How to Build the Ideal System
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.
Here are some suggestions you can try to narrow things down:
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?
Now, rate your current gear
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.
What would you like your radio to do that it won't do now?
- 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.
Need to replace your car's old or broken speakers?
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.
Does your music need a little more fullness?
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.
Do you drive a noisy car?
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.
Do you want to feel the 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.
The Musical Source: Receiver & Smartphone
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.
Navigation & Back-up Camera
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.Back To List