Improving the car audio system can be a little challenging sometimes, especially when choosing the right steps.
I did in-depth research and created a list of necessary upgrades to your car audio that allows you to listen to your favorite music forever.
As a general rule, when it comes to improving car audio in a car, it is not only a subwoofer that will do the job. If you want to enjoy high-quality music from your car audio system, here are the 16 tips that allow you to make the sound in your car unique.
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Replace factory speakers and start experiencing real music quality.
Cost $40 – $300 per pair.
Speakers are crucial for sound quality, and in most cars, the factory speakers are less than mediocre and should be replaced. When it comes to sound, it is worth spending money on high quality 2 way or 3-way components system, in which, thanks to crossovers, you can fully customize how music will spread in your car.
The advantage of the system is the independent position of the tweeters, which you can place either in the upper part of the door or in sail panels. The installation, however, may be challenging when you want to install speakers in other than factory places. Also very important, especially in 3 way systems, is the correct set-up of the crossovers.
A less advanced option is to install coaxial speakers, which are available from 2 way to 5 way if you want to have multi tweeters in each place. The benefit of the coaxial speakers is that you can install them in factory places without making modifications to door panels or rear decks.
If you have a chance, it is worth investing in coaxial speakers with adjustable tweeters, like, for example, JBL Stadium GTO620. This way, you can customize the direction of the high tones in a car, which can give you a real effect for speakers installed in the bottom part of the door.
Add acoustic isolation and make your car like a sealed acoustic studio.
Cost $600 – $1.000 for complete car sound deadening.
Everyone who drives a car knows how annoying external sounds are, especially from the areas like:
- underneath the car
- through the door
- from the engine
Although you cannot entirely remove noise from the car, deadening it will significantly improve sound quality from your speakers, especially those installed in car doors. Speakers produce two acoustic waves when producing sound, one in front of the cone, and another behind it.
The wave generated behind the speaker is a troublemaker in the vehicle. It bounces and disperses many times and causes the whole door to start vibrating and create additional sounds overlapping original sounds produced by the speakers. This is commonly known as rattling doors, and causes significant sound distortion in the car and makes the poor overall hearing experience.
The best way to make the car quiet inside is to fill all floor surfaces, doors, and trunk areas with insulation panels or tight places with a sound deadening spray.
Install an amplifier for the speakers to use full power they offer
Cost $90 – $300 depending on the number of channels and power class.
All head units have built-in amplifiers. Unfortunately, they are not powerful, and when trying to increase the volume, you will hear distortion in the sounds.
To increase dynamic and sound quality, you need to have an external amplifier. This is a mandatory upgrade to get most of the speakers you already have, or you planning to buy. The amplifier gives a much wider variety to choose the right speakers.
There are many amplifier types and several different classes to choose from. It all depends on what you want to achieve.
- A class are best for the sound quality, however, are not efficient
- A/B class are great for the speakers and still provide a high sound quality
- D class amplifiers are the most efficient and not too expensive. They are the best option for powerful subwoofers
Car amplifiers are made in many power ranges, depending on what you need them for. You can find a good amplifier with 2x30W RMS that will give much better sound than any similar power head unit.
When wondering how much power your amplifier should have, it is worth overpowering speakers rather than not supplying enough energy. For example, when you have speakers 100W RMS, it is better when the amplifier has more than 100W per channel.
Add subwoofer with the amplifier to improve sound dynamics
Cost $150 – up to thousands of dollars, depending on the design, quantity of speakers, power, and type of amplifier used.
Installing a subwoofer in a car is the first step to add dynamic to the music. Even a small 8″ woofer under a car seat will significantly increase the quality of all audible sounds, simply because car speakers are not designed to produce deep bass.
There are many types and designs of the subwoofers, you can have either active with a built-in amplifier, or passive for which you will need an additional amplifier. If you do not have much room in the trunk, install a flat under-seat subwoofer or use space in the spare wheel area.
The strongest woofers require more space, and they being installed in large boxes, known as enclosures. Enclosures can have different designs depending on the type of bass you want to listen to. For example, closed enclosures produce a high-quality bass, but they are not as loud as enclosures with open channels that strengthen the bass effect.
