Home theater speakers may be classified as 2-way, 3-way, 4-way, and the like, depending on the number of wideband drivers they have. In their functioning, the speakers split the audio signal, and distribute it to the appropriate drivers within the speaker. 

In a 2-way home theatre speaker, for instance, the sound is separated into two, since the speaker only has two drivers. Having multiple speakers within each home theater speaker unit results in between sound quality. This is mainly because different sound wave frequencies are better produced by speakers of different sizes. 

While both principle behind 2-way and 3-way speakers is more or less the same, they are not the same. Throughout this guide, you will understand how each works as well as their similarities and differences. 

What Are Frequency Bands in Speakers? 

Such aspects as the frequency range, frequency response, and audible frequencies are critical as far as musical notes are concerned. A frequency band is essentially a range of sound wave frequencies that can be played through a particular speaker. 

If a speaker has a single wideband driver, it has one channel—hence may be referred to as a 1-way speaker. All the audible frequencies within such a speaker are delivered by the same driver. A 2-way speaker has two drivers, meaning that the sound waves are divided into two distinct frequency bands (usually low frequency, and high-frequency bands).

Most of the standard 2-way speakers have a midrange or woofer driver, and a tweeter driver. In this case, the woofer driver handles the low-frequency band while the tweeter driver handles the high-frequency band. Note that a speaker with multiple drivers, all of which handle the same frequency range/band, is still a one-channel speaker. 

Home Theatre Speaker Types 

In both the 2-way and the 3-way home theater speakers, the crossover extracts the audio channel between the lowest frequency the speaker can produce and the crossover frequency. This value is often specified in the frequency response specification. The crossover then sends each extracted frequency range to the appropriate driver.

For instance, it may be programmed to send the lower frequency range—say between 70Hz, and 4kHz—to the midrange or woofer driver within the speaker. Other audio frequencies above the crossover frequency—say between 4kHz and 20kHz—are then sent to the second driver (the tweeter driver). This applies to conventional 2-way speakers. 

In more complex speakers, the audio wave may be split into even more frequency bands, depending on the number of drivers the speaker has. Regardless of the case, the larger drivers in a speaker are meant to produce low frequency, while the smaller drivers are for the high-frequency sounds. A conventional home theater system should have at least four types of  speakers, including: 

Center Channel Speaker 

In most home theater systems, the center channel speaker is meant to play the vocals within a soundtrack. They can have a frequency response of between 60 Hz, and 20 kHz, depending on the quality of the speaker.  In order to anchor the vocals to the visuals, it is advisable to position such a speaker just above or below the display.

Front Channel Speakers

The leading home theatre systems come with two—front and right—front speakers, which are specifically designed to reproduce the main sounds within a soundtrack. Front channel speakers are usually full-range speakers, capable of reproducing a frequency range of between 20 kHz and 50 Hz or even lower. 

Rear Channel/Surround Sound Speakers 

The rear channel speakers in a home theatre system are often referred to as the surround speakers. These are the speakers that will immerse you into the soundscape, by surrounding the listening area to create a 3D audio environment.

Low-Frequency Subwoofer 

The ‘point one’ in any woofer description (say 5.1, or 7.1), refers to the subwoofer channel speaker. It is specifically designed to reproduce low-frequency sounds within a soundtrack. A subwoofer speaker can have one or multiple large drivers that only handle low-frequency bands.

A typical subwoofer speaker only handles a relatively narrow audio frequency band, ranging from 30hz or even lower to 150 Hz, depending on the size of its cabinet. Low-frequency sounds are considered to be Omni-directional. As such, the positioning of a subwoofer speaker in a home theater system is rather flexible. 

What is a Crossover in Home theater Speakers? 

This is a component within the home theatre system whose function is to split the audio sound into different frequency ranges for the various speakers. In its functioning, the crossover applied filters that tend to taper at each end of the frequency range. The tapering is because the crossover cannot split the ranges at precise frequencies, but uses ranges instead. 

The crossover ensures that each home theatre gets only the audio frequency range it can handle, to minimize sound distortion. To get the right combined output quality from the overlapping frequency ranges of adjacent speakers, a crossover needs to be tuned precisely. 

