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How to choose a crossover

Send the right signal to your speakers and tweeters

Morel MXT380C

Morel MXT380C 3-way crossover

A crossover is an electronics device that takes a single input signal and creates two or three output signals consisting of separated bands of high-, mid-, and low-range frequencies. The different bands of frequencies feed the different speakers, or “drivers,” in a sound system: tweeters, woofers, and subwoofers.

Think of a crossover network as an audio traffic cop, directing highs to your tweeters, midrange to your woofers, and low bass to your sub.

Without a crossover, a messy, sonic "traffic jam" results. Your midrange and sub duplicate too many of the same frequencies and your sub wastes time trying to put out high notes it wasn't meant to handle. A "fatal pile-up" could also occur, with your tweets being destroyed by some renegade tractor-trailer of a bass note thumping along in the wrong audio lane.

Because they're essential, you'll find crossovers in some form almost any time speakers are present. For instance, if your home stereo uses a pair of 2-way bookshelf speakers, it uses 2-way crossovers (inside the speaker boxes). Within each crossover, a high-pass filter blocks the lows but passes the high frequency notes to the tweeter, while a low-pass filter blocks the highs and passes low frequency notes on to the woofer.

Sound Ordnance P-67CB component system

Sound Ordnance P-67CB component system: woofers, tweeters, and crossovers

The crossover “networks” of coaxial, full-range car speakers are usually built into the speakers, and often consist of small electrical components like coils or capacitors. Crossovers for 3-way systems, those systems utilizing tweeters, midrange drivers, and subwoofers, include, besides high- and low-pass filters, “bandpass” filters which play frequencies between two points by utilizing both a high-pass and low-pass in the same filter network. So, for example you could have a midrange driver only playing 100 Hz to 2500 Hz.

Active or passive?

There are two basic kinds of crossovers: active and passive. Passive crossovers don’t need power to filter the signal as desired. Active crossovers require power and ground connections, but give you much more flexibility and fine-tuning control over your music.

Active systems

A sound system is termed “active” when each driver (tweeter, woofer, sub) has its own channel of amplification. This dramatically increases the available power, dynamic range (softest to loudest sounds), and your control of the system’s tonal response over the whole audio spectrum.

AudioControl EQX

AudioControl EQX active EQ and crossover

An active crossover gets wired between the receiver and amplifier and cuts out the unwanted frequencies before the amp wastes energy boosting them, so the amp can focus on only the frequencies you want to hear. Active crossovers usually have volume controls on every channel or pair of channels so you can keep all the “voices” of the different drivers in balance. Some active crossovers include other sound-processing features like equalization for further tweaking of the sound to your personal satisfaction.

The only potential disadvantage of an active crossover is that since it requires +12V, ground, and turn-on connections, it presents more of a challenge to install and set up than a passive crossover. But with a little time and care this shouldn't be a problem, and the rewards and advantages of an active crossover make it clear why you'll find one in virtually every competition-level car audio system. Likewise, stereo systems tuned for high-quality sound will make use of crossovers in order to keep the speakers playing clean and clear.

Passive crossovers

A passive crossover doesn’t need to get hooked up to a power source to work. There are two kinds of passive crossovers: component crossovers that connect between the amplifier and speakers, and in-line crossovers that fit in between the receiver and the amp.

Component crossovers

Passive component crossovers step into the signal path after the amplifier. They’re small networks of capacitors and coils usually installed near the speakers. Component speaker systems come with their crossovers set for optimum performance, and they are simple to install and set up. A full-range signal exits the amplifier and goes to the passive crossover which separates the signal into two parts and sends the high notes to the tweeter and the mid and low notes to the woofer. Most passive component crossovers have optional settings that let you turn down the tweeter some if it seems too loud for the woofer.

Focal Performance PS 165AS crossover

Crossover for a Focal Performance PS 165AS component system

Since it is filtering a signal that has already been amplified, a passive crossover wastes power, releasing the unwanted parts of the amplified signal as heat. Also, speakers actually change their impedances when playing which also changes a passive crossover’s crossover point, or frequency response, leading to inconsistent sound definition, especially around the vocal regions. (This is another advantage to using an active crossover, which is unaffected by speaker impedance.)

In-line crossover

Besides passive crossovers that operate on speaker-level signals and connect between your amp and your speaker components, there are also in-line crossovers that connect before the amplifier. They look like little cylinders with RCA connectors on each end and simply plug into your amplifier’s inputs. In-line crossovers make sure your amplifiers don’t waste energy amplifying signals you don’t want — like high frequencies to a subwoofer amp. Installing an in-line crossover is a great and inexpensive way to sharpen the sounds of your system, especially in a component speaker system.

