2-Way vs 3-Way Speakers (The Pros, Cons & Differences)

Last updated:
Disclosure: We may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. Read our full affiliate disclosure here.
  • Understand the differences between 2 and 3-way speakers 
  • Discover which choice is best for your setup 
  • What’s the reason for the different number of drivers? 

If you’re a newly found producer looking to create your home studio or a producer looking to upgrade your equipment, the choice between 2-way and 3-way speakers will come into play. The type of music you tend to work and/or listen to will determine which you should choose.

What is the Difference Between 2-Way and 3-Way Speakers?

The most obvious difference is the number of drivers on the speaker. A 2-way speaker has two drivers, and a 3-way speaker has three drivers. The difference is the frequency split between the speakers.

The frequencies in 2-way speakers are split into high and low between the two drivers. One is a woofer built to deal with sub-low frequencies, and the other is a tweeter designed to handle the higher frequency band.

Similar to a 2-way system, a 3-way speaker has a tweeter and a woofer. However, it has an additional speaker, a midrange driver targeting the mid frequencies, and is often called the mid-bass speaker.

This can lend itself to generating a far more precise listening experience. Although, this may not be the case if you have cheap hardware, as there may be a poor crossover between the drivers.

Are 2-Way or 3-Way Speakers Better?

This is dependent on several factors. Your audio listening preference, hardware quality, and budget all come into play. To learn more about the benefits of both speaker types, read on!

Benefits of a 2-way Speaker

Firstly, one of the apparent benefits is the cost difference between a good 2-way speaker and a good 3-way speaker. You can certainly get more bang for your buck when getting a 2-way speaker. More often than not, an excellent 2-way speaker will outperform a middling 3-way speaker.

A decent 2-way speaker will have a far cleaner balanced setup mainly due to fewer components. It takes more work to get a more accurate balance with a 3-way speaker.

Disadvantages of a 2-way Speaker

The main disadvantage of a 2-way speaker is its performance in the mid-range. These speakers can often suffer between 500-2 kHz. With a good speaker, this won’t be too noticeable, but you will hear the difference when stacked against a good 3-way system.

Benefits of a 3-way Speaker

The main benefit of 3-way speakers is the clarity and more accurate listening experience. As long as the speaker in question is of good quality, this will consistently outperform a 2-way speaker.

This is due to having a designated speaker for your bass, middle, and highs. The 3rd midrange driver also lends itself to having a wider and fuller frequency response across the three drivers compared to 2-way speakers.

Most noticeably with 3-way speakers is the increased clarity and separation of the bass. Additionally, as these speakers generally are larger, they have a higher output.

As long as you have a good crossover, 3-way speakers will produce a remarkably immersive listening experience. As for our producers reading this article, this will also allow you to be far more accurate when mixing your music, and you will find a stark improvement in results when using 3-way speakers.

Disadvantages of a 3-way Speaker

The only major disadvantage of these speakers is the price that comes with them. Using the KRK series as an example, they’re over twice the amount for one speaker.

If you are a producer on a budget, you can get two excellent 2-way speakers for the price of one 3-way speaker, making it hard to justify spending a ton more money for a 3-way system.

However, when you listen to them side-by-side, there is a noticeable leap in level and quality.

What is a Crossover?


Frequency Divider, 3-Way Tweeter

A crossover is a component of the speaker system. The role of a crossover is to separate the frequency spectrum between however many drivers are within the unit. Some more modern speaker systems will use a digital crossover which is often a more robust and accurate way of achieving crossover.

What is a Good Crossover Frequency?

A good crossover frequency produces a balanced listening experience, filtering out all unwanted sounds in each driver. Speakers with a defined frequency response will output outside of their capability if the crossover isn’t applied correctly.

This will produce a tinny, distorted tone. Furthermore, a poor crossover will produce a muddy listening experience as there will be frequency peaks where more than one speaker will output too much of the same frequency.

There are no universal ‘best” crossover frequencies.  Most speaker production companies have crossovers to best fit their speaker drivers.

However, there is a general guide for speaker crossover:

Subwoofers

An excellent place to start is a low pass filter around 80 Hz, this crossover point will help optimize the low-end performance by removing all the midrange frequencies.

Mid-range

For the mid-range speaker, a bandpass filter between 250 Hz – 3.5kHz is good for crossover as speakers in this range tend to have a poor bass and treble frequency output quality. If the crossover surpasses this, it can cause some significant distortion.

Tweeters

For tweeters, a high pass crossover point of 3.5 kHz is recommended as anything below this will lead to distortion as tweeters have a poor mid-bass performance.

Verdict

A 2-way speaker is a good way to go if you’re working with a tighter budget. Also, listening to music in the home can still provide an excellent listening experience. However, if you are an audiophile and/or an audio professional, a 3-way speaker is the obvious choice.

Be cautious if you’re considering buying a 3-way speaker on a budget, as this can lead to poor results. As a producer, I would buy a 2-way speaker system for your home studio, and then when you’re ready to mix and master your song, you should go and reap the benefits of larger speakers within a studio space.

FAQ

Do 3-way speakers sound better than 2-way?

If you have a cheap 3-way speaker, this will often sound worse than a good 2-way speaker. But a high-quality 3-way speaker will outperform a good 2-way speaker.

What’s the difference between coaxial and 3-way speakers?

A coaxial speaker is a type of 2-way speaker. However, the configuration of these speakers is different from a standard 2-way speaker. It includes a tweeter stacked above the woofer speaker.

This is popular over regular single cone speakers but is only really used within car audio.

What are active crossover speakers?

An active crossover takes place before the amplifier. This helps to provide a more accurate frequency split.