Selecting the right speaker.
Many people have asked me what is the best speaker. And honestly I can not answer this
direct question. Why not? Well that's simple, personal taste and listening habits determine
what speakers you like and the power you plan to push them with determines which speakers you
would be best using.
Then I get the much better questions, some of which I have examples of here:
Ok, then how do I choose the right speaker for me?
I'm going to run it off the head unit: What are key things to look for?
- Go to the stores and listen to speakers to see what you think of their overall sound.
Keep in mind also to use the same source power when listening and listen at a low or medium
volume level. This will give you a good example of a speaker by speaker comparison. There
may still be some differences due to how the shops have them mounted but without other
elaborate outside measures, it's as close as you're going to get and should give you a good
idea of what to expect in tonal sound.
- Something to always pay attention to is the impedance of the speakers. Normal car speakers will
be 4-ohm speakers. You might also find 2 or 6 ohm versions. This is important when matching power
to speakers. Normally 4-ohms are the expected standard in car audio. But 2-ohms might get more
power out of a speaker at the cost of clarity and added noise and stress on the amp, 6-ohm speakers
might run together in odd numbers more easily (like three speakers on one amp output showing 2-ohms
to the amp).
- Now you have to decide are you going to amp it or run it off the radio and is that radio
factory or aftermarket? Answering these questions helps point you tward the right radio. Why?
Well, if you plan to amp it, then the sky is the limit. But if you plan to run it off the radio
then you're better off sticking to the lower-end, lower power hungry speakers as head units do
not have high-power output (yet). There are a few acceptions but even they aren't close to what
external amplification can provide. The average aftermarket head unit puts out from 17-22W RMS
so sticking with speakers that are rated for no more than 35W RMS is going to result in the best
control in the speaker with the power you have. Sticking on something higher end which can take
55W RMS for example will leave the head unit struggling to control the speaker and you will have
worse sound at higher volume levels and possibly even a lower overall volume limit. Factory head
units are random and range from as low as 2W RMS to a nice 20W and sometimes more. Best to check
if you are unsure.
- Now, you have an idea of what to look for but what size and style? That is also up to preference.
I have built winning competition vehicles with all coaxial speakers so don't think they aren't up
to the task of high quality sound. You have a bit more flexibility with compoent speakers but
that's also a default move to external amplification so if you didn't have that in mind; don't
consider them. I much prefer round speakers to any ovals. So I sometimes use 6.5" speakers in place
of 6x9's and 5.25" speakers in place of 5x7's (and sometimes 4x6's even), etc. They have less cone
flex and a more even cone movement resulting in cleaner possible sound.
I'm going to run speakers off an amp: What are key things to look for?
- Lower power handling to match the ability of your head unit. Look up it's RMS power output and
get speakers somewhere around that range (not lower obviously but not too much higher either). 35W
RMS handling capability is normally the most speaker I will run off the average head unit.
- Running a sub?:
- Go for the cleanest sounding speaker in the power range. Bass responce is not important
cause the subs will handle that.
- Be sure to use a high-pass crossover to filter out bass frequencies. If your head unit or amp
for those speakers does not have this control option. Look into bass blockers or something similar
to filter out the bass frequencies and let the speakers do what they do best. This will also help
them achieve a higher volume level before distortion.
- Not running a sub?:
- Look for good bass responce as well as the correct power handling. Frequency responces from 40Hz
and up are generally a good starting point.
I want to run four speakers off a two channel amp. Can I do this?
- This makes a much more capable system but is also very critical in system design. Most important
is to have one or the other in mind. If you want to use a specific speaker (most likely) then you
know it's RMS power capability. If you want to use a specific amp (less common but still possible)
then you know what type of power the speakers you need to get have to be able to handle.
- EXAMPLE: My speakers are rated for 55W RMS and are 4-ohm speakers; How much power should I give them?
- You can give them anywhere from about half (preferably 3/4ish) their rated power up to and
including their actual rated power. I do not ever recommend feeding them more than their rated
capability. So if you want to push it to the limit, look for an amp that is rated for 55W RMS at
the impedance of the speaker (4-ohms for example).
- Knowing the impedance of the speaker is very
important also as it changes which amps you need. In car audio 4-ohm is the most common but 12,
8, 6, 3, and 2-ohm speakers are also available so take note and check for your amp accordingly.
- So in this exmaple; an amp that put out power in the range of 40-55W RMS @ 4-ohms would be
what you're looking for.
How do I bridge an amp and can I do that with mine?
- Sure, there is a catch though. You will lose balance or fader control and it also depends on the
impedance rating of the speakers.
- To figure out of the amp can take it, see how stable each channel is (2-ohm stable for example).
This is not bridged mode so when it has a point saying something like 4-ohms stable bridged, that's
not what it's referring to. Many of the amps are at least 2-ohms stable in individual channel mode.