Crutchfield Bass Blockers

Crutchfield Bass Blockers in-line crossovers

In-line crossovers each come set to a specific frequency and can’t be adjusted. Another disadvantage of using in-line crossovers is that they react differently to different amplifiers, possibly changing their crossover points unpredictably.

For future upgrades and expansion, go active

If you plan on expanding your system in the future, it's wisest to go with a separate outboard crossover, instead of relying on the ones built into your receiver and amplifier. While these built-in crossovers work well, they don't offer the total system control of an outboard unit. Also, if you ever upgrade your amp, you don't have to give up your crossover.

Tuning your system

Varying your crossover points is one approach to "tuning" your speakers. You can expect this adjustability from just about any active crossover. Setting crossover points also helps define the overall tonality of your system.

Setting your low-pass filter above 100 Hz gives you the type of boom many rap fans are looking for, while pushing it down to 80 Hz tightens up your bass and improves front soundstaging. Because each output channel on an active crossover usually has its own level control, you can even use this component to compensate for varying efficiency or sensitivity ratings among your speakers.

Stereo 3-way crossover

How a stereo 3-way crossover fits into a system

Let there be music

Let's look at an example. Take a simple three-way crossover network:

  • lowpass filter with a crossover point at 80 Hz;
  • highpass filter with a crossover point at 3,000 Hz;
  • bandpass filter with a low crossover point at 80 Hz and a high crossover point at 3,000 Hz.

You hop into your ride, slip in a CD and suddenly a hefty dose of unadulterated Dave Matthews Band is headed straight for your speakers. The lowpass cleans up Carter Beauford's kick drum and the low notes on Stefan Lessard's bass, and passes these tones below 80 Hz to your subwoofer system.

Meanwhile, your highpass sends cymbal crashes and acoustic guitar harmonics to your tweeter, while limiting frequencies below 3,000 Hz. And Dave's vocals, Boyd Tinsley's violin, and other sounds between 80 and 3,000 Hz find their way through the bandpass crossover to your midrange drivers.

The crossover assigns the proper frequencies and levels to the various speakers in your vehicle, the pieces of the sonic puzzle fit together perfectly, and DMB sounds righteous. It's all good.

Get Everything You Need

You'll need patch cables and power wires to connect an active crossover.
Check out all of the crossovers and other sound processors available at Crutchfield.

  • Ray from Denver, CO.

    Posted on 1/6/2022

    So if I were to put an active crossover into my system and I have a low pass filter on my mono subwoofer amp and high pass filters on my 4 channel amp for my other speakers, what do I do with the settings on the amps, set them all the way up? That way the amps are able to output full range and the crossover does all the work?

    Commenter image

    Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    on 1/7/2022

    Ray, If you install an aftermarket crossover, use that for all the system's frequency control. You should not use more than one crossover or EQ in a signal path at the same time. The reason is that something called phase distortion will generate around each crossover point, muddying up the sound.
  • Waqas Tariq

    Posted on 1/1/2022

    Hello Buck, I had previously installed component speakers and tweeters with 2-way passive crossovers in my car. Now the problem is due to some water leakage inside my car door my crossover is damaged and doesn't work anymore. Now I want to buy a pair of aftermarket 2-way crossover for my components and my question is how to choose the ones that suits them perfectly and is it the power or frequency of my components I should match the crossover with? Excuse me if I sound silly I'm new to all this.

    Commenter image

    Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    on 1/4/2022

    Waqas, Crutchfield carries a selection of passive crossovers, a pair of which may work as a replacement for your damaged ones. Give us a call, so an Advisor can help you get the right ones for your particular component set.
  • Trilla225 from Bolingbrook

    Posted on 10/24/2021

    Hi my question is if I purchase 4 midrange woofers/loudspeakers and run them on a Pioneer 4 channel and a separate sub running on a different amp, would I need crossovers?

