I'm new to car audio, and I have no idea which brands are "good" and "bad"...

Discussion in 'Mobile Phones / Entertainment' started by Jonny K, Jul 29, 2003.

  1. Jonny K

    Jonny K Second Unit

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    Kenwood? Pioneer? Alpine? Rockford Fosgate? Pheonix Gold? MTX? Etc etc...

    I don't know what's good and what's bad. When I look at car audio advertisements, I see parts from different manufacturers mixed together in different combinations. Can I simply concentrate on one company and find everything I'm looking for, or must I mix and match?

    I don't know much about this stuff, but I think Kenwood and Pioneer are both decent. Any suggestions? I'm hoping to build an affordable system with outstanding bass. (and great sound in general). I'm thinking of spending maybe $1500 Canadian (about $1000 US).


    Thanks,


    Jonny K. [​IMG]
     
  2. Jason Merrick

    Jason Merrick Supporting Actor

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    Jonny,

    I am not an expert, but I'll try to help you get pointed in the right direction. First of all, what kind of car do you have, and more importantly how is the stock stereo? Is the sound quality good, but just not loud enough or not enough bass? I ask this, because for $1000 US, you probably shouldn't expect to get a new deck, amp, door speakers and sub including installation. Installation is the killer, but is also almost as important as what equipment you buy.

    I'll use my car as an example: I have a 2002 Acura RSX base model (without Bose audio system) with 4-6 1/2" door speakers and 2 tweeters on the dash. The sound was actually pretty decent with the stock system, but not loud enough and certainly not enough bass. One of the big things I wanted in any upgrade was MP3/WMA capability which narrows down the choices considerably, there are lots of MP3 players, but not so many WMA players. I ended up with the Pioneer DEH-P8400MP which I paid $500 for. Since the stock speakers sounded fairly clear, I decided to wait on replacing those and spent the remainder of my budget on a low-end MTX 150W RMS amp and a Kenwood Excelon 10" sub in an MTX box. The price for everything, including installation, at my local GoodGuys store was right at $1000. GoodGuys certainly isn't the cheapest store around and I could have probably got better deals elsewhere, but I have had good past experiences with this store's installers and wanted to use them again. I think the sound is tremendously improved. Even with the stock speakers, it really sounds phenomenal. On the other hand, in my Ford Expedition I replaced the deck with a Sony, the front speakers with Clarions, the back speakers with Alpines and added a JL-audio micro sub, all being powered by a 5-channel Alpine amp sending 40W RMS to each of the doors and 150W RMS to the sub. My budget Acura system sounds WAY better than the Expedition, and also goes louder... this with the head unit powering everything but the sub. Some of this is attributable to the hatchback design of the car vs. the cavernous interior of the Expedition though.

    My point is, you may be able to save some money on certain areas depending on what kind of equipment you are starting with. While you can get decent sound by amplifying your stock head unit, I personally would always start any audio system by replacing the factory deck with a good quality aftermarket head unit. My personal next step would be to add a sub/amp combo. You may be happy with the sound at this point and be able to stop, but you also may not be happy and may eventually need to replace your speakers and add another amp to power them.

    As far as the brands you mentioned, I think Alpine is probably the most highly regarded in the car audio world and they make everything you would need. In my personal opinion, Pioneer is right up there with Alpine, and I like the looks of their decks better, so I went with them. They, along with Kenwood, also make every component you would need. Rockford Fosgate I don't know so much about, I think they make head units now, but I'm not sure of their quality... but I think their subs and amps are both decent. MTX doesn't make head units, and I think their amps/subs are probably considered middle-of-the-pack, but are fine in my opinion. Phoenix Gold is highly regarded in the amp circles, but that's all I know about them.

    You might check the internet for a forum for your car... I read www.clubRSX.com pretty regularly and they have a good audio forum. It's always good to see what other people are doing to improve their audio in the same type of vehicle you have. You might see what is the priority for immediate replacement and what can wait awhile.

    Well, I think I've said enough (for this post at least!) to get you started.

    Good luck!
     
  3. JessPrice

    JessPrice Stunt Coordinator

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    Jason is right about a few things, but I'll shed some more light. Yes, Alpine is a good brand, but they are overpriced. When you buy alpine, you are really just buying the name. Kenwood is a very low line. Pioneer, depending on what products, is eigther a low line or a great headunit value.

