In-car entertainment has come a long way since 1930, when Motorola introduced the first commercially successful car radio, the Model 5T71. Over the past 80-plus years, car audio has evolved from the basic AM radio receiver with a single speaker to complex electronic systems reproducing music and other entertainment from both over-the-air signals and recorded formats. Many systems today can play music from a staggering array of audio sources: radio, CD, portable music players like the iPod, USB flash drives, SD cards, Bluetooth audio and hard-disk drives.

The Speakers
Speakers take an amplified electrical signal and convert it into mechanical energy that moves the speaker cone back and forth to create sound. Sound is essentially vibrations in the air that we hear, and a speaker cone creates these vibrations. The human ear hears these vibrations in a frequency range from about 20 hertz (very low bass) to 20,000 Hz (very high notes).

The most basic automotive speakers are designed to be “full range” to cover the entire frequency range. But by trying to cover the entire frequency spectrum, bass response is generally nonexistent and higher frequencies are dull. You can get more accurate sound reproduction by using an assortment of speakers dedicated to reproducing a smaller range of sound.

Woofers and subwoofers are large speakers designed to reproduce only low-frequency bass sounds. The aptly named midrange drivers handle the middle-range frequencies. Some systems take it one step further and use a specialized midbass driver to handle the troublesome frequencies between low bass and midrange. Tweeters are the smallest of the specialized drivers and reproduce the upper treble frequencies.

In many car sound systems, two speakers of different sizes are combined on one frame to create a two-way speaker. For example, a coaxial speaker mounts a small tweeter directly above and on the same axis as a small woofer. That creates a full-range speaker from two separate drivers.

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