LAST UPDATED: September 18, 2019
Best 3.5 Speakers: Fill Your Car with a Rich and Warm Sound
Experience exceptional clarity in your sound system with these 3.5-inch car speakers
The Review Team
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PUBLISHED ON September 18, 2019
If you are a music lover, there's a good chance you may be disheartened by the low-quality sound coming from your factory-installed speakers. The good news is that you can upgrade to a set of small aftermarket 3.5-inch speakers, which will fill your vehicle with a rich sound that will impress even the most discerning audiophiles. Check out the best options currently available in our buying guide below.
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Why Buy 3.5 Speakers?
- Improve your sound system. Your factory speakers may not produce a satisfactory sound quality. Upgrading to 3.5 speakers means that you take your audio system to the next level with enhanced high (treble) and mid-range (vocals) frequencies.
- Space-saving design. Most 3.5-inch car speakers have a small and compact design that will fit in almost all vehicles without taking up much space on the doors and dashboard. They are good for small cars and for anyone who doesn't want speakers crowding up the space in their car's interior. They can also fit anywhere.
- Better performance. Small speakers are better than large speakers at creating great surround sound in small, enclosed spaces, like a vehicle. They are also more efficient at utilizing power to deliver crisp, clean, and direct sound with minimal strain on the power source.
- Enhanced stereo effect. Most 3.5-inch car speakers are better at enhancing the radio signals from your stereo than your factory speakers. A multiple set of these small speakers will improve low-frequency response, and you will get better bass sounds.
Types of 3.5 Speakers
Coaxial or full-range speakers are a cheap and easy upgrade over OEM speakers. They include a tweeter and a woofer in a single woofer cone in a two-way configuration. A more advanced setup includes mid-range speakers in a three-way configuration. Coaxial speakers are the most readily available type of speakers.
Component speakers feature separate components that make up one sound system. The setup may include an independent tweeter cone connected to a subwoofer cone, and the high-end versions may include a separate mid-range speaker. The component separation improves the frequency response of the speakers, and they generally produce the best sound. They are, however, more expensive and time consuming to install than full-range speakers.
Infinity is a subsidiary brand of Harman International Industries, which is currently run by Samsung Electronics. Infinity was founded back in 1968 and is headquartered in Stamford, Conn. The company specializes in the design of a wide range of audio equipment, including home theater systems, in-wall home speakers, marine audio applications, and car audio equipment. Infinity speakers come as a factory set for some Chrysler, Hyundai, Kia, and Mitsubishi vehicles. One of its best 3.5-inch car speakers is the Infinity REF Series.
JBL is an American audio equipment manufacturer based in Los Angeles, Calif. It’s a subsidiary company of Harman International industries, and James Bullough Lansing founded the company in 1946. The company is divided into two production lines. One produces audio equipment for the consumer market, such as headphones, loudspeakers, and car speakers. The other produces professional audio equipment for studios, such as portable sounds and cinema speakers. Check out the JBL GX Series.
Kenwood is a leading manufacturer of electronics and communication equipment. It was founded in 1961 and merged with JVC in 2008 to form a new company, JVCKenwood. It’s currently headquartered in Hachioji, Tokyo, and some of its products include car audio systems, two-way radio communication equipment, personal audio products, and Hi-Fi home systems. One of its cheapest 3.5-inch car speakers is the Kenwood KFC Speaker System.
Headquartered in Bunkyo, Tokyo, Pioneer produces some of the best digital entertainment products for home, professional, marine, and automotive applications. The company was founded in 1938 by Nozomu Matsumoto, and some of its products include headphones, home theater systems, DJ equipment, DVD players, and car speakers. One of its best-rated 3 ½-inch speakers is the Pioneer TS Series Coaxial Speakers.
3.5 Speakers Pricing
- Under $50: Most speakers here are coaxial speakers that will offer a noticeable sound improvement in your audio system without breaking the bank. The least expensive options have great mids and highs but don’t have the best build quality. Most also muffle or distort at low frequencies. The higher-priced versions experience less distortion across all frequency ranges.
- Over $50: Expect to find component speakers and high-end, full-range speakers in this price range. Most of the speakers here are built to last, have a wide frequency range, and can take up and deliver low frequencies (bass) with ease. Also, most come with mounting hardware and grills to protect the speakers from vibration or impact damage. Some high-end versions have waterproof designs.
The power handling capacity of a speaker is the amount of power (watts) the speaker can handle that also allows it to produce the best sound. RMS power is how much it can handle on a continuous basis, and peak power is the maximum power it can take in short bursts. The power rating of a speaker should match the stereo or the amplifier’s power output to help reduce sound distortion and prevent blown-out speakers.
The design or build material of a speaker largely contributes to the quality of sound it produces and the general lifespan of the speaker. Silk and polypropylene are the most common types of build material, as they are cheap and produce a richer and warmer sound. However, such woofer cones aren’t as durable as harder cone materials, like ceramics, graphite, or metal, which deliver a fuller sound with great highs.
- Sensitivity: This is the ability of a speaker to optimize the power supplied to produce the best sound possible. It’s measured in decibels, and the ideal sensitivity of 3.5-inch car speakers is 90 decibels and above. Such units with a high sensitivity rating can make the most out of a low-powered stereo, and you may not have to buy an amplifier to power them.