Regardless of the type of subwoofer you choose, it has to be powered by an amplifier if you want to hear a strong bass. When choosing the right amplifier for your subwoofer, you have more options than when choosing speakers. You can choose from either multichannel amplifiers and make a “bridge” connection, or use a mono amplifier.
Very popular are multichannel amplifiers with dedicated output for a subwoofer, for example, 2 + 1, or 4 + 1. This type of amplifier is a good choice when you do not have much space in the car or when you want to install one amplifier for the whole system.
Replace head unit and listen to music from more sources
Cost $30 – $200
Replacing a head unit is the most popular way to improve sound quality. If your radio does not have modern features, like Bluetooth, not enough power, or sound from the speakers is not perfect, you should consider replacing your standard head unit with aftermarket.
Although many modern cars have built-in radios in the dashboard with many features, you can find an aftermarket radio that will fit your car and make a better overall sound experience. In newer vehicles that have head units fully built-in, you may need to replace the dash kit to put a new radio in place.
The most important is the size of the unit you want to replace, and there are two options to choose from:
- Single din – 2″ high and 7″ wide
- Double din – 4″ high and 7″ wide
Single din usually has one digital line with buttons below, but are also some models with full flip-out screens. Double din often has a touch screen with GPS and other graphic options as a standard.
When you install a new head unit correctly, you will not lose the comfort of steering wheel controls or voice controls. Aftermarket radios are equipped with more powerful than factory amplifiers, and also many models have equalizers, that help to steer sound better.
The aftermarket stereos offer a handful of features:
- Touch screen
- USB for mobile phone connection
- High-quality radio like HD, or Sirius
If you install more than one external amplifier, you need to choose a head unit with the right number of RCA outputs, which will make further car audio system modification easier.
Replace all factory speaker wires in the car
Cost from $15 / 100 feet to $120 / foot for hi-end, low resistance wires
Wires transfer sound from the amplifier to the speakers and factory installation is not always made out of the best quality and thick wires. Factory speaker wires are work with the standard system, but they are not designated to transfer more power.
If you replace your speakers and installing an amplifier, you have to run new quality speaker wires. This is part of the whole system, and you should not ignore it if you want to make listening to your favorite music enjoyable.
Replaced wires will have less resistance and can transfer more power to your speakers. Depending on speakers, you will have to use a gauge between 18 and 14, and for a subwoofer gauge from 14 to 8.
When choosing wires for your speakers, pay attention to the quality of copper that directly affects wires’ resistance. The higher is the copper purity in the wires, the better is the electricity transfer, and therefore you will hear a high-quality sound. There are two main groups of speaker wires:
- CCA (Copper-Clad Aluminum) is the most common and the cheapest option. Although you can use it to power factory speakers, I do not recommend this wire for a professional and powerful car audio system. CCA wires do not transfer the same quality sound as pure copper.
- OFC (Oxygen Free Copper) offers a much better signal transferring and power handling. OFC wires are a minimum of 99.9% Oxygen-free, and offer increased conductivity with increased corrosion resistance. OFC wires do not overheat as quickly as CCA. Therefore they are safer for car audio systems, especially when supply electricity from the strong amplifiers.
Sometimes, you can find gold wires, but their quality is definitely worse than the quality of copper or silver-plated wires. Gold can only be used on wire connectors and terminals, where will perform very well and will never corrode.
Of course, speaker cables with gold terminals will be more expensive, but their quality will be much better, so when you need for example wires with banana connectors, search for these with gold connectors.
Use hi-end wire connectors and do not lose power in front of speakers
Cost $5 – $50 per pair
You just bought powerful speakers and top-class wires for your car audio. Now is time to connect these two together, but do you want to place bare wires in the speaker terminals?
I would rather not, and not only because of the nice look of the all wires shaped and connected perfectly that looks professional. More importantly, wire speaker connectors make a stable connection of the amplifier with speakers, which guarantees the performance of car audio and the high quality of the music.
Also, connectors protect the whole audio system from damages, because it is much easier to unplug speakers and amplifiers when using them. Especially when there is not much room between posts in the terminals, and you do not want to mix positive with negative wire and burn the amplifier.
Before ordering connectors, it is worth spending some time and chooses the right one for the application. There are several different designs available and materials from which connectors are made.
