2 or 3-way monitoring systems? Which one should I use?
I recently had the opportunity to test the new 3-way EVE Audio SC3070 monitors at NAMM and they made me rethink the benefits of 3-way versus 2-way monitors. I am certainly not an expert in micro phase specifications, time alignment, crossovers, driver efficiency, dispersion geometry and box design that differentiate the various models available. I position myself in this small universe of ours, from the point of view of a musician and not that of an engineer. However, in our collective world, I think we all need to be a little bit of both. So, I tried to educate myself. For those of you who, like me,they put their hands on their heads when they are presented with obscure mathematical symbols and formulas followed by units of measurement that require a degree in science to understand them, perhaps here, they will find something useful, taken from what I learned during the process. Find more here: 2 way vs 3 way car speakers
When it comes to something as complex as a state-of-the-art studio monitor, common sense suggests that the simpler is better. Three-way monitors have more drivers, as well as a larger physical footprint to deal with. I think they have more potential to introduce problems with time alignment, phase problems, crossovers with "bumps", than the simpler bidirectional monitors.
So I ask: If additional crossovers are a bad thing, how is it that more cross frequency bands can negate the benefits of having a dedicated midrange driver? And if 3-way monitors generally have better bass due to the bigger bass drivers, why don't we find many 2-way designs that use really big bass drivers, like 3-way ones?
Here's what I learned:
The main reason for the various drivers on studio monitors is that speakers of different sizes handle specific frequency ranges better than each other. For example, low frequencies involve moving a lot of air, which is easily achieved with a larger loudspeaker. Higher frequencies move the air very fast. Vibration at higher frequencies is more difficult to achieve with larger speakers, works better with smaller sizes. Two-way monitors generally have a larger speaker for the low range (woofer) and a smaller one (tweeter) for the high range.
The three-way configurations include a loudspeaker to handle the midrange. And as expected, they are usually between the size of a woofer and a tweeter. Crossovers divide the frequencies between the different speakers. They are usually configured so that the intervals between the different speakers are narrowed at specific points. Therefore, there is usually an area of the frequency range that overlaps between the speakers.
For it to work, so that several speakers can mix and sound uniform and smooth, they need to be adjusted and calibrated, so that each one contributes with a precise amount of output. Too much or too little of them will spoil the tonal balance, creating uneven responses in the areas of the frequency range overlapped by each of the multiple drivers. Crossover as a component plays an important role in ensuring that everyone works together uniformly. And they are more difficult to configure on a three-way system than on a two-way system.
So, is it better to split the spectrum between 3 instead of two drivers? That depends, the combination of the crossover configuration, the box design, the quality control in the pairing of the speakers all contribute to the final result. In addition to the possible volume increases in the overlapping frequency bands, another potential problem is the phase change, which can cause problems at the crossing points of the frequency spectrum. Therefore, a better quality and better calibrated bidirectional system will sound better than a mediocre 3-way system.