If you’re not getting the perfect output from your current sound system, you might be interested in upgrading for a superior sound quality. After years of working in live performance sound, I’d like to share a couple of things about purchasing car speakers and what to look for. There’s a lot of options and different configurations available for each car, so the process can get overwhelming. In this article, I’ll attempt to make the job easier for you by explaining some important factors necessary for picking out the perfect speaker. This will make your late night drives with the girlfriend or tailgate party the next weekend way more enjoyable.
What do you currently have in your vehicle?
When deciding to upgrade your car speakers, it’s important that you take a look at your current system to see what needs to be changed. A question to ask yourself is “What am I looking to achieve from purchasing a new car speaker system?”. If you are not currently happy with your system, it might be time for an upgrade.
What size speakers are in your car?
You will find this information in the car manual if you have not fit aftermarket speakers into your car. The manual will give you possible speaker dimensions for each location and tell you how many speakers you will need to replace.It is easiest to install speakers that are the same size as the factory speakers in your vehicle. We do not recommend installing different size speakers and making large alterations to your vehicle if you are a first-time installer. Sometimes, it’s best to leave it to the professionals.
Does your car have component speakers or full-range speakers?
You should look for a couple of things when determining if you currently have full-range speakers or component speakers. In general, if your car has component speakers, you will see a small speaker to the left and right of your windshield. These are tweeters, and are most common in component speaker systems.
The first consideration to make when deciding to upgrade your sound system speakers is your budget. Your budget can dictate what you will buy, as sound systems come in a wide range of prices based on the components being installed. Here we are going to sort you into two categories, under $500 and over $500, lower and higher budgets respectively.
Lower Budget (Under $500)
You can get a kick-ass sound system under $500, but make sure to spend your money in the right places! You will just be looking for a different set of components than the higher budget consumers.
You will want to purchase Full Range Speakers (Coaxial speakers) if you are on a budget, because it will allow you to have a smaller system with fewer components. A great small system is better than a mediocre large system. Full Range Speakers are the most cost-effective way to upgrade your sound quality, and can provide good results.
Higher Budget (Over $500)
If you have a higher budget for your car speakers, you will be able to look at buying more components that can lead too much better and precise sound quality. Keep in mind, just because speakers are more expensive doesn’t mean that they will sound better. You have to look at multiple factors to get a qualified decision.
If you do have access to a higher budget, you will find that purchasing component speakers will provide for a much more custom car speaker system. Component speaker systems require tweeters, midrange, and subwoofers. If you are willing to have these installed, you will have a much better experience with your car speaker system.
Component vs Full-Range Speakers
This is an important decision to make when upgrading your speaker system, as it will determine what speakers you should buy and what kind of performance you will be able to expect out of your vehicle.
If you are going to be performing the installation yourself, you should consider that the easiest option is to buy a better version of whatever is already in your car. If your car currently has component speakers, you should probably not switch to full-range speakers. If your car currently has full-range speakers, you should consider upgrading to better full-range speakers or to a complete new component speaker system. The latter will be harder to install and is not recommended for beginners.
Component car speakers typically provide a better sound quality than full-range car speakers. This is because the sound signature is created with three speakers instead of one or two. The combination of mid-ranges, tweeters, and subwoofers provides a subjectively better sound than full-range speakers can provide. If you choose component speakers, you will enjoy a more realistic and motivating sound.
Component speakers typically cost more than full-range speakers to purchase and install. If budget is a concern, you should go with full-range speakers.
In our experience, we have found that speakers with better build quality tend to be component speakers. This is not always true, but you should look for the speaker build quality when you are shopping for car speakers.
What to look for in Car Speakers
In general, there are six things to look for when picking out a new set of car speakers. If you look at these six things and make careful considerations, you will end up with a system that is best suited for your situation. These six things are:
- Build Quality
- Speaker Materials
- Extra Features
Sensitivity refers to the amount of sound produced by a given power wattage. It is important for general sound quality that you get the power delivery to the speakers correct, as that will make a huge impact to your sound.For example, if your car features a low-powered stereo, which is usually around 15 watts RMS per channel, your best bet will probably be to get speakers that come with a higher sensitivity. It’s worth taking into account that most of the factory-installed car stereos come with a lower power capacity and therefore higher sensitivity speakers are best suited for them.If you currently have a high-powered stereo system in your car, you will want to consider purchasing speakers with higher sensitivity to match your system. These are more common in aftermarket speaker systems or if you have an external amplifier.You do not want to use high-power stereo systems with high sensitivity speakers, as this can lead to the speakers blowing out and less optimal sound quality. It’s recommended to avoid high sensitivity speakers if the power applied to each channel is more than 16 watts RMS.
Determine if your car audio has a high-powered or low-powered system. If it has a high-powered system, you should go with speakers with low sensitivity. If you have a low-powered system, you should go with speakers with high sensitivity.This will offer balanced superior sound quality. Proper balance of power and sensitivity always helps yield the best possible sound quality. We recommend that if you have to swing one way, it’s best to overpower the speakers if you want better sound quality, and it’s best to under power the speakers if you want the speakers to last a long time.
