Listening to music in our cars is a must for many of us. Yet a lot of folks put up with poor sound quality in their cars, despite the many tunes they listen to. Even sophisticated sound systems are often marred by installation errors, which can prevent your audio system from performing at its best.
Luckily, the most effective ways to improve music in cars often require simple tweaks that anyone can do. And, in many instances, simple improvements yield noticeable results. With those facts in mind, let’s take a look at some of the things you can do to improve car-audio quality.
Replacing your car speakers with higher-quality ones is a great place to start. That’s because the factory speakers that come with cars are basically an afterthought for most manufacturers, and one of the interior features they put the least amount of money and attention into.
The sad fact is, if your car speakers are substandard, the quality of sound in your car will suffer. For a tighter bass sound and better overall sound quality, installing a new set of aftermarket speakers goes a long way toward enhancing the music in the confines of your car. You may even notice sounds and details in some of your favorite songs that you didn’t know were there.
So, consider an upgrade if your car is saddled with subpar factory speakers. This is one of the best ways to get the most bang for your buck, and it adds some major enjoyment back into driving!
One part of your car audio that’s easy to overlook is the head unit. This under-noticed item matters a lot when it comes to enhanced sound quality. Along with features like Bluetooth connectivity, touchscreen functionality, and navigation options, the all-important head unit can determine the kinds of audio files your system will play.
For this reason, it’s essential to install a head unit that both fits your style and enables you to play high-quality audio files from your phone or other devices. Fortunately, replacing the factory head unit with an improved one is a simple task and not too expensive to do.
Another way to improve sound quality in cars is to get around the digital-to-analog (DAC) converter. These days, our audio players are often our smartphones, which have decent built-in DACs for earbuds but don’t deliver the same level of sound that top-of-the-line car stereos offer.
Therefore, look for an aftermarket car stereo that enables you to bypass your device’s DAC. This is often accomplished by plugging your smartphone into your stereo via a USB cord. Check the manufacturer’s website or talk to an audio expert on the best way to set this up.
Another reason to consider plugging your device into your car stereo system is to improve the overall sound quality. While Bluetooth is no doubt convenient, and an easy way to sync your music, it can unfortunately affect your sound quality—for the worse.
To maximize sound quality in your car, connect your smartphone or whatever device you’re using via an auxiliary cable instead of through Bluetooth. This simple switch can have a noticeable positive impact on the sound in your car. As much as we may hate to admit it in this wireless world we live in, wireless connections are not as reliable as wired ones, and plugging into your car’s audio is an easy fix.
A lot of us use our smartphones to store music, so it’s tempting to compress audio files so that we can store as many songs as possible. Compressed audio files are generally not a problem when listening to music through earbuds, but when heard through a solid car audio system, you’ll soon discover that something in the sound is missing.
For music on an iPod, smartphone, or MP3 player, try using as little compression as possible. Higher bit rates will sound better, and the details and subtleties of music make for a more enriching experience. Look for lossless files.
Check the app settings when streaming music. The default settings for songs on Spotify, for example, can be adjusted for better sound quality. Also consider using a music service that streams in higher-quality music such as TIDAL. And if all else fails, you can always listen to good old-fashioned CDs for truly superior sound.
Car manufacturers are known to do everything they can to reduce the weight of the vehicles they make. The result of this is that they often cut corners in the realm of car audio. For instance, many audio systems are integrated with features such as climate control, which can cause interference and problems when installing an aftermarket system.
To avoid this issue, you can install a preamp in place of the factory-installed amplifier. Most preamps provide six analog outputs without being muddled by phase-EQ filters or time alignment features. Once the preamp is installed, you or an audio engineer can hook up an aftermarket stereo system without interference from factory-set parameters, including noise-cancellation features.
Installing a separate amplifier undoubtedly improves the sound quality in cars. No matter how excellent your stereo speakers may be, you’ll need a standalone amp to get the topmost sound quality. Amps are especially critical for bass control, which is essential for the best car audio.
A separate amplifier also improves your stereo in another key way: You’ll be better able to adjust sound settings, with clean power that can be adjusted for all types of music, from hip-hop to rock to classical.
Installing a subwoofer in your car is one of the simplest ways to improve your car audio. This speaker makes a massive difference in improving sound quality and brings out the bottom octave, smoothing it out into proper balance. Trust us—listening to your favorite tunes with a subwoofer in the car is a whole new and exciting experience.
