The needs of audiophiles are seriously neglected by the car industry. OEM stereo systems are notoriously low-quality because the manufacturer sacrifices audio to increase profits. Most people don’t notice the difference without a side-by-side comparison. Even the best “premium” factory-installed car audio systems underperform compared to a mid-range after-market option! Anyone, audiophiles included, can enjoy a better sound system with a few simple swaps.
Establishing a baseline
The first step to crafting your ideal audio system is to determine how your current sound set-up performs. Sit in your car with the doors closed and windows up. Turn up the volume then adjust every knob, slider, and button available on your radio. Try changing the bass and tweaking the treble. Listen to your standard playlist (or podcast) to assess what areas can be improved.
Factors to consider
- Speakers: For a low-budget change, swap out the OEM speakers for a pair of $50 speakers. Prioritize selecting speakers made with high-quality materials so that your investment lasts as long as possible.
- Head Unit: The head unit is a more involved upgrade, but it can greatly improve your experience of the audio system. You can select an infotainment system with newer features, and replace an outdated head unit that has inputs (cassette players) you will never use. The options are nearly endless: receiver with built-in amplifier, radio tuner, and so many others.
- Amplifier: Speaker-level inputs would be another easy and affordable change. Some factory stereos do not include preamp outputs, so line-level inputs that require a total overhaul of the stereo are not an option for the cost-conscious consumer.
- Wiring harness: Picking a wiring harness that matches your vehicle can make changing the audio system as easy as plug-and-play. If you’re upgrading the sound system on a leased vehicle, the wiring harness is even more essential because this eliminates the need to snip any wires.
- Subwoofer: Traditional sound systems neglect one important sensory input: touch. Adding a subwoofer can put a little umph in the beat. Choose either a powered subwoofer or an amplifier/subwoofer combo.
- Sound Barrier: Once your audio sounds good in the park, try taking your ride for a spin. Listen to the sounds of the road blending with your music. Sometimes the best addition to an audio experience is a subtraction; sound-deadening materials like Dynamat or Stinger can keep the rumble to a minimum. With less road-noise, it’s finally just you and your music.