The Differences Between Front Speakers & Rear Speakers for Cars

By David Lipscomb

Your front and rear speakers define your car stereo's sound.

The mobile environment is a potential audio refuge, allowing you to create your dream system with few constraints. There is no shortage of speakers to choose from for your new system, with options for filling the entire vehicle with lush sound. Different-sized speakers may occupy the front and rear of the cabin, with two or three-way component and coaxial speakers as viable options. Understanding what those options are and how to chose them is part of the required homework when planning your new setup.

Front Stage and Rear Fill

The front speakers dictate the sound stage, or placement of vocals and instruments, as you listen to music. In most car audio systems, these are where you should invest most of your speaker budget. When you go to a concert or listen to music at home, the vast majority of sound emanates from in front of you, making selection of the front speakers the top priority when it comes to the best sound quality. It's always wise to choose front and rear speakers from the same manufacturer to prevent distracting timbre differences between the pairs. Another way to ensure the same sound from the front and the back is to use identical speakers when possible for both pairs. In scenarios where there are component speakers featuring separate woofers and tweeters and a provision for coaxial speakers in the back, perfect matches won't be possible. In this case, using a potentially less-expensive speaker in the rear is acceptable, as long as efforts are made to match the pairs up as closely as possible.

Speaker Size

As you shop for speakers, the first thing you need to understand is what the factory speaker sizes are. Although you can sometimes use spacer rings and adapters to increase the speaker sizes in the front and rear, very often these are not modifiable unless you cut into a door panel. Speaker size dictates how much bass is produced by these speakers, a factor that becomes more important if you're not using a subwoofer. Speaker size typically influences power handling, with smaller speakers normally more efficient and requiring less power. Always choose the largest front speakers you can fit and afford, even if you have a subwoofer. Doing so allows bass to be brought forward in the vehicle, reducing the perception of all low frequencies coming from the rear of the vehicle.

Component and Coaxial Speakers

Component speakers offer separate woofers, tweeters and larger, superior crossovers to divide the signal. If your vehicle offers component speaker locations, you can easily identify this by the presence of a small speaker grille protecting the separate tweeter located just above the dash or on the door. Component speakers are normally placed higher in a manufacturer's lineup, offering power handling and build quality often greater than or equal to comparable home speakers. Coaxial speakers usually require less power, ideal for a quick factory speaker replacement and compatible with nearly all vehicles. High-end coaxial speakers exist to accommodate the mobile audiophile without factory component speaker locations.

Power Handling and Efficiency

Often equal in importance to factory speaker size is deciding on what electronics will power your new speakers. If you're using a separate stereo or four channel amplifier to drive the speakers, your options increase dramatically. Most better-built speakers are built with the expectation of receiving more power than the in-dash radio. The vast majority of coaxial speakers in contrast usually require less power, but all benefit from higher quality standalone amplification for increased detail and less distortion. Speaker efficiency ratings tell you at a glance how much power is required to achieve a certain sound pressure level. Higher decibel numbers indicate increased efficiency. For example, a speaker rated at 100dB will play louder with the same amount of input power than a speaker rated at 88dB efficiency. Consider this and power-handling ratings when fitting a speaker with its power source.