Car Speakers vs. Home Speakers: The Differences Compared

Speakers are all around us. Humans tend to enjoy music as a part of everyday life, so we have speakers at the office, at home, or in our cars. You might wonder if there are differences between speakers made for your home and your vehicles.

There are distinct differences between car and home speakers. Car speakers have lower nominal impedance than home speakers and are generally more resistant to damage due to the environmental conditions they’re exposed to daily. Home speakers come in a larger variety of sizes and formats to fit every type of room in the home.

That’s just two of the main differences between car and home speakers. They’re also designed differently, powered differently, and used differently. Read on to know more about these differences and why car and home speakers are different.

Car speakers and home speakers

The Differences Between Car and Home Speakers: Design and Aesthetics

Most car speakers are sold as open-air speakers — or raw drivers — that do not have an enclosure so that you can put them into the spaces provided in your car or trunk.

You can see these differences when you shop for aftermarket car speakers such as the JBL GTO629 Premium 6.5-Inch Coaxial Speaker, the Pyle 4″ x 6″ Three Way Sound Speaker System, or the JL Audio C2-650X Evolution Series 6-1/2″ 2-way car speakers. These products are all raw drivers that you can easily install into your car.

Whereas home speakers include an enclosure and may have a variety of drivers included. For some, the enclosure is even part of the speakers’ features and a key differentiating factor that can sway you to buy one over another model.

Check out the following:

What’s more, home speakers often come in a wide variety of form factors. You have the floor standing speakers, such as the Polk Audio T50. These tall speakers sit on the ground and may include several drivers in one enclosure.

There’s also the bookshelf variety, such as the Q Acoustics 3020i Bookshelf Speaker Pair. These speakers may be mounted on a stand or placed on a table or shelf.

The Enclosure Helps To Improve the Sound

A speaker’s enclosure serves a lot of functions on top of making the speaker pretty. For one, it helps you to conveniently place the speaker on tabletops, bookshelves, or the floor. Because drivers are irregularly shaped, the enclosure with its flat bottom and cube-like form will allow you to place it anywhere without creating a hole in your wall to house the speaker. 

But it’s not just a pretty container; the enclosures also help improve the sound quality. Without the enclosure, even the priciest drivers or radiators will not sound at their best.

The sound will be reedy and thin, while there will be no bass at all.

What You Need To Understand About the Differences in Design

Car speakers do not need a lot of styling and aesthetics. They are sold as raw drivers because you will fit them into doors, dashboards, or parcel shelves. 

Meanwhile, home speakers should be eye-catching, or they should blend perfectly into the background, depending on what you prefer. These speakers will be on display in your home, so aesthetics plays an essential role in these products.

That is the reason why there are a lot of accessories and design details. You can find mounts for bookshelf speakers, as well as a wide variety of finishes and design philosophies. Others may even include lights and removable grilles. All of these will be useless with car speakers, which are for the most part hidden from view or tucked in a corner.

The Differences Between Car and Home Subwoofers

Car speakers are generally expected to fill a smaller space with sound, while your home speakers need to move a whole lot more air to fill a room. 

The most common sizes when it comes to subwoofers for cars are:

  • Eight inches (20.32 cm): They are the smallest subwoofers but still deliver an accurate bass to fill your car with enough rumble for your music. That is what you’d find in most stock sound systems.
  • Ten inches (25.4 cm): They are more compact than what’s seen in most cars, so you can find them in smaller vehicles. These subwoofers are responsive, but they might not be ideal for songs that have a lot of very low frequencies.
  • Twelve inches (30.48 cm): They give you a great combination of loudness and accuracy. They do better with the lower frequencies than the 10-inch (25.4 cm) subwoofers, delivering a responsive punch together with a satisfying boom.
  • Fifteen inches (38.1 cm): They have a larger cone area, so it’s expected to handle the lower frequencies without any problems. Long bass notes are delivered spectacularly well, making these subwoofers some of the best subs for those who like booming bass.

However, these general characteristics are for subwoofers made with the same material and crafted the same way. A smaller speaker can have a bigger cone size or even handle low frequencies better than a bigger one. Plus, enclosures can also play a huge factor in how a subwoofer sounds.

Home Subwoofer Sizes

Generally speaking, you will need a larger subwoofer that can move more air when you have your sound system in a big and open room. You will be okay with a small subwoofer in a small room, but bigger rooms such as a living room or open spaces will need a much bigger subwoofer. That said, if you have a small room, more bass isn’t necessarily good. 

As such, subwoofers meant for home use are bigger than those used for cars. In fact, car speakers used in a large room of your home might sound flat if you don’t have the proper equipment for them.

Passive vs. Active Subwoofers

You might think that the differences in size are all there is between home and car speakers, but there’s more. Another difference between subwoofers meant for the home and your car comes from how it is powered. Home speakers mostly have active drivers, which have their own amplifier built into them.

Active subwoofers will need to be plugged in or connected to their own power source. That’s not a problem at home where you have all those plugs. 

On the other hand, car subwoofers do not require a power outlet because they don’t have their own amplifiers, and you will only need to connect it to the car amp.

Passive subwoofers often have lower volumes than active ones. The rule to keep in mind is that the higher the wattage your subwoofer gets from your amp, the more powerful and better sounding the booming bass will be.

Of course, there are custom subwoofers in some cars, and these are the ones that you’d hear from a couple of blocks away. These subwoofers are active.

Optimization and Positioning

With your home speakers, you can easily position them to get optimal sound. To the casual listener, you can probably get away with using two speakers and still get exceptional sound. Add a subwoofer, and you’re in for a foot-stomping bass together with the mid and high frequencies delivered by ordinary speakers.

