Car Audio Systems

Upgrade Car Audio System Guide For Beginners

Mike Cross
Updated Nov 24, 2020

If you find yourself wanting to upgrade your car's audio system, but have no idea where to really begin, then fear not! Even though replacing some parts to your audio system, or even the whole thing, may seem like a complicated task, it can actually be done with relative ease. One of the best things about the whole process is that it doesn’t have to be so budget-constrained, and you are able to plan ahead and have new parts installed one by one whenever you’re ready.

When a brand new car comes right out of the factory, it’s very unlikely that it comes equipped with peak stereo performance. Understandably, they have more important aspects of the car to focus on, so they’ll tend to go cheap on the materials and treatments used to create the stereo system. For some car owners, like yourself, this just won’t cut it.

Luckily, there are thousands of products available from multiple companies that can be used to upgrade your car’s audio / stereo system. No matter what level of experience you have you can always begin to replace your car’s audio system, whether you need to do so because your current audio system is failing, or you would just simply like to upgrade your system in general.

Understanding Car Audio Systems

Upgrade Car Audio System Guide For Beginners

Right from the get-go, it’s important to be aware of the fact that your car's audio system does not sound as good as it potentially could. As mentioned, this is the result of car manufacturer’s trying to save money on certain aspects, and boost profits as much as possible.

If the sound system sounds ‘okay’ enough for most people, then the car manufacturers will be more than satisfied with it.  In all honesty, most people don’t know what they’re missing! Even replacing the simplest of parts in your car’s audio system can make a noticeable difference!

Not many car’s feature a ‘premium’ sound and audio system. This is a rare feature, and would often be sold as a highlight along with the advertisement and marketing of the vehicle. As a music lover, you deserve the best sound you can get!

Checking For A Problem

Sometimes, you’ll need to identify the key problem in your audio system’s sound before replacing parts right away. To see if your audio system may need some care, do this;

  • Get in your car with the doors and windows closed
  • Play music of different genres at a relatively high volume
  • If you notice a lack of clarity, an upgrade could fix this
  • If you notice a lack of bass, an upgrade could fix this
  • If you notice that the music gets messed up and distorted at higher volumes, an upgrade could fix this

In all, you can check the quality and sound of your car’s audio system by sitting down in it in a quiet area, keeping the doors and windows closed, and listening with full attentiveness. It’s much easier to detect a problem here as opposed to listening to music while driving down the highway.

Asking The Right Questions

Before you begin your journey of replacing parts of your car’s audio system, or all of it, you’ll need to ask yourself some of the right questions that will put things more into perspective for you. These questions can include, but aren’t always limited to;

  • What is my budget for this project?
  • Am I replacing one part, a few, or the whole audio system?
  • Is my car lacking features that could be installed with a new upgrade? Such as bluetooth, GPS, or built-in amplifiers?
  • Does my favorite kind of music involve a lot of bass?
  • Do I like to listen to my music at a loud volume?

When you have definitive answers to these questions, you’ll have a much better idea as to which route to take in upgrading / replacing your car’s audio system. Be sure to ask yourself these questions when you get started.

Various Car Audio System Parts

Since you’re a beginner, hence why you’re reading this guide, it’s likely that you may not be fully aware of the different parts that make up a car’s audio system, and what each of them does. In conjunction, these parts and components work together to deliver you a full sound. With upgraded and better-quality parts, the next level of sound clarity can be reached!

Car Amplifier

What Does Bridging An Amp Do?
Car amp

If your car came right out of the factory, it’s likely that the stock amplifier isn’t capable of offering a high-power output that can drive loudspeakers. Replacing your stock car amplifier with a new one can make a huge difference. A car amplifier works by boosting a small electrical audio signal to a higher voltage, which can in turn power a loudspeaker. They use a specific type of internal power supply which is able to provide internal amplifier circuitries with more power.

Every car amplifier has at least a few sections that are integral for being able to drive speakers from a +12V source. Most car amplifiers today include one of the following subsections;

  • DC-DC (direct current) power supply
  • Bridging circuitry
  • Noise prevention circuitry
  • Speaker crossover circuitry

Car amplifiers are great for powering speakers, as opposed to being used for powering low-power stereos. They have the capability to power a full speaker system, and can add more volume and clarity to your sound system in general.

Speaker

Do You Need An Amp For Door Speakers?
Do You Need An Amp For Door Speakers?

The speakers to your car’s audio system are the most commonly known components. In a technical sense, speakers take an electrical signal and convert it to mechanical energy.

This mechanical energy is what moves the speaker cone up, down, back and forth to create a sound. If you weren’t already aware, sound in the air is just vibrations, and the cone in the speaker is used to make this sound after it receives the mechanical energy needed. As humans, we can hear these vibrations from in a range of about 20 Hz - 20,000 Hz.

