Car audio crossovers are probably one of the most poorly understood audio components. Because they’re not absolutely necessary, it’s fairly easy to completely disguise an object when building or upgrading a car audio system. Head Units amplifiers and speakers are well received by the press, but this does not mean that crossovers are not important either.

An illustration of a speaker producing sound waves and musical notes.
Alex Bond / Getty

To understand what a crossover is, and needed whether he or not assembly car audio It’s important to first understand some of the very basic principles behind using a car audio crossover.

The basic idea is that music is made up of sound frequencies that span the entire spectrum of human hearing, but some speakers are better at reproducing certain frequencies than others. Tweeters are designed to reproduce high frequencies, woofers are designed to reproduce low frequencies, etc.

With this in mind, newcomers to car audio are often surprised to learn that every car audio system in existence actually requires crossovers at one level or another. For example, very simple systems that use coaxial speakers, on actually have small crossovers built right into the speakers. Other systems, especially those that use component speakers, typically use external crossovers that send only the desired frequencies to the correct speakers.

The main purpose of separating music into its component frequencies and only delivering certain frequencies to certain speakers is to achieve higher sound quality. By making sure that only the right frequencies reach the right speakers, you can effectively reduce distortion and help improve the overall sound quality of your car audio system.

Types of car audio crossovers

There are two main types of crossovers, each best suited to specific situations:

Passive crossovers

These crossovers are located between the amplifier and speakers, and they filter out unwanted frequencies. Some speakers have built-in passive crossovers. Since these crossovers are simply wired between the amplifier and speakers, they are relatively easy to install. However, there are some inefficiencies that are inherent in passive crossovers.

Active crossovers

They are also known as electronic crossovers and are more complex and expensive than passive devices. Active crossovers require power supplies, but they don’t waste power filtering amplified signals like passive crossovers do.

Who really needs a car audio crossover?

The fact is that every car audio system requires a certain type of crossover in much the same way that every car audio system requires a certain type. amplifier . But just like many head units come with a built-in amplifier, speakers can also include built-in crossovers. In basic car audio systems, it is quite possible to do without unnecessary crossovers. However, there are a number of circumstances where a passive or active device will improve sound quality, system efficiency, or both.

If your car audio system uses coaxial speakers , you probably don’t need an extra crossover. Full range speakers already have built-in passive crossovers that filter the frequencies that reach each driver. Even if you add an amplifier to the mixer, the built-in speaker crossovers will be more than enough. However, you may need a crossover if you add an amplifier and subwoofer to this type of system.

On the other hand, you will usually need one or more crossovers if you plan to build a system consisting of component speakers, multiple amplifiers and subwoofers. This is especially true if you plan on using separate amplifiers to drive specific speakers, such as your subwoofers or tweeters. Whether you choose an active or passive crossover, you need something to keep unwanted frequencies from reaching your speakers.

It’s also important to note that aftermarket amplifiers usually include built-in filters that effectively act as crossovers if you’re building a basic car audio system with component speakers. High pass filter this type of amplifier allows you to drive the tweeters, and the low pass filter allows you to drive the woofers without requiring any additional crossovers.

When Active Crossover Can Really Help

While you can do fine without a crossover in a single amp situation, more complex builds can really benefit from an active crossover. For example, a 3-way crossover is a component that you connect between a head unit and multiple amplifiers.

In this type of scenario, each amplifier receives a specific frequency range from the crossover, and each amplifier is used to drive a specific type of speaker. For example, one might drive the high frequency front speakers, another might drive the rear full range speakers, and a third subwoofer amplifier can manage subwoofer .

Crossovers require professional installation?

Installing crossovers is not rocket science, but you do need to have a basic understanding of what you are doing before starting this type of DIY project. Installing a passive crossover is relatively easy, as it involves connecting a crossover between your amplifier and your speakers. For example, you can connect a passive crossover to your amplifier’s output, then connect the crossover’s crossover output to your tweeter and the woofer’s output to your woofer.

Installing an active car audio crossover will typically be a more involved procedure. The main problem is that active crossovers require power, so you have to run power and ground wires for each device. The good news is that if you’ve already installed an amplifier, then you should be more than capable of installing an active crossover, as the wiring isn’t really more complicated. In fact, grounding your active crossover in the same place you ground the amplifier will help prevent annoying interference in the ground loop .

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