Sensitivity measures how much sound comes from a speaker based on the power supplied to it. Speakers with high sensitivity ratings will match best with low-powered car stereos (factory systems), If you have a high-power system, typically provided by a brand-name receiver or external amplifier, then consider speakers with lower sensitivity ratings. Properly powered, they'll provide excellent sound quality.
Watts let you know how much power a speaker can handle. With a low-powered system, the speakers don't need to be able to handle lots of power. Likewise, a system with powerful amplifiers will require speakers that have a power-handling close to the output of the amps. REMEMBER: power-handling means the maximum RMS power-handling, not the peak power handling. RMS ratings measure how much power the speaker can handle on a continuous basis, not just for a short period of time.
Full-range speakers house all the speaker elements in one basket. Typically they consist of a woofer for the lows, and a tweeter to produce the highs. Some speakers will have additional drivers, like midrange or supertweeters. Speakers come in a variety of sizes that can easily mount into factory speaker locations. In most cases, simple removal of the old speaker, and connecting the new speaker is all that is required. Full-range speakers are available at nearly every price point and power range.
Some higher-priced, full-range speakers come with external crossovers which allows a clean separation between the frequencies sent to the woofer and tweeter. The woofer and tweeter don't waste energy by trying to reproduce frequencies they're not intended to reproduce.
Component systems use an improved speaker design to provides the best possible sound. A typical component system includes separate woofers, tweeters, and external crossovers — all of which come designed to work in concert with one other. In a component system, the tweeter comes separate from the woofer, and can be mounted it in location that provides the best imaging. The crossover network in a component system comes external to the woofer and tweeter, and allows higher quality components to be used to ensuring a sharp delineation between the frequencies sent to the different drivers — this means more realistic sound from the speaker. Component systems are generally made of better materials, so they're capable of delivering exceptional dynamics and detailed sound.
A speaker's material design will determine its durability and sound quality.
A tweeter's material has a big effect on the type of sound it produces. Generally, tweeters made of soft materials, silk will give you a refined and somewhat mellow sound. If you like bright highs choose hard materials, like metal, ceramics, or graphite. (top)
The "ideal" car audio system does not mean the loudest one, or most expensive one. It's the one that best meets your needs. Ask yourself, what type of car stereo system do you have now? Is the sound flat, dull, tinny, or wimpy? Are you listening to a car radio that's struggling to drive flimsy, old factory speakers? You know it sounds lousy, but you don't necessarily know why. It's not always easy to diagnose what's causing problems in a vehicle's audio/video system. You don't have to be a car audio expert to figure it out, though.
Listen for a few minutes while parked. Test all the function. Do all they seem to work okay? Listen to each speaker individually by adjusting the balance and fader controls. Turn up the volume and the tone controls. Are all the speakers working, or do you hear a slight rattle or a buzz?
Next, drive around and listen carefully. Drive on the highway and turn your car stereo up loud enough to be heard above the road noise and make a mental not how it sounds is anything missing? Next park the car, don't turn down the music volume at the highway level. Do you hear a lot of distortion? Set the balance, fader, and tone controls in the middle. How's the overall sound of the speakers? Is it lacking Bass, Treble, Clarity?
Rate your satisfaction of each individual component on a scale of 1-10. Best results are achieved the quickest by replacing the lowest-rated components first. If you rank the car stereo the lowest install new receiver. This is one of the first steps to achieving better sound, since the audio signal sent to the rest of your system is much cleaner and stronger when it comes from an aftermarket source.
- Make calls and stream music using a Bluetooth™ connection?
- Tune in to satellite or HD Radio™ broadcasts?
- Control an iPod® or other portable audio device?
- Play CDs or MP3 files?
- Play DVDs on a retractable or built-in display?
- Play louder without distorting?
Knowing what you want your receiver to do makes it easier to choose the right one for you and your car. If you know the receiver isn't the problem, or you just don't want to part with your current receiver, you can focus on building up the other components in your car's system. If your speakers sound okay at moderate volume, but not at highway volume, you may want to start by adding more power. If the speakers sound bad all the time, you should probably replace them first.
Most factory-installed car speakers are made of lightweight paper or other cheap-to-produce materials. Even "premium" factory speakers tend to wear down and distort a lot faster than aftermarket speakers, so even if they sounded good when you bought the car, they've probably dropped off a bit over the years.