    One thing I have learned - You CANNOT have GREAT sound in your car. I don't care what other people say. There are too many vibrations, bad speaker placements, road noise, car noise, and just other stuff in general. You can have really good music, but it will never be GREAT, imo.

    For $1000 you are pretty limited. Car Audio gets expensive fast. For that amount you can expect to get some decent component speakers, a nice headunit, and the installation of these products, or you can go with a good (mid-priced) sub, a good (150-300 watts RMS) amp, a custom sized box to match your sub and power handeling, and the installation of these things.
     
  4. Frank Grimes

    Frank Grimes Second Unit

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    To me, Alpine and Phoenix Gold stant out as being two of the best mainstream brands, JL probably being the best. But I would definitely recommend mixing brands, though, as few brands get everything right. All JL amps will really work your budget, Alpine makes subpar subs (and their 'flagship' components use fairly cheap SEAS drivers).

    Does your vehicle have a stock CD player? If so, I would recommend spending the full $1000 on speakers and amps, as you can definitely get by with the stock HU and a line output convertor. For the sub, I'm sure you're familiar with Adire. The Shiva is just as capable a driver in car audio as in your home, as is the Stryke AV12.

    I've always loved Oz Audio's Matrix components. Along with JL XR's, they're IMO the best premade component set under $400. If you're a DIYer, then you have way too many options. $100 worth of drivers can be made to sound better than sets selling for four times that. Most of your time and money should go into the front speakers. I see far too many car audio enthusiests running 1000+ watts to 4 subs all the while running cheap coaxials off of the HU.

    For amplifiers, US Acoustics, Hifonics, JBL, and Avionixx (they seem to be the 'hot' product as of late) make quality products that are very easy on the wallet. I've had my share of 'high end' amplifiers (Arc Audio), and there really is no audible difference.
     
  5. JessPrice

    JessPrice Stunt Coordinator

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    Yes, JBL makes GREAT amps for the price. So does Cadence. I have a Cadence A7+HC amp that produces 1,400 watts RMS into 1 ohm (1,200 into 2 ohm) that I got for $420. JBL has a 300 watt amp for around $150 online.
     
  6. Khoa Tran

    Khoa Tran Supporting Actor

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    Focal, Dynaudio, Diamond, Eclipse, Earthquake, Nakamichi, Clarion(high models only), and Adire Audio....if you do your research on these brands and actually find out what you want, go to small specialty shops and find the best deals, then you'll be able to get quality equipment for way less than other stores like the good guys for mediocre equipment.
     
  7. Jonny K

    Jonny K Second Unit

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    Ok, here's some more details:

    I'm driving a 99 Dodge Grand Caravan with a "Premium" factory sound system (Infinity). It's not bad...but nothing like what I expect from a sound system. A couple things I really want are MP3 capability and bass. I'm thinking I could spend all my money on just a new head unit and a decent bass setup. Is install all that big a deal? Are there guides on the internet that would walk me through an install? The current system has a CD player (so I could skip the MP3 support if I really needed to), and the speakers seem ok (although they crap out at high volume).

    At home I have an Adire Tempest driver running off a 250W amp for my home theater. It's pretty good. Can I simply use this thing for car audio? What kind of amplifier should I use? I'm also concerned that the Tempest or Shiva is kinda a HT sub driver and not a car sub...or does it matter?

    And regarding price, I have a car audio advertisement here from one of the local electronics stores. Some of the packages are $1200 and $1700...just cheap crap?

    http://www.telusplanet.net/public/kord/ad

    Thanks,


    Jonny K.
     
  8. Khoa Tran

    Khoa Tran Supporting Actor

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    http://www.eclipse-web.com/
    here get the CD3403, find your local dealers and find the ABSOLUTE lowest price, haggle with them i think you'll be able to get it for around 200...try to get it installed if you don't want to do it yourself...it's easy but tedious work....you could upgrade your speakers to coxials something like MB quarts or more infinity, for around 100 a pair? now if you want a subwoofer, then you could use something from adire and a pheonix gold amplifier...this system could run well under 1k, if you play your cards right...
     
