Speakers

Proper Crossover Settings for your Speakers: The Definitive Guide


You’ve bought new speakers, a new receiver, a couple of subwoofers. It’s time to set everything up. You’ve read all the guides and you know what to do. Subwoofers as well as your fronts, surrounds, and Atmos speakers have been placed correctly. You’ve even treated your room with absorptive panels. Now all that is left is to run your room correction and it’s movie time! But, something is amiss. Your receiver set your bookshelf speakers to large and the crossover for your surround speakers to 120Hz? But everything you’ve read says that your speakers should be set to small and crossed over at 80Hz?

So you run your room correction again. This time, the results are different! Slightly different crossovers. Maybe even different speaker sizes. What to do? Well, relax. We’ve got this. Here is our definitive guide to crossover settings for your speakers.

What Does a Crossover Do?

The textbook definition of a “crossover” is the point where the speakers and subwoofers trade duties. Many think of it as a brick wall. At 80Hz (if that is the crossover setting that you’ve chosen), the subs play everything lower, the speakers play everything higher. That’s not how it works (I mean, who plays 80Hz?).

The crossover point is the frequency where the speakers and subwoofers meet. It is at this point where the speakers and subwoofers are both sharing the job of playing that note. As you move up the frequency range, the speakers play more and the subs play less. As you move down, the subs play more and the speakers play less. There is a crossover slope that dictates how quickly duties switch between the two, but that’s not important here. What you need to know is that whatever crossover setting you choose, your speakers and sub are both playing.

The Rule

There are lots of ways to determine where to crossover your speakers. You can look at the rated frequency response and choose a crossover setting that is higher than its -3dB low point. You can do it by ear by playing sweeps (more on that later). But the easiest way to do it is to let your room correction set it for you. But, as we mentioned in our opening, room correction settings for the crossover aren’t always consistent and sometimes suggest a frequency that is much lower or higher than your speakers -3dB point. So what to do?

Our rule of thumb is to let the receiver’s room correction do its thing. Let it choose whatever speaker size, crossover settings, and distances it wants for your system. Then, when it is done, you go back and make some manual changes:

  1. All speakers set to small.
  2. Any crossover set LOWER than 80Hz changed to 80Hz
  3. Any crossover set to HIGHER than 80Hz is left alone.

We’ve already discussed why you should crossover all your speakers into your subwoofers. In brief, the subs are placed in better locations for bass and can play much lower than your speakers (even if they are towers). That explains #1. While your speakers may be able to play lower than 80Hz, that bass is low enough that it should be handled primarily by the subwoofers for more even bass throughout your room. Lastly, if your speakers aren’t capable enough to play down to 80Hz, if you cross them over lower, you’ll be “missing” those sounds (you probably wouldn’t notice a difference if you lowered the crossover, but this is best practices).

Now, if you have an older receiver with a global crossover (a single setting that affects all speakers), set all the speakers to small and the crossover to 80Hz. And then go receiver shopping. It’s time.

Testing the Rule

Some out there might worry that they will be missing something if they don’t set the crossover for their tower speakers lower. Well, for you there is a way to test the crossover settings for your speakers in your room. You’ll want to head over to AudioCheck.net and download some sweeps. You’ll want one that goes from around 200Hz down to around 40Hz. You can use a full range or larger range sweep, but it’ll just take more time. What you’ll need to do is to unplug all the speakers except for the one that you are testing and play the sweep.

What you want to listen for is any massive volume changes around the 80Hz mark in the sweep. If the sweep sounds even, then leave the crossover alone. If you hear something wonky (usually a volume dip), then adjust the crossover up or down and repeat. When you find a crossover setting with no or very little volume change, then you are done. Most people would only do this with their front left and right speakers (as these are usually the towers that they insist should be crossed over lower), but you could do it with every speaker if you wanted.

