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FennerMachine's picture
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2-way vs 3-way speakers

Given a similar budget, what would generally be better, a 2-way or 3-way speaker?

Obviously at the lower end, say below £500, a 2-way will likely be better due to having to split a limited budget over so may components.

But if we go to say the £2000 to £3000 range what implementation should be better?

Or is this the same principle as lower cost designs? 2-way with very good components / 3-way with good components?

Does the number of drivers even matter as long as the speakers has been well designed?

Example: Harbeth SHL5 is a 3-way, Harbeth M30.1 is a 2-way. Different designs, sizes, but similar cost, the SHL5 being slightly more expensive.

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RE: 2-way vs 3-way speakers

Depends on SPL and budget.

 

Obviously there are exceptions.

 

Generally, you can't use a bass driver much bigger than 6.5 inches since the directionality of the sound decreases as the frequency increases. Smaller woofers are better at this.

 

Also 2 way stop prouducing accurate midrange when there is a lot of bass, sine the excursions and power handling leads to distortions. Google modulation distortion. 

 

Personally it depends on the aplpication: if I had £1000 to spend on new speakers and my amp was not a factor at all:

If I were to want to listen to guitar music at 90dB or less then I'd take 2 way bookshelves.

If I were to want to listen to bass heavy music at <105db I'd take a large floorstander which was 3 way.

 

 

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RE: 2-way vs 3-way speakers

The Harbeth case is rather unusual, as the "third" driver in the SHL5 is a supertweeter, whereas normally adding a third driver would mean splitting the LF between a mid/bass and a bass driver. The pricing is also odd; assuming I had the space, I'd pay the relatively small premium for the SHL5s any day (not that the M30.1s are bad speakers).

:santa:

Matt

 

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RE: 2-way vs 3-way speakers

IMO a well-designed 2-way is always preferable to a mediocre 3- way so I believe there are no hard and fast rules.

The Magico Q-1 for example, is a 2-way (perhaps the ultimate example of its kind) which possibly sounds better than many floorstanders at the same price.

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RE: 2-way vs 3-way speakers

Seems logic that the 3 way will balance the woofer to reproduce more bass but should need more powerfull amp at the same time. Its surprising whenn we look at vintage bookshelf, a lot had 3 way. I cant tell why this design is not used anymore while floors have 3-4-5-6 way. Not helping with your question but just curious if someone can explain. :?  

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RE: 2-way vs 3-way speakers

I've tried quite a lot of speakers over the last 30 or 40 years or so, particularly in the last 15 years perhaps.

 

IMO . . . 

 

A two way speaker of modest size is very, very, hard to beat, particularly on voice, and particularly if the best technology and components are used.

Nowadays I think this has to mean an active crossover design.

 

If the very best clarity, accuracy, lack of distortion, and realism is to be maintained then the mid / bass driver must not be asked to perform beyond its best design envelope in the low bass region.

If low bass response is of critical importance to the listener, then the best result is probably to augment the speaker with a separate, matched sub-woofer.

 

I think that, with the present state of the art, such an arrangement is probably best regardless of materials and component cost.   Very high priced designer fashion and marketing statements do not enhance audio performance. ime.

 

JC

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RE: 2-way vs 3-way speakers

p.s.  I suppose there is nothing to prevent the arrangement described above being all built into one cab, or two for stereo.

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RE: 2-way vs 3-way speakers

Something that no one has mentioned is the complexity and losses introduced by the crossovers. This is often a problem and one that is rarely discussed, mainly I think because of the complexity of the issue.

Even good designs can introduce phase shifts that are easy to hear and in general terms, the steeper the roll off the greater this problem will be. Simple first order crossovers are better in this respect but the trade off is that the drive units are still producing considerable output well above or below the crossover frequency.

Arguably it is easier to manage the effects of one crossover than two or even more.

My own preference is to use first order crossovers with very well controlled drive units, oem drive units of this type are expensive and building your own specifically for your needs even more so, but to me they produce the best performance, if done well.