- Compatibility: It’s important to ensure that the new speakers you choose match the size configurations of your factory speakers. Shop for speakers according to the model of your car. Also, ensure that they can fit in your original mounting hole so that you don’t have to make any modifications or struggle during installation.
Best 3.5 Speakers Reviews & Recommendations 2020
These coaxial speakers feature Extended Voice Coil (EVC) technology and produce ultra-clean bass. They have polypropylene cones, ribbed UV-treated surrounds, and are designed to be durable. They withstand heat and direct sunlight and work optimally with 30 watts of recommended power.
The speakers fit nearly all types of vehicles and any factory-depth woofer. Tweeter magnets produce increased volume at higher frequencies. The lows are solid for a 3.5-inch speaker, and the highs are silky and not harsh. Considering how small these speakers are, they are very clean. They come with wire leads as well as crimp connectors, so installation takes only minutes.
However, while they sound much better than stock 3.5-inch speakers, they can produce a lot of treble, and you may need to use a low pass filter to tone them down. They also don't work well with anything lower than 80hz.
The Kenwood KFC speaker system includes dash-mount dual Whizzer cone speakers that produce a silky-smooth acoustic sound. The speakers are compact enough to fit in tight spaces, and they bring out the highs and mids in your music. Each speaker has 20 watts of RMS power and 40 watts of peak power that produce quality sound at high volumes with minimal distortion.
The speakers have an impressive sensitivity of 89 decibels, which means that you don’t need to input a lot of power to enjoy music at the volume you desire. Additionally, the speakers have a frequency response of 96 to 20,000 hertz and produce a lively sound across all frequencies within its limit. They also have a four-ohm impedance.
A major drawback of these speakers is that they can’t handle too much power. They must be paired with a low-power stereo to prevent a blowout. They are also not built to withstand extended playtime at high volume. The speakers may overheat and blow out. Moreover, the speakers have an average bass response and may sound distorted at low volumes. You may also experience problems fitting them in some car models.
The JBL GX Series are OEM-level coaxial speakers with a Plus One polypropylene cone design, including built-in soft dome tweeters. The tweeters promote a smooth, high-frequency response to deliver a more natural sound. They also bring out the lyrics and musical instruments in the music. They feature three-ohm voice coils that work better than factory speaker wires and draw more power from the external amplifier to produce a smooth and clean sound.
The speakers have enhanced power handling capacity for mid and high frequencies; each speaker has an RMS power of 50 watts and a peak power of 150 watts. A unique feature with these speakers is the JBL’s tweeter deflector technique, which uses a waveguide to allow for rotation or angled speaker orientation for the best off-axis performance. This technique allows for a smooth flow of sound no matter where you install the speakers.
A major downside to these speakers is that they have a low impedance and require an external amplifier; otherwise, they may blow out your head unit. The speakers may also sound muffled at low volumes, and it may take a while to break them in when they are new. They don’t come with mounting hardware, and you may have to make some modifications to your mounting hole to fit them.
- Keep your speakers' dust-free. Dust tends to muffle the speakers when too much of it accumulates in the net of the speakers. Do not use liquid cleaners to clean the speakers, as it could corrode the metal parts. Instead, use a soft brush to dust off the speakers.
- Regularly check the wiring and woofer cone for any signs of damage. Repair small tears and insulate the naked wires with adhesive tape before the damage gets worse. Also, keep the speakers away from direct sunlight; it may melt the plastic parts, damage the voice coils, and generally ruin the shape of the speaker.
- Provide enough ventilation for your speakers to prolong their life and to improve the quality of sound. Speakers work best when there is a free flow of air in and out of the speaker. You can install the speakers next to the cooling vents in your car or increase the size of the mounting hole to prevent overheating during the heavy-duty performance.
Q: What causes the crackling noise in speakers?
A: The crackling or popping sound in speakers could be caused by long-term wear of the wiring. Replacing the wiring usually solves the problem. It could also be due to a poor connection of the speakers, amplifier, and the stereo. Check the connection and ensure that the wires go in and out of the right sound channels. Another probable cause could be worn-out transistors and capacitors in the amplifier.
Q: How do I know if I have a blown speaker?
A: The most obvious sign is the speaker doesn't work. Other signs include hissing, crackling, or a popping sound, even when playing music at a low volume. You may also notice a sudden reduction in the bass, treble, and mid tones. Also, if you put your hand on the speakers when they are in operation and don't feel any vibration, then you might have blown speakers.
Q: Are aftermarket 3.5-inch speakers louder than my factory speakers?
A: Factory speakers produce low-quality sound, as they are not designed to handle the high power from car electrical systems. Most aftermarket speakers will sound louder and better in comparison since they are superior at handling power. However, it also depends on the quality of the speakers. Ideally, brand name speakers are the best for loud, non-distorted sound. Pairing the aftermarket speakers with an amplifier will also help produce louder sounds.
The Kicker Car Audio 3 1/2" Coaxial Full Range Stereo Speakers tops our list because they produce ultra-clean sounds and fit a wide variety of vehicles.
We recommend the Kenwood KFC Speaker System for any music lover on a tight budget. It has a high-frequency range for a budget speaker and may offer long-term service if not pushed to the limit.