Digital signal processors are becoming more and more common in the modern world of car audio. These units seem to be vital for all enthusiasts, but they are largely unused by the majority of music lovers.
Many modern cars have a built-in digital signal processor, but many do not, and this leads to the question, what actually is a DSP in car audio?
A DSP is a digital signal processor that can be installed into the audio system of any car. A DSP allows for an incredible amount of control over the system and its output. It provides all of the necessary hardware to have an audio system perform at its peak performance and quality.
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Tip: There are many different DSP units available today, and many people are unsure what they are and what functions they actually perform in the car sound systems. While such a unit may not be needed for standard front door speakers, it is an essential part of the car audio in more advanced systems.
My favorite one is the Audio Control DQDX that can run 6 channels and independently steer frequencies in the range from 10Hz up to 22,000 Hz.
Let’s take a closer look at what a DSP is, whether or not you need one, how to set up a DSP, and which DSP is the best for the money.
Do I Need a DSP in My Car?
Using a DSP in your car is a fantastic way to get the most out of whatever music you are listening to, but it is not a requirement for a car audio system.
Some car audio systems sound great on their own, with the built-in EQ in the head unit used in the system being responsible for all audio tweaking and doing the job just fine.
Whether or not you need a DSP in your car is entirely dependant on the information below:
- how do you intend to use it
- the complexity of your car audio system
- how much control you want or need over your system
- your budget
- how much time and effort you are willing to spend on researching, installing, and learning how to use a DSP.
A DSP may be required to get the best out of your audio system if the head unit installed in your car does not have time alignment.
Time alignment is an important aspect of car audio because a car’s interior is not the best space for listening to music. Depending on the car’s shape, you may hear the sounds in a different way than expected.
The audio signals have to be sent from the speakers at the right time to get the best out of the stereo track that is used in most modern recordings.
Almost all modern song recordings are recorded in stereo or surround, but this effect is lost in an audio system without proper time alignment. Having a DSP is the best way to get the most out of the audio signals pushed through the audio system in your car.
That being said, your system can sound great without a DSP, and having a DSP only adds to the system that you already have. Adding a DSP will not make your system suddenly sound good. It only offers more control over the system’s audio signals.
When to Use a DSP in Car Audio?
- If you already have a good system in your car and want to optimize it to its highest possible capabilities,
- If you have the budget and the time to install and learn the system correctly.
When Do Not Install DSP in Car Audio
- If all you are looking for is a clear, loud audio system for your car.
- If you do not want to have struggle with optimizing all the parameters of the system.
- if you’re going to install a system and set it and leave it
A better option for the above scenarios is installing a good EQ.
Is DSP Worth It?
When finding the perfect car audio system for you, it is important to consider what exactly you want to get from the system, rather than just buying the most expensive components that you can afford.
Whether or not you will install a DSP entirely depends on what you want the system to sound like and your current setup’s quality.
A DSP will never make your system sound better than it can achieve on its own in terms of performance, output, and power. A DSP is designed to allow the user to fine-tune the output of a particular audio system rather than drastically improve the way it sounds.
If your system is already built up to the audio quality you want it to be, then adding a DSP may be worth it to fine-tune and precisely control the system you have installed.
If some hardware upgrades improve the system’s overall sound quality, then adding a DSP may not be worth the money and effort, as it will not add more to the sound quality.
A DSP allows you to finely control the entire system’s audio output, right down to the exact EQ for each speaker. This will allow you to compensate for acoustic anomalies in the car, the time alignment, and delays between each speaker. It draws the best quality stereo audio from a system.
A DSP will not make a low-quality audio system sound good, but it can help perfect an already high-quality system and make it as good as it can be.
Whether a DSP is worth it or not depends on how fine-tuned your system needs to be to sound its best and is not worth it if you need to upgrade your system first.
Do DSP Processors Work With Factory Radios?
Installing a DSP into a car audio system is an excellent way to improve and control the system.
The factory radio in many modern cars is built into the interface and navigation of the vehicle. This means that removing the radio is not as simple as it was a decade ago. In many cases, the entire user interface and navigation system will need to be modified before installing a new stereo.
The good thing is that most modern car radios can receive a digital signal processor upgrade.
A DSP is usually hardwired into the system, meaning it does not rely on computer integration to function and can be installed with almost any standard factory car radio.
Installing a DSP with a factory radio is an excellent way to get the most out of the factory-installed radio without modifying the entire system when installing an aftermarket radio.
A DSP may be integrated into an audio system with a factory radio, providing greater control of the vehicle’s audio system.
Modern cars have radios installed that are compatible with almost all digital signal processors, but when working with older hardware, you will need to be sure that the components are compatible with one another.
It is possible to install a digital signal processor with almost every factory radio, as long as the components will work together.
How to Tune Car Audio DSP for the Best Sound?
Tuning a car audio DSP for the best sound is a complicated endeavor, and there are many ways and methods that can be used to adjust a DSP.
The most significant factor in tuning a car’s audio digital sound processor is the way it sounds. There are many technical and complicated variables, but if the audio in your system sounds good to you, then that is all you need.
When you are setting up the system, you do not have to follow the exact formula. If the process that you use to tune the DSP in your system varies from the settings used by your friend, do not worry. Remember that everyone has different requirements, and if your sound system sounds good to you, you have done well!
That being said, here is an elementary guide for tuning a car audio digital signal processor:
Set the DSP crossovers
The first step is to set the DSP crossovers. The key here is to try and aim for as flat a response from the crossovers as possible, allowing the system’s sound to be as close to reality as possible.
