Are you disappointed in the sound trip you’re getting from your car audio system? You won’t get an eargasm with the low-cost factory components most manufacturers put into their vehicles.
We have some tips on amping up your ride so you can be jammin’ the next time someone yells, “Road trip!”
Replace the Speakers
The speakers that came with your car are barely adequate for AM radio. Get the party started by replacing them with a nice set of aftermarket speakers. You will notice an immediate improvement in sound quality for a great price. If you find speakers that are the same type, size, and shape of the originals, you can literally plug-and-play your replacements.
Quality speakers tighten the bass and provide clarity to the sound. You might even be able to understand the lyrics!
Don’t even think about replacing anything else on your car stereo until you get speakers that will play your music the way you should hear it.
Improve the Music File Quality
Where do you store your tunes? Many people plug in their smartphones or MP3 players, others use flash drives. But the sound quality of the music depends on the quality of the electronic file.
Most music files are highly compressed, but you lose sound on both ends of the spectrum. High and low frequencies are absent along with a good bit of clarity. You may not notice it through your earbuds, but in the car, the issues are noticeable.
- When creating a music file, do not use the default setting. Use a higher resolution.
- Use the least compression possible or the file will be loss-y and sound it, too.
- High bit rates make better music through your car’s sound system.
- When streaming music, explore the app settings to improve the audio quality.
Some music services stream in higher resolution than others. If it has to be the best, look for one of these services.
Ditch the (Built-In) DAC
DAC stands for digital-to-analog converter, and if you are using your smartphone to play music, it’s probably being sent through the phone’s default DAC. Like the speakers that came with your car, the built-in DAC in your mobile isn’t the best.
Connect your phone or music player to your new system with a USB cable to bypass the device's DAC and get a purer music experience. If your current system doesn’t have pre-amp outputs and you’re considering a new amplifier, upgrading the head unit is worthwhile.
Amp It Up
New speakers and an upgraded head unit will only get you so far. To get the best performance out of your new components, you need to add more power. At least, up to the performance specs, or you’ll burn them out.
A separate amplifier provides more power than the factory system itself can ever hope to do. To help your car audio play its best in your particular car, put in a signal processor or equalizer to eliminate the booming and shrillness that can occur with the mix of plastic and glass surfaces in your vehicle.
Those hard surfaces cause substantial frequency response peaks that can lead to ear fatigue. Factory receivers only let you adjust the bass, midrange, and treble. An equalizer provides a wider range of control over each EQ band. A signal processor eliminates the frequency response peaks and increases the bass response.
If you’re all about that bass, you definitely need a subwoofer and a sub box to get bumpin'. A good woofer will bring out the lower range and save some wear and tear on your new speakers as well.
Don’t think it needs to make the car shake, adjust it for your taste and vehicle. You’ll make your neighbors happier, too.
If you decide to add a subwoofer to your system, consider installing a capacitor to act as a buffer between the amp and your car battery. Install it as close as possible to the amp so it can store power from your alternator and release it immediately upon demand for your amp for those big bass lines.
Also, use the best cables you can afford when you install your amp and capacitors. Otherwise, the amp will not receive the power needed for a seriously King Kong sound. Good cables eliminate electrical noise from the rest of the vehicle, too.
Treat your new subwoofer to a pre-built or DIY sub box if it’s made for one. Select one with the correct dimensions and seal it well against air leaks. It makes your trunk look less like a hi-fi nut’s basement.
Make sure the box matches the subwoofer, or you might find yourself in the market for a new one.
Control Vibration and Road Noise
Three words: sound-deadening materials. Purpose-made mats and other sound-deadening products reduce the vibrations caused by your speakers and lower the interior noise at higher speeds. While the door isn’t the best place for a speaker, adding a sound-deadening product can keep buzzing noises to a minimum.
These products also prolong the life of your amps because you won’t need to turn the sound up while you drive the highway of life. Unfortunately, it won’t mask the noise of your arguing kids.
The Amp Gain Control Is Not the Volume Control
Whatever you do, do not turn your amp gain all the way up. Bad things happen when you do that, like some really nasty distortion. The rule-of-thumb is to set the receiver's volume control about 3/4 of the way up to max, then turn up the amp gain until you start to hear distortion. Back off a little and everything is set.
Check out the manual from the amp manufacturer for more specific suggestions on the best way to set the gain on your new amp.
Tone Controls Need Love, Too
Again, do not max out the tone controls. It will distort sound more and more as you speed up. If you are boosting a heavy bottom frequency, you can strain your factory system or your new components unnecessarily.
Pre-program some EQ presets into the receiver to avoid trying to adjust it on the go. You need to be watching the road. Or you can check out the preset curves by cycling through them as you drive and customize the best one once you are parked.
Whether you like dubbin’ out or whether you’re a bach-head, replacing your factory car audio system with after-market components installed and tuned properly will rock your world when it comes to listening to music in your car.