In a day and age where we have cars that drive themselves, among other things, it is frustrating to hear the poor quality of the audio systems in them. This could be even more noticeable if you are into hi-fi audio, and no, you don’t have to consider yourself an audiophile to make this realization.
Some car manufacturers have outsourced the audio component to well-known brands like Bose, Fender, Rockford Fosgate, Mark Levinson, Bang & Olufsen, Harman Kardon, and others while costing two to three times the cost of a modest aftermarket car audio system, and the performance is lackluster. Most if not all of these premium OEM systems lack in two areas, power and frequency response. For some apparent reason, they are more often than not under power. The bass is usually lacking or muddy, as in the case of Bose and the highs, well there is no reason to beat on a dead horse.
The basics of a car audio system are very simple. We have at least one amplifier, the front and rear speakers to reproduce the sound, and a source unit called the receives or head unit. Depending on how much current demand your amps have, you may also need a car audio cap and, in some cases, an upgraded battery! When it is all set done, you can have a pretty good sound car audio system for a few hundred dollars that will rival many if not all the OEM premium systems on the market today. It is important to note that OEM premium car audio systems cost thousands of dollars even though they offer inferior sound quality to the aftermarket options!
Although a popular question is a little broad and open-ended, this is like asking, how much does it cost to go fast? Well, how fast do you want to go? Like everything, you can spend quite a bit of money on a car stereo system, but it does not have to cost a lot. For example, using a good, better, best scale, we can safely say that a good car stereo system will set you back about $500. A car audio system in this budget will usually use the factory head unit, and by the way, if your car is newer than 2015, more than likely, your OEM head unit will suffice. To this head unit, we’ll connect a four or five-channel amp. We’ll replace the OEM drivers with some good-quality coaxials, add a single sub, probably a ten or twelve, and you are good to go.
A better car audio system costing around $1000 more than likely consists of component speakers, two amplifiers, or a 5-channel amp with bass control, a car audio cap, maybe a larger Lithium battery, and multiple subwoofers.
If you seek to build the best car stereo system, you may want to consider using a discrete amp channel for each speaker and a car audio DSP unit to control it all! This is something pioneered by Mercedez Bens back in the 80s and something a bit too expensive until recent times. However, with the low cost of DSP units and Class D amps, there is no reason you could not build a discrete channel car audio system with DSP for around $1500.