Set the crossovers at the same frequency between tweeter and mid-range, aiming as close to 24dB as possible.
Set the time alignment for each speaker
Next, set the time alignment for each speaker according to the position of your ears when you are sitting in the driver’s seat.
This is not the most straightforward process, but there are online speaker measurement calculators to make the process much less painful. The best calculator I have found is the TRACERITE. It is straightforward to use and makes excellent calculations.
Before start, you have to measure the distance from the speakers to the ears. Make measurements when you are in the driver’s seat and input the numbers for every speaker into a calculator.
The calculator will give you the time alignment figures to input into your DSP.
Apply the time alignment settings into the DSP, focusing the audio on your listening position.
The online calculators have a section that will allow you to shift the central focus of the audio if you want to move it to the middle of the car or to the passenger seat. Simply add the time delay on each speaker according to where you want the focus center to be.
Use EQ for further adjustments.
The next step in tuning the DSP in your car is to EQ the system. For this, it is best to use a pink-noise treatment method.
Play a pink-noise treatment track through each isolated speaker, taking measurements with the DSP to check for any peaking or clipping frequencies.
Cut the undesirable frequencies as you go. Repeat the process for all front speakers individually, then activate all front speakers and play the track again.
Do the same for the rear speakers and repeat the process with all of the speakers playing the track simultaneously.
Adjust the EQ according to what you are hearing, and remove any unpleasant frequencies in the DSP.
Integrate the subwoofer into the system by following the same processes, but EQ the sub according to the bass frequencies you want to hear, rather than balancing the sub with the rest of the speakers.
This is quite a simple process, and you can do this by simply listening to the sub and boosting or cutting the frequencies according to what you hear.
Listen to the entire system with the pink-noise track, and then play your favorite system testing song and make any adjustments that catch your ear.
This is a straightforward setup, and it is a good starting point to dial in the perfect sounding audio system according to your ears.
Should I Buy A Car Amplifier With Built-in DSP Or A Separate DSP Unit?
Digital signal processing has become much cheaper to install into amplifiers than analog signal processing and is simpler to install for amplifier manufacturers.
For these reasons, almost every modern amplifier has some sort of digital signal processor built-in as standard.
However, just because an amplifier has a DSP built-in, it does not mean that it is the best DSP or functions as a DSP. Many cheap modern amps use digital signal processors rather than analog components for ease of use and because they are more cost-effective, not because they improve the audio system.
For this reason, many people wonder if they should buy an amplifier with an integrated DSP or if they should buy an amplifier with no DSP at all and instead buy a separate DSP unit.
The answer comes down to your own personal needs and requirements and what you want the system to do.
If having the control of a DSP is important to you, but you want to save space in your car, and if you don’t mind using whatever DSP the amp manufacturer supplies, then it is worthwhile to buy a good amp with an excellent integrated DSP. In this case, you will probably end up spending the same money on a separate DSP unit later down the line anyway. The excellent amplifiers with built-in DSP are made by Audio Control. These products have exceptional quality and offer excellent performance.
I know Audio Control like for example D-4.800 is not the cheapest one, but if you want to make your car unique with an amazing hi-end system, you should not cut corners, but aim for the top class.
On the other hand, if you want maximum control over your car audio system’s performance, it is better to buy an amplifier and a DSP as separate units.
This setup allows you to choose the exact amplifier and the exact DSP that is best suited for your system and your requirements.
A separate amp and DSP may be more expensive and take up more space in your car, but this is the best way to achieve the highest level of audio quality from your car’s audio system.
How To Choose Best DSP Processor
The DSP you choose for your car audio system depends on the system you are building:
- Choose the DSP that you want to use, and build the system around the DSP, or
- Choose the rest of the system components you like and want to use, and then choose a DSP based on the system’s requirements.
Regardless of which way you will choose, when searching for a DSP, the most important thing is the number of channels that the DSP needs to sufficiently run your system. The DSP must have one channel per speaker in the system.
The DSP you choose must be compatible with all system components, including the amplifier and the connection terminals.
After you have made sure that the DSP you are using is going to work with the rest of the system, then you must consider the actual functionality of the DSP.
There are thousands of DSP units available. The best one to use after making sure that it will work with your system will be based on the DSP features, the user interface, the EQ and crossover functionality, and the budget you have available.
Choose a DSP based on what it can do and how long it will last. Buy the most versatile and best-sounding DSP you can get your hands on that is also compatible with your system.
Which Is The Best Car Audio DSP For The Money?
There are so many DSP units available today that choosing the best value for money DSP can be tricky.
The best affordable DSP unit available at the moment is the Taramp’s Pro 2.6 S Digital Audio Processor.
This DSP works fantastic for what you pay for. It supports 10.2V peak-top-peak output (3.6 RMS voltage), 3-bad parametric EQ, 10Hz – 20 Hz frequency response, 2 channel input, 6 channel output; it is tiny and really light.
A car audio DSP can be a fantastic addition to a car audio system.
These units allow the best possible audio quality and control from an audio system and improve any car audio system’s fidelity and quality.
Using a DSP will not make an imperfect system sound good, but it will help a good system sound great!
DSP’s can be used with almost any car radio, integrated into any car audio system, and are easily available.
Installing a DSP can be difficult, and tuning it can be even harder, but if you install the right DSP in the right audio system, it will take the system to the next level!
Installing a DSP is highly recommended for anyone who cares passionately about the audio system in their car!