Choosing the right set of speakers with the right amount of ohms can make you question your sanity. Who made choosing between 4 ohm or 8 ohm speakers so difficult? Thankfully, it’s only scary at first glance and a simple analogy can put the answer into perspective.

First, it’s best to understand what an ohm actually is. Generally speaking, when someone mentions ‘ohms,’ it’s in the context of a speaker’s ‘impedance.’ In other terms, the impedance is the relationship between electricity and resistance. If you mismatch speakers and amplifiers, especially if the equipment can’t handle a certain number of ohms, you might end up with a setup that no one wants to hear.

What is an Ohm?

One of the best analogies to explain the relationship between the three units involved—volts, amps and ohms—is water flowing through a pipe. Not only is it easy to imagine, it perfectly explains the way each unit affects each other.

Let’s start off with the speaker. Your speakers represent the pipe in which sound moves through. The pipe itself directly affects the amount of water—or music—that can flow through. The bigger the pipe, the more music can pass on through. In other words, a bigger pipe provides a lower impedance. Electricity has a much easier time passing through speakers with lower impedance (ohms).

Which is Better? 4 Ohms or 8 Ohms?

Head to your nearest audio shop and you’ll find all kinds of combinations involving x-amount of watts with 8 ohms or x-wants with 4 ohms. But which is better? To answer that, the speakers in question need to be compared by more than just the number of ohms they have. There’s four important details to consider: limitation, brand, need, and cost.

First, what kind of limitations are you dealing with? What can your amplifier handle? If it only handles 4 ohm speakers, then 4 ohm speakers it shall have. Choosing to use speakers with ohms an amplifier can’t handle can cause a number of issues. If you have an amplifier that can handle both, 8 ohms is the better of the two. What you run into often is that 4 ohm speakers tend to sound worse the higher the volume.

That helps segway into the other details to consider: brand and cost. Before making any purchase, you should always look at the brands available and their prices. Generally speaking, cost is connected to quality (at least in an ideal world). If you’re looking to buy a pair of cheap 8 ohm speakers, you might as well reconsider buying a pair of higher quality 4 ohm speakers—provided your amplifier can handle them. And really, regardless of support, buying cheaper speakers will almost always end with poor audio quality.

Lastly, what do you need out of these speakers? If you’re, say, replacing a speaker for your car, they typically have 2 to 4 ohm speakers. Mismatching brands isn’t a good idea so you end up severely limiting what you’re looking at both in terms of ohms and brand. Not to mention the environment of a car generally doesn’t involve cranking your volume up to the point of the audio sounding bad. You’re covered on that front.

Bottom Line

As you may have realized by now, choosing speakers is a lot more complicated than you might have imagined. Choosing the right speakers is essentially like basing your decision off of a flow chart. If it’s ‘this,’ then it’s ‘that.’ However, what is concrete is it really comes down to quality. When given the opportunity and support, choose the better sounding speakers. There’s more to it than simply choosing 4 or 8.