onsidering the amount of time that people spend in their cars, it makes sense to invest in the highest quality car audio system your budget allows. Whether you like music with a ton of bass, high-frequency EDM, or listening to podcasts – the quality of your soundtrack matters. But where to begin? Do you start with a stereo? Or do you go straight to the speakers and subs?
Another reservation people have is that they don’t know if they’re buying the right equipment. People have heard of the big names like Sony, JVC, and Pioneer, but other quality brands – like Rockford Fosgate, for instance – are a mystery to them. Modern car audio technology isn’t as complicated as you think, nor is it too expensive to upgrade once you know what you want. In this installment, we’ll break down the basics of modern car audio and what you can look forward to in regards to performance.
Aftermarket Car Stereo Systems
When a car manufacturer builds a car they’re mostly concerned with how it operates. After all, the most important thing about a car is that it’s safe to drive and reliable. This means that a lot of money gets poured into things like the engine, the wheels, and safety feature technology such as lane change assist. Way down towards the bottom of the list of priorities is the stereo. Even if you’re driving a brand-new 2022 model, chances are, your stereo is basic and in dire need of an upgrade.
To set a baseline, we’re going to use the Alpine Halo9 iLX-F409 as an example. It’s not the cheapest aftermarket stereo out there, but it isn’t the most expensive, either. This digital media receiver features an expansive 9” touch screen display with an intuitive menu and large on-screen tiles for easy navigation. It has an HDMI input, USB connection, and an iDatalink Maestro module so you can retain your factory features. The Halo9 is also adjustable, meaning you don’t have to worry about it permanently blocking your dash controls or air vents.
The Halo9 gives users several ways to enjoy media. You can use the HDMI input to hook up a portable CD/DVD/Blu Ray player or your laptop computer. It also has built-in Bluetooth so that you can stream your favorite Pandora or Spotify playlist or take a hands-free call. But the real star of the show is the Apple CarPlay/Android Auto feature, which allows drivers to seamlessly integrate their smartphone with the Alpine Halo9. This allows drivers to access messaging, contacts, maps, music, and more without having to fumble with their phones while driving. If you want to send a text or call someone, you can do that by issuing a voice command.
Additionally, the Pioneer Halo9 features a 5-band graphic equalizer with time correction, high and low-pass filters, 6-channel preamp outputs, and a MediaXpander HD. It’s also compatible with cameras (front and rear) with an optional 2-camera switcher.
Aftermarket Car Speakers
Like we mentioned before, most automakers don’t invest a ton in their stereo systems or speakers, so pretty much any aftermarket upgrade you make is going to be an improvement. When it comes to speaker shopping, everything breaks down into two basic categories: coaxial speakers and component speakers.
Coaxial speakers include a woofter, tweeter, and internal crossover, and are about as close to plug-and-play as speakers get. Many people gravitate to coaxial speakers because it’s an easy upgrade to make. You simply swap out the current OEM coaxial system for an upgraded one.
On the other hand, component speakers separate the major components, so your woofer, tweeters, and crossover won’t be combined into one package. This makes the install process a bit more complicated; however, it does allow for customization and gives drivers far more control over their listening experience. You can fine-tune the sound arrangement to just the way you like it.
When shopping for coaxial or component speakers, be mindful of their compatibility, their power range, and their quality of materials. For instance, the Focal ES 165KX2 component speaker system uses a K2 Kevlar and glass-fiber woofer cone and has a power range 6-120 watts RMS (240 watts peak power). By comparison, your current OEM coaxial speakers likely only have about 10 watts RMS per channel and use paper (or other flimsy material) for the woofer cone.
The bottom line here is that any upgrade – coaxial or component – is likely going to be better than what you have now.
The last piece of the car audio puzzle we’ll mention is the amplifier. This little piece of equipment increases the current, power, and voltage of the signal, thereby amplifying your stereo’s sound. Your music won’t just sound louder. There will be a noticeable improvement in quality, too.
When shopping for an amp, always be mindful of how much power you need. If all you’re using is the OEM stereo and speakers, then 50 to 200 watts RMS will be fine. If you’re upgrading to an aftermarket stereo and speakers, you might consider a 250-500 watts RMS amp.
How to Upgrade Your Vehicle’s Car Audio
Now that you know a little bit more about modern car audio technology, the next step is to upgrade your current OEM equipment to something a bit more powerful and advanced. We usually recommend starting with the stereo itself, but you can always upgrade your speakers or add an external amp as your starting point.
The best way to get some firsthand experience with modern car audio is by stopping by in-person to a car audio store. You won’t know how much better aftermarket equipment is until you hear it for yourself. Fortunately, there are several places that do car stereo installation in San Diego that have a wide selection of aftermarket equipment. If you’re planning on going with a component speaker system, you’ll definitely want to hire a professional to do the work for you.