Loudspeaker set in a living room

Multi-way loudspeakers - Explanation of multi-way systems

In this buying guide, we explain how a multi-way speaker system works. We also tell you what you should look out for when buying.


There are many different things to consider when choosing one or more speakers. Factors such as the size of the room, the intended use and the positioning of the speakers play a decisive role.

These factors are reflected in the frequency response, design, structure, complexity and size of a loudspeaker. In addition to the type of speaker (floorstanding speakers, bookshelf speakers and centre speakers), it is also important to differentiate between the number of paths. As there are different approaches here, we would like to present them to you in more detail.

The most important questions briefly explained

Why are there multi-way systems for loudspeakers?

The drivers (also known as chassis) are largely responsible for the sound of a loudspeaker. The aim of every hi-fi floorstanding loudspeaker is to reproduce the human hearing range, which extends from 16 to 20,000 Hz, as accurately as possible.

This is known as linear reproduction, but in practice this cannot be achieved as manufacturers cannot take the acoustics of the listening room into account. Some manufacturers even go far beyond the human hearing range in the upper frequency range and design speakers with a frequency response of up to 40,000 Hz.

How are the frequencies of the loudspeakers categorised?

In general, the listening range is divided into low, mid and high frequencies, which ultimately led to the development of multi-way systems. Of course, the area of application of a loudspeaker box must also be taken into account. The number and arrangement of drivers for a centre speaker is different to that of a large surround system, for example.

What is a bass reflex system?

The term bass reflex system is often used in connection with one of the multi-way principles: In order to amplify and simultaneously optimise the reproduction of low frequencies, the enclosure of many loudspeakers is designed according to the bass reflex principle. The enclosure is not completely closed and has a bass reflex opening, usually at the rear. The entire principle utilises the rear sound radiation of the bass drivers and thus ensures hi-fi bass reproduction.

How does the one-way speaker principle work?

Acoustically convincing reproduction of the listening area is only possible to a limited extent with a driver, a so-called full-range speaker. The requirements that need to be met for linear reproduction are simply far too high. In addition, many acoustic problems are exacerbated by the one-way speaker principle.

However, such broadband drivers are still used, as they are installed as announcement loudspeakers or in telephone systems, for example. These are usually mid-range drivers that are precisely tuned to the speech range between 300 Hz and 3 kHz.

Which multi-way speaker systems are used in the home cinema and hi-fi sector?

Several drivers are used in hi-fi and home cinema speakers, each of which has been optimized for a specific frequency range. Basically, the larger the driver, the lower its frequency response. As most speakers have several drivers installed, one or more crossovers separate the incoming electrical signals and then feed them to the appropriate driver.

Depending on the speaker principle, the crossovers always separate in a specific frequency range and are usually designed to be passive. The following classifications in the hi-fi and home cinema sector result from the design of the drivers:

The 2-way loudspeaker principle

The 2-way speaker principle is the basic speaker principle in which the incoming electrical signal is distributed to two drivers, a bass-midrange driver and a tweeter. The crossover frequency is usually in the range of 2 - 5 kHz. In terms of its design, the crossover is quite simple.

  • Driver: 1 low-mid, 1 high-frequency
  • Crossover frequency range: 2 - 5 kHz
  • Type: bookshelf loudspeaker, centre loudspeaker, simple hi-fi stereo floorstanding loudspeaker
  • Advantages: Small speaker size, compact and direct sound

The 2 ½-way loudspeaker principle

This system is based on the 2-way loudspeaker principle. A tweeter covers the upper frequencies. There are also two additional drivers for the low and mid frequencies. These two drivers are addressed equally up to a fixed lower frequency. This frequency lies in a range of 200 - 800 Hz. If the music signal exceeds this frequency range, only one driver is activated. The actual separation between the bass and treble signals takes place in a range of 2-5 kHz. To summarise, it can be said that this is a 2-way loudspeaker system with bass support.

  • Drivers: 1 woofer, 1 midrange, 1 tweeter
  • Crossover frequency range: 200-800 Hz (decoupling of one driver) and 2 - 5 kHz
  • Type: bookshelf loudspeaker, centre loudspeaker, hi-fi stereo floorstanding loudspeaker
  • Advantages: Homogeneous/compact sound with additional support in the bass range

The 3-way loudspeaker principle

With this multi-way principle, the electrical signal is clearly divided into a low, mid and high frequency range and these frequencies are then distributed to three drivers designed for this purpose (woofer, midrange and tweeter). As each driver is assigned a clearly defined frequency range, manufacturers can specialise in the respective design and thus achieve a larger cone area overall. The crossover is more complex and separates the bass and mid-range between 200-800 Hz and the mid-range and tweeter between 2-5 kHz.

  • Drivers: 1 woofer, 1 midrange, 1 tweeter
  • Crossover frequency range: 200-800 Hz and 2 - 5 kHz
  • Type: Hifi stereo floorstanding speaker
  • Advantages: Large cone area, high level stability
Tobias Berg and Oliver Stenzel - contact persons in Purchasing and Sales - write on glass pane

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