A good car needs an adequate audio system. For most drivers, enjoying music during driving is a basic commodity. What started as a simple radio with one blaring loudspeaker has since long become high-end. Several well-positioned loudspeakers, high-grade playback equipment and very functional components are essential parts of a complete entertainment package.
The requirements of a modern audio system
The radio as the defining audio component in the car is a thing of the past. Nowadays a full entertainment package is more than radio reception and playback of exchangeable sound carriers. Particularly important these days is a connection for smartphones, tablets and navigation equipment etc. The two-button radio has developed into a multimedia unit with multiple options.
Standard or retrofit?
The multi-functionality of a modern, powerful entertainment system in a car makes its extension and adaptation considerably more complicated.
Up-to-date manufacturers offer extensive equipment as a standard. However, these systems reflect the technological level of the moment of installation. Development in the field of car entertainment systems is very rapid. Therefore the actual standard – no matter how sophisticated – is soon out of date for real enthusiasts.
Not necessarily value enhancement
Installation of a high-grade audio system does not necessarily enhance the value of the car. A larger system makes extensive alterations to the car necessary. Prospective new owners do not automatically approve of these changes. Generally, “original” sells better than “tinkered with“. Therefore, making alterations which can be undone is the better option. Cut-up panels and window shelves, filled spare tyre spaces, perforated upholstery and awkwardly constructed cable harnesses considerably reduce the value of the car. Therefore, expertise is essential and if necessary, find help!
The traditional audio system upgrade
To improve the sound of the available system, three measures are recommended:
|– installing better loudspeakers
– integrating an amplifier
– installing a subwoofer
- The standard installed loudspeakers are adequate for compact and mid-size cars, but no more than that. Especially when cars are aging, loudspeakers start to crackle. Fortunately their replacement is very simple. The cover is removed, four screws of the old loudspeaker are loosened and the plug is pulled from the loudspeakers. These cables are very important!
- By working carefully you save yourself a lot of trouble. With a bit of luck, the loudspeakers from branded manufacturers have the same plug. Otherwise, soldering on a new plug should not be too problematic.
- If necessary, the available recess can be fitted with a spacer ring if there is a difference in level between the retrofitted loudspeaker and the original one. These rings can be bought at the accessory retailer’s or made with help of a jigsaw, MDF board and a drill.
- Generally no upgrade should be made without adequate insulation! Only a well-insulated door directs the sound in the right direction.
- Uninsulated doors with high-grade loudspeakers result in the opposite: a vibrating, wobbling and rattling car door, considerably reducing the enjoyment of music.
- An amplifier boosts the audio signals, additionally improving the timbre and upgrading the entire audio experience. Modern audio amplifiers are no longer the big, heavy units that only fit in the boot. Nowadays, compact devices are available for installation behind the radio.
- Installation of a subwoofer might require an additional amplifier which can be installed discreetly behind the driver’s seat.
- The subwoofer reproduces low-pitched audio frequencies, causing the underbelly feeling of a bass solo. Furthermore it reproduces the entire sound spectrum of an audio file.
- Retrofit solutions have undergone a considerable improvement. The huge, unwieldy tubes taking up excessive space are history. Modern subwoofers are sufficiently compact and dynamic to enable discreet installation in the boot. The advantage of low-frequency bass waves is that their source is relatively random. Bass is a penetrating experience and the boot remains the best place for the subwoofer.
Three versions are available:
|– Subwoofer in a separate housing for installation at the front of the boot wall
– Subwoofer integrated in the spare tyre well
– Subwoofer with a DIY glass-fibre-reinforced housing for integration in the available hollow spaces (e.g. on the side walls of the boot).
Construction of a glass-fibre reinforced housing is a lot of work and when outsourced, rather expensive.
A popular option for enhancing the sound experience is the installation of additional tweeters. Contrary to the subwoofer sound, their high-frequency signals must be directed at the driver. Otherwise they lose their effect. Swivel pods, individually adjustable for every driver are ideal here. Please note that additional holes have to be drilled in the side panelling.
Let the current flow
The rule of thumb applying to installation of a high-grade sound system: every amplifier has its individual, protected power supply!
Serial switches have to be avoided at all cost. Only use high-quality copper cables with individual protection!
- A 1000 Watt amplifier (or higher) requires the installation of an additional battery. The available car battery provides the basic supply for the electronic components. Overload can cause problems.
- A separate battery provides a permanent power supply. The current directly coming from the battery cannot be used for the audio system, its components depending on direct current.
- For systems with a performance under 1000 Watt, interposed power caps can guarantee the permanent power supply. These capacitors permanently store and gradually dispense a specific amount of power. Calculating and installing these power caps requires profound knowledge of electronics. Do not attempt this task without this expertise.
Choosing a radio
- Even faster than the development of amplifiers and loudspeakers is the development of the car radio, constantly becoming more comfortable, sophisticated as well as cheaper.
- Radio manufacturers are under considerable pressure: since the introduction of the smartphone, several manufacturers of mono-functional devices have become redundant. Hardly anything is left of retrofit navigation devices, digital cameras, MP3-players and many more. Smartphone and tablet are serious competitors of the car radio. Manufacturers, however can still put their experience to good use.
- Replacement of standard radios by high-quality retrofitting solutions is no longer easy. Standard installed radios are no longer built in the radio shaft but integrated in the dashboard or centre console. Removing and replacing the installed system is a rather complicated business. The necessary covers for the new radio can be ordered at the car manufacturer.
- The once very hip CD and DVD players in the car audio system are now all old hat. USB connection and Bluetooth make the use of random data carriers very simple.
- MP3 is technically no longer necessary. The limited MP3 audio format is made redundant by USB sticks with a storage capacity of a terabyte. The old, trusted WAV format now experiences a renaissance. Files in the high-grade audio system now reach their full potential.
Please note: a USB connection does not automatically recognise every external disc and possibly certain audio data cannot be played. Sometimes manufacturers move in mysterious ways. A profound expertise is necessary for connecting the modern day data carriers to the car radio.
- Bluetooth, a comfortable USB connection and a speaker phone are the least a retrofit audio system should offer. Good advice on all other modern possibilities can always be obtained at the specialist shop.
Foto: Andreas Poertner, F8 studio, Dmitriy Bryndin, Jemastock, Ksander, Alefat, LezinAV, Ensuper, l i g h t p o e t, Aboltin, Mihancea Petru, Artur Synenko / shutterstock.com