Home audio glossary: Basic speaker terms and definitions


Driver: A driver is the cone or circular portion of a speaker that moves back and forth to produce sound. Sometimes speakers with several drivers will be distinguished as midrange, mid-bass or bass drivers, which describes their role in reproducing some part of the frequency spectrum.

Tweeter: A very small driver, often 1-inch in diameter or less, which produces high frequencies, a.k.a “treble.”

Cabinet: The structure in which a speaker’s driver(s), tweeter(s) and crossover components are housed.

Crossover: A network of parts that break up a sound signal into different frequency bands and direct them to the appropriate driver or tweeter for sound production.

Port: A hole that is placed in a speaker’s cabinet in order to enhance its bass response.

Satellite: A very small speaker made to fit in areas where space is at a premium. Satellite speakers generally have a main driver of 4 inches or less, and a tweeter. Some have drivers so small that a tweeter is not necessary. Because the drivers in satellites are so small, they usually produce little to no bass. Satellites come in all sorts of shapes: cubes, spheres, rectangles…you name it.

Bookshelf speakers: The next step up in size from satellites. There is some grey area here because some folks call larger satellites “bookshelf speakers” anyway, but for our purposes here, a bookshelf speaker will usually have a driver of 5.25 to 6.5 inches and a tweeter. Depending on how well they are made, bookshelf speakers can produce some bass, but they don’t get down very low in the bass spectrum.

Monitors: Monitors are like oversized bookshelf speakers. These can have a driver size of 6.5 to 8 inches and, because of larger drivers and larger cabinets, most monitors can produce some pretty significant bass power and get down reasonably low.

Floor-standing or tower speakers: As the names imply, these types of speakers sit on the floor and are tall enough that a speaker stand isn’t needed to get them to the right height. Floor-standing or tower speakers usually (not always) have multiple drivers and a tweeter. The size of these drivers can vary from 3.5 to 12 inches in diameter and it is not uncommon to mix in several different sizes. The bigger the drivers are, the larger the cabinet is likely to be. Some floor-standing speakers today use multiple, small drivers and are so slim that they take up less space than a bookshelf speaker on a speaker stand.

Subwoofer: The subwoofer’s job is to produce bass. A subwoofer is usually a 6.5- to 15-inch driver mounted in its own cabinet, no tweeter. Active subwoofers have their own amplification. Passive subwoofers (rare these days) require amplification from another source. Subwoofers can be used to fill in the low frequencies for smaller speakers, or cover the extremely low frequencies in a home theater system.

Mains/Front L/R: Refers to the main two speakers in a system. For music, the main left and right speakers will do most of the work. For home theater, the mains will take care of a lot of sound effects, particularly the sounds of things happening just off-screen.

Center channel: In home theater systems, the center channel is responsible for reproducing dialogue and some sound effects. The center channel is meant to be placed just above or below a TV or projection screen to give the impression that the voices are coming from the screen.

Surrounds: In home theater systems, the surround speakers are responsible for directional sound effects. The surround speakers are supposed to be placed just to the side and just behind the listening position (i.e. your couch, easy chair or theater seating). Surround speakers can sometimes be smaller than the main speakers in a system.

Back surrounds: Also referred to as rear surrounds, these are surround speakers that are meant to be placed in the back of a room, facing toward the TV or projection screen. The speakers, work in conjunction with surrounds to provide a realistic sound-field behind the listener.

Front-height speakers: A relatively new addition to home theater, front-height speakers are usually placed above and between the two main speakers. The idea is to provide a little more height to the sound-field, making the surround sound that much more convincing.

Front-width speakers: Also a new addition to home theater, front-width speakers sit to the left and right of the main speakers and slightly forward. The goal of these speakers is to help bridge the gap between the mains and the surrounds.

Also check out our Ultimate surround sound guide: Different formats explained.

Product Review

It sounds like a Sonos, but the Beam pulls one trick none of its siblings can

Sonos makes really good surround sound speakers for home theaters, but they’re expensive. A cheaper model with great sound would be a win. The Sonos Beam is that speaker, but were too many corners cut to make a more affordable product?
Home Theater

Bowers & Wilkins’ Formation Suite is a stylish, high-end Sonos competitor

With high-end audio specs, and gorgeous designs, B&W's Formation Suite is the company's first foray into wireless home audio. Starting at $700, B&W hopes to outclass Sonos, by offering high-res audio and "perfect" synchronization.

Take a gander at the best deals on 4K TVs for April 2019

There's no doubt that a good 4K smart TV is the best way to take your home entertainment setup to the next level to enjoy all your favorite shows, movies, and games in glorious Ultra HD. We've got the best 4K TV deals right here.
Home Theater

Still listening on tinny, muffled TV speakers? Try one of our favorite soundbars

You no longer have to sacrifice sound for size when selecting home audio equipment. Check out our picks for the best soundbars, whether you're looking for budget options, pure power, smarts, or tons of features.
Home Theater

Sony’s 2019 TV lineup includes a 98-inch 8K OLED that costs more than a Corvette

Sony's 2019 TV lineup is revealed, including 8K and 4K models ranging in size from 43- to 98-inches and in price from $650 to a number much, much larger. The models will be available between May and June.
Home Theater

Google brings ad-supported YouTube Music to its Google Home speakers

Hot on the heels of Amazon's announcement that it's adding a free version of its Amazon Music service to Alexa-powered speakers, Google is adding a free, ad-supported version of YouTube Music to Google Home smart speakers.
Home Theater

No car? SiriusXM’s $8 a month streaming plan has everything but Howard Stern

SiriusXM is stepping into the streaming music ring with an $8 per month plan designed specifically for people who get their music via smartphones and smart speakers. It doesn't work on SiriusXM radios, and Howard Stern is extra.
Home Theater

These awesome A/V receivers will swarm you with surround sound at any budget

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to shopping for a receiver, so we assembled our favorites for 2019, at multiple price points and all loaded with features, from Dolby Atmos to 4K HDR and much more.
Movies & TV

Want to make Netflix browsing even easier? Try this useful trick

If you know exactly what category of film you're looking for on Netflix, you'll find this hack for the streaming service useful. It allows you to manually browse genres and subgenres of interest.
Home Theater

Here’s what’s new on HBO and what’s leaving in May 2019

Whether you're a cable lifer or a staunch cord cutter, there's never been a better time to get down with premium TV. May 2019 brings the Deadwood movie, the final episode of Game of Thrones, and the PG-13 version of Deadpool 2 on HBO.
Home Theater

These TVs might cost less than $1,000, but they certainly don’t perform like it

Check out our picks for the best TVs under $1,000 to enjoy top-shelf features like 4K Ultra HD, High Dynamic Range, and gorgeous image processing. Park yourself here to find the absolute best values in TV land.
Home Theater

FiOS problems: The potholes in Verizon's fiber internet and how to fix them

Verizon FiOS offers no just fiber internet, but TV and home phone service as well. See what kind of problems, issues, and trouble other Verizon FiOS users have reported before you decide to sign up for the service.
Home Theater

Bose QuietComfort 35 II wireless headphones get a $93 price cut

Good head-fi is expensive, but a premium set of headphones is worth it. The excellent Bose Quietcomfort 35 Series II is on sale right now from Rakuten with a two-day coupon code that can save you more than 90 bucks.

Weird Galaxy View 2 is a TV-style tablet to take your mind off the Galaxy Fold

Samsung may be about to resurrect a product line that last saw an entry three years ago. Renders of the Galaxy View 2 show it's sticking to the tablet-that-thinks-it's-a-TV formula.