Automotive Sound System Reviews (2020)
One of the things we love to improve in our cars is the audio equipment. Generally, we prefer to work on the mechanical aspect of our cars: the things that make them go faster, drive better, or be more reliable. But audio equipment I one of the exceptions.
We’ve tried a lot of audio equipment for our cars, and one thing we’ve concluded is that there are a lot of terrific brands, making some wonderful products. Despite the large number of great companies, though, a few stand out to us as our favorites, and our go-to options. These are the companies that we know will provide us with a great product, no matter what our audio equipment needs are. You can check out our best car speakers and choosing the right car amplifiers once you know the big brand players to look our for.
What is automotive audio equipment, and why is it important?
Automotive audio equipment is very similar to home audio equipment. Most of the same products exist for both, they just have different sizes, specifications, and technical make ups.
The most common, and important pieces of automotive audio equipment are speakers. Speakers come in all shapes and sizes, so that they can produce different strengths, levels, and quality of sound, and so that they can fit in your particular car.
Subwoofers are less common, but also an important part of automotive audio equipment. Subwoofers are a speaker that are responsible for providing your car’s sound system with bass audio. They are usually quite large, but you can find shallow mount or under seat subwoofers that take up much less space.
While speakers are the glamorous aspects of automotive audio equipment, there are other key elements as well. Amplifiers provide power to speakers and subwoofers, and receivers tie everything together, by being the home base of the audio system.
Automotive audio equipment is very important. For starters, the audio system that comes built into your car probably isn’t very good. Even if your car has a good brand name audio system, it won’t be nearly as good of quality as you would find with an aftermarket product.
Aftermarket automotive audio equipment can give you a cleaner and louder sound, while also covering a larger range on the audio spectrum. Whether you listen to loud music, or simply listen to podcasts, audiobook, and NPR, great automotive audio equipment can make a world of difference. It makes long commutes shorter, road trips more memorable, and trips to the store fun.
What we look for in an automotive audio equipment brand
There are a handful of things that are very important to us when it comes to automotive audio equipment. First and foremost is the quality of the sound from the speaker, but sound quality covers a lot of different areas.
The most important sound quality feature, in our eyes, is crispness. It doesn’t matter how loud your speakers can get, if the audio isn’t crisp, it won’t sound good. We want speakers to offer crystal clear audio, that makes us forget that the sound is coming through speakers at all. If they can do that, chances are we’ll put them in our cars.
However, other sound quality features are important as well. Volume is important, because sometimes you just want to hit the open road and blast your music. Range is also very important to us. Range is the spectrum of sound – from low-pitched to high-pitched. Being able to cover a large portion of that spectrum is very important, as it allows you to hear more when you play music.
Beyond sound quality, there are some other important feature, both for speaker and other audio equipment. Aesthetics are crucial, especially if you’re into having a nice-looking car cabin. Automotive audio equipment has the potential to look incredibly cool and sleek, but also the potential to look cheap, plasticy, and over-the-top. Sexy, svelte automotive audio equipment is important to us.
Reliability is huge as well. Automotive audio equipment gets a lot of use, and it needs to be able to hold up to the task. Will the speakers blow after only a year or two, or will these last your car’s life? If there are issues, what warranties does the manufacturer provide? Audio equipment isn’t the most expensive upgrade for your car, but it isn’t free, either, so you don’t want to have to replace products every other year.
Ease of installation is also important to us, though it may be less so for you. We like installing most of our audio equipment, partially because it’s fun for us, but largely because it saves the money of having someone else handle the installation. That said, we recognize that most people will plan on having someone else do the installation, so we don’t weigh ease of installation too heavily; however, it’s still important.
And finally, as always, price is a factor. With automotive equipment, you usually get what you pay for, and stereo products are no different. But there are still some companies that offer better deals on their great products. The more money you save on automotive audio equipment, the more product you can purchase, and the better your car’s sound system can be. So, we consider price an important factor.
