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What is a Full Range Speaker? – For Maximum Reproduction!

Have you ever used audio devices that only utilize one speaker? Just walk down the aisle of the Hi-Fi section of a department store, and you can see plenty of “single-driver” sound systems. If you are wondering about the uniqueness of these speakers, then you should read on, as today we will find out what is a Full Range speaker all about!

At first glance, these types of audio equipment may not look very complicated at all. Not that they should be incredibly complex, but there is definitely much more to these speakers than meets the eye. In this article, we will be learning more about the fundamental design principles that sets full range speakers apart from the rest. Let’s begin learning!

Full Range Speakers – All in One Solution?

A speaker driver that is designed to reproduce as much of the audible frequency range as possible, is called a full-range loudspeaker. The performance of a full range speaker is limited by the physical constraints of a specific design. In most cases, the frequency range of these drivers are maximized by implementing a whizzer cone and other methods.

Fostex Full Range

Fostex FE206e (modified) full range driver with a whizzer cone / Photo by Richard Williams

However, it is important to take note that most single driver systems (such as those in radios, or small computer speaker designs) are incapable of reproducing the entire audible frequency range (20 Hz – 20 kHz).

Here are the topics we will be looking into:

  • Common designs
  • Commercial applications
  • Criticisms

Common Designs

The design of a full-range driver is the same as any other dynamic drivers, except that the “cone” is optimized for better high-frequency performance. For instance, a small low-mass horn or whizzer cone can be mounted where the voice coil and diaphragm meet, which increases high-frequency output. The cone and whizzer are also made of materials that are optimized.

Full Range Cross Section

Full-Range speaker cross-section / Photo by Rohitbd / CC BY-SA 3.0

Some designs uses a radiating dome, which is acoustically active, instead of the typical dust-cap. The vast majority of speaker drivers have dust-caps that are intentionally constructed to be relatively acoustically inactive. You may sometimes find dust-caps that are designed to resemble a small conical shape, which are said to improve dispersion at higher frequencies.

Frequency Response

Although a full-range driver is meant to effectively reproduce low and high frequencies (which is impossible due to physical limitations), in actuality, it is often limited to covering the audio spectrum from 100Hz onwards. The lower frequencies are usually left to be handled by a separate sub woofer, or by a special cabinet designed for low frequency reproduction.

In order for a full-range driver to meet its requirements, it must have good sensitivity (for lower frequencies) with a light voice coil (for high frequencies). Furthermore, these speakers often employ larger or stronger magnets than usual, in order to improve sensitivity, which in turn reduces the power needed at low frequencies as well as allowing a lighter voice coil.

In addition, the speaker enclosure also affects the overall performance. Many full range drivers have limited maximum excursions, thus requiring special enclosures that are capable of reasonable low end output, without the need for large excursions at low frequencies. Enclosures vary from cheap beige plastic boxes to expensive, large horn loaded enclosures.

Commercial Applications

You will often find full-range driver units being used in commercial, consumer-oriented sound systems, which may use a number of 200 mm (8″) full-range drivers, mounted into suspended ceilings or small ‘back-box’ enclosures. These systems are usually used for background music and announcements to visitors in retail stores, and public spaces.

Single Driver Speakers

Spherical speakers with single drivers / Photo by Goldmajoe / CC BY-SA 3.0

It is actually more accurate to call these speakers ‘wide-range’ drivers, since their frequency response rarely extend to the extremes of the frequency range. There are manufacturers that produce small (typically 115 mm, or 4.5″) diameter full-range drivers, mounted into miniature enclosures, to be integrated with commercial sound systems that uses long speaker cables.

You can sometimes find full-range speaker systems that are designed with limited-range drivers. These speakers must be used with equalizers, in order to extend their frequency response. There are also full-range drivers that can achieve acceptable response without any signal processing. Full-range speaker systems may use single drivers that reach up to 15″ in size.

Criticisms

Sceptics often criticize full range drivers for their inability to reproduce frequencies at similar amplitudes, resulting in an inaccurate reproduction of the original audio signal. When multiple frequencies are produced by the same diaphragm, intermodulation distortion occurs, due to the fact that a single surface is trying to reproduce both frequencies simultaneously.

Goodmans Speakers

Goodmans Axiette, one of the first single-cone full-range drivers / Photo by Grebe / CC BY-SA 3.0

The audible impact of intermodulation distortion is not clearly established. The result is a degree of “frequency mixing”, but at a relatively low level. It may cause a full range driver to have reduced output at both ends of its frequency range, or its frequency response may be further reduced, ultimately compromising the sound system’s overall fidelity.

