Car Speakers and Subwoofers

A great-sounding car stereo can really get you through a long, exhausting trip, and the best-sounding rigs all have a couple things in common--quality car speakers and subwoofers.

People spend a lot of time in their automobiles. How much you ask? According to recent studies, the average American spends over 540 hours in his or her car each year. And whether the bulk of that time is spent traveling to work or enjoying a summer road trip with the family, most people need some music, a good audio book or a radio talk show to help keep them entertained and focused on the road.

In this buyer's guide, we'll take a look at the different types of car speakers and subwoofers available to help you distinguish what's not enough, what's too much and what's just right for your car or truck.

Car Speakers

Car speaker systems-Car speaker systems, sometimes called "component speaker systems," are similar to those surround-sound home theater systems that come in one box. These systems include everything you need to get started, and installation is usually very easy. While many of these systems do not provide the audio quality of a system built from individual components, they do offer a nice balance of performance versus cost. Included in most basic car speaker systems are these items:

  • 2 tweeters
  • 2 woofers
  • Crossover

Car speaker systems are available from most manufacturers of mobile audio equipment.

10-inch car speakers-When you see the term "10-inch speaker," the 10 inches is usually the length or width of the speaker. For instance, a 4-by-10-inch speaker is four inches high and 10 inches long. This speaker is longer and thinner than 6-by-9-inch speakers and round speakers like 6.5-inch speakers. A 10-inch car speaker will fit only in autos that can support the speaker's length, or else the housing where the speaker is to be installed will have to be modified.

6-by-9 car speakers-Car speakers that are 6-by-9 are 6 inches high and 9 inches in length. This type of speaker is one of the more common sized speakers installed toward the rear of the vehicle. They typically feature a mid-bass driver for handling the bulk of the bass response, although some models include a midrange tweeter (2-way) to help the speaker manage the higher frequencies.

2-way car speakers-Two-way car speakers are speakers that feature both a woofer for handling low bass response and a tweeter for handling mid-to-high-range frequencies. The tweeter is usually mounted right inside the woofer, and the speakers are designed to accurately reproduce the frequency range of most music sources. Two-way car speakers are sometimes referred to as "coaxial designed speakers."

3-way car speakers-Three-way car speakers are similar to 2-way speakers, as they also feature a woofer and a tweeter, but they differ in the fact that they also feature a midrange driver for increasing the clarity, warmth and texture of the audio. Some select models of 3-way speakers feature a supertweeter instead of the midrange driver. You can tell if a speaker is a 3-way if there are two smaller cones inside of the large outer cone.

Car Subwoofers

Car subwoofers add the low-end punch of bass that's usually unattainable through standard car speakers. While available in a number of different sizes, most subwoofers worth their salt will require an amplifier in order to power the driver.

15-inch subwoofers-A 15-inch subwoofer has a cone with a diameter of 15 inches. Depending on the manufacturer, most 15-inch subwoofers need to be installed in a vented enclosure in order to get the best response, and many require as much as 10 inches of mounting depth. It's also important that the amplifier be compatible with the subwoofer you're adding to your car's audio system. Typical power range is from 150 to 1,000 watts with a peak power handling rated around 2,000 watts (although stats can vary between manufacturers).

12-inch subwoofers-Similar to 15-inch subwoofers, the 12-inch ones are just smaller, less powerful versions of the same thing. Most 12-inch subs need only about 7 inches of mounting depth. Whereas most 15-inch subs feature dual 2-ohm coils, 12-inch subs have only one 4-ohm coil. Typical power range is from 50 to 400 watts with a peak power handling rated around 1,200 watts (although stats can vary between manufacturers).

10-inch subwoofers-Ten-inch subwoofers provide a nice, deep level of sound at a price that won't break your budget. These subs typically require just over 4 inches of mounting depth and produce a power range between 100 and 200 watts (peak power 400 watts). This is a nice-sized sub for someone who likes to keep the bass enjoyable but doesn't have the need to shake every windowpane when driving down the street.

Car Subwoofer Amplifiers

As stated earlier, a subwoofer requires a tremendous amount of power to produce low-level bass reproductions, and in order to accomplish that, an amplifier needs to be connected to the sub.

Subwoofer amplifiers come in a wide range of styles and types, which include these:

  • Mono amplifiers
  • 2-channel amplifiers
  • 4-channel amplifiers
  • 5-channel amplifiers

A mono amplifier boosts the sound levels across all of the speakers connected to it via one amplifier. Amplifiers that feature 2, 4 or 5 channels feature an independent amplifier for 2, 4 or 5 individual speakers. For example, in the case of a 5-channel amp, all four speakers and the subwoofer are powered by their own independent amp.

Car Subwoofer Enclosures

Sometimes a car or truck doesn't have the available space to install a subwoofer. In these instances, subwoofer enclosures are used to house the sub. Typically constructed out of wood and a carpet covering, sub enclosures can take up a large chunk of storage space in your trunk if you're installing a larger subwoofer.

Many manufacturers now build subwoofer enclosures especially designed for modifying certain makes and models of vehicles. In addition, some versions come with pre-installed subwoofers powered by their own independent amplifier.

Use the information provided in this guide to help you find the best audio solution for your car's audio system. Shop wisely, make informed decisions and by the time you're done, your car's stereo will be the envy of your neighborhood.