Navigating the Car Audio Speaker Jungle

The audio system that usually comes with your vehicle tends to lack a certain…well…I suppose you can fill in the blank with what comes to mind! Today’s factory car audio systems are improved, incorporating multi-media radios, multi-channel amplifiers and even powered subwoofers. Despite all these available upgrades, most factory systems still lack the fidelity and definition that most of us are used to from our home audio counterparts. The weakest link in just about every factory system tends to be what should be the MOST IMPORTANT…the speakers!

When it comes time to replace your car speakers, you’ll find literally hundreds of brands and designs on the market- all touting themselves as the be-all end-all in speaker design and performance. The key here is to navigate through the jargon jungle and find the product that best suits your particular listening needs.

The players: Coaxial or Component? Car audio speakers are available in two types of systems- Coaxial and Component systems.

Coaxial speakers are two or three-way designs with tweeter and mid/woofer sharing the same frame or platform. These are generally less costly and more flexible- as they are available in different sizes to fit any vehicle. Coaxial speakers are simple in design and offer a good upgrade over the factory equivalent and utilize the latest in materials for better durability and performance.

Components (sometimes referred to as separates or splits) consist of a separate tweeter, mid-bass driver and passive crossover network. (These speaker systems are also available in 3 Way configurations.) Components offer increased performance and enable you to “raise” the soundstage in your vehicle, thus enhancing your listening experience. This upgrade is also fairly easy to do in today’s vehicles, as many factory systems already have component speakers or locations ready for them. The advantages of components include better separation of high and mid frequencies, more refined mid-bass response, smoother highs and the ability to “tune” your speakers by adjusting the individual level or sensitivity of the tweeter and midrange driver at the crossover.

Differences and your ear: When selecting your new speakers, always take into account the type of music you listen to! Manufacturers utilize different materials in tweeter and woofer design which can mean enjoyment or ear fatigue, so choose wisely. Tweeters composed of metallic alloys can be edgy or harsh compared to silk or poly materials- which result in different performance. If you’re into Heavy Metal or Rap, go metallic! And if Jazz, R&B or Classical is your taste, consider a soft-dome tweeter.

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