- Figure out the impedance of the speakers and what impedance the amp will see. Two 4-ohm speakers
wired in parallel to one channel will show the amp 2-ohms. Two 2-ohm speakers wired in series will
show it 4-ohms. Now make sure that that amps power rating won't overdrive the speakers (each speaker
will get half of the power). (The actual calculations for series are simply adding the individual ohms
together (2 + 2 = 4), and for parallel you add the inverse value to get the inverse result
(1/4 + 1/4 = 1/2)).
- A good example would be to use an amp that puts out 80Wx2 @ 2-ohms (probably normally 40Wx2 @ 4-ohms)
to push four total speakers which can take at least 40W RMS each and are 4-ohm coils.
What is DVC or QVC mean on the sub?
- Bridging an amp means running one pair of outputs by using two pair of outputs from the amp. For
example, using a 2-channel amp to run just one output. Doing this gets a mono signal (what you want
for subs anyhow) and often alot more power from the amp. The catch is to make sure you are still in
the stable range for the amp. Most 2-channel amps are only bridgable with a 4-ohm load. They may be
2-ohm stable normally but in bridged mode, the majority of them are not. So you have to again make
sure the setup of the subs is such that you're going to show the amp a 4-ohm load (or what ever it
is rated for) or higher.
- To bridge the amp, you often use one channel polarity from each channel pair. For example the right
+ and left - might be what you use for a bridged output.
- How is this different from running a mono amp for the subs instead?
- Mono amps will most likely be at least 2-ohm stable in the output.
- Mono amps may also be a different amplification class (Class D for example, which is more efficient
than Class AB amps but not used in higher frequencies due to noise up there). This can make the same
or more power from the amp while using less current from the vehicle's charging system and creating
less heat (for example).
- Mono amps may have extra features used specifically for subs (like subsonic filters, more controlable
low-pass filters, bass frequency enhancements, etc).
- Mono amps of the same power tend to be smaller (due to class design and cooling needs, etc..).
- And the last, probably most important for some people, mono amps tend to cost more, hence making
bridging multi-channel amps still very common. Though cost is leveling out there is still some small
increase for a good mono amp.
I have X Watts RMS setup for my fill speakers, how much sub capability do I need to balance it out?
- This means Dual or Quad Voice Coil. Simply put, there are multiple inputs to the sub. You do need to
use them all too as running one part of a multi-part coil can be damaging. To figure out how to wire them
you simply treat each one as it's own speaker. So one 4-ohm DVC sub, when you think about it, is essentially
treated as two 4-ohm speakers. So it can only be wired alone as 8-ohms or 2-ohms. Something important to
consider when designing your setup. Two 4-ohm DVC subs wired together off a single output can be wired up
as 16, 4, or 1-ohm. This is because each branch of the speaker wire's path must be equal (in resistance) so
you can wire the coils of one sub up in series or parallel, then the final outputs of the sub together in
series or parallel; leaving only those possible choices. (16-ohms = everything in series, 4-ohms = coils in
series, subs in parallel (or visa-versa), 1-ohm = everything in parallel). See the tools on this page for
more help with this.
Is there truth to cotton balls or this stuff called polyfill working with speakers?
- Again, this is personal preference. However, normally it takes at LEAST 2x more power for the sub as each of
the fill speakers have to operate properly and balance out the rest of the system. Some people go as far a
4x-8x which is also fine and will make the sub stronger. This is espically useful in noisier vehicles where
bass gets lost far more easily. Now if you put too much sub in there, you will drowned out the fill setup. This
is common when people add far too large of a sub to a stock system and all it does is go boom. Very unclean
and, in my opinion, a waste of money and ugly sound (but then again I'm all about SQ).
- Plus if you're trying to impress your friends, doing so with a clean clear system will be alot more
impressive than just a blaring loud and crappy sounding one. System balance is key. You don't want too
little of sub power for your system but you can also easily go the other way.
I just got my new system installed and from outside the vehicle it sounds like rattling change in a can? What
can I do?
- Yes, what it does is remove the rear wave (actually slow it down so impact isn't directly on phase) so that
you hear what you're supposed to (the front wave). Speakers, like subs, aren't really ment to be listened to
in the open air which actually is how alot of cars really have them mounted. Stuffing polyfill behind them can
help tremendously. The best result however is to create a small sealed enclosure to house them. Suprisingly,
some speakers need just as much box volume as smaller subs to operate effectively also. However, speakers are
made in such a way that running them outside of an actual box doesn't hurt them per-say; since that's how they
are mounted in probably 95% of the vehicles around. In that case, a good handful of polyfill behind them can
sharpen and cleanup the sound quite a bit.
What does it mean to hear like an audiophile? Why are people's hearing different?
- This is the most commonly overlooked item people do to their vehicle. Cause often it's too loud to hear it
inside so they don't notice it and don't realize how much that is impacting their overall sound. Anyhow the
solution is really easy.
- The vehicle's metal chassis will resonate at different frequencies. I make CDs with a ton of different
frequency notes (for 10 seconds a piece for example) espically in the sub frequencies (20Hz - 200Hz),
so that I can go through and find all of the rattles and remedy this.
