In this article: We'll review all of the components that make up a speaker and walk you through how they affect the sound. We'll also give you a good idea of what to look for in a high quality speaker.
Today is a good day to dissect a speaker and describe the different parts and how they function. When you buy speakers, you want high-quality sound. That only comes from high-quality components that work together properly. If you have ever wondered how a speaker works, you are in for a treat – not only will this article describe the parts of a speaker, it will also give you advice on how to determine higher-quality audio components.
The main types of speakers you will find in car audio include component and coaxial speakers. Component speakers feature individual speakers that use a crossover network to send the proper signals to the correct speaker. Coaxial speakers are also called full-range speakers. They reproduce the entire spectrum of sound the head unit provides.
Among these types of speakers, there are tweeters, drivers, woofers, and subwoofers. Tweeters handle high frequencies. Drivers and woofers accomplish the mid-high and mid-low frequencies. Subwoofers produce low frequencies.
There are differences in design for each of these types of speakers yet they are also similar in many ways. The basic structure and parts of various speakers are similar regardless of speaker size or purpose.
- Basket (Frame): This is the backbone of any speaker. The frame needs to be rigid to resist vibration and strong to prevent breakage. The frame may be metal, synthetic, or a combination of the two. The frame mounts the speaker to the cabinet.
- Magnet: On the back of every speaker you will find a magnet. The magnet works in concert with the voice coil by creating a constant magnetic field. Larger and more powerful magnets provide a speaker the ability to be more efficient and responsive, leading to better sound.
- Pole Piece and Backplate: These components are sometimes called the T-Yoke and provide the metal pole that focuses the magnetic energy. These are made from low-carbon steel.
- Top Plate: The top plate sits between the magnet and the basket. It creates a gap in which magnetic energy is directed at the voice coil.
- Voice Coil: The voice coil is an electromagnet that is alternatively negatively and positively charged. The voice coil is a tightly wound spool typically of copper wire inside a permanent magnet. The voice coil attaches to the cone and spider. Alternating currents cause the magnetic field to change, pulling or pushing the voice coil within the magnet and producing sound waves. Larger voice coils provide better sound at the expense of more heat.
- Cone: The cone is the rigid part of the speaker you see with the grill off. The cone needs to be stiff and sturdy to handle the constant vibration and movement. Cones can be made from plastic, paper, aluminum, or aramid fibers. Aramid tends to be the highest performing material regardless of speaker size or purpose.
- Surround: The surround is a flexible and durable ring that mounts the cone to the frame. The surround needs to be able to absorb the vibration of the speaker without tearing. Surrounds are made from rubber, butyl, and other synthetic materials.
- Spider: The spider is a dampening ring that attaches the voice coil and cone together and keeps both components in alignment. The spider needs to be highly flexible but strong enough to prevent the voice coil from moving sideways. It is most often made from a fabric material that is treated with resin.
- Dust Cap: The little dot in the center of the speaker is called a dust cap. It does just what it sounds like it should and prevents debris from getting inside the voice coil.
- Crossover: On component speakers, you will also find a crossover. This is an electronic switching device that prevents high-frequency signals from traveling to low-frequency speakers and vice-versa.
Selecting High-Quality Components
There are a few parts that can make or break the performance of a speaker. You’ll notice many companies advertising speakers based on cone materials, voice coil and magnet sizes, and types of surround. These tend to be among the most important parts of a speaker. You should learn to compare speakers based on the types of components they use rather than manufacturer claims about the power handling capabilities.
Selecting a Good Cone
The cone is one of the most critical components. You should always look for speakers that use a high-quality cone. A paper cone will work fine on a small speaker that doesn’t get a lot of power, but for anything approaching a serious sound system, you’ll want a better cone material.
Some of the best speakers on the market use cones made of various fibers to create a strong, rigid, and durable cone. Aramid fibers are a type of synthetic fibers that are coated in a resin. This makes them strong, rigid, and durable. Aramid fibers also provide the best sound quality from a speaker, particularly when running high power to it.
Many high-quality speakers use mica-injection to produce a woven fiber cone that is rigid, strong, and produces excellent sound.
Getting a Good Surround
The surround does two main things- it prevents the cone from moving too far and it absorbs sound wave vibrations as they come from the speaker. These sound waves can bounce back when a poor material is used or when the surround has broken down.
The least expensive material around for surrounds is foam. Foam does a great job at absorbing vibration but has the tendency to quickly rot. Rubber and various rubber combinations are often used to provide longer life than foam, but don’t absorb vibration as well. Many high-end speakers use a material known as Santoprene. This is a rubber and thermoplastic blend that provides excellent sound wave absorption and long-term durability.
Choosing the Ideal Voice Coil and Magnet Size
Selecting a speaker with a high-quality, powerful magnet and an appropriate voice coil makes a major difference in the sound quality. Magnets are typically made from ferrite materials in lower-cost speakers and marine speakers due to corrosion resistance. Increasingly, neodymium magnets are the preferred choice for high-end audio equipment, but these magnets can shatter easily.
The larger voice coil provides better sound control. The voice coil is typically wound in copper, though you may find other materials like aluminum and copper-clad aluminum wire in some coils. Copper is the best. What you want to look for is voice coils that have the highest number of windings for the best performance.
Understanding the components of a speaker gives you a better idea of the quality of a speaker. When you find a speaker that has high-end components, you are more likely to have positive experiences. There certainly is nothing wrong with good-quality speakers that use okay materials, but if you are looking to maximize the performance of your car audio system you want to select speakers that have features you can depend on. We've assembled a number of best pick car speakers and best pick marine speakers for you to choose from!