Stereo Upgrades Designed for Music Aficionados

Published on April 18, 2016 02:05 AM in Driver Tech
Stereo Upgrades Designed for Music Aficionados

Nothing beats a vehicle for the privacy of listening to your favorite music. Delightful sounds and rhythms can carry you for miles of unimpeded pleasure. What if you could get a little more "oomph" out of your current system?

"Music lovers are always trying to recreate the sound of their home systems," said Todd Ramsey of the Ramsey Consulting Group, which specializes in mobile audio trends. "Perhaps the volume isn't quite right. Or maybe your want to get better clarity for the drum roll and guitar solo."

Today, that's possible and practical by expanding on the features provided by your vehicle's existing stereo unit. What kinds of upgrades can make you feel like the band came along for the ride?

Auto manufacturers such as vehicle optimize their stereo systems for the acoustics and shape of their specific models. Factory settings in the stereo, also know as the "head unit," reflect the need to satisfy a wide variety of tastes and musical genres.

Ramsey recommended adding complementary components. For instance, most cars include speakers that handle midrange frequencies such as the sound of a mother's voice or baby crying. They tend to struggle when replicating lower notes like a bass guitar, however.

"No single speaker handles the whole range of sound," Ramsey said.

A subwoofer can help fill out the low frequency range and make your car stereo come alive, Ramsey said. An amplifier can add some power to drive sound clarity at higher volumes.

"An amplifier provides the horsepower to your vehicle's stereo system," the audio consultant said. "Like having fuel injection when you want to pass somebody, an amplifier muscles through heavy music passages."

Choosing the right products

According to Andy Wehmeyer, product marketing manager for stereo manufacturer Harman Kardon, the number and types of products can overwhelm drivers. Harman Kardon was founded in 1953 when it combined several separate components into the first receiver for home audio—an FM-tuner, preamp and amplifier. Since then the company has become a multinational leader in audio equipment for home and mobile applications.

"Sometimes customers think they can improve sound quality simply by replacing the radio," Wehmeyer said. "But the radio is not the main contributor to quality of sound."

Factory head units are integrated into the car's electronic system, and Wehmeyer cautioned drivers against replacing them. Instead, he suggested drivers ask themselves some simple questions before making any changes:


  • How do electronics components such as iPODs, MP3 players and satellite radio receivers integrate into the existing system? Both Wehmeyer and Ramsey recommended drivers talk with audio experts about expanding the capabilities of their existing head unit. The goal is to have devices integrate seamlessly.
  • Do you want the system to play louder? If so, an amplifier can boost the level of sound while maintaining quality. It helps eliminate harmonic distortions common as volume increases. "The industry talks in jargon and getting past that is an important part of being satisfied," Wehmeyer said.
  • Are you getting enough detail out of the sound? Do you want to improve the clarity Mozart's piano concertos or the thump of ZZ Top's bass guitar? If you can't hear the low lows or the high highs, adding a speaker or two can fill out the sound range. "A subwoofer does the dirty work of recreating bass sounds and can ease the burden on other speakers to provide better overall sound."
  • How does the system "image" music to your ears? Simply put, "imaging" is the way virtual musicians are arranged on a virtual stage in your vehicle. Does the vocalist seem to be placed in the top center of the dash or the door? Additional gear can help you replicate the sound of your home audio or theater system.


"You don't need at trunk full of amplifiers to get better sound quality," Wehmeyer said. "You just need to ask yourself the right questions."