  9. Frank Grimes

    Frank Grimes Second Unit

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    "The current system has a CD player (so I could skip the MP3 support if I really needed to), and the speakers seem ok (although they crap out at high volume)."

    Think about it. If your stock speakers are crapping out at high volume (probably around 10 watts, and a good chance it's a clipped 10 watts), then how do you think they'll handle up against a Shiva powered with ~300watts? It will barely be breaking a sweat before it begins to drown out your distorted vocals.

    Purchasing an Eclipse HU will most certainly take a good chunk out of your budget, especially considered their lack of availability online. As for those packages, I wouldn't exactly say that they're crap, so much as significantly overpriced and lackluster. As I said before, you can get a very impressive setup for $1000USD if you simply use an LOC as opposed to purchasing a new HU. My recommendation:

    -SS-600.4 $250 (mmxpress.com)
    -SS-350.2 $150 (mmxpress.com)
    -Adire Shiva/Stryke AV12 ~$125
    -Oz Matrix $305 (http://www.carstereotime.com/default...RIX%20180%20CS)

    This should leave about $100USD for wiring/enclosure. Again, if you would rather spend the money on just a head unit and subs, then do such. I just hope your not expecting to have anything resembling a flat FR...
     
  10. brentl

    brentl Cinematographer

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    My current upgrade path goes like this

    2003 civic LX coupe with six speakers

    1: headunit .... DONE. Sony 5050x ES,a Couple years old but sounds good. Too bad about the bad angle in the dash make it unreadable in daylight.

    2: Sub amp ... Sept 2003. Probably an existing Sony 4520, about 10 years old but works great and sounds good. When it dies I'll upgrade with a JBL monoblock sub since they're great values.

    3: Sub ... I currently have an old Pioneer IMPP 12" in a 2Cuft sealed enclosure that goes pretty deep. It doesn't hit like a Shiva would in car, but it blends well and sounded good in my last three cars[​IMG]

    I'll probably look at Audiobahn or a Shiva as an upgrade, but I only want a small box in my trunk so I'm not sure which is better.

    4: Front speakers ... I'll be looking at Infinity CSs or a lower end Boston Acoustics. I've heard some good things about a Canadian speaker company but even the name eludes so I won't include them[​IMG]

    5: Rear speakers ... I WON't be changing the rears since 90% comes from the front and the rears are for fill only.

    Just giving you an idea of my path AND the best way to spread out the costs.

    You'll be amazed with how much the SQ improves when you upgrade your head unit..... I agree totally with Jason on that.

    Brent
    p.s. still not sure about throwing my crossover into the mix(xec-1000). I may just get something simple for the sub, and use the included passive with the fronts.
     
  11. Jason Merrick

    Jason Merrick Supporting Actor

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    Yeah... what Brent said.

    [​IMG]

    His path is pretty similar to mine, (albeit with different equipment)... however, I was very satisfied with my factory speakers and decided not to replace them. I instead spent that money on XM which I am also very happy with.
     
  12. Rodon

    Rodon Second Unit

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    I run:
    Alpine HU and changer
    Earthquake and USAmps amplifiers and just bought a pair of the new big Orion 2500Ds
    Digital Designs 9512E series subs
    A/D/S components

    IMO - Good Brands (but not good for your $1000 budget [​IMG] ):
    HU - Alpine, NAK, Denon, Eclipse
    Sub Amps - Earthquake PHD series, USAmps, Zapco, Tru Tech, Memphis, Orion, Crossfire
    Component amps - Xtant, USAmps, Zapco, PG, A/D/S, any class A.
    Subs: Digital Designs, Shocker Audio, L7s, Eclipse, Kove

    I am sure there are others I am forgetting right now
     
  13. Curtis Lotter

    Curtis Lotter Stunt Coordinator

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    Johnny,

    When I bought my '96 Chrysler Town & Country, I couldn't believe how bad the sound was from the "premium" stock system. It didn't have cd but had the cassette/radio/graphic equilizer. The speakers are the infinity setup.

    To make a long story short, I replaced the stock head unit with the Chrysler/GM sized cd player from Pioneer. I simply couldn't believe the difference. My upgrades ended right there, it was good enough at this point for me. Some others here have advised to replace the stock head unit first and I completely agree.

