Audio speakers have become a common part of everyday life. Radio speakers, television speakers, and even Bluetooth speakers have become part of our daily activities. Wherever you look, there is likely to be a device with a speaker, capable of playing audio.
However, do you really know the ins and outs of your speakers? In order to get the most out of our listening experience, it’s best to know what each type of speaker is and what they do. This way, you can customize your audio systems, which can significantly improve the quality of your listening experience.
In this article, we cover the 5 categories of speakers, and the 10 different speaker types. With this knowledge, you can optimize your audio system to improve sound quality for any listening experience.
The 5 Categories of Speakers
Since the invention of audio speakers, engineers have worked to improve the design, size, and sound quality of these devices. While the majority of us are used to all-in-one speakers, they are actually built according to the specific sound range they produce.
While we may have all heard of subwoofers, we may not be as familiar with speakers designed for other sound ranges. There are 5 main categories of speaker type based on audio range:
Named for the high-pitched song of most birds, this is the smallest speaker type. Also known as a treble speaker, a tweeter produces sound in the highest level of the audible frequency range, typically between 2000 Hz (hertz) and 20,000 Hz.
The smaller size is essential because to produce such high-range frequencies, the diaphragm of the speaker needs to vibrate at a higher rate than can be achieved with larger speakers.
The majority of modern tweeter diaphragms are made of polyester fabric or film, silk, aluminum, and other alloys, including titanium.
Most of the time, tweeter speakers are enclosed in a set with speakers of other audible ranges, but in certain setups, they can be found in their own independent or semi-independent unit.
2. Mid - Range Driver
Also known as a squawker, a mid-range speaker typically delivers sound between 250 Hz to 2000 Hz. Most of the time they come in a cone shape, but there are less common dome-shaped versions as well.
Mid-range drivers are typically simple in design, with the voice coil attached to the neck and the cone attached to the diaphragm on the outer side. They are commonly made from paper material, though more modern versions may be made from resins and polymer, which have a better vibration dampening effect than paper.
Mid-range speakers produce the most important part of the sound spectrum, due to most musical instruments and most human voices sitting in the 250 - 2000 Hz range. As most sounds humans hear on a daily basis are within this range, mid-range drivers need to be the most accurate of all speakers, as most humans can easily detect distortions and discrepancies within this range.
As most woofers are designed to produce the lower frequency sounds in the audio spectrum (between 40 Hz and 500 Hz), they are also known as bass speakers. Woofers get their name from the bark, or “woof”, of larger dogs.
Woofers feature electrodynamic drivers made from either various polymers or strong paper. They are typically bigger and heavier than most other speakers and contain a significantly larger magnet. To reproduce sounds at the lower end of the audio spectrum, the large magnet pushes on a flat diaphragm to create vibration, which is less frequent than in other speakers, but a lot more intense.
Subwoofers play sounds on the lowest end of the audio spectrum that humans can hear, which is 20 Hz. The range for a typical subwoofer is 20 Hz to 200 Hz. Professional, studio-grade subwoofers stay below 100 Hz.
The majority of subwoofers are a single speaker mounted in a special enclosure. A less common design uses two speakers. The enclosure is traditionally made of real wood, which makes it robust and improves the low-end sound quality.
Subwoofers are typically designed to be physically positioned away from the main loudspeaker to avoid disturbing the signal and to enhance overall audio quality.
5. Full-Range Driver
A full-range speaker is designed to produce the full audio spectrum, from high to low frequencies. To ensure as much of the audio range as possible is produced, compromises from the other speakers have to be made with a full-range driver. The size must be big enough to reproduce low-frequency sounds, yet small enough to reproduce accurate high-frequencies.
The design typically comprises a single driver with a voice coil (or magnet) to power the diaphragm. A horn, or whizzer cone, is usually placed on the thin end of the diaphragm to help produce high-frequency sounds.
Full-range speakers are an overall compromise between sound quality, size, and simplicity. Their physical limitations mean they are typically used in a number of ways where practicality is more important than sound quality.
