Speakers are a crucial component of any sound system, particularly if the system is designed to handle more than one channel. It is important to differentiate between speakers that operate in parallel or series. That being said, what type of speaker setup is better?
Let’s dive into the differences between series and parallel speakers and exactly how they work. I’ll also go over some of the pros and cons of each, including quality, loudness, and power requirements.
The Difference Between Series and Parallel speakers
Exactly what is series vs parallel? Well, it really describes the way the speakers are wired. Series speakers are connected in line with other speakers, and the resistance (in Ohms) that the speaker receives can change based on the previous speaker in the series. This resistance is also known as SPEAKER LOAD.
Many coaxial speakers as well as 2-way or 3-way speaker cabinets or car speaker systems use speaker crossovers in their design. Speaker crossovers are basically a COLLECTION of CAPACITORS and INDUCTORS and are used to BLOCK unwanted sound frequencies which would otherwise interact with the desired frequency range, causing distortion.
Crossovers are also used to keep one driver handling a particular frequency range so it doesn’t have to compete with other drivers on the same frequency range, which would also cause distortion.
Next up, how speakers in serial & parallel handle speaker load.
How Series Speakers Work
Series speakers are connected to other series speakers through the use of speaker terminals. Audio power amplifiers are used to connect the speakers to each other, and speaker wires do the job of carrying the audio signal from one speaker to the next. These connections can either be wired or wireless so that you can achieve relatively complex arrangements without having to string wires everywhere.
Expert Tip: Crossover, Ohms, Speaker load. What does all this mean for speakers set in series? Well, the crossover of the speakers changes the speaker load for the rest of the speakers in the series. When that speaker load is changed, something called crossover shift occurs.
Crossover shift means that the crossover frequency CHANGES GREATLY from speaker to speaker, allowing unwanted sound to the speaker’s next in the series. This shift can also raise the resistance delivered to the next speaker. Thus continuing a chain of inconsistent load to your sound system, which is the cause of DISTORTION.
How Parallel Speakers Work
The connection of parallel speakers is relatively simple. All you need to do is connect the positive terminal on one speaker to the negative terminal on the other and vice versa. You should also be careful not to run your power cables in parallel because that will cause a short circuit.
Parallel speakers have the benefit of NOT HAVING any CROSSOVERSHIFTS. When speakers are wired in parallel, the crossover only sees the resistance from one speaker. That means each speaker has the ability to more effectively filter undesirable frequencies, thus producing less distortion.
Are Speakers Louder In Series or Parallel?
If it’s loudness you after, parallel speakers are also the clear winner. I general, speakers in parallel can get louder.
In a series circuit, the speakers are being powered by one amplifier. This means that all of the speakers share the same power and have to work HARDER to produce more because the power is divided among all the speakers in the series. In a parallel circuit, the speakers are being powered from SEPARATE AMPLIFIERS, so each speaker doesn’t have to work as hard to produce enough sound.
How Does Speaker Wiring Design Affect Power?
In most cases, wiring speakers in series means that the total speaker load will be higher than recommended for the amplifier or receiver. In some cases, it may even DAMAGE the speakers.
However, if you wire your speakers in series with a 4-ohm impedance and a 500-watt max power output on the amp, you can wire up to 8 speakers with a total impedance of 2 ohms.
In a parallel connection, speakers have a LOUDER volume due to the decrease in resistance. This is because of the inverse proportionality between resistance and current. When the resistance decreases, the current will be more efficient and louder.
So, What Is Impedance?
There are many factors that can impact the performance of a speaker system. One important factor that is often overlooked is IMPEDANCE, which is the measure of how much a speaker resists current. A speaker with a lower impedance (measured in ohms) will draw MORE POWER from an amplifier than a speaker with a higher impedance.
For a given volume, a speaker with a low impedance will produce more sound at high volumes because it is drawing more power from the amplifier.
Speakers have measurable impedance. The crossover and the drivers themselves determine the speaker’s impedance.
Many speakers are rated between 4 and 8 ohms. This means that a 4-ohm speaker will draw more power than an 8-ohm speaker.
Advantages and Disadvantages of speakers wired in series
The Advantages Speakers Wired In Series
A series speaker configuration has quite a few advantages.
- Safer for amplifiers and receivers – Speakers wired in series are safer to use because they carry less voltage and current than speakers wired in parallel. When speakers are wired in series, the source is connected from one speaker to the next. This INCREASES RESISTANCE which lessens the chance to overload the amp
- Easier to connect – In series, you wire the left and right channels together and then wire them to the amplifier. The speaker cables will be connected in series so that the signals can combine and AMPLIFY. This makes it easy because all of the wiring is done at one end.
- It’s a cheap, simple solution great for small setups – Speakers wired in series use the same speaker wire to produce sound. Since most setups are SMALL, this can be done without too much concern for power loss. Simple wiring diagrams are available online which show how this can be accomplished with few wires.
The Disadvantages Speakers Wired In Series
There are some drawbacks to using speakers in series.
- Lower power & volume – Speaker wired in series, connected from one device to another, produces a lower power and volume the more and more speakers you add. The power is reduced because the voltage from the first speaker is HALVED by the second and so on. Regardless of whether or not this limitation affects the quality of sound reproduction depends on how loud a person typically listens to their devices.
- Bad sound quality for 2-way or similar speakers – As mentioned earlier crossover of the speakers changes the speaker load for the rest of the speakers in the series. Speaker load changes cause crossover shift, which can cause sound distortion.
- Lose sound to all speakers with a single failure point – Because wiring speakers in series relies on one amp, wiring speakers in series runs the risk of COMPLETE SYSTEM FAILURE. If one speaker in the circuit fails, the entire system is brought offline, causing a single point of failure.
