Let's talk about car audio speakers

Except for my 2004 Corolla, I have never not had to replace the factory speakers–or wanted to replace them–due to wearing out. I have never replaced a factory stereo because it broke, but I have purchased used vehicles which came with aftermarket units, or AM/FM only units, and I replaced those with OEM in-dash CD units.

Back in the 1990s, when I was a teenager living with my parents, I had no choice but to put up with the lousy sound quality, and feature-less stereos that our cars came with. But nowadays, I want great sound quality, and an in-dash CD player.

The only vehicle that I ever had where I went well beyond the factory sound system was my 1995 Bronco. I went with 6.5 inch two way Infinity Kappas in the doors, 6x9 three way Kappas in the back and two JL 10 inch subwoofers in the way back. The four main speakers were feed by JL 400 watt 4 channel amp and the subs by a JL 800 watt 2 channel amp IIRC. The head unit was a Sony. Didn’t do install myself though. 21 year old me thought it was badass.

I’m tempted to replace the factory speakers on my Mustang though, as they have never sounded very good to me (not terrible, just lackluster).

My 2000 Cavalier had a Clarion AM/FM unit in it when I bought it used. There was a nifty feature where you could change the color of the backlighting and I was able to get it pretty close to the rest of the dash. That said, I listen to NPR 95% of the time so “fidelity” isn’t exactly a major issue.

We’ve changed the head unit in our 88 Grand Voyager to a Clarion instead of the basic am/fm radio dad ordered it with, didn’t feel the need to upgrade speakers. That radio was starting to act up after 20+yrs but otherwise we’ve had the stock basic radio and speakers the vehicle came with.

A friend did get us to upgrade a couple of the speakers we’re using in the boat, after hearing how the $199 boating store CD player that came with 2 speakers sounded. Adding a speaker at the back of cabin on either side. Insisted on making them a gift but we would have happily paid for them.

I replaced my radio with Alpine and put 4 bose speakers in my 03 Ranger, sweetest sound I ever had!


I installed Polk speakers in the front doors of my car in 2013, satisfied with sound quality during the last 8 years.

Speakers don’t last more than ten years in the desert unless the vehicle spends most of its time in the garage. The paper or foam holding the cone deteriorates and tears.

I have replaced more than 100 speakers, I have 2 vehicles in the shop now with speaker complaints.

That is interesting, tell us more about the event that didn’t happen.

No way I would swap out a decent aftermarket unit with an OE unit in a vehicle that old, nor would I use wire nuts.

1 Like

Wire nuts have been good to me.

1 Like

Jenson was one of the first companies to make quality aftermarket replacement speakers for cars. They were far better then OEM speakers with their 2oz magnets. The first aftermarket speakers I ever installed were Jenson 6x9 into my73 Chevy Vega. This started my long road of car audio systems I’ve done to various vehicles owned over the years.

Other companies got into the mix by the mid to late 70’s. Even very high-end companies started to branch into this lucrative market (McIntosh, JBL, Mark Levinson just to name a few).

I had gone to a few of these early auto sound competitions. But 99% of their scoring goes toward how LOUD they can get without distorting. Overall sound quality meant nothing. And that is where most of the aftermarket industry still is today. Make it LOUD. Add 12,000 watts of power with 10 speakers and 2 15" woofers to a VW Bug. At low volumes (aka NORMAL LEVELS) most of these systems sound awful. They sound so much better at large volumes when you’re standing outside the vehicle.

Then around the mid-80’s aftermarket audio companies started teaming up with auto manufacturers and designing systems for specific vehicles (usually high-end). They used sophisticated (at the time) room/cabin analysis tools to design custom audio and speakers (and placement) for optimum sound. Some of these early systems were truly outstanding. I was never a fan of Bose systems (and still not)…but the Factory Bose designed system in my 1998 Nissan Pathfinder was EXCELLENT. Only system better was the one I put into my 84 GMC S-15 pickup. I ordered the truck without an audio system. Then spent about $400 putting in a nice AM/FM/Cassette with 4x6 Blauplunk speakers up front and 4x10 Phillips in the tower columns in the rear. It was only about 40 watts, but driven at high levels was way way louder then I needed/wanted.

Car manufacturers are still teaming up with aftermarket companies, but they’ve also improved on their own systems. Many people complain about the the JBL system in Toyota Highlanders.

I upgraded my audio system on my Highlander because that ETune system from Toyota is total crap. I bought a nice Kenwood system with Apple CarPlay (And Android if I need it). Great system. Upgraded the speakers to JBL. Sound quality was a great improvement. Each component I added improved the sound and added features. Still only run about 40 watts which is more then enough sound volume. My own home high-end system is only 12 watts in a room that’s 30-40 times larger then the volume of my Highlander. And I can’t play at high volumes without rattling my windows.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money upgrading stock car audio systems - unless it was ones designed by the audio aftermarket companies. Those can be expensive to upgrade.

