What is the difference between tweeters, mid-range drivers and woofers?

If you’re planning to buy a hi-fi music system, you may have come across terms like tweeters, midrange drivers and woofers, but what do these terms mean?


Do these driver configurations also provide better sound quality?


How do we hear sound?

Before delving into speakers and how they work, it’s essential to understand how sound is created. Simply put, sound is a vibration that reaches your ear.

In the case of a musical instrument such as a drum, the sound is created by physically generating vibrations by striking the cymbal or bass drum. Once struck, the drumhead vibrates, creating a pressure wave in the air molecules next to it, generating a sound wave. This sound wave is nothing but a series of compressions and dilutions traveling through the air.

When they reach your ear, these vibrations make the eardrum vibrate, allowing you to hear the sound of the eardrum.

The human ear can only hear sounds between the frequencies of 20Hz-20,000Hz. Outside this range, our ears cannot process anything. In addition, as people age, our audible range also tends to decrease.

How do speakers work?

Now that we have a basic understanding of how sound is made, let’s look at how loudspeakers create sound waves.

Unlike a drum, which creates sound waves by vibrating the drum skin, a speaker uses concepts of magnetism to create sound. Simply put, a speaker uses three main components to create sound waves, and together it is known as a driver. Below is a brief overview of the same:

  • Aperture: Like a drum has a head, a speaker uses a diaphragm to create vibrations. This diaphragm is a thin diaphragm of paper, metal or plastic that is connected to the voice coil.
  • Voice coil: As the name suggests, the voice coil is a copper coil that acts like an electromagnet when current is passed through it. The current in the voice coil changes based on the audio signal that makes the diaphragm vibrate.
  • Permanent Magnets: The diaphragm and voice coils are placed between a set of permanent magnets. This combination of permanent magnets and electromagnets is what creates sound.

Now that we have a basic understanding of the components that make up a speaker, let’s take a look at how it works.

In most cases, the speaker is connected to a digital device such as a computer or a DAC. These devices send audio signals to the speaker which are then processed and sent to the voice coil. These audio signals are a combination of several sine waves.

Once these sine waves reach the voice coil, they induce a varying current in the voice coil, converting it into a magnet that changes polarity based on the input signal.

Now that the diaphragm and voice coil are surrounded by the magnetic field of a permanent magnet, an attractive/repulsive force is applied to the voice coil based on the polarity of the magnetic field it possesses.

It’s this basic mechanism of temporary and permanent magnets that helps speakers mimic music with great accuracy, but there’s a catch; a single diaphragm can’t do everything.

Tweeters, mid-range drivers and woofers explained

You see, the music we listen to can have sounds ranging from 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz, and a single diaphragm cannot vibrate to generate such a wide variety of frequencies. Therefore, a speaker uses diaphragms of different sizes to solve this problem.

Due to the difference in aperture size, different drivers reproduce certain frequencies with better accuracy. This difference in size creates tweeters, mid-range drivers and woofers.

tweeters

Tweeters create high-frequency sounds. While different speakers have different tweeter frequency ranges, in most cases tweeters are used to create sounds in the 2000 Hz to 20,000 Hz frequency range.

Because the tweeter has to produce sounds in a high frequency range, it uses a small diameter diaphragm. The small size allows the tweeter to vibrate at higher frequencies, creating shrill sounds with great accuracy. Not only this, but the small aperture design allows the tweeter to work properly without consuming a lot of power.

Mid-Range Drivers

As the name suggests, mid-range drivers are designed to reproduce sounds in the middle of the human audible frequency range. Typically, these speakers operate in the 500 Hz and 4,000 Hz range. Due to this frequency range, the output of the midrange tweeters is fairly flat.

That said, most vocals and instruments in any music composition are in the mid-frequency range, making it essential to have a driver that does a good job of generating these frequencies.

In terms of diaphragm size, the midrange driver is located between the tweeter and the woofer.

woofers

The woofer on a speaker system produces the lowest part of the frequency spectrum and adds the bass to all your music. In terms of frequency range, most woofers operate in the range of 20 Hz to 2,000 Hz.

To create these low-frequency sounds, the woofer uses a large diaphragm that allows it to vibrate many air molecules. That said, due to its large size, the woofer can’t vibrate at very high speeds, so it won’t generate highs.

Another thing to note about woofers is that the enclosure they are placed in also affects the bass they produce. For this reason, most speaker systems place the woofer in an independent cabinet to provide better bass response.

How does your computer’s audio signal reach the different drivers?

When you play music on your speakers, a single audio stream makes its way from the computer to the speaker. This audio signal is then shared by the crossover network based on the speaker design.

The crossover network is an electronic device that separates the frequencies in an audio signal into different sub-frequencies.

So if you have a speaker with a tweeter, a midrange driver and a woofer, your computer’s audio signal is divided into three parts. One for the woofer, which consists of the low-frequency audio signal. Second, an audio signal in the mid-frequency band for the mid-range driver and finally a high-frequency audio stream for the tweeters.

All these signals are sent to the different drivers simultaneously, providing an immersive audio experience.

Should you buy a multi-driver speaker?

The music we listen to is an amalgamation of different frequencies. Therefore, using a single driver design to reproduce music produces mediocre sound.

So if you’re looking for a phenomenal sound experience, get a speaker with special drivers designed to generate specific frequencies for a more immersive music experience.

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