Every now and then We get greenhorn e-mails and comments from inexperienced car audio enthusiasts who want to pick our brains on car audio related stuff. One recent one asked, “what’s the difference between midbass and midrange?”. Do I really need midbass and midrange drivers in my car to fully cover the entire spectrum of sound?
These are actually some of the most common questions we get asked every now and then. So, instead of replying to each person individually with the same information, I figured I would do an official post so that it could live on forever.
So, without any further ado, let’s get into it…
What is Midbass?
A midbass driver (sometimes also called a mid woofer) is basically a loudspeaker driver that’s meant to reproduce sound in the frequency range from around 80Hz up to 350Hz or maybe much higher but definitely not up to a tweeter. A midbass driver may also be crossed as high as the frequency response or distortion allows it to go up to.
It’s safe to say that midbass refers more to the band of frequency than the type of driver. However, usually when people say they want a “midbass driver”, they usually want something that can handle 80Hz (or a bit lower) up to a few hundred Hz, and they want it to do so with authority.
Midbass speakers are usually used in sound systems with a subwoofer dedicated for very low frequencies reproduction. In simpler sound systems, these midbass frequencies are reproduced by either the (sub)woofer or midrange speakers (or partially by both).
Some people also use midbass drivers because their standard speakers that match the tweeters well tend to have a hard time getting down to 60-80Hz (which seems to be the basic cutoff point for most people).
With all of that being said, does a stereo system with a dedicated midbass driver sound better than a similar system without a midbass driver? Well, in a perfect world, it does sound better, but not all the times.
The key to a good sounding system setup is speaker quality, speaker size, good tuning, and perfect x/o points. You want a nice size midbass driver that is capable of playing down to the upper frequency range of your subwoofer.
Using a dedicated midbass speaker has a few advantages. One is that it will significantly improve your subbass to midbass transition.
Furthermore, unlike bass frequencies (typically reproduced by a subwoofer), midbass is more directional. Therefore, midbass drivers can be used with a mono subwoofer without loss of directionality.
Moreover, much like bass notes (albeit not to a great extent), midbass frequencies are a bit harder to play and can put a bit of a strain on midrange speakers, both decreasing sound quality and the power handling capacity of the speaker (since the speaker must reproduce more power and excursion hungry lower frequencies). Therefore, using a dedicated midbass speaker takes this burden off the midrange.
Additionally, using a dedicated midbass speaker allows separate amplification of midbass frequencies. This prevents distortion resulting from more power hungry midbass frequencies from affecting midrange frequencies, which further improves sound quality.
Is Midbass Driver a Must?
First and foremost, it must be noted that most 4-way (and 5-way) (even some 3-way) speakers are nothing to write home about for the most part. Shoving all of that extra hardware in front of the woofer prevents it from performing adequately. Not only that, but adding multiple crossover capacitors decreases the available power that the woofer needs to deliver great performance and may even introduce their own noise and distortion.
With that said, it’s safe to say that a good 2-way (coaxial) is usually much better at reproducing midbass than a cheaply made 4-way or 5-way system.
This is not to say that 2 way speakers are the best bar none. Actually, any two-way speaker is a compromise. This because there are a number of limitations to the capabilities of woofers and tweeters related to the size, off-axis performance, bass performance… etc.
This sounds contradictory, right? If 2-way speaker design is a compromise, and most 4-way (and 5-way) speakers are nothing to write home about, what to choose then? Well, it’s all about tuning.
On the same note, do you really need a midbass driver? Or, Is midbass driver necessary?
Well, not really. It may not be worth the effort unless you’re a perfectionist who wants to reproduce music as faithfully as possible. I mean, if everything is mounted, deadened and tuned properly for the car environment, the system would sound fantastic without a midbass driver.
In other words, a properly tuned sound system with good sub integration will have all the bass and midbass you will ever need. Timing and crossover points are key.
Actually, we’ve come across a ton of setups that sound quite impressive without a midbass driver.
Most often, people use “midbass” drivers because of their reluctance to let the subwoofer handle relatively higher frequencies. I’m not exactly sure where does this reluctance come from. But, it’s highly likely that a big part of it comes from some of the common difficulties that some people have with tuning a subwoofer.
Speaking of which, the mistake most people do when it comes to tuning a subwoofer is that they turn their subwoofer level up until they get the amount of bass they’re looking for, and leave it playing that way, which is completely wrong.
Actually, the very first step in tuning your sub is to make it blend well with the midrange, not to make it produce the desired amount of low bass.
What is Midrange?
A mid-range driver (also known as a squawker) is a loudspeaker driver that’s designed to do exactly what its names suggests, and that is to play the middle frequencies which are generally from 350Hz to 5kHz (this varies between midrange speakers).
It usually takes over from where the midbass leaves off and usually can play higher frequencies than the midbass. This allows for improved overall sound staging. A midrange driver would also pull any front imaging you have toward the rear of the car.
Mid-range drivers are usually used in three way multi driver speaker systems to act as a “bridge” to “enrich” the frequencies between the midwoofers and the tweeters. They are usually cone types or, less commonly, dome types, or compression horn drivers.
