You’ve got a lot of choices when it comes to speakers. As it turns out, coaxial speakers are hands-down one of the most popular types of speakers in the world. I’ve installed tons of them over the years myself!
But what are coaxial speakers? How are they different from component speakers, 2-way & 3-way systems, and standard speakers? And why are they so popular?
In this article, I’ll explain what they are, their pros and cons, and show you which coaxial speakers are the best type to buy. I’ll also show how they stack up against component speakers.
What are coaxial speakers?
Coaxial speakers are a type of 2-way speaker designed to take up less space and to replace single-cone speakers. Unlike standard single-cone speakers, they include a tweeter and a crossover for improved sound. Coaxial speakers provide not only better sound but also more installation options, they save space and are a good compromise between sound quality and price.
What does coaxial speaker mean?
Coaxial speakers are 2-way speakers mounted on the same “axis” – in other words, multiple speakers built together in the same speaker assembly. Most coaxial speakers provide a woofer cone and a separate tweeter with crossover for improved sound quality over that of a standard single cone speaker.
You can think of them as a middle point between lower-end, lower-cost single cone speakers (used by manufacturers to cut cost) and component speakers (more expensive and complex, but with better sound quality). They’re a good compromise between performance, price, and ease of use.
Those are some of the reasons they’re the most popular type of speakers for car stereo systems. That, and the fact that they’re one of the easiest to install and most affordable sound upgrades you can buy.
Coaxial speakers offer several advantages:
- Easy sound upgrade: they’re a drop-in replacement for existing poor-sounding single cone speakers.
- More speaker manufacturing options and price ranges for buyers (different levels of tweeter quality, crossover design, cone materials, etc).
- Somewhat similar performance to separate 2-way component speakers without the need for a bulky separate crossover box.
- They’re very common – in fact, they’re the most popular car speaker upgrade and they’re easy to find when shopping.
- Very affordable: good coaxial speakers can be found for around $25 and up per pair depending on the size & quality.
- Coaxial speakers can fix the poor frequency response (missing sound frequencies) you find with single-cone speakers. You nearly always get a big improvement in sound right away!
Coaxial speakers are more common for car stereo use but aren’t limited to only that. 8 ohm coaxial speakers are available for both home stereos and sound from walls, the outdoors, and ceilings for music broadcast in business or other buildings, too.
Coaxial vs standard single cone speakers
Coaxial speakers give you better sound performance than lower-end single-cone speakers – even those with a “whizzer” cone added to supposedly improve higher frequency production. They’re able to do so because unlike a standard speaker that can’t produce the full range of sound your ears can hear (and that is present in music), the additional tweeter added makes up for this. The end result is full-range music production with good high-frequency crispness.
Standard (single cone) speakers are notorious for mediocre and even lousy sound quality. That’s because, as you can see from the picture above, they’re pretty poor when it comes to the range of sound they can reproduce. A woofer cone alone can’t normally produce high frequency sounds well, if at all, and that’s a glaring weakness.
Single cone speakers can’t produce a crisp full-range sound as 2-way coaxial speakers can. Coaxial speakers are designed to improve upon standard low-fidelity speakers by producing the missing upper-frequency sound range your ears expect to let you enjoy your music the way it should be heard.
Are coaxial speakers better?
While some cheaper standard speakers may have a “whizzer” cone added (a small 2nd cone attached to the dust cap for improved treble sound) they’re still disappointing. I’ve yet to hear one that sounded very good.
Coaxial speakers, on the other hand, use at least one additional speaker (usually a tweeter) to make up the difference and produce crisper & better-sounding higher frequencies.
In fact, in all my years of car speaker installation work I can’t recall a single basic speaker that wasn’t good enough to keep instead of replacing it with a coaxial model.
While factory-installed speakers are often very low cost, coaxial speakers – even for a nice sounding pair – aren’t expensive. You can get a great-sounding pair for $25-$30 or so these days and around $20 if you’re on an extreme budget.
