Car Speakers

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How does a car speaker work?

The best car speakers can dramatically improve the quality of sound in your vehicle. This improvement allows you to enjoy the best possible listening experience while you drive. But how do speakers work? How do speakers improve the sound of your music?

As a whole, a speaker is an air piston that is continually moving forward and backward in positive and negative cycles. This piston can create a variety of air pressures depending on the frequency of movement. This movement is created by the amplifier, which can be built-in your radio or can be a separate component. The amp produces positive and negative voltages (AC) from electrical impulses. The current then moves around the speaker’s voice coil, which creates an electromagnet. This electromagnetic force is what moves the cone in and out.

Why are they called speakers?

The word speaker is actually a shortened form of the word loudspeaker. The earliest speakers were designed to amplify the human voice, thus making the person speaking louder.

Who invented the first speaker?

Edwin Pridham and Peter L. Jensen invented the first modern speaker in 1915 in Napa, California. The speaker was a practical moving-coil (dynamic) loudspeaker. The moving-coil technology used in today’s speakers was patented by Rice and Kellogg in 1924.

Who installed the first car speakers?

The first commercial car speakers came with the first commercial car radio, the Motorola 5T71, in the 1930s. While nowhere near the wattage or complexity of today’s systems, the radio sold for the equivalent of nearly $2,000, which in today’s dollar, is equivalent to $130.

What are the parts of a speaker?

Knowing the parts of a speaker is an important piece in understanding how a speaker works. For the sake of making things simpler, let’s think of speakers in a vehicle that has a motor, suspension, and body.

The Speaker “Motor”

At the back of the speaker, there are two plates with a magnet suspended between them. There is a top plate and a pole piece/back plate. You cannot see this part of a speaker because they are hidden behind other parts of the speaker. An amplifier causes current changes in another part of the speaker called the voice coil. As the electromagnetic field is attracted to or repelled from the plates, it moves.

As the magnetic field causes the voice coil to move, the attached cone moves in sync. The voice cone is the visible part of the speaker you see vibrating. The movement of the cone’s surface area moves (pressurizes) air, which creates the sound you hear. In this vehicle analogy, we call these parts the “motor” or “engine” of the speaker because they are what creates the sound.

The Speaker “Suspension”

The axle and wheels would fall off a car without shock absorbers and a suspension system. The same is true of a speaker.

The cone must be held in place, or it will simply vibrate away from the magnet. To keep the cone in place at the front of the speaker, a flexible rubber circle, called the surround, connects the top of the cone to the metal frame. The metal fame is typically referred to as a “basket.”

Deeper inside the speaker, an element called a spider keeps the bottom part of the cone and voice coil assembly in proper position. The spider is typically a corrugated circle glued to the voice coil on the inner-part and a basket “landing” on the outer-part.

As we use our vehicle analogy, the spider and surround are like the suspension on the car. They return the cone to its original state, despite the cone’s constant movements.

The Speaker “Body”

Just like a car has a body, so too does a speaker. These elements serve to protect the speaker.

A basket surrounds the speaker. It is like a metal shell that encases the other parts of the speaker. This piece protects the sides and back of a speaker and provides overall structural support.

A dust cap covers the center hole in the cone. It’s the round dome you see when looking at the front of a speaker. The dust cap prevents debris from getting into the voice coil assembly and other parts of the speaker.

A speaker, including the basket, is often placed inside an enclosure to help increase the air pressure the speaker generates. This enclosure is also called a speaker enclosure or speaker box.

These parts protect the speaker, but they aren’t the engine or suspension, so we refer to them as the “body” in our analogy.

What are different types of speakers?

When broken down, there are only two basic types of car speakers. These are component speakers and coaxial speakers (sometimes called full-range speakers.)

Component Speakers contain many options for their components, as the name would suggest. These are the tweeter, midrange, woofer, and subwoofer. Each driver is separate. When simplified, there are three kinds of speaker drivers: woofers, mid-ranges, and tweeters. Woofers produce low-frequency or bass sounds, mid-range speakers produce sounds in the middle range between the high and low frequencies, and tweeters produce high-frequency sounds.

You can customize tweeters and woofers to meet your sound preferences to reach ultra-high and ultra-low sounds, respectively. With component speakers, the drivers are separate from each other rather than all being contained within one unit. This separation allows them to be placed in different areas of your vehicle.

Coaxial Speakers (full-range) contain the tweeter and mid-woofer in a single unit, generally with the tweeter over the woofer. The low to middle range frequencies are handled by the woofer, while the tweeters handle the middle and high frequency ranges. The two drivers cover the “full-range” of sound. This set up is most common in-car audio systems and condenses the sound it produces to one place.

What is the difference between 2-way and 3-way speakers?

A two-way speaker does not refer to a stereo system with two speakers. A two-way speaker is a coaxial speaker named because there are two cones in the one speaker assembly. The two-way speakers consist of a woofer and tweeter.

A three-way speaker combines three cones into a single speaker assembly. The three-way speakers consist of a woofer, a tweeter, and a mid-range.

Common sense implies that the three-way speaker is the better option. However, this is not always the case. Having a component dedicated to each frequency range should improve sound accuracy. While this is generally true, there are other determining factors. The listening environment can also play a factor in listening quality, as could the speaker’s engineering, materials, and construction. Even the kind of music that will be played on these systems can affect what kind of speakers you’ll want in your car.

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