Others, including some very well respected designers think differently so there is no right answer to this.

For inexpensive designs a 5 or 6 inch design is probably the most cost effective, you can get decent bass extension if you are prepared to give up a bit of sensitivity, alternatively you can use bigger more complex enclosures to achieve similar ends.

The simplest way is the small standmount, either sealed or ported and balanced to give sufficient bass for many users in modest sized rooms. In a bigger space a subwoofer can be used to create a full range system, though in my experience this is rather difficult and not cheap.

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RE: 2-way vs 3-way speakers

FennerMachine wrote:

Given a similar budget, what would generally be better, a 2-way or 3-way speaker?

a stat Smile seriously. if you want to achieve some decent performance out of dynamic driver going multiway is the only right way to go (some issues concerning 2-ways were already mentioned like high THD in the bass, problems with IMD also possibility of leaking breakup mode if the xover slope is too shallow and the breakup mode for the given driver is particularly vicious in nature). and the only right way to go multiway is to go active; it's virtually imposisble to perfectly time align a passive 3-way due to not so tight tolerances relating to passive xover network components, not mentioning speakers with more xover points. that's why IMO for a typical (concerning a full range power amp and no active xover) hi-fi set-up stats are the only way to go. if you can house such speakers in your room of course. I think that for smaller rooms small hybrids like from Martin Logan or Pio Sound are a good compromise between stats performance and small footprint.

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RE: 2-way vs 3-way speakers

Also, there are some designs which have no cross overs (like Anthony Gallo Strada) which makes the cross over issue non relevant.

In general I prefer a 3 way design at a given price point, as I have experienced that instrument seperation and scale improves alot with an additional dedicated woofer. 

More than a 2 way or 3 way design, I prefer to focus on mechanical design improvements - like cross over free design, driver positioning UniQ - KEF /Dual Concentric - Tannoy, dedicated enclosures for individual drivers - Vivid, non parallel non boxy cabinets, if I need more bass then beyond 6.5" driver (like an 8" or 10" Tannoy Definition DC10) and so on! I think this kind of innovation has much more impact on the way the speakers produce sound.

 

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RE: 2-way vs 3-way speakers

davedotco wrote:

Something that no one has mentioned is the complexity and losses introduced by the crossovers. This is often a problem and one that is rarely discussed, mainly I think because of the complexity of the issue.

Even good designs can introduce phase shifts that are easy to hear and in general terms, the steeper the roll off the greater this problem will be. Simple first order crossovers are better in this respect but the trade off is that the drive units are still producing considerable output well above or below the crossover frequency.

Arguably it is easier to manage the effects of one crossover than two or even more.

My own preference is to use first order crossovers with very well controlled drive units, oem drive units of this type are expensive and building your own specifically for your needs even more so, but to me they produce the best performance, if done well.

Others, including some very well respected designers think differently so there is no right answer to this.

For inexpensive designs a 5 or 6 inch design is probably the most cost effective, you can get decent bass extension if you are prepared to give up a bit of sensitivity, alternatively you can use bigger more complex enclosures to achieve similar ends.

The simplest way is the small standmount, either sealed or ported and balanced to give sufficient bass for many users in modest sized rooms. In a bigger space a subwoofer can be used to create a full range system, though in my experience this is rather difficult and not cheap.

I agree. Generally, a 3 way should outperform a 2 way sonically but they are a real pig to design for the reasons Dave states above.

It is unlikely you will find 3 coincidental drivers that will mesh so you end up fudging the crossover. The original KEF company were the best at this. B139 bass, B110 mid and T27 treble. But these are the exception. The best 3 ways I've heard of late are actives due to the drivers being non-coincidental. Level settings are a lot easier with actives as well.

