Loudspeaker Driver Parameters Archive

What’s up with the Watts?business path choice

Choosing the right driver for your speakers can be something of a minefield, particularly if its your first time. There are a number of things to be aware of, one of which is the power rating (specified in Watts)

Technological advances in materials are allowing Loudspeaker drivers to be developed with larger power handling, at the same time we have seen some loudspeakers drivers have their power ratings changed, with increases of 25% or more, but with apparently no change to the driver. Add to this the confusion of RMS Power, Continuous Power, Program Power, and Peak Power and it’s not suprising some of you are getting confused. This article aims to explain some of terms used, and dispel a few myths.

Q: My amp is rated at 400W per channel, will a 600W driver break my amp by drawing too much power?

A: NO. The power rating of your amplifier is a measure of how many watts it can deliver to the speakers before it reaches the limitations of its internal power supply and starts to clip/distort.  The power rating of your speakers is the maximum power they can accept from an amplifier before they are in danger of overheating and burning out. Providing you have the corrent impedance load, your speakers are unable to draw more power than the amplifier is willing to give. https://speakerwizard.co.uk/impedance-faqs/

Q: If I replace my 400W speakers with 450W speakers will they go louder?

A: Not necessarily, the limiting factor is generally your amplifier, if you amp is rated at 400 Watts, you wont get any more than 400W output without severely distorting the sound, and potentially damaging your amplifier. If your amp can output 450W, then an increase in power handling may make your speakers go a little louder, but its possible they may be no louder, or in some cases quieter. The key factor here is efficiency, some speakers are more efficient than others. If you have two speakers operating at the same power level, and one is more efficient at converting electricity into sound, it doesnt take a rocket scientist to figure out which of the two will be louder. Most manufacturers give an indication of efficiency using the sensitivity figure measured in db@1W/1M (link to sensitivity)

Q: Which power rating should I look at?

If you’re reading this, chances are you are a novice, so for simplicity we suggest you use the continuous RMS power rating. Luckily, this is the one most manufacturers specify. You may also see Music Program Power Ratings, typically these are double the  RMS power rating. If you see a peak power rating, its often meaningless, and serves little purpose. Peak power ratings are often four time the RMS rating, so if you see this anywhere, divide it by 4 to give you an idea of the real power rating.

Q: What do the power ratings mean?

RMS Power.

Sometimes referred to as Average Power, or Continuous Power. The term RMS here is incorrectly used, it is not RMS power in the true sense of the term, as Power does vary from positive to negative, it is the Voltage. The RMS Voltage is used in the power calculation, hence giving rise to the term ‘RMS Power’.

Over the years, various standards have been used in this ‘RMS Power’ calculation, including;

The IEC268-5 (1978) standard (IEC = International Electrotechnical Commission)

The EIA RS-426-A (1980) standard (EID = Electronic Industries Association)

The AES2-1984 standard (AES = Audio Engineering Society)

The AES2-2012 standard – which is becoming the most commonly adopted standard. Previously many manufacturers used the EIA standard, re-ratings some speakers using AES saw increases in power ratings of 25%, sometimes more. One example we are aware of was a high power 18″ driver, which was previously rated at 600W, and had the power rating changed to 800W overnight – with no changes whatsoever to the speaker design.

How is this possible? The AES power rating has a higher crest factor than the EIA rating, and is also for a shorter duration 2 hours for AES whereas the EIA rating was over an 8 hour test period. Some would argue this is not a totally realistic test. However for the layman, it is a useful benchmark for matching up driver power to speaker power. We’ll explain why:

Music Power:

Also know as Program Power, this is an indicator of the power rating of speaker use with ‘typical program materal’, which most of us call music. The RMS Power test is not done with music, it is generally done with bandwidth limited pink noise, which is a continuous signal. When was the last time you played music that sounded like static? Not often I bet. Music power takes into consideration that a bass beat is not continuous, it is a series of pulses. In between the pulses, there is no power being applied to the speaker, so when you average out the power over time, you can handle much more power.

What does this mean? Well you can exceed RMS Power for short periods of time, but not with a continuous signal. So if you play average music, you can usually run above RMS Power level quite happily in most instances, and with appropriate limiters in place, somewhere between RMS power and Music Power is generally a safe level. This is why I’m saying the Music Power is a useful benchmark – it helps determine amplifier power choice ‘roughly’ and is a good level to aim at to keep your drivers operating within safe parameters, if like most people, you try to push things just a little harder every now and then, you should still be fine, just as long as you don’t start treating music power as a long term continuous power rating, as you will almost certainly cause your speakers to fail if you do this.

Peak Power:

This is the maximum short term power that can be applied to the driver, and is typically calculated to be four time the RMS Power. I recommend you dont use Peak Power for anything except bragging to someone who doesnt know anything about sound.

Should I buy the most powerful speakers I can afford?

Probably not – It’s best to get speakers appropriate to your requirement. This is partly due to how speakers work. High power speakers are designed to have a high excursion (thats lots of cone movement) – in order to be able to handle the extra power, they typically have stiffer components, particularly with regard to the suspension. These high power speakers require a certain amount of power to overcome the mechanical resistances of the suspension. Comparing two extreme examples, of say a 100W speaker and a 1000W speaker running bass. The 100W speaker will have a low output for say, the first 5-10W put into it, once you are putting in 50W or so, the speaker will be at half its rated power, and will be (depending on sensitivity) fairly loud, ramp it up to 90-100W and the driver is giving all it can, potentially operating at its most efficient point. Lets suppose you only have a 100W amplifier, the 100W speaker will give you more output than the 1000W speaker. If you put your 1000W woofer on the end of your 100W amplifierm the first 40-50W of power will be used inefficiently, just to overcome the stiffness and resistance of the suspension, ramp it up to 100W, and you are still only tickling the 1000W woofer, you will find that you may need 200W running through the 1000W woofer to be as loud as the 100W woofer. As you keep ramping up the power, the 1000W woofer will ultimately create a lot more sound output than the 100W speaker ever will, but if you only have a small amplifier, you are better off with an appropriately matched driver.