Very common in car speaker systems are two speakers of different sizes which are combined into one frame, thus giving you a two-way speaker. As a result of having so many car’s to choose from different companies, various manufacturers have different sized stock speakers, so it’s imperative to match the new speaker size to the car’s OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) hole for an easy installation. Of course, you don’t need to match it up if you are changing the size via a manual configuration.

Head Unit

Best 6 Channel Amp
Head unit

The head unit is an essential component of your car’s audio system that is responsible for performing multiple duties. The device that is hooked up to the front dashboard and is used to adjust the volume, play a CD, tune the radio, etc., is a head unit. If you’ve ever been in a relatively modern car before, you’ve seen a head unit. Manufacturers and automakers assign multiple duties to the head unit in order to save space in the rest of the vehicle, and to create a command center for whoever is driving. Head units are not only used for radio and CD and such, but are nowadays very often used to connect to smartphones via an auxiliary port connection or bluetooth.

This device is also used to fine-tune the sound of your car’s audio system. Through the head unit, you should be able to control aspects of sound such as the treble, bass, etc., until you tune it to your own liking. A quality-produced head unit could be the icing on the cake that makes your car’s audio system as legitimate as can be.

Subwoofer

There aren’t many other sound system components that are able to bring you the clarity of lower end frequencies and all-around sound in your car. If you are looking to add some bass to your car’s audio system, or perhaps want to be able to play your music louder without losing clarity, then subwoofers are a great option.

Since stock car speakers are pretty small, they aren’t fully capable of producing enough low-frequency sound that can give the sound to your music much more depth and clarity. Subwoofers generally look like stand-alone speakers, either enclosed in a case or not enclosed, that would need to either be installed into your car, or set up somewhere within that doesn’t allow them to topple over.

There are different types of subwoofers you can choose from, but most come in the general sizes of 8”, 10”, 12” or best under seat subwoofer. The different types of subwoofers can be pertained to what exactly you would like to do to your audio system, such as personalizing the whole system, or wanting more bass, or wanting a sub that fits with your car’s interior, etc. The most important aspects of a subwoofer are its power, sensitivity, frequency range, enclosure type, and the size of the subwoofer.

Woofer

The main difference between woofers and subwoofers is that woofers reproduce low-frequency sound, but at a bit higher of a frequency then subwoofers. Woofers generally reproduce sound ranging from 40 Hz - 2,500 Hz, whereas subwoofers are designed to reproduce sound at even lower frequencies, ranging from 20 Hz - 200 Hz. A subwoofer can deliver you more bass, but a woofer is able to provide you with a wider range of frequency. A woofer is good for giving that extra bass, but a subwoofer would be needed to achieve optimal bass performance.

In general, woofers will be smaller than subwoofers. Reproducing lower frequencies requires a larger volume of air, so for this reason subwoofers are bigger. It is also worth noting that a woofer requires less power to operate than a subwoofer does, since subwoofers are constantly hitting low-frequencies that demand more power.

When Do I Need To Upgrade My Car’s Audio System?

Earlier on, a simple test was mentioned as to how you could check for any noticeable faults in your car’s audio system. Simply go to a quiet area, turn the car off, close the doors and windows, play some music, and listen with attentiveness. This is a great way to become aware of any problems that you hadn’t noticed while driving and listening to music.

Regardless, you may just want to begin upgrading your car’s audio system in general, even if you have not noticed too many problems in sound quality. The thing is, you don’t know how good the sound can truly be until you begin to upgrade your system. Upgrading your audio system has a ton of perks!

For Newer Technology

If your car is even relatively old, it’s likely that modern technology has surpassed the technology installed in your car, especially for it’s audio system. With older technology, you won’t be able to enjoy features such as smartphone integration, animated displays, GPS navigation, HD radio, etc in your head unit and stereo system. Aftermarket stereos can come with a sleek design and style that could complement the inside of your car.

For Better Sound

The difference between an audio system that sounds good and one that sounds bad can be night and day. If you’ve ever been in an older car, it’s easy to tell that more modern ones are much more capable of delivering a better and more clarified sound. The technology just gets better with each passing year, so this results in better equipment and components used for stock parts.

Regardless, your car may not be old, and perhaps you just know that there is much more to be desired in your car’s audio system. It sounds okay, but it doesn’t sound great by any means! Modern audio circuit technology is able to provide customers with a clean and smooth sound, with much more room for personal control and fine-tuning.

Your Speakers Are Blown

Having a speaker that is blown or one that is not working is pretty easy to identify right away. Either it will sound muffled, and not be able to produce any clarified low-frequency sounds, or it will just not work at all. A blown or faulty speaker can happen from over-use, or perhaps playing your music at too high of a volume too often. Just because the stock speakers that come in your car can’t handle how loud you like your music, doesn’t mean that other speakers and systems aren’t capable of supporting it! With better speakers, amplifier, subwoofers, etc., you’ll be able to put out more power, and still receive a smooth, clear and loud sound.