A midrange driver is usually meant to reproduce sound in the frequency range from 350Hz to 5kHz; the most significant part of the audible sound spectrum where the most important range of frequencies emitted by musical instruments and, most importantly, the vocals, lie. This region contains the majority of sounds which are the most familiar to the human ear. It is therefore paramount that a mid-range driver of good quality be capable of low-distortion reproduction.
Mid range drivers by their nature are unable to produce the extreme low and high frequencies. On their own, they are nothing to write home about. They actually sound dull, and flat. This because these drivers only handle a small portion of the sound frequencies. And if you try to push the entire range of frequencies to a midrange speaker, it will distort, overheat, and eventually blow.
In order to get the most out of these speakers, you need to pair them up with a woofer and a tweeter to fill out the rest of the sound range. Midrange drivers also need to be paired with an amplifier and external crossover. The latter acts as traffic cop for the audio information coming from your amplifier or receiver, and ensures the frequencies above a fixed point go to the tweeters, those below go to the woofers, and those in between go to the midranges.
Using a dedicated midrange speaker has a few advantages.
- Midrange drivers offer better sound dispersion.
- The midrange drivers are used to compensate for what certain tweeters and woofers are unable to do.
- The midrange drivers help with getting around beaming issue.
- The midrange driver in a 3-way system will experience higher fidelity and way less distortion in the midrange and upper midrange than the woofer in a 2-way system would. This is because it isn’t being asked to handle bass (and mid-bass).
Is Midrange Driver a Must?
Before answering this question, let’s make a few things clear.
Technically speaking, it’s better to have the fewest number of speakers to reproduce the full range of sound. So, a two way speaker would be great and is often used in home bookshelf speakers.
The problem is that with a home bookshelf, you’d usually have more control over the placement of the drivers. This is not the case with a car where speakers placement becomes really difficult. This is where a 3-way starts to look a little better for a vehicle.
When you use a 2-way system in a car, the midranges are usually mounted down in the bottom of the doors, and the tweeters are mounted in the pillars or somewhere in the dash, so you get separation. Then you have beaming issues where your standard speakers (6.5″ for instance) start beaming if they’re playing too high, which means they start to become directional versus them being omni-directional at lower frequencies. For this specific reason, it’s often recommended to opt for a larger tweeter that can play low enough to meet your standard speakers.
Essentially, it is a serious headache to get a tweeter and midrange to blend well in a 2-way system. Even components usually don’t cover the full frequency range well enough to mitigate the problems mentioned above.
And this is where a 3-way comes into play. Dropping a midrange driver into the mix makes everything work better because the tweeters don’t have to play too low and the midranges don’t need to play too high. Then you can opt for a dedicated 6.5″/8″/10″ midbass and don’t have to worry about it playing very high.
It must be noted, however, that even with a strong midbass driver, your vehicle’s acoustic properties, specifically the width of the car causes problems with the midbass frequency range that you often have to use a subwoofer to address midbass issues.
With all of that being said, there’s no denying that using a midrange driver does help reproduce music as faithfully as possible. However, it is not by any means a must.
Midbass Vs. Midrange: What’s the Difference?
Midbass is like 80Hz up to 350Hz, and midrange is a much wider range from about 350 Hz and up to 5000 Hz
Midbass and midrange drivers are distinguished by the frequency range they play, by looking at their frequency response graphs, distortion plots, and T/S parameters.
The main difference between midbass and midrange is in usage. Generally speaking, you need 3 or 4 drivers to handle the entire audio spectrum in a vehicle.
- 3 speakers (known as a 2-way)
- Tweeter roughly covers approximately 3,000 Hz to 20,000 Hz.
- Midrange roughly covers 80 Hz to 3,000 Hz
- Subwoofer roughly covers below 80 Hz
- 4 speakers (known as a 3-way)
- Tweeter roughly covers approximately 3,500 Hz to 20,000 Hz
- Midrange roughly covers 350 Hz to 3,500 Hz
- Midbass roughly covers 80 Hz to 350 Hz
- Subwoofer roughly covers below 80 Hz
Most car woofers are designed to pull double duty as Midbass/Midrange and usually come in a 2-Way design with a woofer and tweeter. Some are designed as separate Midbass and Midrange and come in a 3-way design with a woofer, midrange and tweeter.
A few manufacturers offer all of them as separate drivers that can be mixed and matched with active crossovers. Then, there are subwoofers which are specially designed speakers that are meant to handle the punchy grunt work in the 80-100 Hertz and below but can also be run up to 150Hz or higher in certain situations.
By crossing your subwoofer at 80-100Hz range and using a midbass/midrange driver, you’ll take some stress off the front stage and keeps the drivers in a range that they are actually comfortable with. This results in improved and well-balanced sound quality.
You may be asking: Does it even make sense to have both a (sub)woofer and midbass? Aren’t they going to overlap?
Well, it makes sense to have both in some situations, such as when your woofers are very off-axis. In such case, you can fit a midbass more on-axis to aid and support it. And as far as overlapping is concerned, you can control that with crossover points.