    Now for my second vehicle.... I recently bought a '99 Maxima with the bose system. I have NEVER heard a worse sounding system, I can't believe how hosed people are that are forced to buy this system (package with other desirable options) when they buy a new Maxima. I quickly did some homework and put in an Alpine 9805 and Crystal CPe60 speakers all around. Also a pair of old Bazooka subs? I got from a friend.

    I really hate to admit it, but I like the sound coming out of the van better. There's just something not right with the Maximas' sound. One thing I know for sure is I don't like the separation between the tweeters located in the upper doors and the mid/woofs in the lower area of the doors. I can always hear the highs and lows as coming from separate places. Crystal makes a nice set of component type speakers (separate crossovers) with the tweeter still located with the woofer. I wish I would have bought those.

    It's great to see this car audio forum here now! Thanks to Ron and everybody else putting their hard work into this great place.

    Good luck on your project Johnny.

    Curt
     
  14. ChrisAG

    ChrisAG Supporting Actor

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    After comparing Pioneer and Alpine, I don't think Alpine is necessarily overpriced. I was considering a Pioneer 5500 but the display had too much glare to be visible (my Probe GT dash angles the deck slightly upwards), but I found Alpine's display a little more readable even in sunlight. I settled on the Alpine 9811 for MP3/WMA playback, and some unique features at its price point: adjustable HP and LP crossover, time delay to "equalize" the speaker distance, and the ability to turn off the internal amp if you use an external one.

    If you are in Toronto, Kromer Radio has some decent prices, and you can usually haggle a bit.
     
  15. Jonny K

    Jonny K Second Unit

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    I'm afraid I'm not in Toronto, I'm in Calgary. I have no idea where to look around here for a good deal on a car stereo. I only know about the few large companies that sell them (Future Shop, Visions, Soundsaround, and A&B Sound).

    As for some of the suggested setups, I haven't even heard of half that stuff! OZ? Eclipse? I'm really going to have to do my homework. Trouble is...how do I do homework about what something sounds like? I can read and post on the web all I like, but how can I actually hear these setups?

    And to make things interesting...the van I want to upgrade is a lease vehicle. When the time comes, I'll need to put the old stereo back in again. I was hoping there would be an easy way to just "plug-in" a better stereo, but I guess that isn't really the case.

    Thanks,


    Jonny K. [​IMG]
     
  16. Diallo B

    Diallo B Screenwriter

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    Johnny, many of the brands that people are kicking around here are high end and in some cases extremely high end brands. Point blank, they are out of your budget.

    Considering this is a lease and you are working with a $1000 budget this is what I would do if I were you.

    I am not going to concentrate on any specific brands but I may mention a couple.

    Since this is a lease concentrate on replacing the head unit and getting some subs. Anything else and you may develop the potential to have to deal with some other issues when you return your lease. Also, simply replacing the stock unit will do wonders for your sound quality with your current speakers. Although if it was not a lease I would be getting some new speakers as well. And one other thing. I am not sure about that 'premium' system that you have but if the installers have to bypass stock amps then you may be in for further costs and complications.

    Barring any complications lets get started.

    I would spend $200-250 dollars (talking USD here) on a head unit and I would focus on a Alpine, Clarion, Pioneer or Kenwood brand. As far as specs are concerned make sure that the unit is capable of all the features you want but also make sure that it is capable of putting out a minimum of 20 watts RMS per channel. Usually the ratings that are advertised on a radio are twice what the radio is capable of for RMS. So a radio that claims 50 watts into 4 channels is really about 25 watts per channel. Keep in mind this is probably more than enough for your application.

    If you want features such as MP3/WMA and Satellite Radio capability you may have to increase that figure.

    Now for the subs. We have 700 dollars left for some subs an amp, a box and amp kit and INSTALLATION. This is a tough one. Given your budget I would focus on 1 sub here especially since you are in a minivan. I would spend about $200 on a quality sub that is capable of 250-300 watts RMS. Look at spending about 60-80 on a box. You have to decide if you want a ported or sealed box. I prefer sealed as it gives tight, clear, accurate bass, but you have to have a lot of power. A ported box will give a loud booming bass but will sacrifice sound quality. You can also get it relatively loud with minimal power.

