Car speakers buying guide
What to look for in full-range and component speakers
In this article: We'll cover all of the questions a first-time car audio shopper needs to answer to find great car speakers. Questions like:
- Which speakers will fit my car?
- How much power do my speakers need?
- Should I go with full-range or components?
And we'll introduce you to our online shopping tools that make the process easier.
There are many ways to add new life to your music in the car, but new speakers offers one of the fastest and most cost-effective ways to upgrade your sound. We have what you need, whether you just want to replace your factory speakers or if you plan to install an amplifier and need speakers that can handle a lot of power.
Shopping for car speakers can be confusing, so we try to make the process as straightforward as possible. Watch the video below for an overview on how to shop for new car speakers.
Crutchfield makes it easy to shop for car speakers
The first thing you'll need to do is use our vehicle selector to tell us what you drive. We'll ask a few questions and then show you the best options for your vehicle.
The Crutchfield car speaker recommender
Once you've told us what you drive, you'll find the car speaker recommender at the top of the car speakers category page.
The recommender is a great tool that could land you the perfect set of speakers in minutes.
That's HOW to shop for new speakers. Next we'll explain WHAT you need to know to make the best choices.
How many car speakers do I need?
There's no standard for the number of car speakers that are factory-installed in a vehicle. In fact, they seem to get more numerous every year as car makers introduce premium factory sound systems with perks like noise cancellation and simulated engine noise. But for this article, we'll stick to the basics.
When replacing front and rear speakers, a good goal is to have a voice-matched system. That means having the same brand and series of speakers in the front and rear. If you're on a budget, that doesn't have to happen all at once. Focus on your front speakers first. When you're ready, update the rear with speakers from the same speaker series (or at least, the same brand) for consistent sound characteristics.
Speakers for the front of your vehicle
Some vehicles only have two speakers in the front, one per door. They use a full-range design. Other vehicles feature four speakers in the front, two per side. This is typically woofers in the door and a tweeter either higher up in the door or in the corner pillar or dash.
An example of component speaker placement. The woofer lives below and the tweeter lives up high.
Many vehicles also have a center dash speaker, which typically handles vehicle essentials like door chimes and navigation prompts, in addition to playing music. Many people opt to leave the original speaker in this spot.
Speakers for the rear of your vehicle
Rear door speakers, rear deck speakers, and tailgate speakers are often full-range, although components have become increasingly popular. Rear speakers provide sound to backseat passengers and "rear fill" for the front row. Rear speakers generally don't make a significant contribution to the sound experience in the front seats. As a result they can be less important to drivers who don't have passengers very often or to sound enthusiasts who don't want any interference with their front soundstage.
What size speakers should I buy?
It's easy to feel overwhelmed by a long list of car speakers, all with different sizes. The good news is you don't have to sweat speaker size too much once you've told us what vehicle you're shopping for and whether you're shopping for front or rear speakers (or both).
Sometimes you'll have a choice of a couple speaker sizes for a given location. In that case our rule of thumb is, "the bigger the better." So, given the choice between a 5-1/4" using a bracket or a 6"x9", we'll usually say go with the 6"x9" for more oomph.
The finer points of fitting car speakers
When looking at speaker fit, we're not just talking about the diameter of the speaker opening. We're also considering the allowable depth of that opening, sufficient room for the tweeter in front of the speaker, and several other factors. You can learn more about the details in our article about understanding speaker sizes. If speaker brackets are required to install your speakers, we'll include them.
Full-range vs. components — what type of speakers should I get?
Aftermarket car speakers can be divided into two main categories: full-range speakers and component speaker systems. Let's take a look at each.
Full-range speakers contain all the speaker elements in one basket. In their simplest form, they consist of a woofer for the lows, and a tweeter mounted onto the woofer to produce the highs. Some models will have additional drivers, like a midrange and/or supertweeter – these are referred to as "3-way" or "4-way" speakers.
You should choose full-range speakers if you're looking to replace factory speakers with minimal effort. In most cases, you simply remove the old speaker, connect the new speaker with a free Crutchfield wiring harness, and mount it. You'll find full-range speakers at nearly every price point and power range.
Component speaker systems use a superior speaker design to give you the best possible sound. A typical component system includes separate woofers, tweeters, and external crossovers.
External crossover networks are often included with component speaker sets.
In a component system, the tweeter is separated from the woofer so that it can be mounted higher up in the car. If your car has factory tweeters, you can usually mount the new one in that location.
The external crossover network in a component system uses high-quality components to ensure a sharp delineation between the frequencies sent to the woofer and tweeter. Your music will sound more realistic, more "live," and have greater depth.
In this diagram a car stereo is powering a component speaker system in the front of the vehicle and full-range speakers in the rear.
