What are Full-Range Speakers and Should I set My Speakers to Full-Range?

Last Update: 2017/01/09

Although this FAQ will list information below to help understand whether your speakers are full-range,
we highly recommend that you read through the instruction manual for your audio equipment prior to changing
this setting. Some manuals may specify whether or not you should enable full-range mode. At the very least,
the manual should have the specs listed for your speaker system, which will be important below.

After reading this guide, if you would like to change your Full-Range audio setting for Realtek or Creative audio,
please see this FAQ: 59673

Full-range speakers are designed using drivers that can independently output audio across a wide frequency
response of (20Hz-20,000Hz +/- 3dB) at the same volume level. When this setting is enabled, Windows will
disable its software crossover settings and send the full frequency range to the speakers, whereupon the
speakers will engage its own hardware crossover filters to appropriately direct audio to the individual drivers.

If your speakers are not full-range, they will not have necessary hardware components to play low frequencies,
nor are they designed for that purpose. When the full-range option is unchecked, the audio controller will
instead send the full signal out using its own crossover filters. This sort of signal will send out the full
audio frequency such that the majority of the frequency will go to the speakers, but direct the low frequencies
to a subwoofer. This way, you’ll still get the same sound, but you must select the correct options.

Your audio equipment is the most important factor of whether or not you should enable full-range in your audio
controller. The cost of your audio equipment doesn’t necessarily play a role in this decision. Some cheap
speakers may need to be set to full-range (although they may not sound great), while many very expensive
speakers should not be set to full-range.

To determine if your speakers are full-range or not, you must look at the minimum frequency response of your
speakers. The concern is not the high-end of the frequency response, but rather the low-end. As noted above,
if your speakers are not rated for a minimum of 20Hz, then they are not full-range speakers.
Here are some considerations:

  • Assume your speakers are not full-range. Modern speaker design uses a subwoofer to
    handle the relatively small percentage of content you hear in an audio signal.
    Low frequency content, more commonly known as sub-bass, is greatly amplified by the
    subwoofer, which explains why the smallest percentage of your audio content can often
    be the loudest. The subwoofer allows the speakers to concentrate on the remaining 99%+
    of the audible frequency bandwidth.


  • Generally, if your speakers came with a subwoofer, they are not full-range speakers.
    As noted above, subwoofers are designed, in part, to allow speakers to stay clear of the
    low frequencies. When examining the specs of the speakers, make sure to look at the
    frequency response specifically of the speakers, and not just the specs of the speaker
    system. Sometimes, the most easily available specs may include the subwoofer, which can
    go as low as 18Hz +/-2 dB; the minimum frequency of the speakers, however, may be much higher.


  • If you have a 2.0 stereo setup, look for the frequency response specs. If they do not
    have at least a 20Hz to 20kHz range, then they are not full-range speakers. You may try
    full-range, but you will lose any audio data below the minimum frequency of your speakers
    or may hear distortion at lower frequencies.


  • Headphones tend to be full-range speakers, as they are designed to operate without a
    subwoofer. Most likely, however, setting your headphones to full-range will cause audio
    distortion. Likewise, some audio controllers properly set to a Headphone mode
    (e.g. Creative Core 3d) disable the ability to enable or disable full-range mode because
    the controller handles headphones differently than speakers. Ultimately, your audio
    controller and the quality of your headphones determines whether they should be configured
    as full-range or not.


  • If you use a receiver or your speaker system has its own controls for the type of speakers,
    do not enable/disable the full-range setting in your audio control panel without consulting the
    instructions of your receiver or speaker system; it’s possible that your receiver or speakers
    prefer full-range because the receiver or speaker system will utilize its own crossover filters
    once receiving the full audio range.


  • Lastly, audio equipment quality will have the greatest effect on whether you should set
    full-range, or not. Very few speakers are properly designed for full-range audio, and if they are,
    then they will likely be very expensive. Similarly, the quality of your audio controller, room
    acoustics, and subjective preference for audio signatures will play a part in the final
    configuration. Properly configuring your audio is worth it, but you must be willing to test
    multiple configurations until you’re satisfied.



Virtual Sound Configurations:

If you plan on using virtual surround (i.e. depending on the audio controller, this may be designed to
remix a stereo signal with virtual positioning data to create a surround effect, or it may take a proper
surround signal and remix it to be used on stereo headphones or speakers to simulate surround), you should
not enable full-range. The name for “virtual surround” will vary based on your audio controller
(currently, “SBX Surround” for Creative controllers, and “Speaker Virtualization” or “Headphone Virtualization”
for Realtek controllers). Please do not confuse virtual surround with an actual surround setup. Full-range
may interfere with the software processes used to simulate sound with this sort of audio setup. Although
you are free to test your setup with full-range enabled, the simulated result will likely be less effective.


Additional Resources:

To enable or disable Full-Range mode for Realtek or Creative audio,
please see our FAQ here: 59673

To change the crossover frequency for Bass Management on Realtek controllers,
please see our FAQ here: 59663

To change the crossover frequency for Bass Redirection on Creative audio controllers,
please see our FAQ here: 59674

Keywords

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