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Car owners guide to: Car Audio

Although factory fitted in-car entertainment systems have become more advanced, there's just as much scope for adding and improving as there was ten years ago. It's inevitable that car manufacturers have one eye on the final price tag of the vehicle and so, while incorporating some kind of an in-car system is a must for the car's sales features list, don't expect too much.

The other thing of course is choice. Isn't it just plain nice to be able to have what you want, not what the car manufacturer locks you into having?

The first thing that's needed is a way of integrating or interfacing new in-car sound system components into the factory wiring. If we go back ten years or more things were a little simpler, but with the added electronic sophistication of today's vehicles - plus steering-wheel mounted volume control, radio search and so on - integrating new items generally requires an extra gizmo.

That's no problem at all. MMSA members have access to a wide variety of good quality, reliable factory interface devices and all the cables and other general accessories to get everything working perfectly. All you need to do is to start planning your personalised in-car entertainment system - and of course they can help you with that too - and, however discreet or however wild you want it to look and sound, they'll make it a reality.

How to improve your factory in-car sound system

Here are some first steps to think about.

Change that factory fitted Car Audio Player!

Most vehicles today have a factory fitted Radio-Cassette or CD-Radio, but most don't have the latest features, performance or the looks we want. Don't be put off by the non-standard size of the face plate, MMSA members provide the right trim panels and electrical interfaces to get your chosen replacement looking good and working well.

Add an Amplifier!

Providing a volume level that will make the music sound realistic - with good bass, delicate mids and highs and no distortion - is largely down to the quality of the power amplifier. Car makers tend not to worry about it too much. To them an amplifier is an amplifier and they assume most buyers won't know the difference anyway.

If you really don't fancy changing the factory fitted music player, then add a better quality car audio amplifier and upgrade the factory car speakers. In nearly every case it will transform the sound even though you've not changed the music player in the dashboard.

Add MP3, CD Changer, DAB Digital Radio, DVD or Sat Nav!

MMSA members have the answer when it comes to adding or 'interfacing' these to your factory fitted in-car system. 'Auxiliary Input Interfaces', 'CD Changer Interfaces' and 'Docking Stations' make it all possible and give much better results than when using "cheap and easy" options such as FM modulators, which reduce everything to analogue radio quality.

And most of all... Change those factory car speakers!

Even hooked up to the existing factory music player and amplifier, good quality speakers, properly installed, will give a huge improvement. If you do nothing else, make this your first upgrade.

We each hear sounds slightly differently, and different types of music will sound better on some speakers than others, so it's important to go along and listen in the shop. Take some of your favourite CDs and listen to a few speakers, then make a shortlist of two or three. Now audition each of them for 15 minutes, longer if you can. Don't make a snap decision because some car speakers can sound great at first but tiring after a while.

Make this simple upgrade first and you'll be astounded at the improved sound coming out of your factory in-car system.

High-End Car Audio Systems

Those wanting the very best sound, whether for competition or purely for their own enjoyment, will naturally be looking to use the best quality products. It's clearly the ideal starting point, but good planning and installation can make a world of difference too.

The acoustics are complex and the inherent limitations of working in a vehicle present a challenge which many find completely absorbing. This is why you may have seen Autosound competitions taking place - something which has grown into a passion of car audio enthusiasts worldwide.

There are many challenges when building a true hi-fi quality car sound system - or the loudest one in the SPL competition arena - and what sets apart a fine system from a great one is often the element of experience; knowing what to expect by taking a certain path when planning and fitting the stereo system.

We have a primer aimed at those who would like a little more technical background on designing a true car hi-fi audio system. Also, several installers have competition experience and have built high-class car audio demonstrators, so ask for their advice. It's a great hobby - have fun.