Conclusion

Armed with this definitive guide, you can now set your crossover between your speakers and your subwoofers with confidence. If you REALLY want to get crazy about it, you can grab your SPL meter (or an SPL app) and use that to measure your sweeps. We wouldn’t. But you could.


10 Comments on Proper Crossover Settings for your Speakers: The Definitive Guide

  1. Krishna Patil

    please help me.my speaker crossover setup (all speaker polk audio, av receiver marantz sr6015)
    Polk audio- Tower speaker RTI A9 30HZ-26KHz –
    Surround Speaker RTI A1 50HZ ’27KHZ –
    Centre speaker CSI A6 45HZ 27KHZ-
    Dolby atmos speaker RC 80I 35 HZ 20 KHZ
    Subwoofer- 660wi
    Lower and Upper Audio Quality -3dB Limits
    25 Hz → 125 Hz
    What crossover level should I set my each speaker and sub on?

    • The crossover knob on the back of the subwoofer should be set as high as possible. That will defeat the crossover in the sub and allow your receiver to set the crossover. I’d just follow the rules I set above – run your room correction and see what it sets. If it sets it lower than 80Hz, I’d bump it up to 80. If it sets it higher, I’d leave it alone.

  2. Tony

    System has a robust LFE sub. Would you set the LR to “Large” if:
    a: they EACH had a dedicated sub*
    b. the subs F3 is solid to 20hz**; in-room to below that**?
    *for awesome 2 channel listening among other reasons

    Thanks

    • I know it is counterintuitive, but the answer is never. You never set your speakers to large. The reason is simple: Bass that low is never directional. The upper frequencies are directional because their wavelengths are shorter than the distance between you and the speaker. This is why you need to set up your L/C/R/Surround/Atmos speakers as specific positions. Bass waves are much longer. Longer than probably every dimension of your room. This means that the sound interacts with the room before you can perceive it. So the things (speakers/subwoofers) that produce this low bass must be placed in a good location so that when these room interactions happen, they aren’t as detrimental to what you experience. Those locations are rarely (if ever) the same locations as your front left and right speakers. Even in stereo, the bass is hitting the walls before you can hear it. Always crossover into subs. Check out our article on how to set up dual subwoofers for more information.

      Now, you may ask, “Why did I buy (or Why do they make) tower speakers with built-in subwoofers?” Well, the answer is because people ask for them. The only real-world reason for having a subwoofer built into a speaker is if the room is so large, and the distance between the listener and the speaker is so far, that the speaker can’t play loud enough around 80Hz to adequately crossover into the subwoofers.

  3. Pat

    So, that said, does it ever make sense (other than aesthetically) to buy tower speakers for the average home theater setup that has a subwoofer (or 2)? Seems much less expensive bookshelf speakers should suffice in that situation.

    • Honestly, no. The reasons to buy tower speakers (outlined here) have everything to do with the size of the room. The reason for tower speakers should be that your room is so large that bookshelf speakers cannot produce enough bass to adequately cross over into your subwoofers. Every other reason has nothing to do with performance.

  4. Andrew Thomas

    @Pat – I have been a long-time owner of tower speakers and I refused to believe that any bookshelf speaker could outperform what I believed to be a full range speaker.

    That may have been the case in the ’90s when powered subwoofers were small and had unremarkable performance. But today, most subwoofers can absolutely trounce any tower speaker in terms of bass extension. And if you go dual? Look out.

    I moved to bookshelf speakers and dual subs a couple of years ago and the only difference I can see is that I have better imaging with my bookshelf speakers.

    Right now, $1000 will get you a very good set of mid-tier bookshelf speakers. While the same $1000 will get you entry-level towers. Even when you add in the costs of stands, you are still better off with bookshelf speakers.

    And yes, I still prefer the look of tower speakers. I am a kid of the ’80s and 90s, so big ole speakers were my jam. But as a so-called “audio professional” I know those aesthetics are not as important as performance.

    -A

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