So what if I exceed the power ratings?

You run the risk of overheating the voice coil of the speaker, and causing it to fail – but be careful – just keeping an driver within it’s recommended power rating is no guarantee of longevity. You also need to be away of excursion (often specified using Xmax and Xlim) as you can damage an driver through over-excursion without exceeding the power rating.

What about Power Compression?

Power compression is the little bugbear that can upset your best laid plans, and give you reason to throw the manufacturer’s specifications out the window. Many manufacturers choose to ignore power compression, some actively avoid specifying it or even mentioning it.

The sensitivity (efficiency) manufacturers specify is measured at a power level of 1W at a distance of 1m from the speaker. At 1W, very little heat is lost within the voice coil, so the driver is more effective at converting electricity into sound.

Its very common for loudspeaker voice coils to be wound from copper, which has a positive temperature co-efficient of +0.393% per degree C. It’s quite feasible for the voice coil of a high power speaker to reach 200 degrees Celsius, which could mean a change in the resistance of the wire to increase of 50% or more. Your 8 ohm driver will no longer be an 8 ohm driver, and the nominal impedance could rise to as high as 13 or 14 ohms. At full power, many drivers are no longer operating at their stated impedance, and they generating a lot of heat.

A good quality driver, with low power compression at its full rated power, could be 3-4 dB louder than a driver that suffers badly from power compression. Many modern designs are taking account of this, and making efforts to ensure driver cooling is maximised to counter the effects of power compression.










Be the first to comment

Power Compression

Posted By Andy Kos

When selecting speakers, it’s common for people to just look at maximum power handling, and many manufacturers make a point of specifying seemingly unbelievable power handling capacity of 1000W or more. Its quite rare for manufacturers to specify power compression though, and it seems to be often overlooked by system designers.

It seems that loudspeakers to handle what appear to be insanely high levels of power compared to 10 or 15 years ago. Has there been some amazing technological breakthrough? Do we need to re-write the physics text books? No, it’s still just basic physics – so what are the changes?

Firstly, modern materials used in the construction of voice coils are able to withstand significantly higher temperatures before failing.  Why is this important? Well Cone loudspeakers are in fact very inefficient, with even the best transducers only converting around 5% of the electrical energy supplied into sound, the majority of the remainder is converted into heat. So a 1000W bass speaker running at full power may well be converting only 50W into acoustic power, and 950W of heat. Thats like having a 1kw bar heater in your bassbin! That’s a lot of heat, which can cause big problems.

Aside from improving construction materials, manufacturers are also refining designs to maximise heat transfer away from the voice oil, this also contributes to the increases in power handling capacity we are experiencing.

What’s all this got to do with power compression?

Enabling speakers to handle much higher temperatures might seem a good thing, as it increases maximum power handling, but it also has a detrimental effect. Most voice coils are made from copper or aluminium wire, both of which have a positive temperature co-efficient of around 0.4% per °C. What’s the significance of that? You will have heard of superconductors, which operate at extremely low temperatures in order to try to reduce and minimise resistance.  Loudspeaker voice coils  unfortunately work in the opposite way: as the temperature increases, the resistance also increases.

A modern state of the art voice coil is designed to withstand extremely high temperatures, often operating at up to 3000C or more when driven at full power. 0.4% may sound insignificant, but remember this is per °C – at only 2300C the voice coil DC resistance has almost doubled which causes the voice coil impedance to increase accordingly. Some simple maths and you can quickly see that the increase in temperature  can make your 8 ohm speaker start behaving more like a 16 ohm speaker.

So after setting your sound system carefully at the start of the night, an hour in, and it doesn’t sound as loud – you might wonder whats going on. Two things: firstly, your ears have a self defence mechanism: there are 2 tiny muscles in the middle ear that will contract when the ear is exposed to loud sounds. This contraction will reduce the loudness of the sounds reaching the inner ear, thereby protecting the inner ear against exposure to loud noises. This isn’t power compression, but it’s something to be aware of, as you may well be tempted to turn up the volume, I know from experience that a typical DJ will certainly try this, and end up running his mixer into overdrive in the attempt to get more volume.

The second factor is power compression, a typical loudspeaker can lose 3-6 dB of volume once power compression kicks in.

You could think of power compression a bit like the aerodynamics of driving a car. When you start moving, a certain level of power from your engine sets you hurtling forwards at high speed, but as you go faster, wind resistance increases, so you stop accelerating. You need to apply more power to increase speed, but wind resistance keeps increasing too, so you have to apply even more power.

If your amplifiers have headroom, your instincts will make you want to turn them up, to restore the original volume level. To some extent this will work, if you’re familiar with the maths, you’ll see whats going on. Your 8 ohm speaker at room temperature happily accepts 1000W from your amplifier, and gradually reaches an operating temperature of say 250°C. Your resistance has doubled, and your ‘new’ 16 ohm speaker will probably only be receiving around 500W from your amplifier. In a way, as the speaker reaches temperature, it ‘protects itself’ by reducing the power it is operating at, stopping it getting any hotter. If it were to cool a little, the power would increase again, causing it to heat up.

