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Coaxial speakers are speakers that include a woofer with a tweeter suspended over it. The woofer handles low to mid-frequency sound, while the tweeter handles high frequency sound. These speakers are commonly seen in car audio systems, although they can be used in other locations as well. By contrast, a component speaker system separates the woofers and tweeters, and often includes a subwoofer for really low frequency sound.
As a general rule, component speaker systems are of better quality, although some coaxial speakers can be quite good. People use them because they tend to be less expensive, and because they are easier to install. Instead of dealing with an assortment of component speakers, someone can install two of these speakers for stereo sound with a broad range. They are also easy to balance, because all of the sound comes from the same place rather than being distributed across an area by a component system.
There are several things that shoppers should consider when evaluating coaxial speakers for purchase. The first is the mounting depth, which will determine how easy or difficult the speakers will be to install. Ideally, they should fit existing speaker mounts, making it very simple to put them in place. If the shape and mounting depth are not compatible with existing mounts, it may be necessary to build mounts or to enlarge the existing ones, which can be problematic.
The frequency response range is also important because the broader the range, the more sounds will be transmitted by the speakers. Speakers with a big range will produce the highs and lows of the sound, creating rich, textured playback. Narrow ranges will leave out lower and higher frequencies, and they can make sound seem flat or lacking in dynamics. The power rating is also a consideration, as it needs to match that of the amplifier to avoid blowout.
In the store, packaging sometimes talks about “two-way” or “three-way” speakers. Two-way coaxial speakers are the standard, with the woofer and one tweeter. Three way speakers include an additional tweeter, and other options like four and five way speakers with additional tweeters are also available. Sound quality and depth can be increased with additional tweeters, but a speaker is also only as good as its individual components; a low cost three-way model will not sound as good as a high quality two-way speaker.
I've found that while the audio quality of a cheap coaxial speaker set is much worse than similarly cheap component speakers, a pair of coaxials in the $300-$400 range can be almost as good as any comparably expensive component car speakers. That's because high-end coaxial speakers often include a tweeter and subwoofer in the same unit, meaning they're essentially compact component speakers. Coaxial speakers also tend to have a more predictable and balanced sound from any point in the car, because every frequency is coming from the same location.