1 Like

I’m impressed. Those speakers are notoriously crap. One reason why drive in theaters now broadcast over FM and you use your own audio system in vehicle to listen.

One thing I discovered is that you can buy the best speakers on the planet, and if you don’t install them properly they’ll sound like garbage. And since aftermarket speakers rarely have their screw holes aligned with the factory holes, installing them properly becomes a bit more of a chore.

I finally got it through my thick head that this is one of those areas where it’s better to pay a shop that does it all the time to install the stuff. Sure, it costs me $100, but I also don’t sit there listening to bad audio for years afterward.

Yes it surprised me too I remember trying to get to the movie early enough to be able to change parking spots to try to find a decent speaker.

Agree… not a a Bose fan either…

But my 84 Corvette had factory Bose speakers and a factory 85 head unit with bass and treble controls the 84s lacked. You could dial it up to “11” with NO distorsion at all. Too loud to use, but impressive nonetheless. Crisp clear voice and music in all frequency ranges. May have been the best system in any car I have owned.

Try living upstairs in a military barracks when the guy below has Bose 901s pointed at the same wall your bed is on!
Play That Funky Music shaking the wall at 3AM!
Good thing we were friends.


My 1965 Rambler had a speaker that faced upward from the top of the dashboard. The sun baked the cone. I replaced the speaker and installed a rear speaker in the package shelf. Since the radio was just an A.M. unit, the sound still wasn’t great. My 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass still had just a. A.M. radio. I finally replaced it with an A.M./ F.M. cassette and replaced the front speakers and added two rear speakers for stereo sound. It was a big improvement. My later vehicles came with much better sound systems.
I have never spent a lot of money on high fidelity equipment. I have spent a lot of time playing in orchestras, concert bands and smaller ensembles. Music sounds a lot different performing on stage than through a high fidelity system. For my home use, I did purchase a pair of Acoustic Research AR 2ax speakers. These speakers did come close to what I consider a natural sound. Unfortunately, the rheostats gave out that adjust the high frequency speakers and I picked up.a pair of second Polk Audio speakers while I decide what to do with the Acoustic Research speakers.

1 Like

No speakers sound good unless driven by lots of clean power. Cheap speakers will come to life with an excellent amplifier and more speakers are blown every year by lack of power than by too much power. Overdriven amps clip the signal and blow tweeters and midrange cones very easily. Even “20 watt” speakers can handle quite a bit more power if it is clean.

Start with a name brand amp with more power than you need, use good wire and solder for connections, and THEN get the best speakers you can buy with the money you have left. I have seen many installations with really great speakers being driven by factory or aftermarket head units that sounded terrible. How much power should your amp have? At least 80 watts of continuous, not peak, power.

1 Like

True, but on the other hand it is entirely possible to go overboard here. No one needs 5,000 watts in a car stereo, yet such things exist. :wink:


I used entry-level JVCs to replace OEM speakers in used Mazda3 and Pathfinder lately and in both cases I used the OEM speakers to make a custom-fit adapter for the aftermarket speakers.

In both cases, result sounded GREAT in terms “if you compare to OEM”, but probably not up to par to the high-end setup which would cost 10x as much.

OEM speakers get destroyed in the process, but they belong to the trash to begin with, so not shedding tears for these :slight_smile:

Essentially, I was breaking the OEM speaker cage (plastic!) off the rim, then removed the sharp edges and removed the mounting eyes from the JVC speakers (use metal snips!), then used the hot-glue to firmly attach the new speaker cage into the plastic rim.

The fit is perfect every time! :slight_smile:
Solder new speaker wires to OEM connector in plastic cage and it’s “almost like from the factory”.
Time-wise - it’s faster than figuring out how to get the universal mounts to fit the space plus time to remove the rattle.

I find that a vehicle is a lousy acoustical environment, so I’d rather spend my money on a good home unit. The only reason I would ever change out the factory head unit is to upgrade to a newer input, i.e, I changed out the factory head units in both my 97 Nissan PU and my 2002 Saturn so that I could use an iPod as the last of the oldies radio stations in my area switched to another genre. Both only had AM/FM, no cassette or CD.

In both cases, the factory speakers could not handle the power of the new head units (22wRMS at the time, 14wRMS under the 2006 standard) and I had to replace the speakers.

You do NOT need lost of power for a speaker to sound good. My home speakers are driven to extremely loud levels with a mere 12 watts. If your speakers NEED lots of power then your speakers are very inefficient. My home speakers have an efficiency rating of 98dbs. A typical Polk speakers are about 88. That means the polk speakers will need 100 watts to be as loud as my home speakers at 1 watt.