Lets suppose you turn the gain up on your amplifiers, determined to try to push 1000W through your speakers. As you apply more power, you will generate more heat,  perhaps reaching 350°C or more, with your speakers resistance continuing to increase to perhaps 20 or more ohms. Essentially you are fighting a losing battle, as you turn the gain up, the speaker fights back with a higher resistance. You will eventually reach a limit, either your amp will run out of headroom and you cant turn it any louder, or the other possibility, which happens all too often, is your speaker will overheat, and burn out causing catastrophic failure.

Now you know about power compression and the fact that speaker resistance increases with heat, you’ll probably realise that you actually have to push a speaker very hard in order to cause it fail – so if your speaker suddenly fails and you smell burning, the only person to blame is YOU, as you now know better than to try to fight power compression by applying more power.

Now consider what effect power compression will have. 3-6dB loss at full operating power is almost like switching off half your PA system. To achieve the same consistent volume you will need twice as many speakers!

What’s the solution? Either buy speakers with headroom, e.g. if you want to operate at around 500-600W, you might want to consider purchasing speakers rated at 800W or more. At 75% of rated power, the effects of power compression should be much less significant. Also, try to select speakers with improved cooling technology, that suffer less from power compression. Avoiding power compression could make your speakers twice as loud, meaning you could take half as many to the gig!

There are other side effects from the increased levels of heat in a speaker, T/S parameters can vary, bass can sound boomy and mid frequencies can sound muffled. For the best sound quality, its best to try to  minimise power compression effects,



Impedance – FAQs

Posted By Andy Kos

How do I know what impedance load I have?

Most manufacturers will specify impedance, and will include it in the product specifications, often printing it on the speaker itself. If you don’t have this information, you can measure the DC resistance using a multi-meter (please note Resistance is NOT Impedance – find out why here: https://speakerwizard.co.uk/impedance-and-resistance-whats-the-difference/

You should only measure the resistance of speakers when they are not in use, and not connected to an amplifier. By putting your multi-meter probes on each terminal of the speaker you will get the DC resistance, which can be used as a guide to get the impedance. A DC resistance of 5-6 ohms is normal for a driver with 8 ohm impedance, around  12-13 ohms  is common for  a 16 ohm impedance driver, and  3 ohms DC resistance would be normal for a 4 ohm impedance. You may notice that moving the cone whilst checking the resistance will make the reading change, this is because the voice coil is moving in a magnetic field, which will induce a voltage in the  coil, which in turn will affect the multimeter’s measurement.

Many loudspeaker manufacturers will label the drivers to make identification easier, Eminence for example include a suffix on the drivers, for example the Beta12A is the standard model, and is 8 ohm impedance, the letter A designated 8 ohm impedance. The Beta 12B is 16 ohm impedance, and the Beta 12C is 4 ohm impedance. This same letter designation is used through the range of Eminence speakers.

I have more than one speaker in parallel – what’s the impedance?

First, let’s clarify what we mean by parallel, this is where the electrical paths through the drivers from + to – run in parallel to each other. If you trace a route from + to – you go through either one driver, or the other. The diagram below shows two speakers wired in parallel:


 To wire speakers in parallel, all you have to do is connect the + (positive or red terminal) on each speaker to the + (positive or red terminal) on your amplifier, and the corresponding – (minus or black terminal) on the speaker to the – (minus or black terminal) on your amplifier. If you plug several speakers into one amplifier, unless you have unusual cabling, this would be the standard way you would run several speakers off one amplifier.

Its normal to put speakers of the same impedance in parallel with each other, mismatching impedances isn’t a great idea unless you have a fairly advanced knowledge of speaker systems and are doing this for a specific purpose.

So what does this do to the impedance?

The impedance of each speaker stays the same, but the impedance load the amplifier sees will change. In the diagram above, if the two speakers were both 8 ohm impedance, the load the amplifier would see is 4 ohms. To think of this in simple terms, you could think of one loudspeaker as a busy road with a specific amount of traffic travelling along it, if you have two roads, the traffic can travel along either road, which presents less ‘resistance’ to the same amount of traffic. With a basic knowledge of maths, and using this analogy of two routes between start and finish, you can guess what the resistance of two parallel 8 ohm drivers would be, it’s half that of one 8 ohm driver, and is 4 ohms.

The formula for calculating parallel resistances is as follows:


R1, R2, R3, are the individual resistances, the formula works for as many, or as few resistances there are in parallel, for two drivers in parallel, you use R1 and R2 only, for three drivers you use R1, R2 and R3.

RT is the total parallel resistance. For equal parallel resistances, the formula becomes very simple, as the table of parallel 8 ohm impedances shows:

No drivers Parallel Impedance Fraction
1 8 ohms 1/1
2 4 ohms 1/2
3 2.6 ohms 1/3
4 2 ohms 1/4
5 1.6 ohms 1/5
6 1.3 ohms 1/6

As you can see, 3 drivers gives a combined parallel impedance of one third of the original impedance of 8 ohms, and 4 drivers gives a combined parallel impedance of one quarter of the original impedance.

Very few amplifiers will run happily into impedances below 2 ohms, and there is a strong possibility you can damage the amplifier by plugging too many speakers into it. Some amplifiers will not work safely below 4 ohms, so it’s quite important to ensure you have the correct load on your amplifier.

How do I wire speakers in series?