For those who would like to get a concert-like or movie theater experience, a good surround sound system will provide you with everything you need if you position your speakers correctly.

The reason for this is because home speakers are designed according to the frequency ranges. Tweeters and mid-range drivers will handle mid and high frequencies, and your subwoofer will reproduce the lower frequencies, and so on.

You can position each speaker so they can deliver the sounds optimally. For instance, you can put two speakers at an equal distance from you to get the best sound out of it.

The Positioning of Car Speakers

When you deal with car speakers, there is not much space involved. The good news is that you will not have to worry about it, as experts have already figured out where to put the midrange speakers, tweeters, and woofers to get the best sound.

The number of speakers may vary according to the size of your car. For compact cars, you might have anywhere from four to six speakers installed at various locations. For SUVs and bigger vehicles, you can get anywhere from 10 to 16 speakers.

This video will show you the different speaker placements in other vehicles:

Tweaking the Frequency Response

If you leave it at mere positioning, the sound will be distorted. You will hear sounds differently depending on where you sit in the car. As such, experts and sound engineers will be tweaking these speakers to reduce the distortion and find the perfect frequency response for the speakers.

These speakers are also tuned to perform flawlessly in response to the different materials within your car. Car speakers may sound differently depending on the carpet’s material and thickness, the use of leather or plastic in the vehicle interior, and even the size, shape, and material used in the seats.

Car and Home Speakers: The Difference in Speaker Impedance

Many people will probably shy away from talking about speaker impedance, even those passionate about speakers. We can’t blame them because it can get quite complex. Impedance is quite simply the resistance that your speaker offers to the current that comes from the amplifier. Amps provide AC, not DC, which is why we use impedance instead of resistance.

You can think of impedance as the load that your speaker draws from the amplifier. But because amps deal with music or voice, there are changes in frequencies and the impedance changes with that. That is why manufacturers put the “nominal impedance” of their speakers in the specifications list, which is the average of the lowest impedance values.

The Impedance of Car and Home Speakers

Car speakers often have lower impedance than home speakers. You’d often find home speakers having a nominal impedance of eight ohms, while car speakers have two to four ohms.

Smaller impedance means that audio signals can easily flow through your speakers. A car speaker is usually powered by a direct current circuit that runs 12 volts instead of 120 volts that you get from your home’s power supply. The lower impedance that your car speakers have will help it to draw more power from a car amp that has a lower voltage. 

In general, you can crank your car speakers up to the highest volumes, and you can rest easy knowing that the amp will be able to power it. That is not so with home speakers. With a nominal impedance of six or eight ohms, home speakers can safely play loud music. But if you buy home speakers with a nominal impedance rated at four ohms, you might need to pair them with a capable amp that can handle the power requirements.

You can rarely find a car speaker with a nominal impedance of more than four ohms when it comes to it. Meanwhile, home speakers have around six to eight ohms. Also, home speakers tend to be bigger because they need to be powerful enough to fill a larger space with sound.

Environmental Hardiness

Car speakers are better suited for the harsher conditions outside. They are considered outdoor speakers, so these products undergo treatments that make them hardier to the different conditions they are subjected to, which are largely absent when you talk about home speakers’ operating conditions.

For one, car speakers are designed with thermal handling capabilities that keep them safe from the heat generated when the amplifier powers them. It has larger voice coils that can help dissipate the heat.

These speakers should also be designed to not be damaged by extremely low or high temperatures and extreme humidity conditions. The ability to ward off the harmful effects of too much or too low humidity is crucial if the speaker has a paper cone. It can also corrode the metal components and the chassis.

Further, car speakers are sometimes exposed to the sun, especially when mounted in the rear deck or the dashboard. The exposure warrants treatments that will protect the speakers from discoloration. Prolonged and sustained UV exposure can also affect the sound of the speaker as the stiffness of the suspension changes, as well as the speaker cone’s weight.

Lastly, the materials used in car speakers also have to withstand the vibrations of a moving car. The same is true for the fasteners used to keep them in place.

Home Speakers Have It Easy

As you can guess, home speakers have it easy as the temperatures and humidity inside the house are usually meant to be comfortable for humans. As such, home speakers do not have to contend too much with extreme changes in both humidity and temperatures. 

These speakers are also safe from too much sun exposure, and the only vibrations it has to deal with are those coming from the speaker system itself. As such, these speakers are relatively safe from environmental conditions even when they don’t have special treatments. 

In fact, much of the design and the enclosures it has are primarily for aesthetic reasons and improved sound.

Can You Use a Car Speaker in Place of a Home Speaker (and Vice Versa)?

Can you use car speakers for your home audio system? Technically, yes. Despite the differences in design, optimization, and other aspects, a car speaker is still a speaker, and you can use it as one of your home’s speakers.

But because of the lower impedance that car speakers have, you should make sure that you’re using an amplifier that can deliver the right amount of power to it. Plus, it’s best to only use car speakers in a small room or as part of a speaker system. For example, you might want to use car speakers as ceiling speakers for your home entertainment.

Plus, car speakers are typically sold without enclosures, so you are pretty much limited to installing them in a hidden location or into walls and ceilings.

Using Home Speakers for Your Car

As we have explained, your home speakers are not meant for the outdoors, so you can expect them to get damaged over time just by being inside your car while it’s parked under the midday sun or when the humidity changes too much. 

But more than that, your car amp might not be suitable to power a home speaker. And then there’s the space you need for these more prominent speakers. They might not even fit into the allotted car speaker slots.

So while you can use home speakers for your car, it is not recommended at all. 

Bottom Line

Speakers are speakers, but in the case of car and home speakers, they work differently in the environment that they were designed, created, and optimized for. As such, they will have the necessary differences in design, aesthetics, power requirements, and optimization.