Audio Upgrades: Speaker Basics

over the top audio system in mazda rx-8Whether your ride is trying to rock a fatigued factory or ancient aftermarket audio system, one of the best ways to bring back its sonic boom is by changing out and/or adding speakers. And if you’re not an expert on all things audio, fear not. We’ll walk you through the basics and provide you with, literally, sound advice for tuning up your car’s tunes.

Hearing the highs and feeling the lows
There are basically four types of speakers: tweeter, midrange, woofer and subwoofer. Each is responsible for respectively reproducing the high, middle, low and super low frequency notes of the music. Let’s say you’re listening to “Stairway to Heaven” and you’ve got a system sporting all four types of speakers. The flutes would come through the tweeters, guitars would come through mostly the midrange while the bass and drums would speak to you via the woofers and subwoofers (or “subs,” if you want to sound hip).

Old paper cone speaker

Old paper cone speaker.

Although some speaker systems will incorporate say a tweeter and a midrange in a single unit, high-end audio systems typically have dedicated (stand-alone) tweeters, midrange, woofers and subwoofers. This is why you see 9- to 14-speaker systems (and even higher) in more modern, premium-brand vehicles. These speakers are placed strategically for the best sound, typically with the tweeters up high, closer to the listeners’ ears, and with a subwoofer (or two) under the seat or behind the rear seats. Back in the “good old days” having four full-range speakers, two in the front and two in the back, was living large.

Spending for sound
Of course, your budget will dictate how far you can go with your speaker upgrades. If you’re tired of your car’s buzzy speakers, simply replacing them with higher quality units is the easiest and most cost effective way to restore your listening enjoyment. For example, your car may have had a simple four-speaker setup with a pair on either end of the dash and a pair in the back seat area. Those old factory speakers may be a basic, single-cone full-range design, with those cones made of now cracked and/or ripped paper. Swapping them out for a set of higher quality speakers with composite cones and a separate, built-in tweeter will make a world of difference.

Beats subwoofer.

Beats subwoofer.

This handy audio guide from Crutchfield electronics provides even more detail as far as what to look for when upgrading your car’s speakers. Indeed, this gentleman from Crutchfield shares his story of how his car’s paper-cone-equipped system sounded so bad that he stopped playing music on it and resigned himself to talk radio. Once he upgraded his speakers to more modern units with composite cones and coaxial tweeters, he rediscovered the joy of full-bodied music in his car. This “plug-and-play” install that uses the existing speaker holes is the easiest way to improve the quality of your sound system.

Composite cone speaker.

Composite cone speaker.

If you want to go bigger, then you may want to consider adding a subwoofer or two for tight, thumping bass that’ll have you thinking Larry Mullin Jr. is in the back seat with his Yamaha kit. To go with the demands of more speakers, and to pump up the sound, you should also consider installing an amplifier. Advance Auto Parts offers a large variety of speakers (including subwoofers), amplifiers and accessories to help you get that big sound for little expenditure.

Bang and Olufsen tweeter

Bang and Olufsen tweeter.

More serious self-installations
Up until now, we’ve been talking about upgrades that should be fairly easy for any competent DIY-er. Those who are more advanced can look into installations that typically involve fabricating custom kick panel, door panel, rear quarter trim panel and cargo area speaker enclosures. As such, one should make sure they know what they’re doing before, say, cutting holes into the door panels only to discover the power window or door lock mechanism is in the way. As with anything, some folks go way over the top and use nearly every square inch of the car’s interior to create the ultimate mobile sound system.

All that said, there are plenty of car audio forums and enthusiast clubs that can offer tips and maybe even examples of custom setups for your specific make and model. A few we’ve seen online include caraudio.com, and Car Audio Help.

Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts is here to support the cause with a vast selection of parts, tools and accessories to keep your ride on track. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

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