The term series where things are arranged in sequence implies how you would arrange speakers in series, as per the diagram below you can see that the positive (+) terminal of the first speaker is connected  to the positive (+) of the amplifier as normal, but the negative  (-) terminal goes the the positive terminal of the second speaker. The last speaker in the series has it’s negative (-) terminal connected to the negative (-) terminal of the amplifier.


Series impedances work opposite to parallel, going back to the comparison with traffic, if your busy road has traffic lights in it, every extra set of traffic lights adds more resistance to traffic flow. In the same way, each loudspeaker in series adds to the impedance. To calculate the total impedance, simply add together the individual impedances, as shown in the table below. In most instances, its rare to have more than 2 drivers wired in series, as the increase in impedance will mean most amplifiers are able to deliver very little power to the drivers.

No drivers Series Impedance
1 8 ohms
2 16 ohms
3 24 ohms
4 32 ohms

 If we get less power, what’s the point of connecting drivers in series?

If you just have one pair of speakers, there isn’t much point, but it gets interesting when you have multiples of speakers. If for example you have four speakers, that are 8 ohms, and you want to run all four speakers off one amplifier, you could wire all four in parallel, to give a 2 ohm load, or all 4 in series to get a 32 ohm load. But what if your amplifier wont work below 4 ohms?

The solution is simple, a series-parallel combination:



Assuming all drivers are 8 ohms, some simple maths and you can see that each of the two series combinations has an impedance of 16 ohms. Two 16 ohm impedances in parallel have an overall impedance of 8 ohms. What this allows you to do is use four speakers where you would previously have only used one, giving you a significant increase in power handling.

Variations of series-parallel configurations are common in guitar speakers,  4 x10″ and 4 x 12″ cabinets are common, with different wiring to suit specific applications and impedance requirement. Many guitar cabinets utilise 16 ohm drivers in order to achieve the desired results.

Its sometimes advised that its best to avoid using series configurations with speakers, due to the fact that that you have two coils or inductors which can induce unwanted voltage and cause distortion. Series configurations are rarely used in hifi or studio systems.








1 Comment. Join the Conversation

Why does my 8 ohm speaker read 6 ohms when I measure it on a multimeter? It must be faulty right?


I’ve heard this so many times I’ve lost count, but there is a difference between impedance and resistance. When you measure resistance with a multimeter you are measuring DC resistance. The DC resistance is determined by the copper (or sometimes aluminium) wire in the voice coil of the speaker, and is actually as the name suggests; resistance to the passage of electric current through the copper. The key point here is that the electrical current travels in one direction only, and is fixed and does not change.

Impedance is equivalent to resistance, but for circuits where the voltage and current change, such as in a loudspeaker. An extra factor comes into play, which is the fact the the loudspeaker is based on a coil of wire. This coil of wire acts as an inductor. Without getting too involved in the science part of this, its sufficent to know the inductor creates an additional ‘reactance’ to alternating signals, which when added to the DC resistance of the voice coil, gives the overall Impedance.

To complicate matters further, the Impedance varies with frequency, so the 8 ohms specified for loudspeakers is not totally accurate, it is referred to as ‘nominal impedance’ – a kind of ‘average’ impedance figure that can be used for typical calculations involving loudspeakers. The graph below show a typical 18″ subwoofer, the impedance is shown on the scale on the left hand side.


For purposes of being able to run your own sound system, or building your own speakers, it’s sufficient to accept the manufacturer’s quoted impedance as being correct for your application. You don’t need to be concerned with the finer points of impedance unless you get into more serious aspects of speaker design, and if you’re at that level, I highly doubt you will have bothered read this far, as you will know all of this already!


Be the first to comment

Thiele Small Parameters

Posted By Andy Kos

The Thiele Small Parameters (often referred to as T/S Parameters) are provided in specification sheets by most manufacturers – but what are they for? If you read through the section on parameters you’ll get a more detailed explanation on the significance of each parameter, but put simply they are a set of parameters which define the electromechanical properties of the loudspeaker driver, which are a measure of how it behaves electrically, and mechanically.

Once you understand some of the basics of the Thiele Small parameters, you will know what to look for when it comes to choosing a loudspeaker driver. If you’re not interested in the nitty gritty, then it’s probably sufficient to be aware that the parameters are normally used when it comes to doing simulations of loudspeaker behaviour for purposes of optimising cabinet design.

For those of you who are keen to understand a little more about these parameter, you should find almost everything you need to know in this section.

The following are small signal mechanical parameters, and are measured at small signal levels

Since the above characteristics are not always easy to measure, it is often easier to measure other parameters, and derive any missing parameters from those that are available. Other parameters, known as small signal parameters, are as follows:

Large signal parameters, listed below, are used when predicting driver behaviour at high power levels:




BL: The product of magnet field strength in the voice coil gap and the length of wire in the magnetic field, in tesla-metres (T·m)

Unless you’re getting into more advanced levels of speaker cabinet design, the motor strength isn’t normally something you need to worry about too much. To some extent, it’s safe to assume that the manufacturer will have set the motor strength appropriately for the design of the driver, but it will still be useful to have a basic understanding of this parameter, and it’s significance.

Put simply, the motor strength (BL) is a measure of how strong the magnetic field within the voice coil gap (B) multiplied by the length of voice coil that is active in the magnetic field (L). For a more detailed explanation, with diagrams, please see the article on Xmax: https://speakerwizard.co.uk/driver-ts-parameters-xmax/ which includes diagrams of the magnet structure, and magnetic fields.

