Will adding new speakers make my stereo louder? If I add new speakers do I need to amplifier them as well? Is it worth the money for me to just add new speakers to my factory stereo system? The answers to these questions depend upon many different variables. When looking for new speakers we will always want to take into account the installation process, and whether it is even possible for the new speakers to fit into the factory location or, will some fabrication need to be done to achieve your goals?
Adding new speakers to your daily driver, or even your project vehicle, can make a world of difference in the quality and potential volume level of the music when listening to your stereo. Many people don’t realize just how involved properly replacing a set of factory car speakers can be. When it comes to speaker installation, there are variables that are crucial to take into account, which I will cover in this blog. I will cover many of the variables anyone and everyone could encounter when installing a full front-stage speakers setup.
Will it make a difference to replace my speakers?
The short answer is, yes. The long answer is, oh yes, including some details we are about to cover now. The factory speakers are manufactured for a very singular purpose, to produce a decent sound at a low cost. Due to this most auto manufacturers squeeze in the audio system into the overall budget making sure the entire vehicle is not too expensive to build and for clients to buy. Manufacturers will use tuning and cabin design to make an audio system appear to sound better than it truly is, which can be good and bad when adding aftermarket car audio components into a vehicle.
Factory door panels will vary in level of ease when it comes to removal and installation. If you are not confident and experienced enough to remove and install the factory door panel I recommend that you do plenty of research to become comfortable or, higher an expert to help you perform the work. This could mean the difference in a small and quick project turning into a drawn out and expensive project. I also recommend seeking out expert help if any areas of this blog seem to be too much to take on your own.
The many advantages to adding aftermarket speakers include; gaining the ability to add more power to the system (thus being able to efficiently increase volume), an overall better sounding stereo system, additional sound stage separation, and in many cases increased durability to environmental factors. There have also been arguments made that switching from an oval speaker like a 6X9” to a circular 6.5” speaker can give a more accurate representation of recorded music in its original form, though in most cases this is not a huge factor in a daily vehicle.
The full blog on this KIA stereo installation can be viewed in our LIS Audio April Feature – 2012 Kia Sorento COG System Upgrade
Down falls of adding aftermarket speakers (outside of improper installation) include; expense of the upgrade and the possibility you may become spoiled by the quality and want to do the same in every vehicle here after. When quality speakers are purchased, tuning is done correctly and the installation is performed correctly, there’s not much of a con’s list to the upgrade. Now, lets jump into it!
Some Dete’s on Speak’s
At LIS Audio we often deal with three different ranges of front-stage speakers for a clients daily driven vehicle; highs, mid-range, and mid-bass. The sub-stage is also an important part of the overall replications of music but we cover that in the LIS Audio blog “Planning Your Sub-Stage”, which you may check out before or after reading this blog to put more of the pieces together. In jest, subwoofers are made to play the low-end frequencies that product bass and speakers play the middle to higher end frequencies.
Components and coaxials are the most commonly found orientations of speakers in vehicles. Component sets are typically comprised of two or more speakers, such as a mid-bass driver and a tweeter, that share the same channel but are mounted off axis to one another. Which means they are in separate locations. Also often referred to as, “separates.” Coaxial speakers are generally 2 or more speakers combined on the same axis. Which means they share the same location and often are powered from a single channel.
When the speakers are all in completely separate locations they are generally just referred to by the title of the job they are intended to perform. A tweeter would be small, nearly ¾”-1 ½” in most cases, and may have a capacitor located on the positive terminal or connection. Capacitors on tweeters are generally a sign of passive filtering that helps to cut out mid and low end frequency and allow high-end frequencies. Mid-range speakers will play higher frequencies as well but do not generally have a capacitor on the positive lead, though it can in some instances. These can generally be sized from 1 ½” up to 4”.