A new set of aftermarket speakers will improve the entire range of your sound, from deeper bass to more well-defined highs. Best of all, they're easy to install and usually more affordable than a receiver.
Aftermarket speakers are made with higher-quality materials, so they'll give you much better sound and increased durability. Full-range speakers (some combination of a woofer, a midrange, and/or a tweeter) fit easily into your car's factory locations and are probably your best bet for improved sound. If you want to hear everything your music has to offer, use a set of component speakers with separate woofers and tweeters to transform your dashboard into a concert soundstage.
If your sound seems to lack that certain something, you need to give your speakers more power. An amplifier increases the volume of your system without distorting it, so you'll have no trouble hearing your tunes with the windows down and the sunroof open. Amplifiers also give your music new life by bringing out musical details and clarity, resulting in better sound quality at all volume levels.
Is your music competing with your car's exhaust? You should look into vibration damping materials. A little sound deadening in your vehicle will help keep road noise, vibration, and exhausts from interfering with your music.
If you like your sound, but want some added depth, a subwoofer is a great addition. Enhancing your setup with a subwoofer fills in the low notes that small full-range speakers aren't designed to hit, giving you a richer overall sound.
If you want a sub, but are concerned about how much space it might take up in your car, then you might want a powered subwoofer or a vehicle-specific subwoofer enclosure. These subs mount in your cargo area or under a seat, so you don't lose much storage space.
Many receivers are made to work with your smartphone.
If the car receiver ranked the lowest on your list of priorities, then you have several options. Think about your driving and listening habits to decide which features you want. It's important to think about what your other primary sources of music are, and whether or not you can enjoy them in your car.
If you use your phone for music, look for a receiver that features a USB port and Bluetooth®. You can play digital music files stored on your phone, and, if you have Bluetooth, stream internet radio. You can also play tunes stored on a thumb drive or plug in an MP3 player with a USB connection.
If you own a portable audio player or iPod®, look for a receiver with an aux input or two. Newer adapters will charge your iPod when it's connected, and offer direct audio connection for faster signal transfer. If you get a receiver with a large monitor, you'll get the added convenience of touchscreen control and easy viewing of songs and playlists, even album art and video.
Receivers that have Bluetooth® capability are really convenient if you make a lot of phone calls in your car. In most cases, you can hear callers over your speakers simply by pressing a button on your receiver. And if you have a display screen, you can see the Caller ID and dial via touchscreen. if you're a Pandora fan, you can stream your music wirelessly through the stereo.
Installing a GPS navigation system in your car allows you just enter your destination into the trip computer and follow the voice prompts and visual directions. You can also see points of interest and updated traffic information. Most in-dash display monitors are also compatible with easy-to-install rear view cameras, which will help avoid backing into lampposts, garage walls, and other cars. (top)
Other than looking great, a large-screen receiver allows you to see all the information you need at a single glance, making it easier to keep your eyes on the road. You’ll also have the capability for expansion with options like navigation and a rear-view camera available to you in the future.
A rear-view camera can help make your receiver a valuable tool in preventing accidents. You never know what’s hiding behind you — a pet, person or car. Its view offers a whole lot more of what’s behind you than using just your mirrors.
A large-screen receiver's display is a whole lot easier to read than the 2- or 3-line displays of typical car receivers. They provide more information about what you're listening to, bigger icons, split-screen capability, leading to a more satisfying car audio experience. You'll be able to keep your eyes on the road a whole lot better if you're not squinting at your display, or waiting for the info to scroll by. In fact, everything you do with your receiver is easier when you have a large, touchscreen interface. (top)
If you’re interested in improving your car’s sound system but don’t necessarily want the look of an aftermarket system, you should consider the available car audio OEM integration. OEM Integration allows you to keep your car’s original factory stereo while producing much improved sound quality and volume.
OEM signal processors are a car audio interface adapter that allows you to keep your factory stereo, while providing quality sound signal output to your amplifiers above and beyond what the factory or even aftermarket stereos provide, improving the sound of your speakers, or allowing you to add additional subwoofers to get the best bass out of your system.
OEM audio integration allows you to add higher quality speakers, amplifiers or even a subwoofer to your vehicle without losing valuable trunk space. These subwoofers are custom designed to give you the bump and thump you want out of your sound system while fitting into a precise section of your vehicle. With an addition to your system like a Kicker VSS (vehicle specific system) or JL Stealthbox, you can improve your sound without a huge box to hold your subwoofers taking up trunk space. (top)