- Pin connectors work together with spring-clip speaker terminals
- Banana connectors are good for binding posts in the speakers
- Spade connectors make contact with the bottom of the terminal when bolted down, also suitable for binding posts
An important detail you should pay attention to is the material used to make speaker wire connectors. You should avoid any type of aluminum and look for gold plated. Gold does not transfer high-quality signals, but the connection point is the best because it is not affected by corrosion.
Choose high-quality power and ground wires for amplifiers
Cost $0.45 – $15 per foot
You can have the most expensive amplifier and speakers in the car, but when using the wrong power and ground wires, the overall sound quality will be mediocre.
Power wires supply a large amount of electricity to the amplifier and must be thick enough, robust, and made of pure copper. Otherwise, they will consume a significant portion of power to balance the resistance. Also, the current flow will be reduced.
To choose the right power wires, you need to have two numbers:
- How much total energy your car audio system will consume
- How long the power wires will be
Based on both figures, you will have to calculate the total amperage needed to be supplied to all amplifiers you have installed. To double-check your calculation, you can look at the total amperage on the amplifier fuses.
If you have, for example, 2 fuses 40A each, that means power wires must be able to transfer a total of 80A. If you know the wire’s length and the amperage, check the chart below to find the exact gauge of the power wire.
Do not forget about ground wire, which gauge must be the same as used for power wires.
Do not use CCA power wires for the car amplifiers, they cannot handle the most powerful systems and have too much internal resistance.
The best quality wires are OFC wires (Oxygen Free Copper). They have several important characteristics:
- do not corrode
- do not tend to overheat quickly
- transfer demanded amperage without distortions
Replace alternator and boost amplifier with more energy
Cost $340 – $900 depending on the car
When you have in the car powerful amplifiers demanding a lot of amperages, using a factory alternator can cause an energy shortage. Serial alternators mounted in vehicles are designed to supply enough energy for standard equipment installed in the vehicle.
Unfortunately, they cannot produce enough power that strong amplifiers need, so if you have installed an amp creating thousands of watts of energy and a factory alternator, you will have two issues:
- Not enough energy supplied to the amplifier, and that will cause the whole car audio to run inefficiently
- The problem with charging the battery is that the total energy that alternator will produce will be consumed by car equipment and amplifier. In effect, a battery will drain when not charged
The risk of constant underpowering amplifiers not only reduces sound system performance but also risks damaging amplifiers and speakers. There is a better chance to blow an amplifier when there is an energy deficit in the system.
Remember, it is better to produce too much electricity for car audio than not enough.
Add a second battery for car audio to stabilize current flow
Cost $200 – $1300 depending on type and capacity
An additional battery is useful when you have installed powerful amplifiers in the vehicle and listen to music with the engine turned off.
When you install a second battery for car audio, there are a few different types to choose from. If you want a high-quality system and to make sure you will not have a voltage drop, you should consider either AGM or Lithium battery.
Especially lithium batteries are worth buying due to their lifetime. Although they are the most expensive of all types and require a special charger, they can be charged and discharged thousands of times without losing performance.
Also, they can be installed in any position in the car, which is essential when you do not have enough room.
Add stainless or gold car battery terminals
Cost $15 – $60 per piece
Stock battery terminals tend to corrode very fast because of low quality steel they are made of. In most of the cars, after a few years, you have to clean them entirely or replace them with high quality, either chrome or gold plated.
For battery terminals, it is not the only material that makes the difference. Car audio terminals have more than one connection point, and you can fit wires with different gauges. This is especially important when there is more than one power wire connected with the battery.
The commonly used terminals have two or three different sizes ready for thick amplifier wires.
Protect car audio system by using high-quality fuses
Cost $10 – $70
Many cars with installed amplifiers do not have protection fuses. Are the main fuses needed in the car audio?
Fuses that are installed on the power cable protect not just the amplifier, but the whole system from shorting out, so do not think that fuses in the amp are enough. You need another one at the main power wire.
The fuse holder should be installed under the hood and not in the trunk next to the amplifier. Also, it should be placed as close to the battery as possible. This is to reduce any potential contact of the positive wire with the ground in the car, causing a short circuit.
With high amperage that is transmitted to the amplifier, a short circuit will make a wire overheat, leading to the fire under the hood.