As cheap as that is, you can immediately hear the difference versus factory-installed single cone speakers.
What is a 3-way coaxial speaker?
3-way coaxial speakers are the same but with an additional speaker added (usually another tweeter). They offer a slightly different design, especially for extended tweeter performance. I’ve seen some (usually lower quality brands) with a fake 3rd speaker for marketing purposes.
3 way coaxial speakers are simply 2-way coaxial speakers with an additional speaker, usually a tweeter, added for extended or enhanced sound production. These aren’t necessarily better than 2-way coaxial speakers but sometimes offer better performance and sound.
For example, 3-way models typically use a very small piezo tweeter that can produce treble sound at higher frequencies or with better quality for certain ranges to supplement the main tweeter. For well-designed models, you can get better sound quality & performance than more basic 2-way models.
However, that doesn’t mean they’re better in general. In fact, a quality and well-designed 2-way coaxial speaker can sound excellent! Like many other things, it comes down to the quality and the design details.
3-way coaxial speakers with a fake tweeter
One strange thing I’ve run across with lower-end brands is that in some cases, speakers sold as 3-way coaxials may actually be 2-way. Some speakers I’ve seen include a fake miniature tweeter, simply a plastic placeholder, to give you the impression they’re more sophisticated than they really are.
If you stick with reputable brands, though, that won’t be a problem.
What is the difference between coaxial and component speakers?
There are several differences between coaxial speakers and component speakers you should know:
- Coaxial speakers fit the entire 2-way speaker system into a single speaker assembly. Most component speaker systems (aside from a few rare designs) are separate and everything has to be mounted individually.
- Coaxial speakers, in order to keep costs down and fit into a small space, have some compromises: a basic -6dB/octave crossover for the tweeter and many use a lower-cost tweeter material. Component speakers, however, have better crossovers (-12dB/octave minimum, usually) and better tweeter materials like silk, aluminum, or others.
- Coaxial speakers tend to have lower power ratings (say 35W-65W RMS) while component speakers tend to have higher power rating limits. (65W-100W RMS or higher).
- Component speakers, because of their design, offer better sound quality and clarity than coaxial speakers. Coaxials are good, but many are average (however, still much better than standard single-cone speakers).
- Coaxial speakers are simple to install and use but component speakers aren’t.
I should also add that it’s far easier to find coaxial speakers in a retail store nearby than it is to find component speakers. Coaxial speakers, as I mentioned earlier, are much more popular and because of it, many stores keep them in stock.
Even your local department store, auto parts store, and “mom and pop” electronics stores probably has some on the shelf.
Coaxial speaker vs component speaker crossover comparison
A comparison of the kinds of crossovers used in most coaxial and component speakers. Because they use a more advanced design and more parts, component speakers sound better than coaxials. That’s because they’re able to better block unwanted sound frequencies from going to the wrong speaker.
As I mentioned earlier, component speakers use more advanced crossovers in most cases. They use a higher “order” crossover, meaning that the level at which they cut off unwanted sound frequencies is better (steeper).
For example, most coaxials use a single capacitor to the tweeter mounted on top and use none at all for the woofer. Instead, they use a lower-cost design that relies on the fact that most woofers “roll off” (stop producing) higher frequencies naturally. Despite that, some treble will always get through and affect the sound quality a little bit.
Component speakers, on the other hand, have an external crossover with more advanced circuitry that blocks unwanted frequencies to both the tweeter and the woofer. The end result is better speaker performance and sound, higher volume without distortion, and more clarity.
Not only that, but some component speaker crossovers include a built-in setting to reduce the tweeter volume if it’s too bright (too harsh sounding) to you. Some also may include built-in fusing to prevent you from accidentally blowing the tweeters at high volume.