What bad automotive audio equipment brands do
Just as it’s important to know what good automotive audio equipment brands do, it’s also important to know what bad brands do, so that you can avoid them.
One thing that bad automotive audio equipment brands do is oversell their specifications to cover their poor quality. Yes, technical specs are important for speakers and other audio equipment, but they’re often overstated. Often things such as wattage are used to entice customers, even though they have relatively little impact on sound quality. With speakers, only one thing matters: how they sound. Often that correlates with nice specs, but not always
Bad automotive audio equipment brands also overcharge for their products. Even if a speaker is great quality, what’s the point of buying it if you could buy an equally good speaker, and a subwoofer for the same price? With so many great options available, it’s not just about price in a vacuum, but price relative to the competition.
Another common problem with bad automotive audio equipment brands is that they make products that don’t last. They might sound good at first, but they’ll fade and sound grainy within a few months, and blow within a year or two.
How we chose our five favorite brands
We put a lot of thought into our five favorite automotive audio equipment brands. The most important aspect, for us, is to try them. We’ve tried tweeters, subwoofers, amplifiers, receivers, and accessories from countless brands, and judged them on the criteria that we mentioned above. We’ve also read reviews and talked with customers and experts, to confirm our opinion and fill in any gaps that we missed.
Ultimately, when we pick favorite brands, we have a very simple question: what products would we purchase for ourselves, given their quality, reputation, reliability, and price? Those are the products that we want to recommend to you.
Our five favorite automotive audio equipment brands
With all that said, these are our five favorite automotive audio equipment brands, that we love, and that you will too.
You’re probably pretty familiar with Alpine automotive audio equipment. Their products are highly popular as aftermarket options, and also grace a lot of luxury vehicles as high-end manufacturer stereo system.
Alpine is known for being the go-to audio option for truck owners. Their big speakers and big sounds are ideal for large vehicles, and fill the space brilliantly.
Alpine is also one of the leaders in technology and innovation. More so than perhaps any other automotive audio company, Alpine has innovated their products to work with modern devices. They offer a lot of complete audio and navigation system packages that sync with your smart phone. We certainly haven’t found a company that utilizes smart phones in stereo and in-dash systems as well as Alpine has, and given how frequently they evolve and innovate, we’re guessing that won’t be changing anytime soon.
Alpine considers themselves the only company that specializes in mobile multimedia, as they combine audio and entertainment with not only navigation but security. Ultimately, that’s a perfect description of the company. They do a little bit of everything, but they do it in a manner that is fully connected.
You can buy great speakers from Alpine, or great subwoofers or receivers. But their product is best served with a full automotive multimedia package. The way you can completely redo your vehicle’s entertainment, security, and navigation all at once with Alpine, is truly phenomenal.
That said, this is strictly an audio equipment article, so let’s make one thing clear: even if you just buy audio equipment, you simply cannot go wrong with Alpine’s stellar products and fair prices.
Some of the best speakers that we’ve ever tried have come from JBL. The audio quality is remarkably crisp, the range is spectacular, and the volume can be deafening, without losing sound quality. We’ve tried a bevy of JBL speakers, from small to large models, and this has been the case for all of them. Terrific audio quality from their speakers is simply what this company is all about.
JBL’s automotive speakers also look fantastic. Once they’re installed in your car, you’ll get excited every time you open the door and get inside. They look like they’re ready for both fun, and business, and really, that’s a pretty perfect way to describe JBL’s place in the automotive audio equipment market.
JBL relies on some of the top technology in the audio business to create their speakers, and it’s obvious whenever you hear their sound.
Kenwood offers the total package with their speakers. Everything about their speakers is top notch, but that’s not it: the rest of their audio equipment and entertainment equipment is spectacular, from their receivers, to their dash cams.
Quality is the name of the game for Kenwood. Their automotive audio equipment isn’t the cheapest on the market, but it’s definitely a case of getting what you pay for. For the speakers and subwoofers, the sound is crisp, the bass is thumping, the range is impressive, and the volume is intense. Their amplifiers bring out the best in the subwoofers, and the receivers help you get the most out of your car’s stereo system.
