Breaking Down Car Stereo Systems for Beginners
Navigating the world of car audio can be difficult if you don’t have any experience with it. Most people know how to operate their car stereo systems, but when you start getting into the particulars of how to improve bass quality or which aftermarket car speakers are best for a certain vehicle, it’s easy to feel lost if you’re not familiar with the terminology or the basics of car audio installation. Not to worry. We’re going to break down the basics of car audio so that it’s easy to understand. This way, the next time you look into upgrading your car stereo system, you’ll have a better idea of what you’re looking for and how a particular component will improve the quality of your audio.
The Car Stereo System
Think of the car stereo system (aka in-dash unit, head unit, or receiver) as the centerpiece of your vehicle’s car audio. It’s your master console where you control everything relating to volume, playlists, equalizer, and other applications such as navigation and Bluetooth. No matter which other components you have installed in your vehicle, the car stereo is perhaps the most important because you won’t be able to get any playback without it. The main purpose of the car stereo is to provide an audio signal to other components.
So, what should you look for in an aftermarket car stereo system? Car audio technology has come a long way in recent years, which means there are tons of features to be had when selecting a new unit.
Touchscreen interface: Not unlike your smartphone or tablet device, many car stereo systems feature a touchscreen for easily navigating the menus and controls.
Bluetooth: Want to seamlessly pair your smartphone to your car stereo system? Bluetooth allows you to do just that.
Apple CarPlay/Android Auto: To fully integrate your smartphone with your car stereo system, you’ll want Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Many of your favorite apps on your phone will appear right on your stereo’s touchscreen display.
High-quality equalizer (EQ): Provides much more control over the playback of your audio. Look for a system that offers at least five EQ bands so that you can fully customize your listening experience.
Additionally, you’ll want to make sure that whatever car stereo system you pick out will actually fit in your vehicle and work with your other audio components. If you’re a beginner, the best way to go about this is to consult your local car audio installation pro so they can walk you through the process of upgrading.
As you’re already aware, car speakers are what produce the sound frequencies produced by the car stereo system. However, there are many different types of car speakers out there on the market. They break down as follows
Factory car speakers: These are the car speakers that came with the vehicle when it was originally manufactured. Although factory car speakers will be able to get the job done as far as playing tracks is concerned, they are generally not very powerful and won’t produce crystal clear playback. Additionally, they are typically constructed with cheap materials like paper or cardboard. This can lead to factory car speakers blowing out if pushed too hard.
Coaxial car speakers: Coaxial speakers are all-in-one speakers. That means they include a woofer, tweeter, and crossover all in one unit, which collectively cover all sound frequencies ranging from high to low. Most factory car speakers are coaxial speakers. Coaxial car speakers are generally the least expensive option when it comes to upgrading, however, many experts will tell you that component speakers win when it comes to which speaker set-up offers the best playback.
Component car speakers: Component car speakers separate the woofer, tweeter, and crossover, meaning the set-up is more customizable compared to coaxial car speakers. However, this also means that the install is going to be more complex – and by extension – more expensive.
When looking to upgrade your car audio, we can tell you from experience that practically any aftermarket product will outperform your current factory car speakers. Beyond that, the debate between coaxial vs. component car speakers and the brand you end up going with depend on how much control you want over your sound and the amount that you’re willing to spend. Go into it with a firm budget in mind. You can easily get a nice set of aftermarket car speakers for a few hundred dollars, so there’s no need to break the bank over it.
Since installing car speakers is a bit of a complicated process, we recommend going with a professional install for your speakers to ensure they are put in correctly.
Car Audio Amplifiers
The last component we’ll discuss in this post is car audio amplifiers (amps, for short). You can take the name amplifier at face value since this is the component that will amp up the performance of your car stereo system and car speakers. To provide a proper flow chart of how your car audio would be set up, your stereo will serve as the original source for the audio signal which would then run to the amp. The amp would then boost the signal that is sent to the speakers, resulting in an overall improved playback of music, podcasts, or whatever you’re listening to.
However, the thing you need to keep in mind when shopping for amps is the number of channels. More audio components mean that you’ll need more channels, which is the reason that coaxial speakers remain popular when compared to component car speakers. Coaxial speakers only require one channel per speaker since everything is packaged.
The other big thing you’ll want to consider is the amount of power the amp can handle. As a rule of thumb, you always want your amp’s RMS power to match that of your speakers and subwoofer. If it doesn’t, that means that you may be working with underpowered speakers, which results in a loss of quality upon playback.