With standard ferrite magnets, a stronger magnetic field is generally achieved with a bigger magnet. The bigger the magnet, the heavier the magnet. The heavier the magnet is, the stronger the chassis needs to be, and you’ll also need to ensure strong glue to bond the magnet to the top plate, and the back plate.   Increasing the magnet size and chassis strength will make the driver more expensive, but don’t let a big magnet fool you, this  isn’t necessarily a sign of a high quality premium speaker though, I’ve seen a number of drivers with big magnets that are not much use for anything other than picking up nails off the floor.

In order to keep weight down, neodymium magnets have become more common, these have the ability to generate very strong magnetic fields from surprisingly small, light magnets. Using a neodymium magnet on a driver can have a massive impact on the overall driver weight, which is becoming quite desirable for small portable systems. You will have to pay for the privilege though, as neodymium magnets are often significantly more expensive that ferrite.

Don’t forget that BL is also dependent on the length of wire in the magnetic field, so the height of the magnetic gap will also affect the BL product. If you’ve read the article about Xmax you’ll hopefully start to realise that there are a number of loudspeaker parameters that are dependent on each other. The voice coil design will have an impact on the Xmax, and since BL takes into consideration the length of wire, it will also impact on BL.  The diameter of the voice coil and  the gauge of wire used (how thick the wire is) will have a very direct impact on the length of wire in the magnetic field. Beyond that, it’s also possible to have multiple layers of wire on the voice coil, and many modern drivers utilise inside-outside wound voice coils, where wire is wound and glued to the inside of the voice coil as well as the outside.

So what does the BL number actually mean? The figure is given in Tesla Meters, and you will find the following ‘definition’ in various places online:

BL: Think of this as how good a weightlifter the transducer is. A measured mass is applied to the cone forcing it back while the current required for the motor to force the mass back is measured. The formula is mass in grams divided by the current in amperes. A high BL figure indicates a very strong transducer that moves the cone with authority!

Personally I think that is a little too simplistic, but it’s sufficient for someone with casual interest to get a handle on some of the key TS Parameter.

To help put things into context, a high BL figure would be considered 30 or higher. A driver with a BL in this range will exhibit very price cone control. A low BL figure would be 20 or less, a driver with a low BL will be significantly less able to control the cone accurately.

Depending on your application, you may still be wondering why you should care about BL? If you are planning on building a horn loaded bass bin, or scoop bin, a high BL is pretty much essential, you wont get away with just chucking any old driver into the cabinet and get the right results. If you consider that in most horn loaded applications you are having to compress air, you want a driver that exhibits a high force to achieve this compression, a strong motor makes this possible.

In other applications, if you were to make a listening comparison between a high BL driver with a low BL driver, you would find the high BL driver will sound much tighter and more accurate. Generally for live music applications this type of sound is preferred as it will more accurately reproduce the instrument sounds. Low BL driver can sound ‘woolly’ or ‘muddy’ because the cone does not respond to transients as quickly, and has the potential to introduce some distortion. Some people prefer this sound as it can give a warmer bass sound.

High BL drivers are generally needed for high power bass applications, where a large heavy cone is used. High BL drivers are usually more efficient, as the higher motor strength equates to more pushing power. For mid-range drivers, it is normal to use a much lighter cone, and a high BL is not necessarily needed, but can contribute to a more accurate response.

High BL drivers make it possible to use smaller sealed boxes in some designs, because the motor strength is so high, the restoring force of the air in the box, and the suspension of the driver, are small in comparison, making them relatively insignificant.

High BL causes high electromagnetic damping, and in some cases this is undesirable, in fact with reflex boxes it can cause problems with the reflex ports being under-damped and requiring modification, often with bass reflex designs a slightly lower BL is more appropriate to get a more balanced result.

We’ll discuss BL and voice coil geometry more in another article.


If you’re comparing drivers in detail, it will help to understand some of the more intricate TS Parameters, as over time it will help you differentiate between different drivers and identify which applications they are more suited for.

For example, for a high power 18″ horn loaded bass bin, you will probably be looking for a driver with a high BL, and also a good strong cone. A strong cone will generally also be a heavier cone, so you’ll be looking for a driver with a relatively heavy cone.

For a 12″ mid driver, that wont be doing any bass, but mainly focused on vocal reproduction you will want a driver with a precise response, and a light cone.

Mmd is the mass of the moving parts of the driver;  the diaphragm, dust dome and voice coil. The diaphragm is the paper cone in a standard speaker. The voice coil includes the former and the copper wire.  Most definitions online for Mmd seem to just be copies of each other, citing that the surround and spider are included in the moving mass. A bit of further research has suggested that only part of the mass of the spider and surround should be included, as the outside edge of the surround, and the outside edge of the spider are both glued to the chassis, and therefore DO NOT MOVE.

Mms is commonly used in loudspeaker modelling software. It is Mmd plus the ‘air load’. The air load is the air just in front, and just behind the speaker cone that will tend to move back and forth with the cone. It’s just a few grams of air, but for mathematical modelling of speaker performance, needs to be added in. A larger cone will have a larger air load.

Mms is used to calculate other TS Parameters, such as Qes and Qms.

There is one final significant point with regard to the Mms, and that is the relationship to Fs  (Free Air resonance). A heavier cone generally has a lower resonant frequency, a lighter cone will generally have a higher resonant frequency. The other factor in the equation is  Cms which is a measure of the suspension compliance. The formula which connects Fs to Mms is as follows:


Click here to read more about Thiele Small Parameters: Fs (Free Air Resonance)

We’ve mentioned this before, and just to hammer the point home here, you really, really should be aware now that all driver parameters are dependent on each other. The fact that cone weight, voice coil geometry, magnet strength, cone stiffness all interact and affect each other in both positive and negative ways means that any speaker design always has some compromises. Some might call this optimisation – a driver specifically designed for the best sub-bass response will sacrifice mid and upper bass response.