That said, we’ve all come to a stoplight and felt the vibrations emanating from the car next to ours. While a subwoofer can certainly bring out the boom, especially for certain kinds of music, they offer a lot more than that. These speakers, in fact, can be adjusted for any type of music and to personal taste. They add richness to music, and that makes them essential for anyone who cares about car audio.
Once you have your subwoofer installed, it’s essential to house it properly. An enclosure prevents this all-important speaker from shifting out of place and keeps its sound settings balanced. So make sure your subwoofer box is properly sealed. Even small air leaks can impact its performance.
It’s crucial to build a box that’s capable of handling the interior volume of your subwoofer. If this is not done correctly, song performance can suffer and equipment can be damaged. If you’re using a ported box, make sure it’s designed for the kind of subwoofer you have. To make things easier, it’s sometimes best to purchase a premade enclosure that’s built specifically for your subwoofer.
Using a capacitor is best for advanced car audio systems. A capacitor acts as a buffer between your car’s battery and the amplifier. It also stores extra power from the alternator and releases it to meet the needs of your audio system. This setup prevents your amp and subwoofer from decreasing sound quality due to a lack of power.
Big bass uses tons of power, which is why you may notice a drop in performance after blasting your subwoofer for only a couple of minutes. Since most electrical systems in cars are not designed to handle this kind of power transfer, installing a capacitor helps shore up the system’s power needs and provides a steadier flow of power to the amp.
It’s tempting to boost your tone controls to the max to improve sound quality in your car. However, these controls can cause distortion when set too high, especially at the higher volumes often desired during road trips or general highway driving. Setting the tone controls is a matter of taste, but you don’t want to overly strain the system you’re trying so hard to take care of and get the most out of.
To improve the sound, lower the highs and mids a little, give a small boost to the bass, and turn up the overall level a tad. Avoid heavy low-frequency boosts, especially if you’re using your factory stereo.
Many aftermarket stereos feature a multi-band equalizer or EQ. Like the other tone controls, adjusting EQ can have a positive or negative effect on sound quality. So it’s best to avoid excessive cuts or tone boosts. Bad EQ settings can harm your system’s sound, but an intelligent tone curve can improve its quality.
Some EQ systems have built-in presets that you can experiment with for various types of music and driving (highway driving versus city driving, for example). You can also program your own presets to improve car audio. That said, please don’t fiddle with EQ settings while driving—that’s dangerous, to say the least. Set the presets while parked, before you start driving.
Another set of controls that must be appropriately set are the amp gains. Some people think the controls on their amp are related to volume, so they mistakenly turn them all the way up. Then they wonder why their new sound system sounds awful. These controls determine the amount of input signal that is transferred to the amp … too much can cause serious distortion.
A good way to set your amp gains properly is to turn up the volume on your receiver to about three-fourths of the way to maximum. Then adjust the amp gain until you begin to hear distortion. Turn the amp gain down a little below this point, and you should be good to go.
Some people focus on installing high-quality amps and subwoofers but use low-quality cables to set them up. To be fair, it’s easy to overlook cables because they seem unimportant and straightforward. Yet quality cables are an essential part of any audio setup.
It helps to think of electricity as running water. Low-quality garden hoses can’t handle highly pressurized water and tend to spring leaks when overused. The same is true for the cables you purchase. Bad cables can disrupt the flow of electricity, while good ones allow energy to flow freely to your amp and keep up with the ebb and flow of energy demands.
Another way to improve your car audio is to use sound-deadening materials to reduce vibration and road noise. You may have noticed how sound quality drops when you’re traveling at high speeds. This is because road noise drowns out the lower frequencies. Speakers in your door panel also tend to vibrate the metal as music plays, harming sound quality.
So install sound-deadening materials in your car to combat vibrations and road noise. These materials lower interior noise, which is particularly critical when driving on the highway. Making this adjustment means you won’t have to blast your music (unless you want to) to be able to hear the more nuanced musical details. And your amps won’t have to work as hard, which is a bonus.
In addition to using sound-deadening materials, it’s also essential that your window seals are all properly installed. Window seals prevent air from escaping the car and also prevent air from getting in, thus reducing interior noise. Anything that diminishes internal noise is good for your car audio.
In some cases or depending on the type of car you have, you may want to install higher-quality window seals. Old ones can be removed and replaced relatively easily, and new ones will keep water, air, and noise from escaping the car’s interior or getting into it. In this way, you won’t have to turn your system’s volume up as high to enjoy the tunes.