    Next we need an amp. Look at spending about 300 dollars on the amp. With this budget you will have to get a stereo amp and bridge it to get sufficient power to play the sub. Look for a stereo amp that can be bridged to 250-300 watts. I am not going to get into a brand war here but concentrate on well known brands. For your budget you will be looking at low end versions of the following brands: Alpine, Kenwood, MTX, Bazooka, Rockford Fosgate. You will also need an amp kit which will run you at least 70 to 80.

    Alright let's look at the budget:

    Head Unit 200
    Installation 50
    Amp 300
    Amp Kit 80
    Installation 80
    Sub 200
    Sub Box 80
    Total 990 + Taxes if applicable

    **Of course these are estimations, but I would stick close to them**

    Based on what you stated your needs were, your budget and the fact that the vehicle is a lease this is what I would do. Once again, based on your budget you need to focus on what REPUTABLE product will give you the best bang for your buck vs. what brand it is. And I know that this seems contadictory but stay away from lesser known and budget brands.

    Last, asking a question like, 'what brand gear I should go with' is the equivalent of asking people their favorite food. You will get a number of different answers. I know this may seem tough but it will be imperitive for you to look around and listen to gear to see what best suits you and fits your budget. Just like in HT everyone in Car Audio has an opinion about something and they think their gear is the best.

    Good Luck,

    djb

    My System

    Kenwood Excelon 817
    Kenwood Excelon 10 disc changer
    Sirius Satellite Receiver and Terk antenna
    Audio Control THREE.1 Line Driver/Equalizer
    Kenwood Excelon 6" components with 1" tweeters for front stage
    Kenwood Excelon HQ691 6x9's for rear fill
    2 Kicker Comp VR dual voice coil 12" 8ohm subs (in a custom built sealed box)
    MTX Thunder 4320 for interior cab sound
    MTX Thunder 2300 for subs
    Lightning Audio 1 farad capacitor
    Optima Red Top Battery
    Monster Cable (audio and power) all around (I know, I know, no monster flames please)
    Viper 790XV Responder System for security
     
  17. Diallo B

    Diallo B Screenwriter

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    All,

    Line Output Converters can be good or bad things. If you have a crappy head unit all the LOC is going to do is send a crappy signal to your amps to amplify.

    I have dealt with attempting to use LOC's on certain installs and have simply abandoned them since in most instances the stock head unit was simply not putting out a good enough signal.

    For all of those that use LOC's on stock head units, BUYER BEWARE!!!!!

    djb
     
  18. Frank Grimes

    Frank Grimes Second Unit

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    Take my opinions with a grain of salt, because as mentioned, your ears may be significantly better than my own. But...

    First of all, I think you all are giving LOC's way worse a rep then necessary. Tom Nousaine of Mobile Entertainment has always run his stock HU w/ LOC. Richard Clark is also pretty adament (sp?) in saying that stock HU's + LOC's are capable of sounding just as good as an aftermarket HU.

    Realise that it takes a meager 4 watts into a 4ohm LOC to produce the 4volts that many aftermarket HU's produce at max volume (read: clipped).

    Also, if one of his biggest concerns is an easy in easy out system, why bother changing the HU? Does the van have rear speakers? Removing those speakers and running the LOC at the end of those wires, you wouldn't even have to touch the dashboard to install amplifiers! And who's to say your next vehicle won't require a different DIN size than the HU you purchase?

    And I am truly amazed by the number of people that recommend purchasing subs/sub amp before bothering with stock speakers. This is simply not a recipe for accurate musical reproduction. Why put a majority of ones budget in 20-65hz and skimp on 65-15khz? Why settle on lowend Bazooka (!?!) when you can 'settle' for a Shiva or AV12 for the same price?

    One last thing. If you're REALLY looking for a quick to install setup, I would look into coaxial/braxial speakers as opposed to components. CDT makes great braxials for about the same price as the Oz's I mentioned earlier. Crystal also makes very decent coaxial speakers that can be found for ~$100 or less.
     
  19. Diallo B

    Diallo B Screenwriter

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    Frank,

    I agree with you on a couple of points regarding LOCs.

    1. They make for an easier install.
    2. They have the ability to sound good.

    As I stated above:

     
  20. Jason Merrick

    Jason Merrick Supporting Actor

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    Remember Jonny's original stated goal:
     

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