Friday, September 15, 2017

A basic, affordable, but desireable Sound System

Upgrading a car’s sound system can be a very rewarding experience. Improving a car’s system should make music listening experience much more enjoyable and it may translate to making a long, boring commute more enjoyable as well. Although sound systems can get very complicated, there are some basic upgrade paths that can make a significant difference, and to understand them, it’s best to understand the three main frequency groups of music (these are my interpretations, not technical interpretations)

·         Highs: the higher frequencies should make music sound crisp and clear.

·         Mids: the mid frequencies should make music sound alive and with dimension

·         Bass: the lower frequencies, or bass, should give a “punch” to music.

Once you understand the main components of music, choosing which equipment to buy becomes a little simpler. Which brings us to our first step:

1.       Choosing your equipment.

a.       Full range speakers: this is the easiest, and possible cheapest upgrade path to obtaining better sound. Choose a full range speaker to cover mostly every frequency. This is pretty straight forward, since most full range speakers are designed to work with most stereos. The budget for this should range between $100 to $150 dollars assuming your car has four speakers total. Anything below this price range might not be a worthwhile upgrade, and anything above might be difficult to notice for the average listener. 

b.       Specialized speakers: this is costlier, but has tweeters for highs, woofers for mids, and a subwoofer for bass. Choosing mids and highs is a little more straight forward since it is mostly sold as a component set, which comes with a tweeter, a mid-range speaker, and an adapter that will plug into a standard stereo connection. From experience, the average user will prefer a system with about 50 watts RMS per pair of speakers. This should range between $150 to $200 dollars. This set of speakers can also be ran without a subwoofer, but these commonly lack any bass, so either running them with a subwoofer, or in combination with full range speakers is recommended.

c. Choosing bass can get more complicated, but for simplicity’s sake, it is choosing a monoblock amplifier and subwoofer. There are two things that should match when buying a bass combo: RMS watts and impedance. For example, a subwoofer will be rated for 200 watts at 4 ohms. An amplifier might have 3 different capabilities, 200 watts at 4 ohms, 400 watts at 2 ohms, and 800 watts at 1 ohm. Since the amplifier has one of its 3 modes matching the subwoofer, then they are compatible. The amplifier can also exceed the subwoofer in watts RMS, but it should not exceed more than 50 watts for a system with less than 500 watts, or 100 watts for anything greater. From experience, the average user prefers a system with 300 watts RMS per subwoofer. For an amplifier, an amplifier installation kit is also required. For a subwoofer, a subwoofer box is required. This should range between $200 and $300 dollars. This includes installation budget as well. Many deals may also be found which includes a subwoofer, a matching amplifier, a matching box, and an installation kit. Usually anything exceeding $300 changes many installation aspects and makes the installation no longer basic.

2.       Installing equipment

a.       Full range speakers are pretty straight forward.

                                                               i.      Locate stock speakers, remove with the proper tool (usually a cross-screwdriver)

                                                             ii.      Disconnect old speaker

                                                           iii.      Connect new speaker

                                                           iv.      Install new speaker in reverse order.
(shows the wires connected on a speaker)

                                                             v.      Repeat steps i-iv for remaining speakers.

                                                           vi.      Play music through stereo and ensure all speakers are functioning correctly

b.       Component systems:

                                                               i.      Locate stock speakers

                                                             ii.      Remove with proper tool

                                                           iii.      Disconnect old speaker

                                                           iv.       Attach adapter to stock wiring

                                                             v.       Connect mid-range speaker to adapter

                                                           vi.      Install woofer in reverse order
(shows an installed woofer)

                                                          vii.      Mount tweeter in preferred location (will require modification)
(Shows a mounted tweeter)

                                                        viii.      Connect Tweeter to adapter

                                                            ix.      Repeat steps i-viii for rest of speakers

                                                             x.      Play music through stereo and make sure speakers are functioning correctly

c.       Subwoofer-Amplifier combo (amplifier installation kit required):

                                                               i.      Locate car battery

                                                             ii.      Disconnect car battery

                                                           iii.      Run power wire (included in kit) from battery to amplifier location (usually trunk). 

(Shows how a power wire might be neatly run with stock wiring)

                                                           iv.      Mount amplifier in desired location (usually in the back of rear seats)

                                                             v.      Connect power wire to amplifier (power wire must be disconnected from battery)
(this is showing power, ground, and remote connected)

                                                           vi.      Run a separate ground wire (included in kit) from amplifier to chassis of car and connect to amplifier, then attach other end to chassis.
(ground wire connected to chassis on this picture, and amplifier on previous picture)

                                                          vii.      Locate stereo, obtain access rear of stereo (removal might be required)

                                                        viii.      Run RCA’s (included in kit) from stereo to amplifier and connect on both ends (adapter might be required for stereo)

1.       Rear of stereo will have a dedicated subwoofer RCA connection for after-market stereos, which RCA’s should be connected to for this set-up

(Stereo has r/sw output for rcas. sw stands for subwoofer, r stands for rear, which is not discussed in this tutorial)
2.       Rear of stereo will need a wire adapter for stock stereos

3.       Amplifier will have input RCA connections, and sometimes output. If it contains both, connect to input.
(rcas are connected to input, and controls are adjusted to desired settings)

                                                            ix.       Run remote wire (included in kit) from stereo to amplifier and connect both ends. This wire is blue and connects to the stereo harness
(harness pictured, but blue wire is not visible unfortunately)

                                                           x.      Connect subwoofer to wires from subwoofer box, and install subwoofer into box.

                                                            xi.      Connect subwoofer box to amplifier

                                                          xii.      Check power wire for fuse (if no fuse is present, install fuse)

                                                        xiii.      Confirm that all wires, except for power wire at the battery end are connected

                                                        xiv.      Connect power wire to battery

                                                          xv.      Power on car stereo and check that amplifier turns on only when stereo turns on

                                                        xvi.      Turn music to desired listening level

                                                       xvii.      Adjust amplifier dials “gain” and “bass boost” to desired level(pictured in step 3)

                                                     xviii.      Turn “sub sonic” switch off and “phase switch” to 0.

                                                        xix.      Adjust dial “LPF” or “low pass filter”:

1.       If stereo has dedicated sub-woofer RCA connections to highest frequency

2.       If stereo does not have dedicated sub-woofer RCA connections to lowest frequency

3.       Listening for first two weeks (recommended but not required)

a.       For full-range speakers or Component speakers, no necessary action is recommended.

b.       For subwoofers, a two-week period of very low volume is recommended for the “break-in” period. This is because subwoofers are very stiff when new, but require a lot of movement to produce lower frequencies. Having the level too high too early in the “break-in” period can tear the subwoofer and ruin it.


  1. Since I don't know own a car yet, I can really used this information in the future. All the information provided help me learn how to install a sound system and it sounds so easy to do. Explaining how there's three main frequency groups of music to choose from, sounds interesting. And by explaining step by step on how to install a sound system is helpful for the reader to understand it and apply it. I can’t really think of anything you can add to your blog, but I would like to see some pictures of some of the tools used in installing a sound system. The overall blog is straightforward and clear. I really enjoy reading this blog because it introduces a lot of information a person might not know or might know already.

  2. I appreciate the knowledge that was presented here. It is dense with information and merits multiple readings.

    I highly question the use of roman numerals here; they are not very attractive and add a level of complication to an already complicated process. In fact, the overall formatting is an eyesore. Ouch! My eyes!