To get lower frequencies for better bass, you will use a heavier stiffer cone. Whilst in theory, for lower resonant frequency you can keep increasing the cone mass, the drawback often be lower efficiency, and to counter  this you need a stronger magnet, and also a longer voice coil for better motor strength. Its unsurprising that in many instances, a compromise is settled on, which balances efficiency, resonant frequency, and cost.

To improve the mid range response of a driver, you would look at making the cone lighter, but that would potentially increase the resonant frequency, fine for mid-range drivers, not so good for subwoofers. As with most things in life, you can’t have your cake and eat it, and the only way to cover the whole frequency range more effectively is to use different drivers optimised for specific tasks.

Cms is a measure of the suspension compliance. Compliance is the opposite of stiffness. A driver with a stiff cone suspension will have a low Cms, and a driver with a ‘loose’ cone suspension will have a higher Cms.

Vas is known as the compliance equivalent volume, and is specified in litres. Cms is proportional to Vas, a higher Cms will mean a higher Vas, but what does the Vas figure actually represent?

You could think of the stiffness of the suspension as providing a restoring force that brings the cone back to it’s central ‘neutral’ position. If you were to gently push the dust dome of a driver with your fingertips, one with a stiff suspension would push back harder than one with a loose suspension.

Imagine a situation where you have an imaginary driver  mounted in a sealed box, with an infinitely compliant suspension – ie a suspension that offers no resistance whatsoever to movement. If you were to push the driver cone back into the box, the cone moving back into the box would compress the air inside the box slightly, and when you release the driver cone, the air would push back to restore the cone to its original position. In a box with a small volume, the air would compress more, pushing back harder. As the box size increases, the same distance of movement of the cone will compress the air inside the box less, resulting in a smaller restoring force to push the cone back to it’s original position.

The Vas measurement in litres is the size of the ‘imaginary’ box described above, which has exactly the same restoring force as the suspension of the driver. Cms and Vas are effectively two different ways of describing exactly the same thing, the main reason for converting Cms to Vas is that Vas fits into a lot of formulae better, and allows easier modelling of driver performance.

Air temperature, air pressure and humidity can have a significant effect on Vas measurements, and it is quite common for variations of up to +/- 20% from published specifications. This is a combination of differences of measurement environment, and manufacturing tolerances.

Vas can be used for determining optimum box size for sealed speaker boxes (ie. NOT vented).

If your sealed box is too small, the when the driver cone moves backwards into the box, compressing the air inside the box, the restoring force will be higher than optimal, causing the driver to move back out a little too quickly and potentially gain too much speed, and overshoot, causing it to go further out of the box than it should do. On the return journey, the rarefaction of the air inside the box will pull the cone in too fast, potentially causing it to go in too far. This is known as underdamping, when the movement of the cone gets exaggerated and increased instead of being controlled. This is undesirable as it causes distortion, and potentially affects the cooling of the voice coil

If your sealed box is too big, the air inside the box will will slow the driver from returning to it’s central rest position rather than help it, this can make the box overdamped. Many people consider being slightly overdamped as the best option, as it gives a more accurate sound, but it will often reduce the output volume.

For Bass speakers, critical damping, or ‘perfect’ damping is often what is sought after, this gives the best compromise, where the air inside the box helps restore the driver to it’s natural position, but not too much, and not too little, but just right. A speaker box with a Q of 0.707 is generally regarded as perfectly damped, you could think of this as the Goldilocks Q, where it’s ‘just right’.

The ratio of Vas to box volume = (Qtc/Qts)2 – 1 : 1

Qtc is the desired Q of the speaker, let’s assume we are aiming for a Qtc of 0.7

Qts is the total Q of the driver, available from the manufacturer’s specification sheet. For purposes of some simple maths, let’s use an imaginary driver with a Qts of 0.35.

0.7/0.35 = 2 and 2 squared=4

So our formula gives:(4-1):1 or 3:1

If Vas for our imaginary driver was 180 litres, we would make our box 60 litres to achieve a Qtc of 0.7

Its not unusual to see boxes with a Qtc of up to 1.1, higher Qtc of around 1 is slightly underdamped and will cause a peak in bass response around the resonant frequency, giving the impression of a better bass response. In reality you will be sacrificing deep bass response for upper bass response, and with reduced sound quality and less control of the driver, increasing cone excursion and the possibility of over-excursion.

You may also find the formula written as

Qtc = Qts X (Square Root((Vas / Vb) + 1))

The results are the same, just the formula has been re-arranged. Vb is the box volume. Some people prefer to use Vc for closed box, and Vb for reflex box. As a general rule of thumb, drivers with a high Vas prefer a bigger box to get the best results, and you should take this into consideration when choosing the driver for your application.

The formulae here are for sealed boxes only, bass reflex boxes require different calculations which we will cover elsewhere.



