Car audio can be complicated to explain. Customers are always asking: What’s the cheapest and easiest way to make my car sound better?
There isn’t a simple answer here. Sure, there are inexpensive items you can throw in your system, but they may require a few hours to install, and I don’t consider that to be easy.There are some quick solutions, but they may not be what most people would call “cheap.” I’m going to try and break down multiple upgrade paths and provide you with three easy and inexpensive ways to make your car audio sound better.
1. OEM or factory audio systems. This is the audio system your car comes with. It probably sounds average, but even a fancy Bosefinity, Mark Karvinson, 23-speaker system, with the Beatwoofer in the trunk could probably use a little help.If you aren’t ready to start replacing the factory bits just yet, try a Hushmat Speaker Kit ($25) around your door speakers. It takes a bit of work to remove the door panel, but Hushmat will help to deaden the door and absorb the vibration caused by the speakers. If you reduce that vibration, the speakers will play more efficiently and you may hear details that you couldn’t hear before.Since the door panel needs to be removed to install Hushmat, this would also be a good time to install a set of XTC Foam Speaker Baffles ($15) to give the speakers their own enclosure inside the door. They will instantly sound better and, with a nice airtight seal around the back of the speaker, you will have many advantages over an open-air environment. Including, better sound, increased power handling, more bottom end and as a bonus, your speakers will stay dry when rain drains through your doors.
2. Entry-level aftermarket audio systems. Now you’ve replaced the factory speakers with some nice aftermarket speakers and perhaps added an amplifier and a real subwoofer system. Things are really beginning to shake and vibrate now.
As mentioned before, Hushmat and foam baffles are great ways to improve the sound of any speaker, but now we’re going one step further with a product called F.A.S.T. Rings ($25). These are acoustic sealing rings made of a dense foam that help seal the speaker to the door, absorb unwanted sound reflections and channel all of the speaker’s sound into the cabin instead of bouncing around inside your door panel and going who knows where.
The combination of Hushmat, speaker baffles and/or F.A.S.T. rings will ensure that your speakers have the best possible environment to produce great sound without expensive door panel modifications—all for less than a hundred bucks! They don’t take long to install but you do need to know how to remove the door panels without breaking anything, otherwise, you may want to consider a professional installation. A pro should be able to install all three for you in about an hour.
3. High-end car audio systems. Ok, now you’re getting serious about your sound. By this time, you should already have Hushmat around every aftermarket speaker, on inner door panels, rear deck, roof, and trunk lid if needed. You’ve plunked down a nice bit of change on a sweet set of component speakers so hopefully, you’ve taken care of your doors with baffles and rings. You have 2000 watts of subwoofer amplification sucking all the juice out of your lights and the sound out of your mids and highs. You need more power and you need it now!
The quickest way to go about this is to replace your factory alternator with a high-output version.
What—not a capacitor or a second battery?
Nope. Extra batteries and capacitors are great but they don’t make power, they only store a limited amount of it. An alternator with a higher output doesn’t cost as much as you might think ($130-$250) and you may be able to find one locally. Many of them simply bolt right into the factory location with a minimal amount of custom work required, if any at all. If you need more power, do it right the first time and replace your alternator, (if possible) then add the capacitor and extra battery.
Quick tip: There’s a reason why most speaker cabinets are made of wood. It’s heavy, it’s dense, it’s strong and it doesn’t flex and vibrate when the speakers are moving. Cars are being made of lighter and thinner materials every year. It’s great for gas mileage but terrible for sound because those lighter metals will vibrate with the music. The more effort you put into stopping those vibrations in your vehicle, the better your music will sound.
High-powered car audio equipment can be tough on a vehicle’s electrical system. There are a hundred other electrical do-dads that still need power when the beats are banging. Ensuring that your car can produce enough current to meet these demands is very important for the life of your amplifiers, the speakers connected to them and pretty much everything else in the car that requires power to operate. Upgrade the alternator first!