It’s hard to imagine a car without an audio system. Even old, rusty trucks in far-flung areas of the world have at least a radio to keep their passengers company. Car audio systems have been around for as long as there have been cars, and they seem to become more sophisticated with each passing year.
However, no matter how many components or technologies arise, a car audio system only has three basic components. So if you’re thinking about installing a car audio system, keep in mind that the components listed below are the ones you must include.
If every system has a heart or a brain, then the head unit would be it for a car audio system. Often referred to as the radio or stereo, the head unit is the component that provides the audio signal for the system.
In the beginning, head units were simply radio tuners. As time went by, head units became capable of providing audio signals from cassette tapes and CD players. Today, most head units have USB ports for playing digital music, and satellite and Internet radio capability. Consumers can also go for head units that can play video from DVD or Blu-ray discs and have built-in LCD screens.
With the head unit, you can easily choose whatever you want to play, control the volume of your music, and see what you’re listening to through its graphical interface.
An amplifier does exactly what its name implies: it takes the audio signal that the head unit sends out and amplifies it on its way to the speakers. Not only does an amplifier increase the power of that audio signal from the head unit, but it also improves the quality of the sound. With speakers hooked up to an amplifier, you should be able to turn up the volume without it producing crackling sounds and distorting the audio. The sound is clearer, making your listening experience so much better.
Not all amplifiers are created equal though, so you can vastly improve your car audio by simply upgrading your amp to superior types.
As mentioned above, the speakers receive the audio signal from the amplifier and serve as the output devices that convert the electrical energy of that signal into sound. At least four speakers make up most car audio systems, although you can play with various configurations that will allow you to add more.
There are several types of speakers, including co-axial, component, and subwoofers. A co-axial speaker is one unit that houses both the tweeter, which takes care of the treble or higher range notes and the woofer, which deals with the bass or the lower to mid-range frequencies. Component speakers, on the other hand, are simply a set of speakers that separate the woofer and the tweeters. Subwoofers, meanwhile, are designed to reproduce bass and sub-bass that is typically lower than what a woofer can generate.
More often than not, car owners upgrade the speakers that come with their car because the sound quality they produce is often poor. They go for speakers that are constructed better and are usually made of cloth and foam. Some excellent speakers have rubber, metal, silk, and other synthetic materials. With these speakers, car owners can enjoy full-bodied bass, pristine sound in high-frequency ranges, and a lack of distortion.
The way these three basic components interact determines a car audio system’s overall quality. Of course, you can always go beyond these basics.
If you’re happy with your factory-installed car audio system, then good for you. But if you want a more customized listening experience, then you can always upgrade. You can replace the plain head unit that came with your car for one that has a 5-band equalizer, for example. Would you want an amplifier that can boost the signal for more speakers other than the ones built into your car? Then get a multiple channel amplifier. And if you want more powerful, crystal-clear, and incredibly detailed sound, then choose from so many great aftermarket speakers in the market. With aftermarket equipment, you should be able to have a car audio system that will be perfectly in line with your music-listening preferences while driving.
Lauren Bricks is the Content Specialist for Streetfighter Motorsports LLC, a family-operated car audio and accessory installation, sales and customization facility located in Phoenix, Arizona. She loves cars, and although she spends much of her week writing about them, she still finds the time to hop onto the second-hand Corvette convertible her dad gave her for her 25th birthday and drive to the countryside with the top down.