Car Audio - The Basics to Advanced

Published: 31st December 2011
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When it comes to car audio systems, most people put all of their attention into one part of the system. In order to have the best sounding music system, you need to put an equal amount of time into choosing your deck, speakers, subwoofers and amplifiers. You're not going to the store to pick up cereal and milk. A car audio system is much more complicated than that.

This article is going to break down different components to help you match them together, perfectly. After your done reading this, bookmark this page so you can use it for future reference - for your friends, too.

Car CD Players
If you don't already have an aftermarket deck you're satisfied with, choosing a brand name CD deck is going to be the first thing you need to accomplish. How do you listen to music?

Portable Audio Player Connection: If you want to connect your MP3 player or iPod to your system, you need to look for a deck that includes a 3.5mm front auxiliary input. This will allow you to directly connect your portable music player.

USB Input: A USB input will also allow you to connect your iPod player. At the same time, your deck will also act as a charger. It will actually charge any electronic device that can connect to it via mini-USB - cell phones, etc.

CD's: CD's are clearly obvious. Most aftermarket decks include CD player mechanisms. They're designed to not only play store-bought CD's, but also CD's you ripped or burned from your computer.

HD Radio: If you want high definition radio broadcasts, first look into whether or not your area offers it. If it does, you'll need a deck that offers a built-in HD radio tuner. A subscription to the service is required.

Satellite Radio: This is similar to HD radio. The deck needs a satellite radio tuner as well as a subscription to the service.

FM Radio: Almost all decks include a built-in AM/AM radio tuner for you to enjoy local radio stations.

RMS Power: If you plan on using your deck to power upgraded speakers, look for a deck that puts out high RMS watts, per channel. Some higher powered decks can deliver 30-50 watts RMS per channel. These decks tend to be more expensive.

Car Speakers
This is where most people have trouble, so they forget about it and jump right to the subwoofers - Wrong! This is the part of the system that most people... I'm here to help.

Before you choose your speakers, you need to first know which size speakers fit your car. If you're not sure how to figure this out, simply do a search on Google. For Example: 2005 Honda Civic speakers

If you're not looking for concert sound inside your vehicle and you're simply looking to achieve better sound quality that wasn't there before, you can install 2-way, 3-way or 4-way speakers that can handle 20-40 watts RMS to increase mid and high details while using your deck to power them. If the speakers can handle 40 watts RMS or more, remember, you will need a deck that offers more RMS watt output per channel. If your speakers handle 10-20 watts RMS, a high-powered deck is not needed.

If you do want louder sound, you're going to have to get high-powered speakers and an amplifier to power them. Some people would be fine replacing their front speakers and adding a 2-channel amplifier.

Most people who replace the front speakers, go ahead and replace their back speakers. You do not need to match the RMS rating of the front speakers to the rear speakers. This is because 4-channel amplifiers have separate volume (gain) controls for both the front and rear speakers.

If your front speakers handle 50 watts RMS and your rear speakers handle 100 watts RMS and you're using a 4-channel amplifier that delivers 100 watts RMS per channel, simply turn the gain down on the amplifier for the front speakers. Also, be sure to turn the gain down for the rear speakers as well - you don't want your rear speakers overpowering your fronts.

To eliminate this issue, simply get front speakers that match as close to the rear speaker's RMS rating as possible, or the other way around.

Car Amplifiers
In order for any system to be loud, adding an amplifier or multiple amplifiers is a must.

Amp for speakers: If you need an amplifier for a pair of speakers, you'll need a 2-channel amplifier. If you need an amplifier for two pairs of speakers, you'll need a 4-channel amplifier, etc.

No matter how many channels you need in your amplifier, you need to make sure that it is providing enough watts to your speakers. If your speakers handle 50 watts RMS, then use an amplifier that provides 50 watts RMS per channel, or as close to as possible without going over.

Amp for subwoofers: Your subwoofers need an amplifier. And matching an amplifier to a subwoofer is the same as matching an amplifier to your speakers.

If your subwoofer handles 300 watts RMS, you need an amplifier that's going to provide 300 watts RMS to the subwoofer, or as close as possible without going over.

Car Subwoofers
You'll notice a lot of cars passing you by that sound like it's a subwoofer on wheels. Cool, right? Well, if you want to actually hear your music, systems like these are horrible.

It's good to have subwoofers in your system - they add bass that your car speakers simply can't produce. How do you match your subwoofers to your system?

If you're speakers are not overly loud, it's not necessary for you to add subwoofers that are overly powerful. All you're going to achieve by having powerful subwoofers and weak speakers is a car that sounds like it's a subwoofer on wheels.

If you have a high powered car audio deck pushing 25 - 40 watts RMS or more into upgraded speakers or you're using an external amplifier to power them, then you can shoot for higher powered subwoofers.

Any subwoofers in the 300 - 500 watt RMS range will be plenty. If you add two subwoofers, then you would have 600 - 1000 watts RMS of bass power - that's a lot.

However, if you have a 4-channel amplifier powering your front and rear speakers that is providing 80 - 120 watts RMS to each speaker, those speakers are going to play very loud when the volume is turned up. In this case, adding a pair of subwoofers that can handle 1000 watts RMS each will be more than enough.

Balancing your system: In order to get the bass to match the sound of the speakers, you'll need to turn the amplifier gain control all the way down while the deck is turned up to about 75% - music is only playing through the speakers. At the same time, do not add any bass to the speakers through the deck's equalizer, make sure the bass is at level zero (0), or even somewhat negative (-1, -2, -3). This will ensure the speakers that are playing at 75% volume are delivering very little distortion. Your music may sound awkward without a lot of bass, at first.

Now, go to the amplifier powering the subwoofers and slowly turn the gain control up, while your deck is still at 75% volume playing the speakers. Continue tuning the gain control up until the subwoofers are delivering enough bass to match the sound coming out of the speakers. Now your music doesn't sound so awkward. The bass is now blended into the mids and highs of the speakers, giving you a really awesome sounding system. Enjoy!

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