Supporters of full-range speakers claim superior phase coherence. Audio Nirvana have also produced 12″ and 15″ full range drivers and have used special bass reflex cabinets to overcome the bass limitations of smaller drivers. Also, since most adults are unable to hear above 15 kHz, the lack of high end frequency is usually not an issue with good quality full range drivers.

That about sums it up for today’s article. What do you guys think about full range speakers now? Do you still have faith in the capability of single-driver systems?

Let me know your thoughts down below, and be sure to share this article with your pals!

Farhan

When I'm not rocking out to great music, I'd prefer to be sleeping on a field on a windy day =)

14 Comments

  1. Well detailed article!

    Truly full range speakers has been in the market. Do you prefer any brands? I bought a full range speaker but it did not meet my expectations. I am outdoor most of the time either fixing my car or working out. Having a speaker helps me. Will be visiting your site more often.

    • Hey Marc!

      If you are outdoors most of the time, you would probably want to focus more on portable speakers. They might not provide the best sound quality in general, but that’s not what they are built for. Try looking at brands such as Ultimate Ears and Creative. They have some really good quality portable speakers.

      Thanks for visiting!

  2. Farhan,
    Thanks for this awesome post What is a Full Range Speaker? – For Maximum Reproduction!

    As I was reading through I could not help myself from imagining the true dynamic output from the All in One Solution with the proper driver’s.

    I did not realize the importance regarding stronger magnet’s in relation to power consumption so I did some more learning!
    Thanks again,
    Gary

  3. Hello Farhan,
    First of all I have to say I liked your writing style and also your article is very informative.
    I actually know next to nothing about speakers let alone full range speakers.
    I learned a lot while reading your article. 🙂
    Keep up the good work Farhan.
    Good luck!!!

    • Hi there!

      Thank you for your kind words and compliments. It really means a lot to me. Do come back again anytime!

      Cheers!

  4. Wow, I have been looking at the speakers for a long time with no idea what it was I was looking at. This really changes my outlook on a speaker is a speaker. Now I have a way better understanding Of what a full range speaker actually is. I used to think I was getting a full quality sound from my one speaker I had in the back of my truck. I guess you don’t really know what it is you are missing until someone pointed out to you. Thanks for the info

    • Hey Hicks!

      I’m happy to know that this article has been very educational for you. Thanks a lot!

  5. Amazing and detailed article.

    I’ve been making music in for at least a decade, have experienced all types of speakers. I would definitely vouch on the fact that it’s important to have full-range speakers but this just isn’t the case for the everyday consumer these days.

    People listen to all their music sometimes even just holding their iPhone… I mean, I have Yamaha 80M’s which are brilliant active monitors and STILL listen to music directly from my laptop. Doing it right now actually.

    I guess it all comes down to what the music can communicate just like how important story is to film.

    Anyways, I’d still vote that audio quality gets improved in the future as music definitely deserves it.

    Thanks for information. Sticking with my speakers!

    • Hi Nico!

      Its good to know that you are sticking with your speakers! Its always great to have music producers such as yourself commenting on my articles, as I think it adds to the overall quality of my content. Do visit again for more!

      Thanks a lot!

  6. Thank you for the great info. I had no idea what a full range speaker meant. Does Bose create these? That is the brand I usually go with for speakers and headphones. Or do you recommend a certain brand for this type of speaker? And, how does this pertain to surround sound in the entire home? Thanks!!

    • Hey there!

      Bose have been around for a long time, so they should have systems that integrate full range speakers. I would recommend you take a look at the portable speakers by Ultimate Ears or Creative. These two brands make some great quality products.

      As for surround sound systems, it really depends on the specific design from various manufacturers. Cheaper home theatre systems typically incorporate more single-driver (full range) speakers, and the more high-end ones may use more multi-driver speakers. This is just based on my observations though.

      Thanks for dropping by!

  7. Hi Farhan,

    I am a home-based music producer and I am thinking of getting a new speaker system to my studio.
    I was doing some research on full range speakers which lead me to your website.
    First, I’d like to thank you for making it easy to understand what full range speakers are and the applications for which they can be used.
    I have a question, though. Which speaker would you recommend for a mid-sized room on a budget of 300¢ more or less?

    Thanks in advance for your reply!

    Cheers,
    Angélique

    • Hi Angelique!

      You can take a look at the Yamaha HS5 speakers. I totally recommend them for any type of audio production that requires critical listening. Furthermore, the price should fit your budget!

      Let me know if you have any other questions. Thanks!

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