If you want the best audio quality possible, you’ll want to invest in each category of speaker to accurately produce each audio frequency range. This will eliminate the compromise of a full-range driver, and allow you to experience your sound the way it was meant to be heard.
10 Different Types of Speakers
Now that we’ve covered the categories of speakers, we can move on to different types of speakers. There are many different types of speakers that come in all shapes, sizes, and designs. Speakers vary widely in their design and purpose, and new ones are being developed every day.
While you may be used to your car or radio speakers, you may not be as familiar with other types of speakers. Here we go over 10 different types of speakers, and what they’re used for.
Loudspeakers are the type of speaker all of us are accustomed to dealing with on a regular basis. Typically full-range speakers, loudspeakers are used in cars, television sets, portable audio players, and many other systems we typically interact with.
Loudspeakers work by converting an electrical audio signal into sound. The most widely used form of loudspeaker is the dynamic speaker, in which the sound source must be amplified before the signal gets sent to the speaker.
The traditional form of loudspeaker is also called a “box” speaker because most are housed in a box enclosure. These enclosures may actually contain a few different speaker categories, especially in higher-quality models.
2. Bookshelf Speakers
Named for their size, these speakers aren’t just designed for the bookshelf. A table or other elevated surface will hold bookshelf speakers just as well. They are designed to be used where space is at a premium and larger loudspeakers just won’t fit.
Typically needing an amplifier or receiver to play sound, some newer models have these built-in. A variety of bookshelf speakers are available for different experiences. Some are made specifically for watching movies, while others are designed to take music quality to the next level.
Best when used in small- to mid-sized areas, you can usually find a pair of bookshelf speakers made specifically for whatever purpose you have in mind. The sound quality may not fill an auditorium but can be just what you need for a lounge or man-cave.
3. Floorstanding Speakers
Floorstanding speakers are the taller cousins of bookshelf speakers. While bookshelf speakers are designed to be placed on elevated surfaces, these speakers are designed to, well, stand on the floor.
Also called tower speakers, these come in medium to large sizes that can produce a much louder sound than smaller bookshelf speakers. They usually contain more than one category of speaker inside their cases to produce a complete audio listening experience.
You can find floorstanding speakers to serve nearly any purpose you want. You can even find floor-to-ceiling speakers that will fill large areas. Many people enjoy floorstanding speakers as part of their entertainment systems, though they aren’t recommended for small apartments.
4. Ceiling Speakers
Ceiling speakers are installed directly into your ceiling. Requiring professional installation, ceiling speakers are typically intended for long-term use. As such, quality is valued over price.
Since they are installed directly into the ceiling, they don’t require additional space like bookshelf or floorstanding speakers do. This makes them great for people who want high-quality sound without taking up extra space.
With ceiling speakers, the installation is just as important as the brand you choose to buy. Since they will be in the ceiling, fixing or changing faulty speakers will require a lot more work than it would with floorstanding or bookshelf speakers. Making sure you get high-quality equipment and professional installation is key with ceiling speakers.
5. Wall Speakers
Wall speakers are great if you want to avoid the hassle of ceiling speaker installation and also don’t have the space for bookshelf or floorstanding speakers. Typically smaller, on-wall speakers tend to be one of the most common types of full-range drivers available on the market.
You can find wall speakers that contain several speaker categories in a single unit, but they will, of course, be larger. Most people choose full-range driver speakers as their on-wall speakers to limit the size and complexity of their speaker setup and to make installation easier.
With wall speakers, you only need to mount them, which makes them better for short-term use than ceiling speakers. As such, on-wall speakers come in a variety of sizes and prices, and with different sound characteristics. Wall speakers are the loudspeaker systems we’re all used to seeing in school, though you’ll probably want higher quality speakers than those!
6. Bluetooth Speakers
One of the most common types of speakers in modern homes is the Bluetooth speaker. As the systems are wireless, you won’t have to worry about what to do with all those pesky cords connecting your audio system to your speakers. Just pair the speakers with your Bluetooth-enabled device, and begin your listening experience.