The mid-bass speaker handles the mid to lower end frequencies and can be sized from 4” all the way up to 10”. Most vehicles will have 4”, 5.25”, 6.5”, 5”X7” and 6”X9”. There are many other sizes that will appear across different manufacturers and eras of models but these are the most popularly found across all factory platforms and aftermarket speaker sizes. It is important to know whether some of these speakers are actually subwoofers or mid-bass. Some clues can be in location, which we cover a bit later on, and if there is a pre-molded enclosure behind it. Some mid-bass speakers may have enclosures and some subwoofers can be as small as 4” so, it is important to know how to identify them as to not blow a brand new component with improper signal.
Knowing these differences when purchasing new speakers is important. In some instances it is ok to simply replace the factory speakers with aftermarket components and leaving the passive crossover out of the equation. In other instances a passive crossover and additional wiring may be needed to achieve the desired results. Knowing the dedicated signal to each speaker lead is the best way to identify the proper replacement and wiring scenario. If you are not sure how to identify which speaker is to be replaced and in which orientation after reading this article, I would recommend reaching out to an expert for advice before making a purchase or performing the installation.
Common Speaker Locations
Every vehicle that comes with a factory audio system is designed so that the audio being played through the stereo reaches every person in the vehicle, driver and passengers alike. Not all vehicle audio systems are designed to disperse the audio equally to every listener and may be more prominent in specific areas. The amount of speakers in a given vehicle will vary due to the level of audio package and overall cabin and cargo size. Many factory-upgraded audio packages may also come with a subwoofer, which I will not cover in compete detail in this blog. Lets get into the different vehicle speaker locations.
When it comes to two door vehicles on the road, the most common speaker locations will be the front doors, dash, rear quarter panels and rear deck lid. Some vehicles may have speakers in the kick panels and even head rests of the front seats. Older more classic and vintage vehicles may have speakers, or a speaker, installed in the top of the rear seat. It is possible a coupe can also have a front center channel speaker location on the dash. Front tweeters can often be located in the a-pillars or door sail panel near the front top corner.
The speaker locations for sedans will be similar to the locations as in a coupe but with a few more options. Additional speaker locations could include the rear doors and the rear deck lid (storage tray), either, of which can be a component set. Rear deck lid and front door speakers can often be amplified subwoofers so, be sure to know the difference when replacing either set. Some sedans are known to have speakers in the shoulder locations of the vehicle seats, but this is not common.
When it comes to full size hatch vehicles and SUV’s some speakers can be located in the rear hatch. These speaker locations commonly found in vans as well. Some will have split doors with speakers and others may have a hatch lid that raise the speaker’s overhead when opened. Many times these rear most speakers are meant for tailgating or outside gatherings as they are typically very hard to hear when in the vehicle and on the road. Large SUV’s and Vans may also have speakers located in the headliner. Pay attentions to the mounting options if they are apart of your setup and you plan to replace them.
Most trucks on the road will have common speaker placement as the vehicles listed, with the exception of having speakers in the c-pillars or sometimes overhead in a “sound bar”. Overhead sound bars are very common in Jeep Wranglers as well, and generally have a very simple process to replacing the speakers. Some large vehicles like RV’s and off-road dedicated vehicles will come with speakers on the exterior for outside listening. Many motorcycles, UTV’s, Jet Ski’s and boats can also be equipped with speaker pods and sound bars for some fun listening. We will cover these options in another blog down the line. Lets get into common vehicle speaker mounting.
Common Speaker Mounting Options
At LIS Audio we have a few different speaker mounting options that are generally up to our clients to choose depending on their overall budget and willingness to pay to achieve the desired results. Our options include preformed and direct bolt in aftermarket replacement speakers, custom painted MDF wood mounts and custom ABS mounts. Other options can include prefabricated plastic mounting brackets, custom acrylic mounts and sometimes-even metal mounts, which we will not cover in detail here as they are not the most commonly used speaker mounting materials today.
When looking at speaker mounting it is important to pay attention to the mounting depth and to check for any moving parts that can hit the rear side. Most commonly in door mounting you will want to look for window rails and windows sliding up and down. In rear quarter panels of convertible coupes, it is ideal to look for clearance of the moving rear windows and parts of drop top when it is down. The thickness of material used for the mounts is important to pay attention to here so that we can insure proper depth and spacing to the rear of the factory panel/cover. Make sure you look at the back the door panel to make sure it will not make contact with the front of the new speakers, as you can see in a picture below, improper mounting depth can destroy a speaker.