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RE: 2-way vs 3-way speakers

Whilst I feel that, at anything resembling reasonable money, a two way is probably going to sound better than a three way this is by no means a certainty. There is plenty of scope for a design to go wrong and they often do, the bigest problem being cheap drive units, necessary if you are going to get the speaker to market at a low price.

One problem that confuses the hell out of many people is why some speakers sound so bright on some amplifiers and not others.

The simple answer is that awkward phase angles around the crossovers push the amplifier into distortion, quite mild perhaps, but it will still makes itself apparent at higher frequencies, so the speaker sounds bright. An amplifier that is better able to handle the awkward load does much better and the result is not bright at all.

Another issue is the 'out of band' sounds that eminate from some drive units at frequencies well above or below their crossover point, again a good example being a woofer whose break up modes, at around 5khz say, are rather nasty being used in a two way with a crossover of 2.5khz.

In a passive system the designer may prefer to use 'gentler' 6db/octave slopes to minimise the phase issues issues mentioned above. This gives an easier load to the amplifier so it does not distort, but the break up modes at 5khz are only 9db below the main output and given their peaky and distorted nature are again clearly audible, making the speaker sound bright or in extreme cases a bit harsh.

Thats right, a speaker sounds bright because of the poor quality of the bass driver, funny that!

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RE: 2-way vs 3-way speakers

The Harbeth is a strange example thinking about it! I gave it as an example because the prices are so close.

I was under the impression that a well made 3-way might be better overall as the mid range has a dedicated driver and that's where hearing is most sensitive. With the complications of the crossover for a good 3-way and finding 3 well matched drive units a 2-way may actually be better.

From research I found someone say forget the driver configuration and just listen to how it sounds. Someone suggested to demo speakers with the grills on so you didn't know how many drivers it has! I suppose if a 2-way sounds good it sounds good.

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RE: 2-way vs 3-way speakers

FennerMachine wrote:

From research I found someone say forget the driver configuration and just listen to how it sounds. Someone suggested to demo speakers with the grills on so you didn't know how many drivers it has! I suppose if a 2-way sounds good it sounds good.

Yes, and it's probably not wise to get fixated on the driver (or crossover) configuration at the expense of other factors. The shape and construction of the box can also be a big factor. With a couple of exceptions (Harbeth!) I don't like speakers in cuboid boxes.

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RE: 2-way vs 3-way speakers

matt49 wrote:

FennerMachine wrote:

From research I found someone say forget the driver configuration and just listen to how it sounds. Someone suggested to demo speakers with the grills on so you didn't know how many drivers it has! I suppose if a 2-way sounds good it sounds good.

Yes, and it's probably not wise to get fixated on the driver (or crossover) configuration at the expense of other factors. The shape and construction of the box can also be a big factor. With a couple of exceptions (Harbeth!) I don't like speakers in cuboid boxes.

 

If I'm being asked to spend a lot of money on a pair of speakers, I expect to see some pretty clever engineering that takes into account, ALL aspects and componentry of a loudspeakers design.  

Hence, a beautifully finished, veneered, but otherwise cuboid MDF box is not really likely to cut it for me if I'm being expected to spend big bucks.

I've read the arguments elsewhere both for and against 2 ways, v's 3 or 4 ways etc, and despite being told 'elsewhere' that a 2 way is the only design that works, my own speakers are fully active three ways, and I hear nothing but superb sound.

Perhaps though, this means that I am either deaf, or need to be taught how to listen to a HiFi.

Undoubtedly part of the problem for me, is that I tend to listen to music rather than the HiFi though....

 

JMac...  Dirol

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RE: 2-way vs 3-way speakers

Hi JMac.

There are definitely some good 3-way designs.

I've demoed a few and even owned a pair (Mission 782).

From what I've read, active may overcome the difficulty of designing a good 3-way more easily.

There are some good 4-way's out there too.

It is likely easier to get a 2-way right but with enough time/money/knowledge a good 3-way/4-way can sound excellent, it's just not guaranteed to sound better than a 2-way as it's possible to get it wrong.

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