As you cruise down the highway (or sit in traffic), there’s nothing more fun than blasting your car audio system to your favorite music or station. While some cars are built with more high-tech audio systems, other cars aren’t as lucky for various reasons, especially if you drive an old vehicle.
So, if you are looking to upgrade your car’s audio system, it’s best you understand the different components, the tell-tale signs that your car actually needs it, and which parts you can work on.
The Basic Components of a Car’s Audio System
Car audio systems have come a long way since 1930 when Motorola introduced the first commercially successful car radio, the Model 5T71. Since then, this system has evolved from a mere AM radio receiver with a single speaker, to a more complex electronic system that produces music.
However, no matter how complex an audio system is, it’s always made up of three main components.
The Head Unit
A home audio system uses separate electronic components like a radio tuner, CD player, preamp, and an amplifier that is connected to various cables. But in a car where space is limited, car manufacturers have to include as many of these components as possible into one device: the head unit. The head unit performs different duties but its main two functions are controlling the overall volume, which includes basic tone controls like bass and treble, and the different audio sources including the USB flash drive port and Bluetooth audio.
Every car audio system must have an amplifier to increase the power of the audio signal so that it’s strong enough to reach the speakers and create sound. It has two stages that are controlled by a preamp and a power amplifier.
The preamp is usually located inside the head unit and takes data from an audio source, converting it to the power amplifier. The process includes boosting the audio signal and making it compatible with the input of the power amplifier. The power amplifier then takes the preamp’s low-level signal to significantly boost it, so it can move the speakers to create sound.
The speakers in your car take the amplified electrical signal and convert it into mechanical energy that pushes the speaker cones to create sound. It is a known fact that sound is made up of vibrations, but what you might not know is that the speakers are the ones that create these vibrations.
Here’s a quick fun fact: the human ear is able to hear vibrations in a frequency range from about 20 Hz (very low bass) to 20,000 Hz (very high notes). Basic car speakers are designed to cover the entire frequency range but by trying to do this, the bass response is usually non-existent.
Now that we’ve covered what an audio system is made up of, the next step is to know if your car needs an upgraded version of an audio system.
How to Know if Your Car Needs a New Audio System
Before you jump the gun and buy a new audio system for your car, here’s a test that can tell if your audio system needs an upgrade.
- Sit in your car and close all the doors and windows.
- Put on your favorite song and turn up the volume. Don’t be afraid of going louder than you normally would, but not to the extent of hurting your eardrums.
- Listen to the music. If you find yourself having to turn up the treble due to lack of clarity, or if your bass sounds hollow and empty, it’s probably time for an upgrade. Additionally, another sign is if the music sounds distorted or soft when increased.
Upgrading Your Car’s Audio System
So, how do you get started? Here are some questions to answer that can help you get on the right path before you upgrade your audio system.
- How much are you willing to spend on upgrades?
- Do you want to improve the audio without upgrading your *factory audio unit?
- Or would you rather upgrade the factory audio unit with something new and better?
- How important is the bass to you?
- Do you like listening to your music loudly?
*Factory audio unit: Factory audio unit refers to the audio unit that was manufactured with the vehicle from the dealership when purchased new.
You might be surprised at how the answers to these questions can lead you down different car audio system roads.
Car Audio Upgrades for the Budget-Conscious
There is no right or wrong way you can go about upgrading your audio system because it all depends on what you want. If you are on a tight budget and want to improve the quality of sound in your car, you can replace audio components one at a time as your budget allows. The first place to start is the speakers. Factory set speakers or coaxial speakers are usually quite basic, and by replacing the speakers with component speakers, you would be able to notice a big improvement.
Humans are able to hear up to 20,000 Hz, and this spectrum is usually broken up into different categories, while each component speaker handles a different category of that range. Since each component speaker contains only one cone and one driver, they are able to produce high, mid-range, as well as low tones which are the perfect balance for your audio.
Car Audio Upgrades without Removing the Factory Unit
If you love how your factory audio unit comes together in your car or if you have an old car model with an integrated audio system, there are some ways you can improve the audio without touching the head unit.
The first step is to replace your factory speakers with premium units that sound better and last longer than factory speakers. If you want to take it to the next level, you might want to install an amplifier that uses speaker-level inputs if your factory audio unit lacks preamp outputs. This basically means you will be able to turn your music up without any distortion as your amplifier will be sitting between your factory head unit and the new speakers. You can take it up a notch and add a subwoofer to provide you with top-quality bass.
Car Audio Upgrades by Building a New Audio System
If you don’t like your car’s factory audio unit, you will need to decide on how you want to go about getting a new audio system. If you are building a system from scratch, you can either start with the speakers or the head unit. Next, determine the type of features you want from your audio systems like radio tuners, CD players, auxiliary inputs, and built-in components like amplifiers and equalizers. No matter which way you start, you will want to end up with a head unit that is able to power up the speakers fully.
Car Audio Upgrades by Adding More Bass
If the only thing that is missing from your audio system is bass, then all you need to do is to add a subwoofer. You can do it by adding an amplifier and a subwoofer or adding a powered subwoofer.
A powered subwoofer with speaker level inputs is the easiest way to add bass as this unit brings an amplifier and a subwoofer into one unit which can be hooked to any head unit. But if you want more flexibility in controlling your bass, you can add an amplifier and a subwoofer separately. Either way, a subwoofer is the best way to get the bass and your heart pounding.
Car Audio Upgrades by Cranking Up the Volume
If you like your sounds loud, then an amplifier is the component you need to add to your system. If you are not ditching the factory audio system, you will need an amplifier with speaker-level inputs, but some factory units come with line-level outputs. Always keep in mind that adding an amplifier might overpower your factory speakers. With this in mind, it’s best to upgrade your speakers as well, if you want to turn it up to 11.
Upgrade Your Car Wisely
Now that you know what you need to do if you want an audio system upgrade, it’s always best to remember to buy genuine parts and accessories from trusted sellers and suppliers. Compared to genuine parts, fake spare parts are more likely to wear out faster or even fail altogether as these parts rarely go through the safety and quality assurance test that are mandatory for original parts.
We hope with this guide, you make sound decisions that will lead to hours of happiness in a car when you turn on your new audio system. For any other used car services and news, do check Carsome out! You can sell your used car at Carsome for the best price, fast payment, and no paperwork hassle. Check the website today to know more.