    Commenter image

    Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    on 10/25/2021

    Trilla, All car amplifiers feature built-in crossover filters that will work to control the different frequencies going to speakers and subs.
  • Jim Allen from Queens, NY

    Posted on 10/23/2021

    Hello, Buck. I want to bi-amp my Eminent Technology LFT 8b speakers. Each speaker has two sets of binding posts - one for midrange and the other for bass. Currently, I have my tube Carver Crimson 75 wpc power amp connected to the midrange and my trusty old Parasound HC 1200 SS connected to the bass. The internal crossovers in the speakers have not been been disturbed. Bruce Thigpin, who designed the speakers, said such a set up is fine as long as one of the amps have gain control which the Parasound does. Would I get higher fidelity if I used an active crossover. High / Low crossover would be 180Hz (6dB octave) Is there an active crossover that can do this? Would it make a difference or would it be redundant since the speakers already have their internal crossovers? I am not technically astute enough to do anything with the internal crossovers. Thank you so much!

    Commenter image

    Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    on 10/25/2021

    Jim, Those speakers are designed to work best using their own built-in crossovers. Adding another crossover would just introduce distortion in the form of phase problems around the frequencies of the crossover points.
  • Chuck69 from NEW ORLEANS

    Posted on 6/2/2021

    Hi.....i want to build a superior SQ 3-way system (front and rear) in my 2012 VW Passat B7. Equipment is 1 CT Sounds at-125.4, at-60.4, and a at-500.1 for the subs. Drivers are 4 Morel virtus 602's, 4 Morel ccwr254 2.5" midranges, and 4 Morel mt-120 tweeters. Subs will be 2 Morel Primo 804's. Can anyone tell me what type of active crossover i will need for this setup? BTW, i prefer the crossover brand to be a Audiocontrol product. Was going to go with Audiocontrol amps but don't want to spend more money when i already have new amps from CT Sounds. Thanks ya'll:)

    Commenter image

    Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    on 6/2/2021

    Chuck, It sounds like you're looking for AudioControl's DM-810 processor, which features 8 inputs and 10 processed outputs.
  • Nick Dodson from OTTUMWA

    Posted on 4/8/2021

    So I have a home reciever that is 100w x2 and I want to add crossovers in my speakers the crossovers I have say 150w rms 300w peak will it still work

    Commenter image

    Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    on 4/8/2021

    Nick, Without knowing specifically what equipment you have, I can't tell for sure, but a crossover rated for 150 watts RMS will be safe with an amp that puts out 100 watts RMS.
  • Adam from Lakeland

    Posted on 3/18/2021

    I have a factory radio on a 2019 Nissan Frontier. Wanting to keep the head unit but add an amp and active crossover for highs and mids. Already have a amp and two tens under the back seat for the bass tied in to a output converter from the rear door speakers. What would I need as far as wiring to tie into the factory head unit to run to the crossover?

    Commenter image

    Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    on 4/1/2021

    Adam, Check out How to connect an amplifier to a factory stereo for some help with that.
  • Craig Lamontaine from Crossville

    Posted on 3/13/2021

    Does having a crossover split off 100 watt signal into 50x2

    Commenter image

    Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    on 3/24/2021

    Craig, A crossover divides the frequencies of the program played, not the power. The musical content determines where power goes - brass and cymbals will play out their power mostly through the tweeters; a kick drum's power goes out to the woofer.
  • Jojo Jiang from China

    Posted on 3/7/2021

    Hi I have questions to the in-line crossover: based on my understanding, normally the in-line crossover is a wired capacitor, and it should be wired between amp and tweeter, or midrange and tweeter. Why in this article, the in line crossover is connecting before the amp?

    Commenter image

    Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    on 3/26/2021

    Jojo, Passive crossovers, like those in-line models, go between the amp and speakers. Active crossovers, the ones that are powered, go between the stereo's line-level outputs and the amplifier inputs.
  • Christian from Whispering Pines, NC

    Posted on 12/14/2020

    Such great food for thought! Your article took much of the guesswork out of the issue I seemed to be having with a recent upgrade. I was admittedly confused why the sound produced from the new unit with a multi-band equalizer failed to sound as dynamic as the sound pumped out of the OEM product. Playing with the equalizer helped a bit, but still didn't sound the same. I was avoiding the crossover setting until now. This is indicative of the 2nd and 3rd order effects I was hoping to avoid with a head unit upgrade. But, I suppose they are a large reason for them. A failing touch screen on the OEM head unit and the need for Android Auto prompted the upgrade. My question is this: I will assume the crossover setting on the Sony XAV-AX5000 is passive. If the byproduct of lost energy is heat, should I be worried about anything over heating, melting, or frying? The North Carolina heat is enough to worry about in the summer.

    Commenter image

    Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    on 12/15/2020

    Christian, The crossovers in that receiver are active.

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