Coaxial speakers are great for “good enough” budgets
As far as price is concerned, component speakers start at about the same price as a very good pair of coaxial speakers. You’re simply going to pay less for coaxial speakers and have a lot more options to choose from depending on what you can afford.
For example, I installed quite a few “meh” quality coaxial speakers in cars, trucks, and even boats over the years. They’re good enough for many people yet still within reach of what they could afford when you add in the cost of installation.
Which is better, coaxial or component speakers?
In my opinion, the best way to answer this question depends on what the definition of “better” means to you. After all, you’re the best judge of what you like, right?
When it comes down to it, component speakers are better in terms of functionality, power handling, tweeter and woofer material options, and of course, they sound better.
However, that’s not what everyone needs – not everyone cares about super-crisp sound, more power handling, or better speaker crossovers. Perhaps the best thing for me to do is to simplify it with a short comparison below.
Should I get component or coaxial speakers?
Here’s a comparison to help you decide if you’re unsure.
You should get coaxial speakers if:
- You have a tight budget or just need something that’s fairly good and you’re not super-picky
- You want an easy sound upgrade over your existing speakers
- You’re not using an advanced sound system with amplifiers powering the speakers
- You don’t want to do the extra work or customization needed for installing component speakers
- You don’t have the time, tools, or money to spare on a custom installation
You should get component speakers if:
- Sound quality is your most important goal
- Want to use speakers with more advanced materials (especially for the tweeters)
- You prefer speaker crossovers with a steeper cutoff and/or tweeter volume reduction option
- Will be doing a custom home, car stereo, or marine speaker installation with higher-end electronics
- You want improved stereo imaging for music playback and critical listening with high-fidelity recordings
- You would like to drive your speakers with an amplifier for extra power and clarity
Ultimately, it’s up to you. Additionally, there are some component speaker systems available that can be used a lot like component speakers, making them easier to install. You’ll save a lot of work & hassle in the process.
As I noted above, component speakers should be driven with an amplifier for the best results. You simply won’t get great sound from them using a low-power stereo unit.
An example of a component speaker set (in this case by speaker company MB Quart) that can be put together to work like a coaxial speaker for easier installation and using less space.
How to pick coaxial speakers
There are a number of things you should know before shopping for coaxial speakers, many of which depend on your installation needs, sound quality wishes, budget, and car or outdoor vehicle use. And of course, it goes without saying you’ll want to get the correct size if you’re replacing speakers.
Here are some helpful tips I have as both an installer and a sound fanatic:
- Vehicles with tight speaker room: (And this is important!) Don’t buy replacement speakers with giant and oversized magnets as in many cases the new speakers won’t fit. If the speakers are too large it may hit the interior of the dashboard, enclosure, or other surface and you won’t be able to install it. Slim-mount coaxial speakers are often the answer for very limited installation space.
- Sound quality: If you’re a sound quality fan or audiophile like I am, you’ll want to avoid coaxials with mylar tweeters. They’re not “bad”, however, better tweeter types like silk dome, aluminum dome, and others sound much better, smoother, and won’t sound harsh. You’ll usually pay a bit more, however. Unfortunately, mylar tweeter coaxials are the most common type.
- Marine, motorcycle, Jeep, and outdoor vehicle use: You’ll want to avoid standard speakers with a paper cone material or similar as they’re prone to damage from humidity or moisture. Consider plastic cone speakers, especially marine-rate as they’ll last longer and sound good as expected.
- Brand names are best: There’s nothing wrong per se with buying no-name-brand speakers, however, they have higher defect rates, worse design (and worse sound), and tend to be a bit more difficult to install sometimes.
- Get the best you can afford: I recommend overlooking $25 etc speakers (unless you’re nearly broke) and instead spend closer to $50 or higher if possible. There’s a big difference in quality and sound. For about $65 you can get some wonderful-sounding coaxial speakers that you’ll love and will last a long time.
- Check the speaker’s hole dimensions: It’s always a good idea to be sure that the diameter of a speaker will fit. Check the specs and measure the old speaker opening by measuring it before buying replacements.
