It’s a fact that your car audio has been around for just about as long as automobiles, but plenty of changes have taken place over the years. Today’s systems are optimized for both space and cost, meaning that sound quality is usually sacrificed. While some cars come fitted with premium sound systems, but you can always tweak and upgrade the car audio equipment.
Dealing with your car’s audio can seem like a complicated subject at first, but each system on the market usually has three basic components. These components are a head unit for audio signal, amplifier for boosting the signal and speakers for sound re-production. All three components are dependent on one another, and overall quality of your audio system is determined by their interaction.
The head unit is your car audio system’s heart; sometimes, people call this component the stereo or stereo. Unfortunately, the other terms used to describe the component do not tell the entire story of what it does. Most head units have had stereo and radio tuners from the 1960s, but the typical purpose of the head unit is to provide the audio system with audio signals.
Years ago, head units got audio signals from compact cassettes, 8 tracks and there was even the proprietary record player type. Today, many head units on the market have digital music, Internet radio, a CD player and satellite radio, improving the ability to enjoy travel and music.
Apart from acting as the headquarters of your audio system, some head units even feature video functionality. Such units are capable of playing Blu-ray or DVD disks with some having built-in LCD screens. The same way that traditional head units provide audio signals to your speakers, you can also hook a video head unit to an external display.
The car speakers are the final pieces to the basic audio system puzzle. Most car audio systems feature four speakers, but you will also come across diverse configurations on the market. Once a speaker receives audio signal from the amplifier, electrical energy is converted to mechanical that causes the cone inside to move back and forth. The cone’s vibrations cause the displacement of air, which in turn creates the sound waves you hear.
While home audio systems come with discrete tweeter, midrange and woofer units, car audio systems utilize full range speakers. The speakers help in saving space, but cannot offer the same sound quality as real midrange speaker, tweeter or woofer would.
Some speakers in cars offer you a combination of a tweeter and woofer in a single coaxial unit, with dedicated subwoofers available on the market too. Most people upgrade car speakers to full range speakers to achieve better sound quality.
This is the second major component that you will find in every car audio system on the market. While the head provides audio signal, the amplifier increases the signals power. Without an amplifier, audio signal from the head unit would be too weak to move to the system speakers for sound.
Simple car audio systems have a head unit with four speakers, but don’t assume that an amp is not in the picture. A simple system has a small power amp in the head unit. Considering that space is a premium in many trucks and cars, it’s a necessity to have a combination of the head unit and amp in a single unit.
Some OEM systems have separate power amps, but most units in vehicles do not. It’s important to note here that including an external amp will not always help provide a sound quality boost. Furthermore, if the speakers are designed to work with anemic power amp in a stock head unit, you’ll also need to address this.
Putting it All Together
To achieve the best sound from your car audio system, you need to pay attention to each of the three basic components above. Beware that an awesome head unit can provide you with mediocre sound quality if it doesn’t have the right powered external amp. In the same breath, a powerful power amplifier is literally useless if you pair it with factory full-range speakers.
The best approach to upgrading your system is by focusing on factors like your budget, weaknesses and strengths of your current system, and your overall objective.