- Dynamat and other such materials were made partially to help this as well as quiet down the
ambiant noise level. But other cheap materials can stop the rattles just as good like Expansion foam,
rubberized undercoating, foam weather stripping, calk or silicone, etc. Anything you can put between and/or
on the metal panels to stop the resonation will help. I often use a combination of all of it. This is also
a long process but your system will be a whole lot cleaner and impressive if you stop the rattles. Common places
include the roof panel, trunk lids and supports, licence plates and doors but any metal item can cause it.
Make a CD and track em down. You will be suprised how more impressive the system sounds.
- I have beaten quite a few show cars simply because they didn't have their vehicle correctly isolated against
resonance. Everything else could be perfect but that one thing can really kill their score and destroy overall
sound preceptions. It seems like a simple thing but it's Ohhh-so important.
- Well, basically, you know the frequency system and how an equalizer changes it at different points in the spectrum? Well
people's ears are the same way. Actually, the majority of people don't have a flat response curve. Actually, no one does,
but it's all about how flat it is and how much detail you can hear.
Here (see the image below) is a test result from having my own ears tested. Notice particularly the Audiogram test.The response is quite flat,
but even I still have a tiny slope in the higher frequencies. (NOTE: This test was done immediately following a 40 mile
motorcycle drive to get there without any time for my ears to get rid of that hum, so it's not perfectly what my ears would
normally reflect. But I do wear earplugs ever ride so that effect shouldn't push these results too far into the bad).
Actually, when I was finished with the test, the doctor came back to me rather excited actually stating how rare it is that
he sees anyone with such good hearing and that sound engineers, musicians, etc. are the most likely to have ears similar to
this as long as they protect them as I do.
He stated that generally the people will be between 5-20, and with age and abuse, the higher frequencies will drop more
signifigantly. And once you get to around the 40 mark, that would be considered mildly deaf. He explained further that
(the reason I went in, being odd-hearing lately) was my jaw bone (ya, nothign at all wrong with the ears) and aggrivation
to the joint. But that I hear SOO well that I can hear the change that is causing to my skull. (and how to help it get better
by relaxing the joint, no gum, etc.) Infact, I hear too much. For example, while typing this message, I'm sitting next to
my gaming computer (all of my computers are custom built with very very quiet, large 120mm+ fans since I am sensitive to
hearing). It is quiet in my house. I can hear three fans in the computer next to me (to me sound like a mild hum, but I can
hear three specific different ones (there are 5 in there, I can only make out three). I hear the fan in the HTPC I made sitting
about 8 feet away, which my wife swears is nearly perfectly silent (I have to listen carefully for that one). I can hear
the refridgerator going through a cycle (very new, quiet) about 30' away, and around a corner. And a second ago I could hear
my dog (pug) snoring on the couch, though honestly probably everyone would hear that one...
So is it all fun and games? Hell no! I wish I had normal hearing. Buying speakers for the house would be SOOO much easier.
Same for the cars for that matter. I could sleep better cause I wouldn't be hearing everything in the world whurring and
humming about. And when it is quiet, I wouldn't hear my own heart beat (man put me in a sound proof room and I can go nuts...).
Yup, when it is really, really quiet, I hear my own blood flow, heart beat,and the constant hum of the world. SUCKS! In that
respect, having this type of hearing, you never know peace.
And, to be honest, my ears are, from the audiophile's standpoint, only mildly good. There are better ears out there. Though
really I'm glad mine aren't that great, that would just drive me bonkers.
And back to why this matters with speaker selection:, well, above I stated how each person hears differently. Well, each
speaker sounds differently, has a different frequency response curve. Well, when you combine the two (how the speaker sounds
and how you hear things), then you get your own personal frequency responce for that speaker. Here is a real-world example:
Infinity speakers to me sound good, but a bit too bright, sharp and harsh (too much high frequency). With your average joe who
has lost some of his high-frequency hearing with age and abuse, they might sound just perfect. Some good speakers (to me) like
Focals, might to him sound a bit missing in the high-frequency area or a bit bland and soft. Both situations could be corrected
to some degree with equalization, but that goes one step further about why you should use the same type/brand of speaker for
all speakers in a system (subs not included), just so they all sound the same. This increases your imaging and stage since it
helps hide the speakers (you don't want to be able to tell where a speaker is). But that's all another discussion.
But there it is; the long-winded version (ok, so I cut this down from about 15 paragraphs...). Now you should understand why
no one should ever say 'This speaker is the best'. It simply is never true to every person. It could be the best to a computer
(measures the flattest signal) or the best to such-and-such person, but it likely is not the best for you... GO AND LISTEN
to every speaker before purchasing, just listening for general tonal quality and distinction (as they will ALWAYS sound different
from the store to the home or especially the car) and judge for yourself and choose the speaker that YOU like the most. To
hell with anything anyone else thinks. Only YOU can hear from your ears.
All Content Copywright © 2003-2006 Christopher Stiefel. All Rights Reserved.
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