Fuses being produced in many shapes and ratings, so you have a wide selection to choose from. It is crucial to choose the right one for your car. The recommended for power wires are ANL fuses, and you can choose up to 300A, which translates to around 2700W.
If your amplifiers are stronger than that, you will require two or more fuses, but do not install 300A when car audio needs the only 75A. By doing so, you will not protect the audio system, which can lead to severe damage to the car. In general, use a fuse that is a level down then amperage required by the system.
For example, when your amplifiers will consume a maximum total of 135A, use fuse 120A. Do not use a larger fuse than needed, this will not protect the electrical system.
For the smaller systems you can also use a blade type, but avoid using glass tube fuses. Tube fuses are working fine, but the problems are with their spring holders, which can become loose over time and increase resistance.
Install sub amplifier crossover and strengthen bass even more
Cost $35 – $120 depending on the number of filters and materials quality
Cost $35 – $120 depending on the number of filters and materials quality
Adding a sub amplifier crossover to the car audio allows you to steering bass production in a more precise way than a standard amplifier can do, with the most efficient utilization of the power coming to the amp.
Even if your amplifier is equipped with simple filters, they do not work as efficiently as these in external crossovers. You can compare this to the amplifiers in the head units and the external ones. Amplifiers built in a head unit will never be as good and as powerful as external alternatives, and it is the same when it comes to the crossovers.
In addition to that, correctly set crossovers will protect the audio system and especially subwoofers, when you push the volume really high.
- Low Pass Filter will allow only lower frequencies then set to pass through the crossover and be transmitted further to the amplifier
- High Pass Filter the other hand allows only higher than defined frequencies to pass through to the amplifier
- Band Pass Filter is a combination of Low pass Filter and High Pass Filter that allows only specific limited frequencies to pass through
- Subsonic Filter blocks only the lowest sub-bass frequencies from passing through, usually all below 35Hz
To set the crossover to the right point, you have to know which sounds will run via speakers and which will go to the subwoofer. Most often, crossovers are set to 80Hz, but this is individual and depends on the music type you listen to and how loud it is.
Add Digital Signal Processor and improve sound quality even more
Cost $90 – $500 depending on the offered functions and build quality
Digital Signal Processors are installed between a sound source (it could be a head unit), and an amplifier. The role of the DSP is to improve the sound that later will be extended in the amplifier, and the most important feature DSP offers is time alignment.
When you adjust time alignment between speakers, you actually position the center of the sound inside of the passenger cabin. By doing this, you remove any sound delays that can happen when your speaker on the left side is right next to you, while on the right side is further away by a couple of feet unless you drive one-seater and you sit in the center.
Time alignment makes all music more realistic, and you can hear precisely from which side sounds coming, but do not mix time alignment with standard fader in your head unit. Fader adjustment makes only simple adjustment in volume between the left and right side or front and back and do not position the sounds.
Digital Signal Processors can also define which frequencies each speaker will receive. These adjustments are similar to the crossovers but more advanced, and you can actually tell each speaker which tones to play.
The most advanced sound adjustments you can make are equalization of the frequencies on each speaker individually and overwriting any imperfections heard from the speakers. You can tune and adjust the volumes of the frequencies that are too quiet, or reduce the volume of those that are too loud.
If you are an audiophile and pay attention to every audible sound while listening to music, your car audio system has to have a Digital Signal Processor.
Add a car audio capacitor and stabilize the voltage in your car
Cost $40 – $280 depending on the storage capacity and quality
Adding a car audio capacitor will help when the electrical system has gaps in current due to the most powerful “kicks” of the subwoofer. When you notice dimming lights while playing loud music, this is happening because the whole electricity in the car is consumed by the amplifier.
To solve this problem, you have to add a capacitor that stores energy and makes it available when needed in critical moments. Although the capacitor itself does not improve sound quality, it helps amplifiers run efficiently while playing strong low bass sounds.
Capacitors are installed between a car battery and amplifier and have different capacities, depending on the power of your car audio system. They are made in different sizes, and as a rule, you can use 1F (Farad) for each 1000W RMS your car audio system produces.
Use high quality files
The last but not least important improvement you can make in your system is to listen to the correctly formatted audio files. The highest quality you will have from an old-fashioned CD player, but if you listen to the music from the files, make sure they have adequate to your system quality, like FLAC, WAV, or AIFF.