The overall sound quality produced by a 3-way or 2-way home theatre speaker will, to a large extent, depend on how the crossover is tuned. 

Why Would You Need 2-Way or 3-Way Home Theatre Speakers? 

As compared to conventional one-channel speakers, 2-way and 3-way home theater speakers have several benefits to offer. Basically, different sound waves (frequency ranges) sound better when played through a speaker of the right size. 

For instance, low frequency (bass) sounds are better produced by a large speaker—commonly referred to as the woofer speaker. High-frequency audio bands, on the other hand, require swift movement of air—which can only be achieved using a smaller (tweeter) speaker.

With a 2-way or 3-way speaker, each speaker has multiple drivers (speakers), each of which is specialized to handle a specific frequency range. This ensures that you get a better-combined output sound quality. 

How Do 2-Way Home Theatre Speakers Compare to 3-Way Speakers? 

The functioning of 2-way and 3-way speakers is pegged on the idea that each speaker size is better at producing a specific audio frequency range. A woofer, for example, is better suited to playing low-pitched sounds than a tweeter speaker. 

Having speakers of different types and sizes in your home theatre system ensures that audio signals are produced by the right speaker. As a result, the output sound quality is better and more appealing. The main difference between 2-way and 3-way speakers is the number of drivers they have and how sound is split into different frequencies. 

Here is a detailed explanation of how 2-way speakers differ from 3-way speakers, in terms of frequency output: 

2-Way Home Theater Speaker Frequencies 

A 2-way home theatre speaker features two separate speakers; a tweeter, and a woofer or a midrange speaker, in one package. Depending on the manufacturer, 2-wat speakers may be presented as a single coaxial speaker or as a set of two-component speakers. 

Regardless of the setup, the larger speaker (maybe a woofer or mid-range speaker depending on the model) is meant to handle the low-frequency sounds. With regards to the woofer driver, the leading 2-way home theatre speakers can handle a frequency of between 20 Hz and 2 kHz.

 In most of the leading 2-way speaker models, the tweeter driver is designed to reproduce high-frequency sounds, of between 2kHz and 20 kHz. Since a 2-way speaker only has two drivers, the woofer driver handles both low, and mid-range frequency sounds. 

3-Way Home Theatre Speaker Frequencies 

In contrast to a 2-way speaker, a 3-way home theatre speaker features three separate drivers, including a woofer, mid-range, and tweeter drivers. In its functioning, a 3-way speaker splits a sound wave into three different frequency ranges. Each of the frequency bands is then directed to the right speaker, resulting in improved efficiency. 

While three drivers can do the job more efficiently, they also result in more frequency crossover. This may result in more distortion of the sound. The frequency range for the tweeter and woofer speakers in a 3-way speaker is similar to those of a 2-way speaker. The mid-range driver in a 3-way home theatre speaker is often meant to handle frequencies between 500 Hz and 4 kHz.

The addition of a mid-range speaker allows a 3-way speaker to balance the frequency slope, and give out a sound that is more natural to human ears. Instead of a mid-range speaker, some manufacturers are known to use a super tweeter to extend the high frequency and give out more detailed sound. 

When is a Speaker Considered to be 2.5-Way? 

A 2.5-way home theatre speaker has 3 drivers, just like a 3-way speaker. However, one of the low-mid range drivers in a 2.5-way speaker is restricted from restituting mid-range frequencies. This is aimed at making the speaker more efficient in the lows. This concept also makes it easier for you to modify the response curve for the speaker. 

Final Verdict 

Theoretically speaking, 3-way speakers are supposed to deliver a more balanced effect, as compared to 2-way speakers. However, this is not always the case. Several other factors have to be considered while choosing the right option. 

If you love listening to R&B, and rock music in your home theatre, then a 3-way home theatre will be a perfect choice. This is because the leading 3-way speaker models have been designed to deliver a precise performance for the low-frequency sound band. 

Again, a 3-way speaker will offer you more customization options, with regards to frequency filter adjustments. While this is the case, some 3-way speaker brands are not so good and may result in more sound distortion.