The quality of your tires also makes a difference when it comes to car audio. Not only can tires improve how you feel bumps in the road, but they can also decrease road noise. The louder your drive, the higher you have to turn up the volume, which requires more power and reduces overall audio quality.
The good news is that there are tires that can be purchased that cut down outside noise significantly. Features to look for on tires include narrower models, softer rubber, small and stabilized tread blocks, small hash marks inside the grooves to break up airflow, and continuous circumferential ribs with straight grooves in between.
Many in-dash receivers include frequency filters for your preamp and speaker outputs. These filters help get the sound just right for your car audio system. For example, you can experiment with raising and lowering the crossover point on your low-pass filter to improve the quality of the bass sound.
For cleaner volume, try using the high-pass filter to remove low bass from full-range speakers. You also might have the option to remove low bass below the range of human hearing, which helps your amp and subwoofer produce cleaner sounds. What’s more, your subsonic filter may be able to remove low-frequency sounds that sputter.
When playing music from your smartphone, don’t forget about the controls it offers. Apple users can go into their settings and experiment with the iPhone’s internal equalizer. Although this only works for songs played via Apple Music, you can often improve the sound quality by tweaking a few auditory elements.
Further, some apps can be specifically designed for improving car audio. For example, Car Vitalizer for iOS adjusts the timing of each audio channel so that everything hits your ear at the exact right time when you’re in the driver’s seat.
Depending on your system, you may also be able to bypass your phone entirely by using a flash drive. This is another way to circumvent your phone’s Digital Audio Converter (DAC), a tool mentioned above. In most cases, your audio system’s DAC should be better than your phone’s.
We’re not advising you rush out and buy a brand-new car just to improve your car audio experience, but there are auditory elements to keep in mind when it’s time to make such a crucial purchase. For instance, station wagons typically make more road noise than sedans. So if you own a station wagon, switching to a sedan would immediately improve the sound quality inside your car.
While some people enjoy hearing the sounds of their car, they often forget how these noises can impact their car’s audio. Simply put, opting for a quieter car is an easy way to improve car audio. Some quiet cars on the market to consider include the Honda Odyssey, the Toyota Prius, the Audi A6, the Mercedes-Benz S550e, and the Ram 1500.
Bumpy roads abound in this world, though depending on where you live, you may be able to choose your route to work or school. If that’s an option for you, always choose the smoothest path to your destination to reduce road noise. It will improve your car’s audio quality.
Still, it’s not always easy to know which roads are the smoothest, at least not without driving them first. Maybe someday navigation apps will be able to determine both the smoothest route and the fastest route for us, but for right now we’ll have to simply drive to discover the smoothest path to take in our vehicles.
We mentioned above the importance of properly enclosing your subwoofer, but another thing you can do to improve your car audio is to add sound-dampening material to your trunk. If you have a subwoofer installed, chances are it’s set up in the trunk. Although it’s a little counterintuitive, lining your trunk with soundproofing material can significantly improve sound quality.
You can also use sound-dampening material in your door frames. Doing so will mean that fewer soundwaves escape out of your trunk and remain in your car, thereby enabling you to reduce the overall volume of the music for a richer, less vibrating sound.
So we recommend you line the sidewalls, line the inside of the trunk lid, and line the floor with sound-deadening material. You’ll be amazing what a difference it makes.
Although we mentioned above that one way to help improve car audio is to use wires instead of Bluetooth, you may still prefer the convenience of going wireless, which is understandable. So if you want to improve Bluetooth sound quality in a car, it’s critical to realize that it’s all about the equipment you’re using.
The problem with Bluetooth is that it’s not transmitting soundwaves via a radio signal. Instead, it’s compressing data into a digitized form that is then analyzed by your stereo and converted into sound. The more compressed this data becomes, the greater the loss of sound quality.
To ensure the best sound quality while using Bluetooth, it’s crucial for both your audio player and receiver to be compatible with the same technology. Wireless technology continues to develop and improve, so with the right equipment, you can maintain audio quality at a decent standard when transmitted via Bluetooth.
As you can see, much can be done to improve car audio. From bigger updates such as installing new speakers to simple tweaks like adjusting the frequency filters, maximizing your car’s audio potential is as much an art as it is a science. We hope we’ve inspired you to make some top-notch improvements in your car for the best possible sound!