When you hear people discussing how many ohms a speaker provides, what they’re talking about is the product’s impedance.
All electrical components and circuits resist electrical currents to a certain extent. The way we measure that feature is what becomes the impedance rating for the speakers, symbolized by the Greek letter “omega” as ohms.
Although that seems like a relatively straightforward way to measure a speaker’s productivity and quality, the truth is a little murkier than comparing one rating to another.
It’s not the impedance rating that should be your first consideration. Although 8-ohm speakers offer some potential benefits, how you drive them determines the overall audio quality you’ll receive for your applications.
Are 4-Ohm Speakers Better Than 8-Ohm Speakers?
An 8-ohm speaker doesn’t always reach that impedance rating, just as a 4-ohm speaker is never “always” at 4 ohms. Both devices are at this peak level a fraction of the time because this measurement varies based on the frequencies it plays. This measurement is about how difficult it is to power the unit.
When you shop for speakers today, you’ll find that most models have an ohm rating of four, six, or eight.
It is essential to remember that this rating is only a baseline. If you have an 8-ohm speaker at home that you use, the product will be at that level for only a small percentage of its active time because impedance varies based on what you play.
An 8-ohm speaker might be at 5 ohms, 17 ohms, or even 41 ohms. It is all over the place because the frequencies drive that part of the equation.
When you want to compare 4-ohm vs. 8-ohm speakers, what you’re actually looking at is how difficult it is to power the unit. The primary difference here is the receiver because cheaper ones sometimes don’t drive low-impedance designs well.
That means you’ll want to look at a speaker’s impedance graph rating before buying the product to determine if the frequencies meet your expectations.
■ What to Expect on a Speaker Impedance Graph
When you review a speaker impedance graph, you’ll almost always see different peaks and valleys based on where the unit was meant to perform.
Most speakers end up having three significant peaks where the impedance levels tend to be the highest.
The first is within the bass frequencies, typically somewhere between 20 Hz to 50 Hz. You’ll see an 8-ohm speaker go from its baseline (which could be as low as 3 ohms) all of the way up to nearly 50 ohms.
As the frequencies rise, the peak comes down until you reach the next set in the higher bass range. You’ll get a similar, but smaller peak somewhere between 50 Hz to 100 Hz.
The third peak occurs around 2 kHz with many speakers. As the frequencies continue rising, you’ll see a slope appear around the 200 Hz range until it cascades to a final spot that’s about 20% less than the initial point formed in the low bass.
If you’re looking at the impedance rating on a 4-ohm speaker, you’ll see a similar pattern develop. The only difference between the two involves the severity of the peaks if all other elements are identical.
That’s why your drivers are a better indicator of what to expect with speakers today. Different power ratings can change those ohm spikes, causing the audio to sound tinny or unnatural because of where your ears sense the impedance.
Why Do People Fret About Speaker Impedance Ratings?
Buyers often worry about the speaker impedance ratings because they see the spec rating as a maximum reading instead of the power matching option. When you’re shopping in the 8-ohm section at the store, you’re already in the sweet spot for matching an amp.
When you have a 4-ohm speaker, you’re considering that some challenges can creep up into your audio setup. They often place higher demands on local power reserves if the amps or receivers have an ohm rating of six or eight. Even then, you should encounter any issues unless you’re playing movies or music at loud volume levels.
Even if you push the volume too high for the protection circuits to manage, the result would more than likely be a shutdown of the amp or receiver before any damage happened.
If you have any doubts about what a 4-ohm speaker’s compatibility would be with your current amp or receiver, check with the owner’s manual to see what issues might pop up with your setup. You can also check with the amp, receiver, or speaker manufacturer to understand more of what to expect.
Since most speakers are rated at a 6-ohm or an 8-ohm impedance, you typically won’t have anything to worry about when designing a home entertainment or vehicular audio system. That means you don’t need to fret about the impedance rating.
What If I Prefer a 4-Ohm Speaker for My Setup?
When you purchase tower or bookshelf speakers for your audio system, most of those products will have an ohm rating of six or eight.
Suppose the speaker impedance rating is confirmed to be four ohms. In that case, it’s typically more of an audiophile product that needs an amplifier with significant power to push out the high-end sounds.
Although it seems like something that could be elitist or snobbish, the goal is to get the clearest, most profound sounds with authentic harmonies with a suitable amplifier. When your speakers have a lower impedance range, you have more opportunities and choices to design something that works well for your listening needs.
It’s sometimes helpful to think of this approach as something custom vs. a plug-and-play design. When you want to start listening to music right away and the overall quality doesn’t matter as much as convenience, an ohm rating of six or eight works well.
The speakers are affordable, you can get everything hooked up without any issues, and you can have some fun.
