Jack Stokes enjoys writing about the finer points of speakers and will never pass up the chance to debate the merits of different designs. Having grown up in apartments, he could never enjoy his music without his neighbours complaining and had to move to the country in order enjoy it the way he likes it most: loud.
The method of producing true sound has been debated since the genesis of hi-fi speakers. Each company and party claims to have the best combination of materials and technology for producing the most accurate representation of the music. However, both sides do have their merits and downsides. In order to establish a baseline of terms and concepts, I want to address the basic terms and ideas behind full-range and crossover speakers.
The typical computer speaker bought from a box store today tout “full-range” drivers, but in the world of hi-fi these are paltry claims similar to saying house cat and a tiger are the same thing: a cat. When I say “Full-Range” I’m talking about one speaker driver delivering the full range of sound, ~60Hz to ~8 kHz, with as little distortion as possible.
The only exception to this would be the inclusion of a super tweeter to handle the frequencies above 8 kHz such as cymbals or flutes; more for adding that extra sparkle to the music rather than a main component.
To keep things more simple when discussing crossover, I will be referencing passive crossover, we could go into active, digital, and mechanical, but that would become a book. Passive crossover speakers typically have the components built into the cabinet and are frequency and impedance specific. These inductors and capacitors limit the frequencies going to each speaker (Limits high frequencies to the sub and low frequencies to the tweeter) protecting them from being overloaded.
The idea behind passive crossover is to ensure that each speaker is only responsible for the frequencies it can handle the best.
Both methods of producing sound are vying for the same goal: true sound (producing music as close as possible to the original sound). Full-range advocates will decry crossover as an unnecessary “fixing” of the sound. The parsing of the frequencies into individual speakers creates a black and white environment; eliminating the grey area where mid-range meets tweeter and subwoofer meets mid. In an attempt to fix this, there have been 4 orders of crossover created to better control the frequencies handled by each speaker and “stitching” the speakers together.
However, just like skin, two speakers cannot be stitched together perfectly without leaving a scar in the sound. The control that a fourth order crossover gives the user can reduce the scar; however achieving critical alignment is rarely achieved. The goal of crossover is to accurately represent the frequency with the correct tool and limit the amount of distortion by “closing” the sound and reducing the coloring of the music by the speaker.
Full-range drivers take an almost opposite approach to producing true sound. One full range driver delivers the sound without parsing the sound into different frequency ranges. Whereas crossovers create a black and white environment, full range speakers can be considered grey.
They seamlessly produce the full range of frequencies and reduce the coloring of the music through cabinet design and cone material. In order to achieve the appropriate timing for each wavelength, full-range speakers typically have to be placed in the cabinet and also in the room appropriately. This is a fine-tuning operation, but requires less effort and expertise than a fourth order crossover.
I’m a big fan of full-range drivers with the tweeter addition for that extra sparkle. I own a pair of Zu Druid Loudspeakers and wouldn’t trade them in for the world. Some would argue that this is technically a crossover since there is an acoustic crossing point between the super tweeter and full-range driver, but I would argue that it’s an attribute, not a function of the technology within the speaker. I think the most accurate representation of music is produced when there are a minimal amount of processes the current has to go through before reaching the driver.
Crossovers parse it too much and create unneeded complications when getting up in the third or fourth orders without ensuring that the additional control will replicate clearer music. The crossover points suited for our ears aren’t the best points for the speakers so implementing them in the ranges we can hear, distorts the music and when you try to reduce these points of interruption, more speakers have to be added to the setup further increasing the cost of the setup. Finally, crossovers, especially passive crossovers, require extra power reducing the efficiency of the speakers and contribute to distortion at high levels of power.