Kenwood’s in-dash receivers can be connected to your smart phone, to create a comprehensive system that is as easy to use as it is effective and terrific sounding. If you want high quality, you really cannot go wrong with Kenwood. We return to their products time and time again, because they are the Rolls-Royces of the automotive audio equipment world. Plus, they’re perhaps the best-looking products on the market, with sleek, but subtle black speakers, subwoofers, and receivers.
Pioneer offers some of the more affordable automotive audio equipment on the market, but let’s make one thing clear: they’re not a bargain brand. They’re not an entry-level brand. Pioneer is one of the elite automotive audio equipment companies, who just happens to offer their products at a price that often cannot be beat.
If you’re familiar with Pioneer, it’s because their audio equipment is used in many vehicles as the stock option. While Pioneer’s stock option equipment is better than most companies’, their aftermarket audio equipment is where they really shine. And it’s where you can dramatically increase the sound quality in your car, without having to invest a ton of money.
One of the greatest things about Pioneer, is that they offer numerous lines of speakers, to help you find the perfect product for your car and budget. All of their speakers are top quality, and great deals, but each line offers a varying level of quality and price, so you can determine just how much you want to put into your car’s stereo system.
Pioneer also has great receivers and dashboard systems, which also are reasonably priced and high quality. Ultimately, Pioneer does a little bit of everything, for a price that you’ll have a hard time beating. It’s why they’re an automotive audio equipment brand that we recommend to just about everyone.
Polk is arguably the world’s premier home audio manufacturer, but their automotive audio equipment is every bit as good. Polk’s approach is simple: provide the greatest sound quality possible, no matter what it takes. And in our experience, they have always succeeded in that goal.
Whether you buy a set of speakers, or a full component system, with Polk automotive audio equipment you get jaw-dropping sound. The audio is incredibly clean, regardless of pitch and volume. The range is spectacular, and the bass is nothing short of monumental. If we sound like we’re big fans it’s because . . . well, yes. We’re big fans!
Polk also has one of the cleanest and most classic designs. This is important because not only do their speakers look spectacular in modern vehicles, but they fit right in with classics and restoration projects, as well. Whatever your car is, and whatever you like to listen to, Polk has the dream automotive audio equipment for you.
Their equipment is not cheap, but you’re paying for one of the most trusted brands in audio equipment in the world. As such, not only is the product spectacular, but the support, durability, and reliability is as well.
We definitely recommend purchasing a full component Polk system, so that your entire car can be decked out in Polk automotive audio equipment. That’s the best way to get the most out of Polk. However, even if you just get a small set of speakers, or a subwoofer, you’ll be incredibly pleased.
What to consider when buying a product from one of these companies
While we love all five of these automotive audio equipment companies, finding the right brand for you is still important. Each of these companies ticks a lot of our boxes, but it’s critical to find the ones that tick yours.
Anytime you plan on making an automotive audio equipment purchase, research the companies you’re looking at, and put a lot of thought into it. Is audio quality the only thing you’re looking for? Do you plan on adding to your entertainment system, or your navigation system, and want all of the components to be compatible? What style are you looking for aesthetically? What is your budget?
These are all important questions to ask yourself before purchasing an automotive audio equipment product. Only you can determine what’s right for your car, budget, and style, but we’re pretty certain you can find it somewhere with these five companies.
Upgrading your vehicle’s sound system is one of the best ways to make your car better. Through speaker sets, subwoofers, amplifiers, and receivers, you can make the audio quality in your car vastly better. Whether you’re listening to rap music, classical tunes, podcasts, or sports radio, you’ll notice a big difference if you upgrade your automotive audio system.
There are more than just five great brands on the market, but these five – Alpine, JBL, Kenwood, Pioneer, and Polk – stand out to us. In our opinion, they represent the best ways to improve your car’s sound system.