Tips And Guide To Buying Audio System For Your Vehicle

audio-system

I have been noticing for quiet sometime that people post so many threads about which speakers to buy, amp to get, woofer and player etc. Almost always, people don’t bother to search the previous threads about the same topic. We have countless threads here where people are asking for reviews on the ever famous Kenwood 718s for example. Then there are threads on what woofer to buy.

What I want to do here is to give a basic guideline that you should follow when you are out to purchase any of the sound equipment. So here we go:

FIRST STEP:
The first step should always be deciding what kind of setup you want. We have Sound quality or SQ, SPL (sound pressure level) and SQL. I am not going to explain these types of systems because each will require a separate thread on its own.

SECOND STEP:
Determine what your budget is. Are you going to buy all the equipment at once? Are you planning a system to be completed slowly and take time (my own system is a work in progress since 2003).

When you have decided the above two things, then you should go on buying parts of your system. And here are a few guidelines on what to look for.

Speakers (front or rear)
This is usually the first upgrade that you should do if you are upgrading from the factory system or second upgrade if you are building from scratch (Head unit will be first in this case).

For SQ:
Sq systems are all about the front stage. For a true sq system, rear stage does not exist. After all you watch TV and a concert while they are in front of you and not with your back turned towards it.
So for front stage, the best options are component speakers. These can be quiet expensive as compared to coaxial speakers. Things to consider for components are;
1. Price
Usually high end components are quiet expensive. We now have some budget options like Sony, Kenwood, Pioneer, Alpine and Fusion available that give good quality for money. Whereas there are favorites and some really good components available in the market, my advice to all of them is to determine a price range, get quotes for within that price range and audition the speakers.

2. Auditioning
People can only advice you if a brand is reliable in the long run. You should make up your own mind on what brand and model sounds best to you. When I bought my first pair of 6X9 coaxial’s, people were all advising me to buy Kenwood 718. But when I heard them, they sounded very shrill and without any detail in the treble. Instead I bought pioneer ts-d690r. I still have them and they still play good. And I love their sound. So it is important to choose the sound you like for your system and not because someone tells you that it is good.

Recommended brands for components
Sony components
Pioneer 1720
Fusion
Kenwood
Fusion
Alpine

High-end components:
Polk audio
Focal
Boston acoustics
Hertz

Head Unit:
If you want a SPL system then any decent head unit with an option of subwoofer is good for you. The brands to choose from are alpine, pioneer, kenwood and clarion with some good models of sony and jvc also thrown in the mix. Subwoofer control is essential for spl system. 2RCA out are sufficient since you will be running front speaker and a woofer only. Buy three rca out if you want to add rear stage as well. Or you can split the front stage and power rear speaker from it.

If you want SQ system then you would have to pay good attention to your pre. SQ pres are usually expansive than normal ones. It should have a good D/A converter and a nice set of equalizers. A built in digital sound processor is a bonus though new models have them separate. It should also have a decent volt out. This is where experts can advice you as frankly speaking, novice can not differentiate between normal sound quality pre and high sound quality pre.

Recommended brands for pre
pioneer
kenwood
alpine
clarion
some specific models of sony and jvc

Amplifier:

This is where things get little tricky. You see most of the manufacturers of speakers, amps and woofers post very high numbers on their boxes to attract customers. 1000 watts of 1500 watts written on tiny Chinese of unbranded amps and then you see small figures on huge branded amps. So what’s the right figure? What to look for in an amp?

First of all there are two ways to measure power of an amp.

  1. Peak Power
  2. RMS Power

Peak power means the highest power output it can give for a short period of time without getting damaged. RMS power means the highest power it can continuously give without getting damaged. An example would be top speed of your car. If you always drive it at top speed, your engine life will decrease and soon it will fail. This is peak power. If you keep driving your Honda at 100-120 then your engine will last a long time. This is RMS power.

When buying an amp, always check the rms power of it. If you are buying for speakers then this rms power should be near or same as the rms power of your speakers. Going slightly above the rms of your speakers is better than going slightly lower. Meaning if your speakers are 75 watts rms and you have a choice of an amp that is 70 watts rms or another that is 80 watts rms, I would suggest you go for the 80 watts amp.

All branded amps will have their rms power written on them. If an amp does not mention this quantity anywhere on the manual or itself, and only mentions peak power, you should try to avoid it. Another way to check the rating of an amp is through the fuse rating. But that can be altered by the manufacturer or the shopkeeper by putting a larger fuse.

It is always advised to have separate amps for your woofers and speakers. For speakers you can have 2 or 4 channel amps as per your requirement. For subwoofers, monoblocks are your best choice. These are class D amps which are very energy efficient and require lesser current than class a/b amps to give max power output. Same rule apply for amps as speakers when buying amps for woofers. The only difference is that some subwoofers can be over powered so you can get higher sound level. But that requires a properly tuned box and tuning by an expert.

What to look for in an amp;
for speakers:
THD (Total harmonic distortion): As small as possible. Anything above 1% should be avoided.
Signal to noise ratio: This should be a high figure above 110.
Sensitivity: If your pre is giving out low watts outputs then you need an amp with higher sensitivity. If it is giving out more than 16 watts per channel then you can use an amp with lower sensitivity.
Input level: If your pre is giving out 2 volts current output then it is useless to go for an amp that accepts 6 volts input. You do not need to pay extra for a feature that you are not going to use. But if you are planning to upgrade in future then it is ok. It is highly advised not to buy an amp with a lower input range than your pre’s output range. For example if your pre gives out 4 volts outputs then choose an amp with 4 volts input. If the amp only accepts upto 3 volts then you will face problems.

For subwoofers:

Class D mono amps are the best choice. They require less current, give out less heat and are more efficient than class A/B amps. They usually have built in bass boost and low pass filters and they are designed to reproduce low frequencies accurately.
A two or four channel amp can also be bridged to give power to a woofer but it is better to have a monoblock.

Choose an amplifier whose power output is rated at least 70% to 125% of the power handling of the speakers you’ll be amplifying. Make sure you’re comparing the RMS power ratings of both the amp and speakers. And remember — it’s better to overpower your speakers a little than to send them too little power.

Brands to look for
In Chinese; soundmagus is the current favorite
In branded; Kenwood, Pioneer, JBL, sony, and if you can find and afford; JL, Rockford fosgate, Phoenix Gold.

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