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The Beginners’ Guide to Upgrading Your Car Audio System

black and white photo of large car stereos

Car Audio System Tips for Novices

Most cars are not equipped with an amazing sounding car stereo. While they will play your favourite music, they won’t give you the best possible sound.

So, if you’re someone who likes to play their music loud or enjoys some good bass, it may be time to look into upgrading your car audio system

But where do you even start?

How to Tell When Your Audio System Needs Upgrading

Before you jump into upgrades, it’s important to figure out first if your audio system actually needs some work. Follow these steps to help determine what your course of action should be.

  1. Sit in your car with the doors and windows closed.
  2. Turn on the radio or connect your phone to your stereo system and play some music. Make sure to turn the volume up higher than you normally would.
  3. Listen to the music for a bit and keep your ears open for a few different things.
  4. If you find you have to turn up the treble because there is a lack of clarity, that’s something you can fix with some upgrades.
  5. If you turn the bass up and it sounds hollow or empty, that’s also something you can fix.
  6. If the music sounds distorted when the volume is up really high, that’s another sign your system needs some work.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Now that you’ve established that you would like to upgrade your car audio system, you’ll need to determine what exactly you want done.

Here are some questions you can ask to help you figure out what path you should take:

Question #1: What is Your Budget?

Upgrading your car audio system can be costly, so it’s important that you figure out how much money you are willing to spend before diving into any enhancements. From there, a car audio expert can help you put together your ideal stereo system.

Depending on your budget, you can make small, incremental improvements like replacing your front speakers or getting a new head unit, or you can replace the system altogether.

Question #2: Do You Like Listening to Your Music Loud?

Most low-quality stereos aren’t able to play your music as loud as you’d sometimes like. If being able to crank up the volume is a top priority for you, installing a new amplifier might be a good option.

You may also want to install new speakers.

Question #3: How Important is Bass?

If bass is something that’s important to you, adding a subwoofer is a simple and easy installation that will really get the bass pumping. A subwoofer is usually accompanied by a new amplifier, unless you choose a powered subwoofer.

Question #4: Do You Want to Improve Sound and Keep Your Factory Stereo?

While factory car audio systems may not sound great, they are formatted to fit best with your car, which can often lead to some reluctance when it comes to installing a brand-new stereo system.

If you are wary about replacing your factory stereo altogether, there are lots of different upgrades you can make to your existing system.

Question #5: Do you want to Get Rid of Your Old Car Stereo and Start Fresh with a New System?

If you have an older car or are simply not attached to your current car audio system, you may want to just rip it out and start from scratch.

This option will allow you to build a brand-new stereo system catered exactly to your preferences.

This also opens up a world of possibilities, which can be daunting if you don’t have much experience with audio systems. Working with a car audio expert will help make the process much easier and less stressful.

Commonly Replaced Components

When it comes to your car audio system, there are hundreds of different components that you can upgrade. Here are some of the most common ones.

Head Units

Think of a head unit as the heart and soul of your vehicle’s audio system. It’s what allows you to play music and listen to the radio.

Understanding what features you need is essential before you invest in in a head unit.


Your car’s door speakers and tweeters determine how clear and smooth your stereo’s sound reproduction is. Different manufacturers have different sized speakers, so it’s important that you match the speaker size to your car’s OEM hole-size, unless you plan on changing the size with a manual configuration.


Subwoofers are essentially speakers that cover the lower end frequencies in your music, and come in three key sizes: 8″, 10″ and 12″.

When installed correctly and paired with a premium amplifier and head unit, investing in a quality subwoofer will add a new level depth and realism to your music that can’t be replicated with a factory stereo system.


You’ll never have an amazing sounding car stereo without the proper amount of power, which requires a high-quality amplifier.

Amplifiers are not easy to shop for though, as you’ll need to know how many channels you want your amplifier to have and be able to match the RMS power rating to the combination of speakers and/or subwoofers that you are going to power.

Upgrading a Factory Stereo System

If you decide to upgrade your audio system rather than replacing it altogether, there a number of improvements you can make without touching the head unit.

A good place to start is installing new premium speakers, which can produce high-quality sound without making any dramatic changes.

Since premium speakers are made from high-quality material, they will sound much better and last a lot longer than your factory speakers. With that alone, you will notice a huge improvement over the factory sound.

If that’s not enough, you can take things to the next level by installing an amplifier that uses speaker level inputs.

This will allow the amplifier to sit between your factory head unit and your new speakers, so you can turn your music up loud without experiencing any distortion.

Adding one or more amplifiers will also give you the option of adding a subwoofer, which will give you a richer sounding bass.

Building a New Audio System

If you do end up deciding to build a new audio system from the ground up, you can either start with the speakers or the head unit.

But regardless of where you start, you will need a head unit that is fully capable of powering the speakers. Another option is to go with a head unit that has preamp outputs and an amplifier that can power your speakers.

Since there are so many options for building an audio system, you might want to start by considering what features you want out of your car stereo. This will help you find the perfect head unit.

You will also need to decide if you are going to use the full range or component speakers.

The Importance of Using a Professional Car Fitting Service

Regardless of what are looking for in a car audio system, unless you are well educated about the technical aspects of speakers, stereos, amplifiers, and subwoofers, consulting with an audio system expert is a must.

To learn more about upgrading your car stereo and finding the right audio components, contact our car stereo experts. They can help you find and install your new subwoofer, amplifier, and other components to improve your car’s sound quality and your overall driving experience. 

About AudioMotive

For over 10 years, AudioMotive has and continues to be, Ottawa’s premier vehicle upgrade experts. With more than 25 years of combined industry experience, we proudly specialize in all things related to HID lighting and mobile electronics sales and installation.