How much power do my new speakers need?
Car speakers convert power into sound waves. Different car speakers work better with certain power sources. Factory stereos mostly deliver lower power; aftermarket stereos offer a bit more; and aftermarket amplifiers provide the most power possible. The more power you use, the more loudness and musical detail you get, but you want to make sure your speakers can play accurately while playing loudly. So, here are the two main specifications to consider, depending on your power source...
Car speaker sensitivity explained
Sensitivity measures how much sound a speaker yields from the power applied to it. If you have a low-powered factory stereo (typically 10-15 watts RMS per channel or less), speakers with high sensitivity ratings (over 90 dB) will make the best match.
If you have a high-power system like an aftermarket stereo or external amplifier, then consider speakers with lower sensitivity ratings. Properly powered, they'll provide excellent sound quality.
Car speaker power handling explained
Power handling lets you know how much power (measured in watts) a speaker can handle. If you have a low-powered system, your speakers don't need to be able to handle lots of power. On the other hand, a system with powerful external amps will require speakers whose power handling is close to the output of the amps.
Important note: The key spec in power handling is the maximum RMS power-handling, not the peak power handling. RMS ratings realistically measure how much power the speaker can handle on a continuous basis, not just for a short period of time. A speaker rated at "up to 50 watts RMS" will make a better match for your low-powered stereo than another speaker rated "10-80 watts RMS."
What does that mean for you?
- If you're using a factory system for power, look for new speakers with low RMS wattage and sensitivity of 90dB or higher.
- If you're using just an aftermarket stereo for power, look for speakers with power-handling no higher than 75 watts RMS.
- If you're using an aftermarket amp for power, you'll want to match RMS power-handling to the specs provided in your amp's manual.
How much should I spend on car speakers?
If you're unsure how much to spend, consider your expectations for sound and how long you intend to keep your vehicle.
- If you're just looking for a step up from factory sound in a vehicle you plan to trade in a few years, entry- to mid-level speakers are a solid option.
- If you're planning to keep your car for a while, and possibly build a system over time, it's not a bad idea to invest in a premium set of speakers.
Generally, as you step up in cost, you're stepping up quality of design and materials. Better design makes more efficient use of power when converting energy to sound. Better materials ensure better sound quality and long-lasting durability.
Elements of car speaker design
Factory speaker cones are typically made of paper, which degrades over time. Aftermarket speaker cones are made of durable materials that are stiff, yet lightweight. They're designed to move easily yet retain their shape for more accurate sound production.
A tweeter's material and design have a big effect on the type of sound it produces. Generally, tweeters made of soft materials like poly, textile blends, or silk will give you sound that's refined and somewhat mellow. If you like the highs bright and snappy, go with hard materials, like metal or graphite.
The surround on a woofer performs a vital role — it allows the woofer cone to move freely and emit bolder bass. It must be durable to stand up to temperature and humidity extremes. Surrounds made of rubber will provide the best overall performance and longevity. Foam and cloth surrounds cost less, yet still perform well.
This subwoofer photo perfectly shows how the surround attaches the speaker cone to the metal frame. The surround keeps the cone centered as it moves back and forth.
Pivoting or swiveling tweeters
If you're replacing speakers low in your door, full-range speakers with pivoting tweeters can have a big effect on your sound. Tweeters produce very directional high-frequencies, so pivoting tweeters can be "aimed" towards the listener for a higher soundstage. Your music will sound more realistic with a greater sense of depth.
You'll often see crossovers that provide switchable levels of tweeter attenuation. After testing your new speakers, you may discover that your highs sound too loud in the mix. Tweeter attenuation allows you to adjust the tweeters to your vehicle layout and preference.
Some crossovers have extra input terminals to allow bi-amping. Instead of driving the woofer and tweeter with a single channel of amplification, you actually connect two sets of wires, with each set carrying the power from a separate amplifier (or amp channel). This way, the woofers and tweeters receive dedicated amplification. Look for this feature if you're planning to put together a serious high-performance system.
Get help finding great speakers
If you're ready to put new speakers in your car or truck, use our vehicle selector to find out which speakers will fit your vehicle and check out the video above for guidance. You can also check out our customer favorites.
If you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact us. Our advisors help customers select new speakers every day! And when you're ready to install your new speakers, check out our car speaker installation guide.
Get everything you need
Foam baffles seal air gaps around the speaker frame and protect your speakers from dust and moisture.
Bass Blockers improve smaller speakers' efficiency by removing low frequencies they weren't designed to handle.
The right tools make removing a door panel and getting to the speaker a lot easier.
Dynamat lowers noise levels inside your vehicle, giving you improved clarity, volume, and bass response from your speakers.