Advantages and Disadvantages of speakers Wired In Parallel
The Advantages Speakers Wired In Parallel
The advantages of using speakers in parallel far outweigh the disadvantages.
- Best for maximum power and volume – Speakers wired in parallel are louder because they each receive the same amount of power and voltage as before, but this time they’re not individually amplified by the amplifier. Thus, the speaker that is driven with a lower impedance receives more power and voltage than one driven by a higher impedance. This causes the speaker to play louder since it’s at a CLOSER DISTANCE to the amplifying device.
- Best sound quality – Having speakers wired in parallel is a great way to achieve the best sound quality for your speakers. This is because it REDUCES the IMPEDANCE of an individual speaker. This has been shown to create a more precise and accurate sound and will provide good results depending on what type of equipment you are using.
- If one fails, others will still have sound – Because wiring speakers in parallel have their OWN ACCESS to the amp, wiring speakers in parallel will allow a speaker to continue to transmit sound even if another fails.
The Disadvantages Speakers Wired In Parallel
- There is a minimum Ohms load – Wiring speakers in parallel is not always possible due to the Ohms load – Speakers wired in parallel halve the Ohms on the circuit. If there are fewer Ohms on the circuit, it makes it very easy to overpower the speakers and can DAMAGE the speakers.
- Harder to add extra speakers – Another disadvantage to the Ohms having in a parallel circuit. If you add more speakers, they will all try to draw power from the SAME SOURCE at the same time, causing an overload on the system.
- May require more amp channels – Speakers wired in parallel may need more amp channels to run efficiently. The number of channels within a system can be calculated by taking the NUMBER OF SPEAKERS AND DIVIDING IT BY THE NUMBER OF CHANNELS. When running speakers in parallel, each speaker will get one-half of an amp channel; therefore, if you have four speakers running in parallel with two channels, then your system should consist of six channels to be able to provide power for all four speakers.
When To Use Series, & When To Use Parallel Wiring
Many people have a tough time deciding on the best way to wire speakers. There are two ways you can wire them, parallel or series. In order to know which one is best for your specific application, you will have to measure the impedance of your speakers.
You can use series wiring if:
You are using speakers that don’t have crossover components that can distort the sound.
These can include:
- Single-cone midrange or full-range speakers
- Horn tweeters
- Subwoofers & woofers
Expert Tip: Your desired number of speakers DOESN’T MEET THE MINIMUM OHMS requirement of the amp. If your amp is too powerful for speakers set in parallel, especially if you have low resistance speakers, it makes it very easy to overpower and damage the speakers.
NOTE: It’s important to ensure these components do not have crossover, otherwise you will get a crossover shift and you’ll reduce sound quality.
You should use parallel wiring if:
- You want the best possible sound. – This is because running speakers in parallel REDUCE THE IMPEDANCE of each speaker, compared to series. This creates a more accurate sound. It can also get louder due to the lower impedance, making it electrically closer to the amp.
- Your speakers have crossover – When speakers are wired in parallel, the crossover only sees the load from THAT SPEAKER. That means the speaker can effectively filter undesirable frequencies and eliminate the potential for crossover shift.
Can I run 8 ohm and 4 ohm speakers together?
To begin with, what you have to take into account is the load impedance of the amplifier, most of it is in the range of 6-16 ohms.
The total impedance of the set of our speakers cannot be below the range of our amplifier, since having a lower resistance and the same voltage, the current that passes would be greater.
Therefore now it is necessary to differentiate between the connection in series and in parallel.
If we connect two speakers of 4 and 8 ohms in series, the total impedance of the set will be 12 ohms.
On the other hand, if we connect in parallel, the total result of the impedance would be about 2.6 ohms.
Therefore, in case you want to combine two 4 and 8 ohm speakers, it is best to connect them in series to obtain a higher resulting impedance and work with most amplifiers.
Although it must be borne in mind that if they are in series, the intensity that circulates through the two is exactly the same, but the 8 ohm receives twice the voltage than the other and therefore twice the power.
When should I wire speakers in parallel?
In most cases, for safety, it is best to connect the speakers in series, since in this way the total load impedance increases, and that is why as the amplifier receives more resistance, it works with less current, therefore it does not there is a risk of overheating.
The problem with the series connection is that the voltage is distributed among all the speakers and therefore they will not work to the maximum.
Expert Tip: Therefore, if we want our speakers to give their all, it is best to connect them in parallel, although it will have more limitations, since when connecting speakers in parallel, the total impedance of the set is reduced.
For example, if we have two 8 ohm speakers in parallel, the resulting impedance would be 4 ohms. If we have two of 4 ohms, it will be 2. And if we connect 4 speakers of 8 ohms, the resulting impedance will be 2 ohms.
Keep in mind that the load impedance of an amplifier always has to be lower than the total impedance of our speakers. Therefore, if we want to connect 4 8 ohm speakers in parallel, we will need an amplifier with a load impedance of 2 ohms, which are more expensive than most, which are usually 6-8 ohms.
In short, if we only want to connect two speakers and they are about 8 ohms or more, in most cases it will be best to connect in parallel.
Today we went over a bunch of stuff and I would love to wrap it all up for you is as neat a bow as I can.
Series speakers are connected directly to one another, this causes a single point of failure and reduces the sound quality and volume. This is due to the crossover shift. Crossover means filtering out unwanted frequencies. Crossover shift is the distortion caused by inconsistent speakers load.
Parallel speakers tap into the amp and can run if another speaker in the circuit fails. It produces better sound quality and gets louder because it has a lower impedance. Impedance is the measure of a speaker’s resistance. The parallel speaker does not suffer from crossover shift and is best suited for most listening situations.
The only time you would need to use speakers in series is if your speakers do not have any crossover and/or your speakers do not meet the minimum ohms required by the amp or receiver.