Audio systems have never been more complex, entertaining, or important in our vehicles than right now. Fighting traffic or navigating long trips can demand hours of our time — it’s only right that the music we listen to inside our cars pleases us, helps us escape the monotony of gridlocks and asphalt. But how do you go about improving your car’s sound system if its current setup is more beast than beauty? Peruse our ten key tips to understand car audio here. We’re sure several of them will get you on your melodious way to a sensational car sound system
Learn the car sound system ABCs. In order to fully grasp the ins and outs of automobile audio, and potentially improve your current car’s sound system, due diligence towards mastering the fundamentals of car audio systems is key. Three principal components comprise every in-car audio setup: the head unit, the amplifier, and the speakers. The head unit encompasses several important electronic assets for cars, including the radio tuner and the preamp, which improves signal quality before reaching the amplifier (or power amplifier). The power amp magnifies that signal before directing it to the speakers, who will create sound with it. Seemingly complicated, car systems all rely on this simple flow of electric signal to produce the sound you love.
A car amplifier electronic kit, from Apogee.
When in doubt, consider your amplifiers. Have a car sound system that just doesn’t satisfy your ear drums? Before ripping out and replacing your speakers, lend some vital attention to that middleman component: the amplifiers. Distortion typically derives from amplifiers whose ability to handle high sound volume diminishes over time. Look to replace the current weakened amp with another whose wattage rating is higher. In amps, the measurement of such wattage is “RMS,” or “root mean square.” The higher the RMS, the more powerful the amp
Learn the difference – and history – between OEM and after market. In the olden days (meaning even just a few years ago), locating a car with a truly stunning sound system was like landing upon the sonically pleasing needle in a dusty haystack. Replacing this built-in sound system (known as OEM, or “original equipment manufacturer”) with an aftermarket installation (with parts not provided from the car’s manufacturer) was standard practice. Yet OEM sound systems have evolved: their quality has skyrocketed, the head units can cause many headaches to replace, and fancy features (like GPS navigation systems) significantly challenge an aftermarket replacement process. But two sound system components still leave much to be desired even in contemporary OEM setups.
Study the art of upgrading a sound system. Amplifiers and speakers are the two components that continue to trouble OEM sound systems, meaning they’re ripe for aftermarket replacements. The first step in improving any sound system always entails a boost in power derived from an aftermarket power amp. Head to a trustworthy aftermarket repair garage to help with this, as some OEM sound systems sport intricate wiring that toughens the task of switching OEM amps with their aftermarket counterparts. The amp situation handled, concentrate your attention on installing aftermarket drop-in speakers (often perfectly sized for many cars’ sound systems), as well as subwoofers, the secret to great bass.
A subwoofer setup, via Car Tuning Central.
Bring the club to your car with subwoofers. Slaves to great bass should Shackle a pair of outstanding subwoofers to their cars as soon as possible. Whereas other speakers inside the auto cabin distribute the treble and sonorous quality of a song, the subwoofer is what injects that irresistible bump-bump reminiscent of your favorite dance club. Subwoofers tend to be a bit large, too large in fact for the spaces designed for basic speakers; this requires you to provide an additional enclosure just for the sub, so that it can do its deep bass thing. For the best bass, purchase subwoofers with the highest RMS wattage as you can afford — and that your amplifier can stomach.
Don’t forget about speaker vibration and location. Once you have decided upon the aftermarket speakers and subwoofers that are perfect for your car sound system, you’ll need to pay due diligence to where precisely to place this new equipment inside the car. Acing this choice of location is vital to creating knockout sound. Reduce the difference in spacing between the left- and right-side speakers to as short as possible; experiment with their height and angle, with music as the main variable, inside the car before fixing them in place. And we also highly recommend that you apply Dynamat to the panels around the speakers, in order to diminish sound distortion and vibration.
The best OEM car sound systems around. Popular Mechanics recently investigated the previously mentioned trend of superb sound systems ready-made in cars OEM-style. In our view, two of the ten vehicles featured tower over the rest in terms of audio quality — and (unfortunately) price tag. The Porsche Panamera features a Burmester brand — read: ultra-deluxe, celebrities only — 1000 watt system with a sweet sixteen speakers that boast “individual control.” Close on this luxurious Porsche’s heels is the Audi A8, whose sound system costs in excess of $6,000. Every penny spent is however poured into a sound system touched by Midas, with 19 speakers and 1400 watts of ear-melting power. Whoa.
The Porsche Panamera sound system from Burmester, via HiFi.
On a budget: cheaper cars with great sound. You do not necessarily need to mortgage your house in order to discover, and afford, an automobile whose sound will make you swoon. The Volkswagen Jetta GLI boasts an incredibly rich sound system produced by guitar expert Fender, with a setup of nine speakers and an emphasis on clear-as-a-bell crispness in sound. Entry-level OEM sound systems don’t get better than this. A few shades below the Jetta is the Mazda Mazdaspeed3; its Bose system is unremarkable. Yet a well-placed subwoofer helps to distinguish it. (It’s in the spare tire.) If you can’t afford a Porsche, or even half of one, settling for either of these models will not leave you sulking.
Review the best aftermarket sound systems. Let’s say that you’re neither on the hunt for prestigious luxury car or in the mood to purchase a promising low-end little car. You’d like to keep the car you have, but ditch the sound system that fails to satisfy. As you pursue an aftermarket setup, don’t forget to first take several precise measurements of your car’s current components. Think about appearance as well: a new system chock full of shiny, expensive-looking equipment often serves as ideal bait for theft. Also, be sure to verify that the aftermarket dealer you’re working with can demonstrate certification with the Mobile Electronics Certified Professional (MECP) program from the Consumer Electronics Association.