Car Audio Speaker Characteristics

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Your factory speakers may sound okay to your ears, but have you wondered what better sounds like? It's no secret that factory car speakers are designed to be cost-effective, not great sounding. Quality aftermarket speakers allow you to enjoy your music loud and clear. Take the first step to better sound by upgrading your speakers.

With so many choices available, it can be hard to know what to look for. But if you keep a few important points in mind, you'll find it isn't too hard to pick out the speakers that will make your vehicle sound better.

Match your speakers to your system

There are two main specs to consider when considering what speakers will work best with your system:

* Sensitivity
Sensitivity measures how much sound a speaker makes from the power applied to it. If your car's stereo is low-powered, like most factory systems, speakers with high sensitivity ratings will be the best match. If your system more power, like that provided by a brand-name receiver or external amplifier, then consider speakers with lower sensitivity ratings. Properly powered, they'll provide excellent sound quality.

A sensitivity rating tells you how effectively a speaker converts power (watts) into volume (decibels). The higher the rating, the louder your speakers will play with a given amount of amplifier power. Sensitivity is often measured by driving a speaker with one watt and measuring the loudness in decibels at one meter.

The table below illustrates that a few dB in sensitivity can make a big difference:

Speaker Sensitivity Power needed to produce a given volume
Speaker A 85 dB 100 watts
Speaker B 88 dB 50 watts
Speaker C 91 dB 25 watts
A speaker with a sensitivity rating that's 3 dB higher than another speaker's only needs half as much power to deliver the same amount of sound.

* Power handling
Power handling lets you know how much power (measured in watts) a speaker can handle. If you've got a low-powered system, it's not important that your speakers handle a lot of power. On the other hand, a system with powerful external amps will require speakers whose power handling is close to the output of the amps. And remember, the key spec in power handling is the maximum RMS power handling, not the peak power handling. RMS ratings realistically measure how much power the speaker can handle on a continuous basis, not just for a short period of time.

These 2 parameters will tell you nothing about how the speaker will actually sound. A speaker that handles higher RMS does not sound better and likewise a speaker with higher sensitivity does not sound better.

What type of speakers do you need?

Aftermarket car speakers can be divided into two main categories: full-range speakers, and component speaker systems. Let's explain each and look at their advantages and disadvantages.

* Full-range speakers
Full-range speakers contain all the speaker elements in one basket. In their simplest form they consist of a woofer for the lows, and a tweeter mounted onto the woofer to produce the highs. Some models will have additional drivers, like midrange or supertweeter. Full-range speakers are a great choice when you're looking to replace factory speakers with a minimum of muss and fuss. They're built in a variety of sizes that mount easily into factory speaker locations. In most cases, you simply remove the old speaker, connect the new speaker but you will need a mounting spacer in the Jazz. You'll find full-range speakers at nearly every price point and power range.

* Component speakers
Component systems use a superior speaker design to give you the best possible sound. A typical component system includes separate woofers, tweeters, and external crossovers — all of which are designed to work in concert with each other.

In a component system, the tweeter is separate from the woofer, and can be mounted in a location that provides the best imaging. Your music will sound more realistic, more "live," and have greater depth. The crossover network in a component system is external to the woofer and tweeter, so higher quality internal components can be used to ensure a sharp delineation between the frequencies sent to the different drivers — that means more realistic sound for the listener. Component systems are generally made of better materials than their full-range counterparts, so they're capable of delivering exceptional dynamics and detailed sound.

Speaker materials

What a speaker is made of can have a big effect on its durability and sound quality.

* Woofer materials
To effectively produce the low notes in your music, the woofer of a full-range or component speaker should be made of material that is stiff, yet lightweight. Most car speaker woofer cones are made of synthetic films like polypropylene, which serve well. Polypropylene mixed with other materials, like mica, is often stiffer, for more accurate bass response. Woven fabrics, or synthetics coated with metals like aluminum or titanium, are also light and strong and provide excellent response. All of these materials stand up well to the heat, cold, and moisture that car speakers face daily.

* Tweeter materials
The material used for the tweeter has a big effect on the type of sound produced by the speaker. Generally, tweeters made of soft materials, like poly, textile blends, or silk will give you sound that's refined and somewhat mellow. If you like the highs bright and snappy, go with hard materials, like metal, ceramics, or graphite.

* Surround materials
The surround on a woofer performs a vital role — it allows the woofer cone to move freely, so you get better bass output. It needs to be durable, so it can stand up to temperature and humidity extremes. Surrounds made of rubber will provide the best overall performance and longevity. Foam and cloth surrounds are less expensive, but still provide good performance.

Other features

Several other common features in car speakers may be important for your system's needs.

* Pivoting or swiveling tweeters
If you're replacing speakers that are low in your door, full-range speakers with pivoting tweeters can have a big effect on your sound. The high frequencies that tweeters produce are very directional, so pivoting tweeters can be "aimed" towards the listener for a higher soundstage. Your music will sound more realistic, and have a greater sense of depth. Remember that component speakers will still sound better with the tweeter away from the mid woofer avoiding any cancellation.

* External crossovers
Some higher-priced, full-range speakers employ external crossovers to achieve clean separation between the frequencies sent to the woofer and tweeter. The woofer and tweeter don't waste energy by trying to reproduce frequencies they're not intended to reproduce. You'll enjoy cleaner, more efficient sound reproduction. Crossovers come with all component speakers.

* Detachable tweeters
Speakers with detachable tweeters can be used as either full-range speakers or component systems — a nice feature if you want to reuse the speakers in a different car later on, or haven't decided on how you want to mount the speakers in your present vehicle.

As for particular makes and models of speakers. Don't shop based on brandname. Most brands make a big variety of speakers and just because they wear that brand doesn't mean they are all good. Some brands spend a lot more on advertising than engineering and more on appearances than sound.

If you at all interested in sound quality (SQ) then you will be looking for the most natural sounding speakers (the instruments sound as close to the real instruments as possible). If you just want loud as possible (SPL - sound pressure level) then get the biggest amps money can buy to go with special SPL optimised subs as other speakers won't matter as they will be completely drowned by the subs.

Your ears are the only judge. What sounds great to you may not sound great to me so you need to make up your own mind by auditioning as many speakers as possible yourself to come to the best decision.
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