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Would Like Your Opinion: OEM Radio or Not

I just acquired a very clean 1988 Olds 98 Regency. The car is in great condition, all original. The OEM receiver is very large (din and a half), and only one radio (Pioneer model) will actually fill the space (though all will with an adapter). I like the design of the original unit because it fits with the car, but it has a faulty amp which causes distortion on some songs. One rear speaker does not work, and the tape does not work. But the radio, which is what I use mainly, is awesome, and it looks right in the car. I can install a Sony radio/CD with adapter kit, and the display will be a little like the digital readouts in the car. I would also replace all speakers since I will be installing a new unit. The cost would be around $400. I am having a difficult time deciding – keep the OEM and the issues it has (and the not-so-great speaker distortion) or install something that does not look like 1988 but will have 2008 functionality. The cost is not the primary obstacle, but I could use the money on other updates for the car – like replacing worn pin striping. Your thoughts? What would you do? Thanks for your time

Well, if you really want original equipment look there are places that will repair older car radios, or you might try a local junkyard to see if you can find a used radio in working condition.

Personally, I’d go to and pick one of the 2 Pioneer models, or get something else with an adapter plate (or possible a sound processor to fill the extra space) and get new speakers from them. You can call them on the phone and they’ve always been very helpful about discussing options. But I am not a purist about the interior “look” of a car as long as it looks OK to me it doesn’t have to be stock. Oh yeah, Crutchfield will include adapter wiring harness so you can easily switch back to the stock radio if you ever want to, or you find a really good working unit.

Ebay is the source for old radio’s and on the cheap if they still are kicking around.

First off I’m not convinced that it’s the amp if t only causes distortion on some songs.

You have a couple options here.

. Get the current radio fixed. Probably the most expensive.
. Buy one from a Salvage yard. Unfortunately you never know the quality of what you get.
. Get a new receiver. After checking with it seems there are only a couple units that are exact fits for your car…both are Pioneer.

Personally I’d choose option 3. It stands the best chance for success that’s not going to cost you an arm and a leg. As for speakers…these are usually the weak link in OEM sound systems (unless it’s the custom systems by Bose or JBL and others. Check with Crutchfield to see what speakers you want. You seem to have a lot of options here.

I went through the same thing with my 93 Caprice. I decided to have the OEM radio/cassette repaired for ~$120 (1 channel not working on the tape deck). I used it for a few months, the tape deck sounded ok, but it one channel was still louder than the other and I didn’t like the hassle of using tapes. I had a nice Panasonic CD player laying around, so I ordered a wiring and installation kit from Crutchfield and replaced the OEM radio with that. I can put up with an aftermarket radio for the sound quality and convenience of CDs. I always have the option of putting the OEM radio back in the vehicle at a later date.

This outfit sells refurbished OEM radios, but they are not cheap.

Just a final thought, any reasonably priced speakers from Crutchfield will be big improvement over the OEM speakers.

Ed B.

Replace the speakers first and see if the distortion problem still exists. If so, then consider another Olds radio. You might find a higher end factory radio that will slide right in.

Chase after the good sound. I like to say that road rage is related to bad car audio. If people listen to bad music, they can’t wait to finish the trip. Listen to music and you might not even remember the cell phone. I wouldn’t worry about how good an 88 Oldsmobile looks. You can get that with an old Saturn. The repair shop might lose your radio anyway.

If you have a good junkyard around, defintely go for an OE radio. The junkyard near me charged be 20 bucks for a stereo for my '88 Century after the old one started eating tapes. The radio on that thing sounded pretty good. It definitely won’t be rattling any windows in the neighborhood, but it sounds pretty good and it still sounds good when you turn it up loud enough to drown out the road noise.

Really the decision is if you want a CD player in the dash or not, which is handy, but CD’s are rapidly going the way of the cassette, so if you do get a CD player definitely get one with an auxillary in port. If you want to invest in sound quality on this car, your money is best spent replacing the OE stereo with a used one and buying some better speakers. Unlike some models, the GM delco radios of this era have an onboard amp that can run more powerful speakers just fine.

Thanks for this information. I did contact a local audio store, and the technician said he could not guarantee any aftermarket deck would provide the excellent reception of the OEM radio. I think the OEM deck has a problem with the amp(s). The sound distorts as it is raised – distorts greatly at 3/4 volume. I replaced speakers – not the problem. I do have an iPhone iPod, and I could look for a deck with that capability … but I do like the OEM look and that radio! Thanks!

Most OEM electronics are NOT of the highest quality. I think almost anything you buy will be better quality then what you have. If reception is your highest priority…Pioneer makes decent tuners. McIntosh makes one of the best, if not THEE best tuner for home use…Not sure if the same type technology was applied to their car audio. Clarion which owns McIntosh also makes some very nice electronics. But the Mac stuff is very expensive.

As I said in the other thread about this. You are probably driving the amp into clipping. 3/4 full volume is usually way loud in most cars and getting into clipping territory. Or, your old radio just may have bad amplifiers after all these years. In the past few years I have found Sony has excellent FM reception. I’ve replaced 2 or 3 stock radios with Sonys and always got more stations than before.

What you might want to do is add an external amplifier to your system. This would have more power without straining the stock radio’s electronics. I’d replace the stock unit myself, but at least an external amp should help. And, think about adding a powered sub, that alone might make the difference if you want a lot of bass.

Here is a link to a place you can send your unit to and have it repaired if you want.

An aftermarket radio may not sound quite as good as your original without some added expense and tweaking. The reason being that your original radio (designed by Bose?) was tailored for the space it has to fill with sound. That said, I shopped around for an aftermarket radio for my girlfriend’s SUV a couple years ago (the Alpine she’d had in it for years was dying), and after looking at many, I found Sony to offer the best combination of decent price and good sound. I bought the Sony. It sounds great and has a lot of features. The FM reception and selectivity is at least as good as the OEM radio in my car. Keep in mind that if you do buy an aftermarket radio, you’re not limited to a cruddy tape deck–you will have CD, and depending on what you buy, the ability to play .mp3 and .wma files from CD (a CD may hold 100+ songs in these formats), some you can plug USB flash drives into, external inputs for portable audio players, and many more features that simply didn’t exist in 1988. And don’t get me started about XM satellite radio! I suppose a ‘con’ would be that an aftermarket radio is more likely to be stolen.

Maybe it’s time to move into the next century if you plan on keeping your car…