The loudspeaker’s resonant frequency (often listed as Fs on spec sheets) is the frequency at which the driver’s cone and voice coil will tend to move easily. You’ve probably seen footage on TV of a bridge in the US wobbling around and tearing itself apart due to the wind causing the bridge to move at its resonant frequency – in case you haven’t, take a look here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-zczJXSxnw

The resonant frequency is influenced by the weight of the cone and voice coil (sometimes referred to as the moving mass) and the stiffness of the parts that return the cone to it’s central natural rest position. If you were to apply a sine wave signal to the speaker outside of a cabinet,  the speaker cone’s movement back and forth from rest position (known as excursion) will be significantly more at the resonant frequency than at higher frequencies.

Just as in the instance of the bridge being ripped apart at it’s resonant frequency, care has to be taken to avoid damaging your speaker. We wont get into the finer points of this here, but it’s something to be aware of, and you should be aware that many speaker designs recommend the use of a High Pass Filter, typically a little lower than the resonant frequency of the driver being used. Cabinet design can influence the recommended HPF, as for example in Bass Reflex Designs, the tuning of the reflex port reduces cone excursion at the resonant frequency, but can have the side effect of allowing increased excursion below the resonant frequency. The purpose of the HPF is to keep the driver operating within a frequency range that does not allow excessive excursion – without the HPF it is possible to damage your speakers through excursion without exceeding the power handling capacity of the speaker. However, if you set the HPF incorrectly, it is possible to reduce excursion too much, and since most woofers rely on the movement of the cone to push air through the voice coil vents, you do need to maintain excursion to keep air moving.

Its generally a safe bet for most designs to assume your driver wont be able to effectively product frequencies below it’s resonant frequency, and from a simplistic point of view, using a HPF just above the driver’s resonant frequency is a good way to stop your drivers being ripped apart from over-excursion.

A driver with a resonant frequency of say 50Hz will not be effective at sub-bass in the 30Hz region, so would be a poor choice for this application. A driver with a resonant frequency of 30Hz would probably work well from 33 Hz upwards, subject to an appropriate cabinet design, so could be used for sub-bass. Certain speaker designs (such as horn loaded speakers) work a little differently, and different results can be achieved.

However, if you are replacing an existing driver in a Ported Bass Reflex cabinet (one of the most common types), it’s generally a good idea to choose a replacement with a similar resonant frequency. The original speaker cabinet would have been tuned to match the driver, and putting in a significantly different driver will result in a mismatch, resulting in less than optimal performance, which in serious cases can result in premature failure of a driver due to over-excursion.

For serious sub-bass applications, the lower the Fs, the better. For mid-range, the resonant frequency of a cone driver is often irrelevant, as the operating frequency range will usually be significantly higher than the resonant frequency.

In compression drivers, the resonant frequency needs to be taken note of. Its normal to use compression drivers well above their resonant frequency, a typical 1″ exit compression driver would have a resonant frequency of 500-600Hz, and it’s normal to specify the minimum operating frequency an octave higher, which would be 1000-1200Hz. At it’s resonant frequency, the diaphragm on the compression driver will naturally move a lot more than normal, in a compression driver this can be catastrophic, as the metal dome on the compression driver can hit the front of the housing, and cause the diaphragm to shatter. Keeping an octave above the resonant frequency ensures the compression driver’s diaphragm stays within relatively low excursion limits.

It’s possible to damage diaphragms with bass and mid frequencies quite easily, it is for this reason that it’s common to put in a 1st order high pass filter ( a single capacitor) in series with a compression driver when it is used in an active system. This protects against accidental erroneous connection to the wrong amplifier, and it’s good practise to do this if your system has numerous connectors which look similar.

Once you start looking at the Thiele Small Parameters, you will start to become aware that speaker parameters all interact.  The formula which for Fs is as follows:


Cms is a measure of the suspension (surround and spider) compliance. Compliance is the inverse of stiffness. High stiffness is low compliance. Low stiffness is high compliance. Stiffer suspension will make the resonant frequency higher, looser suspension will make the resonant frequency lower.

Mms is the mass of the moving parts of the driver, including ‘air load’. A heavier cone will have a lower resonant frequency, and a lighter cone will have a higher resonant frequency.

You can read more about Mms here: https://speakerwizard.co.uk/driver-ts-parameters-mmd-mms/.

Driver TS Parameters: Xmax

Posted By Andy Kos

Possibly one of the most misunderstood parameters, most people know Xmax concerns driver excursion, but dont really know  precisely what it means, and it is probably the name that confuses people, as it is slightly misleading.

We’re used to  letters X and Y denoting dimensions, and in this case, X does relate to a dimension, it’s to do with the distance a loudspeaker’s voice coil travels back and forth, so it’s all good so far – but the ‘max’ is what throws people. Its natural to assume max means maximum, and the conclusion most people reach is that X max means maximum excursion in dimension X, which is nearly right. What’s missing is the word linear. Xmax is generally regarded as maximum linear excursion – but what exactly does that mean?

Let’s look at a simplistic way of how Xmax is often calculated (this applies to overhung voice coils – which is most common in high power loudspeakers)

The Formula is: (HVC – HG) / 2

Where HVC is the Height of the Voice Coil, and  HG is the Height of the magnetic Gap.

To understand this we need to look at how the components of a loudspeaker fit together, this is a simplified cross-sectional diagram of a common loudspeaker.


Cross-sectional diagram of a typical loudspealer

Cross-sectional diagram of a typical loudspealer


Now, let’s look in more detail at the area around the voice coil, we’ve removed the right hand part of the voice coil to make the diagram clearer.


Voice coil in magnetic field, showing Xmax and Magnetic Gap Height

Voice coil in magnetic field, showing Xmax and Magnetic Gap Height


You can probably now see why Xmax is often referred to as Voice Coil Overhang. It’s the amount by which the voice coil overhangs the magnetic gap, but why is this significant?

