Car Audio Upgrades
Car Audio upgrades can make a big difference in your listening pleasure. It’s important to consider the various components in your system and how they all work together – changing one component usually won’t yield much of an improvement.
At the heart of your system is the head unit, also known as a radio or stereo (although those names don’t quite tell the whole story). It produces an electronic audio signal that is sent to your speakers.
When you listen to music in your car, it is actually a combination of many different sounds, frequencies, and tones. These sounds are created by different parts of the speaker and reproduced in your ears. Tweeters are a vital component of the stereo system because they are capable of reproducing high-frequency tones and trebles. They are typically paired with woofers to create a more complete sound spectrum, which is what makes up music and other auditory content.
There are many different kinds of speakers on the market, each with its own unique set of qualities. The most important things to look for when shopping for a new speaker are its size, power rating, and impedance. The power rating indicates how much power it can handle to operate effectively, while the impedance is the resistance that a speaker will encounter when delivering an audio signal.
The higher the sensitivity (measured in watts) and the lower the impedance, the better a speaker will perform. The size of a speaker is also important because larger drivers can move more air to produce a louder sound, but they will require more power to do so.
A speaker can be tested by removing it from its enclosure and listening to the sound. The noise you hear is the result of a pressure wave that emanates from the front and back of the driver. As the driver moves, it pushes and pulls the air on both sides, but if the wavelength that corresponds with the reproduced frequency is larger than the diameter of the speaker, the two waves will cancel out each other at any useful distance. This causes the low frequencies (bass) to become inaudible and makes the speaker sound tinny.
The amplifier is the heart of the car audio system. It takes a signal at a low level, essentially noise, and boosts it to a level loud enough to hear with human ears. It does this by changing the current from alternating (like the power in batteries) to direct current. It then varies the amount of current flowing through the circuit depending on the input from the source.
The first practical amplifying electrical device was a triode vacuum tube, invented by Lee De Forest in 1907. This had a hot cathode surrounded by a grid and an anode, with a control grid that could energize the cathode to repel more or less electrons from the grid. By varying the cathode current with a varying audio signal, De Forest was able to amplify the output voltage by up to 5 times.
More modern amplifiers use semiconductor devices, typically bipolar-junction transistors. These are made up of a layer of p-type semiconductor sandwiched between two layers of n-type semiconductors. Electrodes on the transistor are connected to an input signal, which is then turned into a varying output voltage by varying the current through the base and collector.
This type of circuit can be classified into different amplifier classes. These differ in how efficiently they operate and how linear they are at various frequency ranges. Some classes, such as class A, have a high efficiency but are not very linear, while others, such as class B, are more efficient but have a poor linearity. Generally, an amplifier with a higher class has greater linearity. It’s possible to find integrated amplifiers that have both a preamp and power amp in the same box.
The subwoofer is the speaker in your car that projects low frequencies. It is what gives bass its sound. The vibrations created by the woofer can cause parts of your car to shake. This is typically seen as rattling, but it doesn’t cause structural damage to your car.
When connected to an amplifier, the woofer’s magnet and voice coil receive electronic audio signals that are charged positively and negatively. These signals then move the voice coil up and down between the magnetic plates. The current from the voice coil moves through the speaker cone, and creates sound waves that produce your music and movies.
Most people mount subwoofers in a ported or sealed enclosure to reduce distortion and produce more bass. It is also important to ensure the woofer matches your amplifier’s impedance. If the woofer has an impedance lower than the amp’s wattage rating, it will draw more power than it is capable of handling and overheat.
In order to enjoy the full impact of your woofers, it is recommended that you have an equalizer for your car audio system. An equalizer allows you to adjust the frequency response of your subwoofer and other speakers in your car. This allows you to achieve a balance and consistency in your sound that best suits the type of music or movies you listen to.
Although subwoofers do not damage your vehicle’s engine, they can drain the battery if you continuously play them at high volume levels. This is because the subwoofers and their amplifiers consume a significant amount of electricity. This is why it’s important to use a high-quality battery and heavy gauge speaker wires to connect your subwoofers to the amplifier.
The head unit is one of the most important parts of the car audio system. If it is old or underpowered, it will limit the quality of music played through your speakers. Taking out your factory head unit and replacing it with a third-party head unit can transform the sound quality of your vehicle.
When choosing a new head unit, you want to consider the amplifier wattage and other features that are important to you. For example, if you are planning on adding an external amplifier to your vehicle, look for a head unit with RCA line outputs. This will let you bypass the built-in head unit amp and avoid the potential for a subwoofer or speaker damage.
Other features to consider are Bluetooth for streaming music and hands-free calling, USB ports or auxiliary inputs for connecting your phone and other devices and a display that provides low-distraction access to apps, navigation and music. Many head units also have voice control capabilities, which eliminate the need to use control buttons while driving and help you keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel.
A good head unit will have a small, built-in amplifier that can power your speakers directly. The amplifier is made of two components: a preamp and a power amp. The preamp handles the signal from your media player, which is then sent to the power amplifier for output.
Many people believe that a new head unit improves the sound quality of their vehicle’s speakers. However, this is only because a new head unit has a better-quality amplifier, which in turn delivers higher-quality power to your speakers. Other factors, such as upgrading your speakers and soundproofing your vehicle, can also make a significant difference in your vehicle’s audio experience.
Many of the parts that make up your car audio system have a variety of accessories available that can enhance the function and performance. For example, if you’re still using the single-disc CD player that came with your 2003 Corolla, you may want to upgrade to a multimedia receiver with an auxiliary input for streaming music from iPods, USB ports for digital devices and satellite radio compatibility. You can also purchase a head unit with DVD playback capabilities for added entertainment, which is especially useful for families with children.
The second major component in any car audio system is the amplifier, which enhances the strength of the audio signal sent from a head unit to speakers. The higher the wattage rating, the more power an amplifier can provide and the louder your system will sound. The rated power level is often noted on the unit, either on a head unit with a built-in amplifier or a standalone amplifier.
There are a variety of equalizers that can be added to a head unit or amplifier to tweak how your system sounds and to better suit the acoustics of your vehicle and listening preferences. An EQ allows you to adjust the frequency response of your speakers to enrich your music with bass or to cut down on unwanted frequencies, such as high-pitched shrills.
Some receivers also include time correction, which is a technology that helps compensate for the difference between the distance of left and right speakers from the listener’s ears. This is accomplished by shifting the signals to correct timing and produces a more natural, lifelike stereo image. You can also find a wide range of remotes that allow you to control your system with a single click and other convenient features that will keep you from having to take your hands off the wheel.