For the new baffle, or as we’ll refer to it “mounting ring”, simply cut a shape that matches the existing speaker mount location or a circular ring that can be mounted to the metal surface securely. Look to use the factory speaker mount locations if possible. If it is not possible then be sure the area making contact with the door metal can hold at least 3 self-tapping metal screws (as per the Basic MECP Study Guide) and evenly spread distribution of the speaker weight. Screw and bolt metals commonly used that are most ideal for withstanding the elements will be; zinc, stainless steel, alloy, and titanium. If one small section of the mounting ring has a gap due to a dip in the surface of the door metal, I will add a small amount of Hushmat sound deadener to seal the opening.
More options for mounting the speakers include predrilling holes for bolts, adding threaded nut-serts or riveting the mount to the door. These are not the most common practices for mounting the speakers to the door, but they are acceptable options. Be sure to install or create some sort of rain or weather guard behind and above the speaker. We will typically trim up a bit of Hushmat to fit along the top edge of the factory hole as to protect from water falling directly on top of the speaker. I recommend adding Hushmat or some type of sound deadener to the inner and outer door skins to fully utilize the new speakers installed in the doors. Read more on sound deadener in our LIS Audio blog “Benefits of Auto Sound Deadener.”
It is also very likely that we would build custom kick panels or speaker pods. We do this to add speakers where they may not traditionally fit or when a client wants more speakers than the factory location allows. You can see that they will vary from a simple relocation or minor fabrication process, to a full on custom built pod that consists of many layers and flows with the rest of the vehicle. If you are not experience in custom fabrication and would like to achieve something like this, I recommend doing plenty or research and practice before hand, or seek out the help of a professional. Meanwhile, you can check out our LIS Audio How To blog “Building Custom Speaker Pods” to see simple process of makin custom speaker pods. From here, we can move onto wiring.
Most, but not all, aftermarket speakers come with connecting terminals that do not work with the factory connectors. Some of the speakers that come prefabricated to fit the factory locations tend to come with connecters that will connect to the factory wiring harnesses. There are also interconnectors that will allow the factory plug to be converted to the needed aftermarket speaker terminal connections. Pay close attention to the parts needed for the installation of the speakers you choose to go into the vehicle. Be sure to use the correct size terminal connectors to connect the wire each of the speaker terminals, or better yet, the use terminals if provided by the speaker manufacturer.
We’ll cover the more commonly used aftermarket connections to get a better understanding of what to look for when wiring speakers up properly. When it comes to a simple aftermarket speaker upgrade in the door cavity we can run a new wire or modify the existing factory wires to properly connect. When making these connections it is best to solder a bit of extra wire onto the factory wire in order to loop the wire down before making a connection at the speaker. The downward loop of the wire will cause collected moisture to drop off before reaching the speaker connections.
Some people will prefer to run new speaker wire from the source unit (radio), or amplifier, directly into the doors. This is a great method but not all vehicles will allow for this without custom modifications. Many newer vehicles will come with Molex plugs in the door jams that are fully populated and do not allow for additional wires to be run into the door. At this point we can do the math to figure whether the existing wire is capable of properly delivering the amount of power the newly upgraded system is about to send them. Note in these pictures, the Hushmat “weather guards” we’ve created for the mid-bass speakers in the front doors to help protect from exposure to direct moisture.
We can us Ohm’s Law and simply plug in the right measurements to calculate the proper wire size needed. Current in a circuit is directly proportional to the voltage, and inversely proportional to resistance. It also includes the relationships of watts to amps, volts and ohms. It is simply referred to as, the relationship of voltage, current and resistance. Read the “Simple Science and Methodical Math” section of the “Choosing The Proper Wire” LIS Audio blog. There is also a chart in the “Importance of Wire Size” section of this same blog that will show you how large the wire must be according to the length of the wire path and amount of power to be transferred.
