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Learn About Car Audio Systems

Upgrading your car audio system might seem nebulous but we break it down into simple steps to give you better sound.

Finding That Perfect Sound

Custom speaker setup
Custom speaker setup

Amps, speakers, head units, subwoofers, and so many other products can be part of an upgraded sound system but which ones do you need, which sizes and features are most important, and which is most important? This dilemma of choice puts off most who start down the path to premium audio. Not to worry though, we’ve compiled a clear and straightforward guide that can help you achieve your audio aspirations. We’ll talk about how to get started, what to look for in the audio equipment that you want, how to get the job done, and some important factors to consider.

Getting Started

Car with multiple subwoofers
Car with multiple subwoofers

The most important part of any audio upgrade is to consider your personal goals before your purchase. For example, do you want to win car audio competitions with an extreme build or are you simply trying to replace a single blown-out speaker in your vehicle? The vast majority will fall much closer to the blown-out speaker side of the scale so that’s where we’ll focus today.

For those wanting to just go a step or two above simply replacing a blown-out speaker, they’ll want to consider their personal taste in sound. For those who prefer bass, a subwoofer and amp upgrade is a good first step. In fact, it’s often considered to be the most bang for your audio buck as it produces the most noticeable change for the least investment. On the other end of the spectrum, those that simply want a higher quality sound throughout the entire range would do better to focus on speakers and tweeters. These can provide a much clearer and richer sound experience without the need for a large subwoofer and amplifier to be wired into the car.

Speaker and Tweeter
Speaker and Tweeter

Regardless of what upgrades you plan on it will be vital to understand the type of power the components will need to work effectively. Most radios (or head units as they’re often called) aren’t very powerful on their own. If you plan to use the original radio look for speakers that have a high sensitivity rating, usually 90 decibels or higher. That rating simply means that the speaker can produce better sound despite lower power. It’s also a good idea to check the actual power range to ensure that the system can work with a very low power supply. To get the most from your speakers, whatever their overall requirement, it’s vital that you can provide the necessary power that the speaker is rated for. Once you’ve selected your goal it’s time to decide on the components.

So Many Brands To Choose From

2022 Toyota Corolla Cross with JBL speakers - pressroom.toyota.com
2022 Toyota Corolla Cross with JBL speakers - pressroom.toyota.com

For those that get past the hurdle of planning, choosing specific components can be incredibly hard but we’re about to take out all of that frustration. Keep in mind that as you spend more on audio equipment the sound will be clearer and the quality of the materials will improve as well. We strongly recommend buying from a reputable business with a focus on car audio. On the low end, we really like JBL speakers because they offer incredible performance for the money. That’s backed up by numerous reviews from very happy customers on a vast array of different JBL products.

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Kenwood and Infinity are both good options that both tend to sound a bit crisper while not being wildly expensive on average. Grow into the type of sound that you’ll hear at a high-end theatre and we can’t recommend any brand over Focal. Yes, they’re some of the most expensive speakers on the market but no other company has such a good reputation in this space when the cost isn’t the largest factor.

DIY vs Professional Installation

Car speakers being professionally worked on
Car speakers being professionally worked on

Typically, the choice to install audio upgrades exists on a bell curve. Both those who want to replace a single speaker or even a few speakers will do well to do it themselves as it’s often a quick and simple job that a youtube search can end up walking you through. On the other end, someone that wants to invest in a completely custom setup often wants to do it themselves as well, and clearly, that’s a large-scale undertaking. In the middle, someone that perhaps wants to have their entire system upgraded might benefit most from having a professional installation. That way, a professional business can help ensure that the components will work well together and that the system as a whole will work flawlessly for years to come.

Final Considerations

Cars with custom speakers
Cars with custom speakers

Here are some details that are good to ponder before beginning a car audio project. First, depending on the size of your vehicle the overall cost of large-scale upgrades can vary greatly. In addition, when it comes to specifications, keep in mind that the human ear can’t hear anything below about 20 hertz or above about 20,000 hertz so speakers that produce sound below or above those levels won’t do much in terms of sound quality. In addition, for those looking for a high-powered audio system, more power will be required from the vehicle and mechanical changes may need to take place under the hood to get that power to the amplifier. Finally, some vehicles can allow for different sized speakers to be fitted into the same space and when that’s possible we recommend always buying the largest speaker available. In general, larger speakers will produce a fuller sound with better overall quality and range.

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Stephen Rivers

Stephen is a car enthusiast who loves all things built with passion. In his free time, he’s usually at a hockey rink, walking his dogs, or on a road bike. His automotive tastes lean towards cars that oftentimes seem to take a pound of flesh for the ethereal pleasure they provide: things like the Lamborghini Diablo, TVR Cerbera, and a C4 Corvette turned into a street-legal go-kart. He drives his Bugeye Subaru WRX in Autocross, Rallycross, and track day competitions throughout the year and daily drives a twin-turbo BMW 535i.

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