It’s Saturday night, you’ve had a long week, and you’re looking to go for a drive, let the miles roll by, and feel the stress slip away. You’ve got the open road in front of you, a gorgeous starry sky overhead, and the perfect song queued up on your phone. But you hit play, and you’re greeted by a quiet, tinny sound from the paltry speakers that came in the car you picked at your favorite used car dealership a few months ago. The car’s great, and you love driving it, but the sound – oh, the sound system is just awful.
Good news: aftermarket car sound systems can be very reasonable in price and elevate your car speakers to the next level. Whether you’re looking to install them yourself or prefer to have a trained professional handle it, you can shop from a wide range of aftermarket systems and setups that will ensure you can truly enjoy your music the next time you want to cruise. However, it’s important that you know what to look for to really get the most from upgrading your car’s audio.
Let’s take a look at some good guidelines to keep in mind while shopping for aftermarket car sound systems, and then we’ll go over some of your best options.
Two Things to Consider: Head Unit and Speakers
When you’re looking at aftermarket sound systems, there are two different primary components that you need to keep in mind and look for. The first is the head unit, which can also be called a receiver or referred to as a “radio.” This is the actual heart of your sound system and is essentially the electronics and interface installed in your vehicle’s dashboard. Today, aftermarket head units can be much more than just a stereo system and can include built-in navigation, smartphone integration through Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and even more.
In addition to a head unit, you also need a number of speakers to actually create audio for you that you can hear while you’re driving. That might seem obvious – of course you need speakers – but it’s still important because you can buy these different components individually. So if you like the head unit that’s in your vehicle, then you can just shop for speakers and not have to worry about it. It all really depends on what you’re looking for, so consider all of your options.
Use What You Already Have
I’m not telling you that your sound system is fine; what I mean by “use what you already have” is to consider what parts of your current setup might already be good enough. Like I said above, if your head unit works well, then there’s no reason to toss it out if you don’t have to. Similarly, when you’re replacing your speakers, the easiest way to do it is to buy speakers of the same size and number as what came with your vehicle, so you can easily install the new ones. By using the gear, space, and configuration you already have, you’re going to be able to save some money while upgrading your system.
Of course, you can always go the other way when upgrading your car’s audio and replace absolutely everything. If you buy an older used car, or a low-trim model with a pretty weak sound system, then this might be necessary. This is going to cost you more in terms of both new components and any labor for installation, but the results are also going to be the most dramatic. With a completely new head unit, amplifier, and speakers, you can get an audio experience way beyond anything your car might have originally been capable of.
Keep Price in Mind
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you to keep price in mind when shopping for something, but what I’m really talking about is the sort of models you should consider. Prices on good car sound systems can vary pretty widely, so it’s important to have a sense of your budget and then use that when shopping. In general, high-end sound systems are going to run you several thousand dollars, while mid-range options will be more in the $1000 area. However, the good news is that even more budget-friendly picks will still sound better than a lot of cheap factory sound systems and can cost under $1000.
Great Picks for Car Sound Systems
Here are some of my favorite options right now for excellent aftermarket car speakers. Keep in mind that new models are being released pretty frequently, so the best options will change on a regular basis. However, these are all excellent brands, so you can find other models from them and know that you’re still getting something good.
Focal ISU Speakers – For a lot of people, Focal represents the pinnacle of quality for car speakers, and I really wouldn’t disagree. These can be very expensive, but if you’re a serious audiophile and you can hear the difference that $2,000 speakers make, then you’re going to love them.
Alpine R Series Speakers – If you want to experience the sound quality of Focal without going above $1,000, then this is a great option. These might not beat out the best high-end speakers, but you’re going to get amazing audio with them.
JBL Stadium Speakers – JBL has a wide range of amazing car speakers. The Stadium series is probably my favorite and features fiberglass woofers with rich, impressive sound – available in a wide range of sizes.
JL Audio C2 Evolution Series – Although these are on the pricier end of the budget-friendly options available, they sound fantastic. If you’re not ready to drop a huge amount of money on speakers, but you still want amazing audio quality, then check them out.
Kicker CS Series – Kicker gets a lot of love for being one of the best budget brands on the market, and with good reason. These are a great choice for something that you can drop in right where the original speakers in your vehicle were and immediately upgrade your listening experience.
As you can see, there’s something available for just about any budget, and this was only a small sample of the wide range of amazing aftermarket speakers available. The key is to know what your budget looks like so you’re not wasting your time looking at something that costs ten times more than you can spend. Just remember that you can often add onto and build out your system over time, so buy some good tweeters today and then pick up a great headunit down the road.
Get the Most from Your Car’s Audio
When you’re shopping for a used car, it can be tempting to want to find something with everything you’ve ever wanted. Doing so will make your life a lot harder, however, since you’re limiting your options and you’re going to spend a lot more money. It’s much easier to find a great car with a terrific engine and systems all in good shape but missing some features like an amazing sound system. With so many fantastic aftermarket options out there, don’t worry about the head unit or speakers in a used car – you can easily upgrade them and put together a vehicle that will take you on those relaxing drives for years to come.