- Watch out for coaxials with tweeters poking out too far. In some cases, I’ve seen coaxial speakers with tweeters that extend way too far out vertically. The end result was that I couldn’t install a speaker grill over them. Be sure to check the old speaker versus the new one you’re thinking about buying.
There are so many speakers to choose from that it’s headache-inducing almost! My advice mainly is to avoid mylar dome tweeter speakers if you can find affordable alternatives.
Silk and aluminum dome (or other advanced material) models from brands like Polk, JBL, Kicker, Infinity, Alpine, and similar are excellent.
For budget options, Pioneer, Rockford Fosgate, Alpine, and Kenwood have some good choices, too.
Be careful which speakers you buy if you own a motorcycle, open-back Jeep Wrangler, or other vehicles exposed to outside air and humidity. Speakers that aren’t moisture resistant can begin to absorb moisture and deteriorate over time. Polymer/mica, metal, carbon fiber, and plastic-type cone speakers usually hold up well.
Do you need an amp for coaxial speakers?
The truth is that you don’t need an amplifier for coaxial speakers. However, you’ll get even better sound, lower distortion, and potentially more enjoyment (and more volume) out of them if you use one.
Car and home receivers have enough power to drive coaxial speakers with fairly good volume and clarity up to a point. Car stereo head units are very limited in their power output – on average, you’ll get a maximum of about 15-18 watts per channel out of one.
To make matters worse, they’ll begin to distort and “bottom out” quickly if you play music with heavy bass. This sounds terrible! Using an amplifier (and its built-in high-pass crossover) can make an amazing difference in volume and clarity.
You’ll be fine for every day listening to coaxial speakers at a moderate to moderately high volume with a good car stereo head unit. If you’d like to add an amplifier, I recommend using one with a minimum of 50W RMS per channel and a high-pass crossover option.
How hard you can push coaxial car speakers with an amp?
Coaxial speakers should be treated like other speakers. The amount of power they can take from an amp will be limited by:
- The RMS power rating of the speaker
- Whether or not you’re driving them with heavy low-end bass in the music
- Clipping from the amplifier (hitting the output limit of the amplifier, driving it to clipping)
Ultimately, you’ll get close to, but not all the way, to the RMS power rating for the speakers assuming it’s accurately stated by the manufacturer.
If you really want to drive them hard, you’ll want to (1) use an amplifier capable of more power per channel than the speakers to avoid clipping, and (2) use a high-pass crossover to block low-end bass.
What to set the high pass filter to on coaxial speakers
For better sound and volume, you’ll want to use the high-pass crossover built into your car amp. I recommend about 56 to 60Hz as a good compromise between blocking low-end bass that causes distortion and still allowing music to pass.
For coaxial speakers, I recommend setting your amplifier’s high-pass crossover somewhere between 56 to 60Hz or close to it. That’s enough to let the lower end of musical frequencies pass but still block distortion-causing bass that should be sent to subwoofers.
It doesn’t have to be exact. If your amplifier has an adjustable crossover frequency dial, it’s near impossible to get it exactly right, so don’t worry about that. Get it close to that based on the labels on the dial.
Basically, anywhere under 80Hz or so is fine, but based on my experience I recommend it’s a bit lower. Whatever works best for your ears is good too, of course.
Bass that’s very hard on small speakers is located below 60Hz so preventing it from getting to them is the most important thing.
More helpful speaker info, diagrams, and ideas to read
Check out my other articles as I’m sure you’ll find something useful!
- Here’s my highly popular guide for how to hook up an amp to front and rear speakers.
- Find out how speakers work here with excellent diagrams, images, and easy to understand info.
- Want to understand crossovers better? Find out how crossovers work in this helpful guide.
- Here’s an excellent guide to explain what tweeters are and what they do.
Questions, comments, or suggestions?
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