Crossovers & Tuning Ex’Spec-tations
Passive and Active crossovers are commonly found in the car audio market place. A passive crossover is a non-powered device that filters and separates full range signal into dedicated channels with different frequencies and are traditionally installed after amplification. Most passive crossovers will be 2-Way and 3-Way, with a few more options on the market for more separation. An active crossover needs to be powered in order to work and is traditionally installed in the RCA interconnect signal path before amplification. Most amplifiers on the market will allow for crossover adjustability via dials and switches on the amplifier itself.
As we covered earlier each type of speaker needs to be separated into its ideal frequency. Most component speaker sets will come with the proper passive crossover to achieve this job. Many times labeled differently but they will have input terminals for positive (+) and negative (-) signal wires, output terminals for tweeters (TW/High) and for the mid-bass driver (MD/Mid), and some with Mid-range (MR/Mid-2) as a 3-Way setup. Crossovers with more than 2 output channels will cover vary specific ranges and if the speakers are purchased separately it is important to know which frequencies each speaker can efficiently play.
When a system is referred to as being “active” this simply means that there is no filtration (passive crossover or components) between the amplifier and the speaker. The amplifier itself, or an active processor prior to and in the signal path, is handling the separation of frequencies in the signal path. It is also vey crucial to know what frequencies each speaker can play efficiently when planning and tuning a fully active system. These days there are more options than just utilizing a powered crossover to isolate signals. Powered crossovers and often times powered Line Out Converters that have adjustability can be used to run a system fully active.
Equalizers have been very popular for years due to the dash mount units being easy to adjust on the fly and the fact that they are a good go to for separating frequencies using many channels prior to amplification. Some equalizers, also referred to as EQ’s, will often have adjustability meant to be set and not readjusted easily while others will come with a controller for presets and making small adjustments. A Digital Sound Processor, or DSP, makes the tuning process much more in-depth than sliding sliders or turning knobs to achieve the maximum desired results. Having a DSP can make a huge difference in the sound quality in any audio system when put on an RTA (Real Time Analyzer) and tuned properly. We recommend a DSP with every single stereo upgrade.
The two pictures below show the results measured on the DM-RTA using the factory source unit set to the same volume (40) for each trial measurement. The first picture shows the response of the fully factory audio system in a 2016 Toyota Tacoma with no additional sound deadener and all adjustments to the factory EQ set to “Flat” on the stereo. The next picture shows the results of only aftermarket front and rear speakers being replaces with Hushmat sound deadener. You can see just from this one part of our installation much of the frequencies across the board seemed to increase. Lets check out how the fully upgrade system looks.
With the full system upgraded we added a new Pioneer touchscreen stereo. This changes the variable of setting volume a little, so we set it to nearly the same level of output as the factory system for a somewhat comparable overall measurement. Both pictures below depict an average of the RTA readings after the EQ on the Pioneer stereo was set to deliver more of a flat response to the amplifiers, thus giving us a more pleasurable sounding tune. The first picture shows the bass know attenuated about 1/16 of the way as to sound very even across the system. The second picture shows the bass knob turned all the way to max and closer to the listeners real world preference in the system.
To wrap it all up, adding aftermarket speakers to a vehicle can benefit the stereo system greatly when done correctly, as well as benefit the driver. Once you have a better listening experience while making your daily commute, it becomes very apparent as to why the upgrades are well worth the time, money and effort. Especially when done correctly, the first time. Leave a comment below if you have any questions about the article and remember that there are many other LIS Audio “How-To” blogs you can explore if you would like to know more details into the world of mobile electronics installation. Good luck and thanks for reading!
Thank you for reading my latest blog and make sure you check out our other How-To’s! Make sure you check back in next month to see what our latest topic will be on. We could feature a clients ride, and it could even be your ride!
Phone: (913) 912-6990
Address: 631 S. A-Line Dr. Spring Hill, Kansas, 66083
All images are provided and owned by LIS Audio (Limitless Innovative Solutions, LLC) of Kansas City.