That’s why most speakers come with a 6-ohm or 8-ohm impedance rating. It’s a well-suited design that works well with almost any audio-video receiver.
When you prefer your audio enjoyment at another level, the 4-ohm speakers can help you achieve the customized sound you want without pushing you into a stratospheric price range.
■ Why Does My Audio Sound Bad at Home?
If you have a Yamaha AV receiver, there’s an excellent chance that you’ve got an impedance switch on the back of the unit. It lets you select between four or eight ohms on some models, while it is a 4/8 or 6/12 option on others.
The goal of this design is to help you safely match the impedance rating of the amp to the speaker to avoid overpowering it. You could also reduce the risk of creating difficult loads on your amplifiers.
This design element is problematic for two reasons.
First, we must go back to the impedance peaks that happen with your average speaker. It’s not a flat rating. That means you’re dealing with something closer to a swoop, which means your sound isn’t spending all of its time within one rating area.
That feature means that your subwoofer might never get into its lowest impedance dips because the receiver switch isn’t designed to permit it. Your audio might be artificially restrictive without you ever knowing what is happening.
Secondly, the only way you can make your audio system “safer” is to limit the AV receiver’s power output or your amp. That’s what the setting does, crippling the production of the equipment you just purchased.
That’s why the highest settings are typically recommended for use in most situations. You’ll get the most output regardless of the impedance rating of your speakers. Since this issue applies automatically in most setups, you don’t even need to worry about having tools available to make the switch.
Best Speakers to Buy Today for Your Audio Setup
If you’re interested in a home audio setup that delivers authentic sounds and a broad frequency range, you’ll want to consider adding these speakers to your system.
1. Polk Audio Monitor 40 Series II Speakers
These fantastic bookshelf speakers come from the brand’s Monitor series, which is one of the company’s best-selling units of all time. It comes with a single one-inch dome tweeter and two 5.25-inch subs to offer fantastic sounds at an affordable price.
You’ll appreciate how the high-frequency response incorporates into the audio experience for detailed vocals and crisp highs.
At the same time, the Polk Audio Monitor 40 Series II Speakers offer crisp instrumentals for three-dimensional audio that works in virtually any standard room. It’s an unpretentious product that’s built for value, sound, and speed.
2. ELAC Debut 2.0 Floorstanding Speaker
This three-way speaker delivers impressively on all frequencies. Each band gets accurately reproduced without stepping on what the others are doing with this product. You’ll notice a tight bass when playing your favorite songs due to the aramid fiber and a tighter weave pattern with the subs.
The manufacturer even includes more internal bracing to reduce cabinet vibrations to ensure the sound quality meets with your expectations.
When you hear the ELAC Debut 2.0 Floorstanding Speaker for the first time, the depth of your favorite songs will come out. The movies you watch will come alive, and the overall setup is relatively simple to initiate. It’s definitely worth the upgrade.
3. Ultimate Ears Hyperboom Home Wireless Speaker
If you want to take high-quality sounds with you to any location, this speaker is the one you’ll enjoy. The bass frequencies are especially excellent, even when listening to a playlist across a Bluetooth® connection.
It accepts information from four different devices, and you can quickly switch between the two with a simple press of a button. You’ll get up to 24 hours of battery life.
The best feature of the Ultimate Ears Hyperboom home wireless speaker is that it is splash- and spillproof, ensuring that you can have fun in almost any environment.
You’ll even get an adaptive EQ that reads your current environment to adjust to the room’s qualities. It doesn’t hook up to a formal sound system, but it’s an excellent speaker for those times when you need more flexibility.
A Final Thought on 4-Ohm and 8-Ohm Speakers
When you have a lower impedance speaker, the product will accept more power. If you’re comparing a 4-ohm design to one rated for 8 ohms, you can expect almost double the capacity getting extracted from your amplifier.
This issue becomes a problem when you need to wire multiple speakers to your amp and receiver. If you connect them in series, you’ll keep the ohm rating the same. That means you could potentially wire up four 4-ohm speakers with that methodology while still maintaining the rating.
When you hook up your speakers in parallel, the ohm ratings get added for each speaker. That means your four 4-ohm speakers would end up with the same impedance as two 8-ohm units if set up the same way because both total 16 ohms.
If your amp or receiver isn’t rated for loads of up to 16 ohms, the in-parallel setup won’t generate the outcomes you want.
The one exception to this rule is if you wire speakers of two different ohm ratings in-series with each other. In that situation, you’re stuck with the bigger number. That means a 4-ohm and an 8-ohm speaker in series would share power proportionally, so the receiver or amp rating would need to be eight ohms to accommodate.
Some people believe that the quality of the speaker relates to its impedance. The short answer to that concern is that most units get manufactured to cover a broad range of impedances. This information is about pushing your speaker to full power.