Power-handling simply refers to the amount of power the speakers can handle, and is similar to sensitivity, but they are not the same. If the stereo system in your car is a low-powered one, don’t bother getting speakers with a high power-handling capacity. If you have not changed the stereo system that came with your car when you bought it, you most likely have a low-powered stereo system. If this is the case, you should not have to worry too much about the power-handling unless you are upgrading the power supply with an amplifier.If your stereo consists of powerful external amplifiers, speakers with low power-handling capacity will be a big no. Instead, you need something that can continuously handle the amount of power your stereo is offering them. The reason we mentioned ‘continuously’ here is that there may be a lot of speakers that boost of coming with high ‘peak’ power handling, and not a very high ‘maximum’ RMS power handling. Speakers with a high peak power handling ability are able to handle high power offered by your car’s stereo for a short period of time, but not continuously. On the other hand, speakers with a high maximum RMS power handling are able to handle high amounts of power input continuously. Power Handling is important for determining the longevity and health of your speakers, so take a look at what you have and what you are looking to change and choose accordingly.
This is a rather basic factor but it is important to keep it in mind. Ignoring the size factor may result in problems related to installation, and may sometimes make it almost impossible to install the new speakers, especially if the size varies significantly. In most cases, you may be able to find speakers of the same size, and we typically recommend you do that, especially if it is your first installation. If you do purchase speakers that are the same or similar size, that will make for a much easier installation.If you have made up your mind on changing the speakers, you might as well remove them and measure the size. However, if you don’t wish to do that, you can simply consider visiting a store that sells speakers and share some details about your car, such as the make, model, and year of the vehicle. In most cases, this will be enough for them to come up with the size and configuration of the speakers you need, or your existing ones.We have reviewed the following sizes: 5.25 inch car speakers, 6×8 inch car speakers, 6×9 inch car speakers, 5×7 inch car speakers and 6.5 inch car speakers.
Sometimes, a poor build quality is what forces car owners to go for new speakers. Usually, most of the OEM speakers come with a rather poor build quality, resulting in their degradation over a period of time. This is the reason you may be able to get a better and superior sound quality by simply upgrading your speakers while keeping everything else the same. Good quality speakers that are built using high quality materials alone can result in improving the sound quality.As a personal note, when you are installing speakers that are going to be used with plenty of bass, you will want to purchase speakers with high build-quality. If you do not do this, your speakers will rattle constantly and that is seriously annoying.Some materials that ensure a solid build quality include:
- Rubber surrounds usually seem to be quite durable, and are long-lasting.
- Foam and cloth surrounds aren’t exactly as durable as rubber surrounds, but are still considered to be considerably better than their foam and paper counterparts.
- You can also find speakers built out of harder materials like ceramic or metal. They may last a long time too, though it’s believed that quite a lot is also dependent on your use and handling.
- Lightweight woofer materials such as polypropylene offer a great brass response and are quite durable.
Speaker materials include woofer, tweeter, and surround materials. We’ve already talked about surround materials, so let’s take a look at the other two now.
In order to produce high quality low notes effect, subwoofer materials are required to be lightweight and stiff materials. Manufacturers usually seem to be going with polypropylene for subwoofers as well, not leaving much to be desired. These subwoofers also manage to withstand heat, cold, and moisture to a great extent.
You will have to pick a side on this one, because it’s controversial. Tweeters built out of softer materials such as textile blends, poly, or silk produce a great sound. However, if you’re someone who is fond of bright and snappy highs, going with tweeters built out of harder materials such as metal, ceramic, or graphite may be the way to go. You should go to a store that sells both type of tweeters and see which one you prefer.
Your speakers may or may not offer many extra features, depending on their price, as well as maybe a few different factors. However, if you’re looking to get speakers that come with such extra and useful features as well, the following things are what you need to look out for:
In general, you want to mount your subwoofers on the lowest possible elevation of the vehicle cab space.
My background is in live sound, and we made incisions in the floor to place subwoofers low enough for our audiences.
Many times, you will have a tweeter built into component speakers, and therefore you will need pivoting tweeters for the best sound dynamics. This is especially true if the speakers are installed at the lower end of your car’s door. Pivoting tweeters upwards helps to aim the sound towards the listener higher in the vehicle. This is important because it keeps your highs coming from the tweeters from getting muttled by the lows of the subwoofer. This results in a more realistic and high quality sound while leaving the bass towards the bottom of the car where it counts.
External crossovers help avoid the subwoofers and tweeters to reproduce the frequencies they are not required to reproduce. This results in cleaner, more detailed sound. Component systems should use external crossovers for best results.
These simply allow you to use your speakers both as component speakers as well as full-range speakers. This can be important for those who intend to use their speakers in a different vehicle.
Everything mentioned above can turn out to be quite helpful in finding the right speakers for your car, despite there being tons of different speakers, which may otherwise cause a lot of confusion and make one go for the wrong ones. However, do not forget to keep your subjective needs in mind besides everything that has been given above. When in doubt, consult a professional and talk to them about your needs.