Car Audio System Upgrade Options

Now that you’re aware of the multiple different parts that make up a speaker system, and what they do, it’s time to start discussing how you can bring your ideas of upgrading into fruition. Upgrading your car’s audio system can take on many different forms; you may do it all at once, or perhaps you may want to do it piece by piece, which can be friendlier on your wallet. That’s the beauty of upgrading your car’s audio system … you can take it at the rate that’s best for you!

Replacing Stock Speakers (Quick Upgrade In Sound)

This is without a doubt one of the most common fixes that people do which will give them immediate results. Stock speakers to begin with aren’t as optimal as they could be, so it would be wise to replace those with some new ones ASAP if you plan on doing more upgrades to your car’s audio system.

Stock speakers can become damaged, or easily worn out. With new speakers in replacement for your stock speakers, you’ll quickly notice an enhancement in listening quality. Something as simple as replacing your stock speakers can make your driving experience so much better.

Typically, replacing your car’s stock speakers can be done for around $200, depending on your car’s make and model. Knowing how to do this yourself could save you money on time and labor.

Adding An Amp To Stock Speakers (Enhanced Quality of Sound)

If you really don’t want to mess with your car’s OEM audio system, you can breathe more life into it by adding a car amplifier to the stock system.

Sometimes, replacing the whole system isn’t feasible for some, so adding an amp could be the perfect option. As discussed before, a car amplifier works by boosting a small electrical audio signal to a higher voltage.

Sometimes, your car’s stock system may not be able to take the power, but with an amplifier, it will now be able to. This will give you a louder and more clear sound. Another perk is that whenever you decide you want to upgrade your speakers, you’ll have an amplifier that’s capable of supporting the energy needed. Adding an amplifier can cost around $300-$400.

Add Subwoofer To Stock System (Lower-Frequency Sounds)

Sometimes, you just need some extra KICK! Adding a subwoofer to your stock system is quite possibly the quickest and easiest of ways to quickly upgrade the sound that your car’s audio system produces.

It is very important to make sure that your current speakers are capable of supporting enhancement on lower-frequency sounds, although.

In any case, adding a subwoofer will require a few other parts for proper installation, such as a signal converter, and an enclosure for the subwoofer, if needed. The parts needed and the installation can cost anywhere from $200 - $1000’s, depending on the quality, size, and quantity of the subwoofers you have installed.

Add New Amp, Speakers And Subwoofers (Better Sound In Every Aspect)

Out with the old, in with the new! You may reach a point in time where you just can’t take it anywhere, and you need to get some new sound in your car as quickly as possible.

For those who want more volume, and more detail, and more clarity in the music coming from their car’s audio system, it may be time to go the full nine yards. The installation of these new parts and components will require extra components as well, such as a signal converter, and enclosure for your subwoofer.

Adding all of these new parts will rack up the price a bit, and will likely cost you around $1,200. The cost will depend on your car’s make and model, but more importantly will depend on the quality of speakers, amp and subwoofer you select.

Add More Powerful Amp, Higher Output Speakers / Subwoofers (As Good As Possible)

As noted, the higher the quality of parts you select, the more it will cost you in the end. This is an obvious statement, but it’s important to know the differences between some components and others. If you add a more powerful amp to your car, with speakers and subwoofers that have a high output, you will quite literally feel like you’re driving down the road in your own venue. If you’ve ever heard a car blaring music at an incredibly loud volume, but yet it still sounds good and clear, it’s likely that the driver had an audio system with a powerful amp and higher output speakers / subwoofers.

On average, this type of upgrade and installation would cost you around $1,800 - $2,500. Certainly, it is not a light project, and should be taken into consideration before pulling the trigger. If you wanted to take it a step further, you could go with a bi-amp setup in addition to the high output speakers / subwoofers. To be honest, this may be overkill, but it is certainly desired by some. This would likely cost around $3,000.

Design Your Own System

If you’ve always been one who likes to do things their own way, then you can certainly take it upon yourself to design your own audio system, at your own risk. You should also know that you can work with car audio companies to make a customized design that is not only to your liking, but can also be feasibly installed. You know your car better than anyone else, so you may know just exactly what it needs!

Conclusion

Car audio systems don’t have to be as complicated as many people make them out to be. In reality, your car’s audio system requires a few different components and parts that work together to create a sound. The quality of this sound, although, could always be enhanced with better equipment. Always ask yourself the essential questions before beginning to upgrade your car’s audio system, and you’ll be well on your way to deciding what audio system parts are right for you.

Mike Cross
Life is too short to drive with stock audio

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