard earned money on something you'll just regret.


Hopefully, the information above has given you a good grasp on 2-way and 3-speaker systems and how one is not always inherently better than the other. If you have any questions regarding the purchase of a 2-way or 3-way loudspeaker or any other piece of gear, don't hesitate to chat with one of our friendly PAL pros by using the live chat feature below or by calling us toll-free at 1 877-671-2200!


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