When it comes to getting great sound on your Gold Wing, Harley-Davidson or BMW, the key is to pick the best motorcycle speakers you can afford. The speakers in any audio system are the only link between what you hear and the electronics that play your music. Even the best radio and amplifier in the world would sound mediocre with low-quality speakers. So let’s look at a few criteria for choosing motorcycle speaker upgrades.
Consider Power Handling
Speakers for motorcycle and powersports applications are likely to be played at high volume levels. This is because the audio system needs to overpower wind and exhaust noise while remaining clear. In the case of motorcycle speakers, power handling breaks down into two considerations: thermal capacity and excursion-limited capabilities.
The thermal capacity of a motorcycle speaker depends primarily on the diameter and length of the voice coil, along with any technologies included in the design to allow hot air to circulate. A speaker rated for a lot of power typically has a larger coil and winding. If someone proposes that a speaker with a 0.75-inch voice coil can handle 200 watts of power continuously, you should question the validity of the specification. A speaker with a 1.5-inch voice coil is usually good for about 100 to 120 watts of power.
A more important consideration for motorcycle applications is how far the woofer cone on the speakers can move. A specification called Xmax describes the height of the voice coil winding relative to the size of the magnetic gap. This value is a theoretical limit of the speaker’s linear operation. However, this value doesn’t consider suspension component limitations or non-linearities. When you try to play music with a lot of bass at high volume levels, the woofer can exceed its rated excursion limit and add large amounts of distortion to the audio it produces.
Many motorcycle speaker upgrades feature PA-style speakers that offer excellent efficiency. The problem with these speakers is that their excursion capability is often very limited. A conventional high-quality motorcycle speaker might have a woofer that can move 5 millimeters in each direction. A similarly sized PA speaker might only have 2 millimeters of excursion. If you try to play music with lots of bass and midbass information at high volume levels, the PA speaker will sound terrible. The technician designing, installing and configuring the sound system on your bike needs to apply a high-pass filter at 200 to 300 hertz to a high-efficiency speaker, then add a dedicated woofer or subwoofer to handle midbass frequencies.
Sound Quality and Frequency Response
Another consideration that ties directly into the previous discussion is sound quality. Who would want to pick a speaker that doesn’t offer a smooth and natural frequency response? I’ve been to shows and heard motorcycle audio systems from far away. In these scenarios, picking out bikes with high-quality speakers is easy. Quite simply, they sound good. The voices and instruments sound real, and there isn’t any emphasis or missing information.
When shopping for motorcycle speakers, take along your favorite song on a USB stick and listen to the speakers that the product specialist suggests. Have them crank the volume, then stand back from the display as far as you can. This will let you understand how the speaker behaves when pushed hard. If the midrange sounds unnatural, garbled or distorted, they are likely not the best choice for your bike. A truly well-engineered speaker won’t change clarity or balance as you increase the volume – it should just get louder.
Motorcycle Speakers Must Handle Environmental Conditions
The last consideration for motorcycle speakers is that they will be exposed to myriad environmental conditions. When you’re out on your bike, your speakers are exposed directly to the UV rays from the sun. This exposure can cause plastics and rubber to break down quickly. Look at an old plastic lawn chair or the black trim on an older vehicle. They will be dry and often have a chalky appearance. Old car tires often show cracking, which signifies that the rubber has started to break down.
The speakers you choose for your motorcycle should be constructed with materials designed to resist UV damage. They shouldn’t fade or change colors. Look for speakers that include specific mention of UV-resistant designs. Ideally, the drivers should pass a UV exposure test to confirm that all materials will last.
The second environmental criterion for motorcycle speakers is weatherproofing. The last thing you want is for a speaker to be damaged if you get caught in the rain or splashed while out for a ride. A paper cone would be one of the worst choices for a motorcycle speaker unless it has a tough coating.
You’ll want to look at the speaker’s physical design to ensure that there’s no way for water to get into the motor assembly if it’s a coaxial driver. Coaxial speakers will need to have a flexible secondary joint around the tweeter post, ensuring that it remains watertight. Many companies are selling conventional car audio speakers as motorcycle-specific applications. Taking a few minutes to inspect the driver before making a purchase can save you a lot of headaches down the road.
Quality Speaker Installation Helps Ensure Reliability
Though we will touch on this topic briefly, how the speakers you choose are integrated into your motorcycle’s audio system plays a significant role in their performance and longevity. Unlike a car, motorcycles experience more vibration, which can cause connections to come loose over time. All wiring should be secured so it can’t vibrate relative to an amplifier, speaker or radio. Connections should be a type that won’t harden and crack when exposed to prolonged vibration.
Your new speakers should be mounted securely using corrosion-resistant fasteners. Ideally, the speakers should use existing mounting locations. Please make sure the speakers you choose specify that they have a mounting-hole pattern explicitly designed for upgrading your specific motorcycle.
Picking the Best Motorcycle Speaker Upgrades
The above tips are a good starting point for picking the best-performing, most reliable speaker upgrades for your motorcycle. Another tip is to listen to systems installed on other bikes. Try to listen to the same music on each one and pick out which sounds the clearest and most accurate. When you’re ready, visit a local specialty mobile enhancement retailer that focuses on motorcycle upgrades and start your listening evaluations.