Another benefit of wireless speakers is that you don’t need to clear a space near your audio device. With no connecting wires, you can place your Bluetooth speakers as near or as far (within pairing range) from your audio system as you like.
With Bluetooth speakers, you can play your favorite music in the kitchen from an audio system in your bedroom or vice versa. Bluetooth speakers provide a freedom of mobility that other devices don’t offer.
7. Outdoor Speakers
Outdoor speakers are specifically designed to be more durable than indoor speakers. Dustproof, weatherproof, even drop-proof, outdoor speakers allow you to take your sound outside, without worrying about damaging your speakers.
The loudspeaker diaphragm for most ordinary speakers is relatively fragile, designed with optimal sound frequencies in mind, not ruggedness. Outdoor speakers, however, solve all of those problems by making the loudspeaker diaphragm and enclosure box much sturdier.
Outdoor speakers also come in a wide range of styles. You can find large, floorstanding outdoor speakers, midrange bookshelf outdoor speakers, and even small Bluetooth outdoor speakers made to attach to bicycle handles. Every day, outdoor speakers are being designed and improved for any activity you can think of.
Soundbars are a long and slim bar of attached speakers. Favored for use with flat-screen televisions, these bars can be mounted right onto your wall or placed on a stand under your TV.
Soundbars may have a few types of speakers included to produce the entire range of audio frequencies. Typically small and thin, some soundbars can be larger with more speakers included. While some soundbars may only contain a certain category of speakers, others include the entire range.
If you want to improve the audio quality of your home entertainment system but don’t have a lot of space to spare and don’t want to undergo a complicated installation process, a soundbar may be just what you are looking for. Providing a higher quality of sound than most built-in speakers, these slim arrangements of speakers are designed to fill a small-to-medium area equally, with no need to change your listening position.
While they are their own category of speaker, subwoofers are also often bought as a component of a surround-sound audio system. Used to produce bass frequencies, subwoofers are a common upgrade for car stereo systems and home theater setups.
Certain speaker systems, such as satellite speakers, are designed to play all but the lower range of frequencies. This means that woofer drivers need to be included in order to get the dynamic sound of the bass frequencies present in your audio signal. For this reason, subwoofers have become their own type of speaker, used to enhance lower frequencies to create a more complete listening experience.
10. Satellite Speakers
Satellite speakers are designed to complement your main speaker, usually to provide a surround sound experience. This type of speaker is typically six to nine inches tall, focusing on high and middle frequencies.
Because of the smaller size of this speaker, they don’t produce the low-frequency sound of the bass ranges. Being solely high and midrange speakers, a subwoofer is needed to add bass to the system. As such, satellite speakers are usually sold in a group along with a subwoofer.
They can be found in multiple setup options including 2.1, 5.1, 7.1, 5.2, and 7.2, among others. The number before the dot represents the number of satellite speakers, while the number after represents the subwoofer. In other words, 2.1 includes two satellite speakers and one subwoofer while 5.2 includes five satellite speakers and two subwoofers.
Satellite speakers are the most popular way to turn your stereo into an epic surround sound system. The multiple setup options allow you to choose as many speakers as you’ll need to fit the room of your choice. If you’ve ever listened to audio in surround sound (and if you’ve ever gone to a movie theater, you have), you’ll understand the power of a surround sound system.
One speaker can be great. Two can be even better. But with satellite speakers, you can enjoy the rich and full audio quality only surround sound can provide.
Different types of audio speakers can be found nearly everywhere humans spend time. From school, to work, to home, speakers have become a constant presence in our lives. And we don’t expect them to disappear any time soon. In fact, we expect the opposite. Audio speakers are likely to become even more common, with more categories being developed all the time.
We hope our guide describing the 5 categories and 10 types of speakers helps you understand this common technology a little bit better. Perhaps you plan to buy a new speaker system soon and now you can make a more informed decision to find the system and setup that is perfect for your needs. Good luck!