Let’s take a closer look at the static magnetic fields in a loudspeaker. These are the fields generated by the magnet, rather than the fields generated by the voice coil.

Magnet structure and magnetic flux (simplified)

Magnet structure and magnetic flux (simplified)

This is a simplified diagram, intended to show the most significant path of magnetic flux. There will also be stray flux outside the speaker, and inside the air gap between the magnet and pole piece, and in a real speaker, the field lines are unlikely to quite as uniform as in the above diagram, but it should be sufficient to see the general principle of how the magnetic field is acting.  The permanent magnet has a north pole at one end, and a south pole at the other. Depending on the speaker manufacturer, it’s normal for the pole piece to become the ‘north pole’ and the top plate to become the south pole. The shape of the top plate, and pole piece helps focus the magnetic flux, and you will notice the lines of flux are closest together in the magnetic gap – where the voice coil would normally be.

Since ferrous materials are much more magnetically permeable than air, by a factor of about 400.  Magnetic flux will tend to take the route of least resistance, in much the same way as electricity does, this will mean the magnetix flux  will tend to want to travel through the metal parts of the speaker. Where it reaches the gap it will continue to go down the route of least resistance, which in this case will be the shortest distance through the air, ie straight across the gap. The flux is squeezed together across the gap, causing the flux to flow in parallel lines across the gap, creating a uniform, linear magnetic field.

Traditionally Xmax was calculated mathematically using the simplistic formula mentioned earlier, this is because many earlier speaker designs used relatively weak magnets, and it was assumed that the magnetic field would drop off very significantly just above or just below the gap, and would be of little or no use.

When you pass electrical current through the voice coil, it will create its own electromagnetic field, which will push against the magnetic flux in the voice coil gap, causing the voice coil to move. If you keep driver excursion within Xmax, there will always be the same height of voice coil within the gap. The diagrams below show the maximum excursion in each direction to keep within mathematically calculated Xmax. Since the magnetic field in the gap should be linear and uniform, and the height of voice coil within the gap remaining constant, mathematical models can be created to predict driver behaviour. Working outside Xmax will cause those mathematical models to become inaccurate, as well as potentially introducing distortion and other poor performance.


Maximum back excursion

Maximum back excursion

Maximum forward Excursion

Maximum forward Excursion


Moving the voice coil  any further up or down in either direction, as in the diagrams below, would cause the height of the voice coil that is within the magnetic gap to become shorter, shown by the red arrows.  You can clearly see this is less than the Gap Height. Less Voice Coil in the magnetic gap, means less pushing force moving the cone, which is where the non-linear behaviour starts, hence the term maximum linear excursion. The cone will still move, but it will no longer be optimal performance.


Xmax exceeded

Xmax exceeded

Xmax exceeded

Xmax exceeded


It is becoming increasingly common to use stronger magnets in modern designs, which can sometimes mean that useful magnetic flux (although slightly weaker) will also be present just outside the gap, and magnetic field strength may still be acceptable in this area. Depending on the magnet strength, and other factors,  Xmax  when consider to be a measure of maximum linear excursion can actually be 25%-40% larger than mathematically calculated Voice Coil Overhang.

So when you are comparing one brand of driver to another, you need to be aware that the Xmax figures may be calculated differently, and a driver with a specified Xmax of 7mm from one manufacturer (using Voice Coil Overhang) could in fact have a very similar performance to one from another manufacturer with an Xmax of 10mm, who has perhaps used a different mathematical model and/or tolerance to determine the limit of linear excursion.

The best solution may be to determine Xmax by measurement rather than simple maths, and there is a growing trend towards using Klippel Analysis to determine Xmax more accurately, the driver is progressively driven to high levels at low frequencies, and Xmax is determined by measuring excursion at a level where 10% THD is measure in the output. This is believed to better represent actual driver performance, however is quite time consuming, and can be difficult to measure, consequently many manufacturers do not bother.


What is the significance of Xmax?

Cone excursion is related to loudness, especially with deep bass frequencies in a bass reflex cabinets. To reproduce bass frequencies at high volume you need to move a lot of air, and to move that air your speaker cone needs to move a lot. A bass driver with a low Xmax will generally not be designed to reproduce bass frequencies at high power, as it simply can not move enough to do the job. There is an exception to this in horn loaded bass cabinets, where excursion can be restricted, and Xmax may be less critical, depending on the design.

Will exceeding Xmax damage the speaker?

Not necessarily, some manufacturers will also specify Xlim or Xdamage which is the maximum mechanical excursion before damage is expected, this can often be double Xmax. The two will often be related, a driver with a large Xmax designed for long excursion, will usually be designed such that Xlim is proportional to Xmax. Xlim is often regarded as maximum mechanical excursion, as this is the point where you will cause mechanical damage if you exceed this, most commonly with the end of the voice coil hitting the back of the speaker and damaging the voice coil former:

Exceeding Xmax

You can in most instances exceed Xmax without causing mechanical damage to the voice coil, however you should take note that exceeding Xmax can reduce the power handling due to detrimental effects on voice coil cooling.

Depending on the driver design, other things to consider when exceeding Xmax is the mechanical stresses on the speaker components, such as the spider, and where the spider joins the cone and coil former. There is potentially a large force acting on these components, stretching and pulling them beyond their designed limits. Whilst you can often exceed design parameters a little without causing damage, it would not be a sensible idea to exceed Xmax significantly as you will reduce the useful working life of your speaker.