Because most of us who work here at BestCarAudio.com have worked in the mobile enhancement industry for more than 30 years, we know that spending significant amounts of money on a car audio upgrade can be a nerve-racking experience. Finding the right products in a sea of cheap solutions, then having them installed and configured properly, is a daunting task. We can’t tell you where to shop or what products are perfect for your vehicle. Worse, we can’t help the technician who is integrating your purchases into your pride and joy do it properly. Trust me when I say that we wish we could.
‘Buy Once, Cry Once’
Among the many expressions that you may hear when shopping for a car audio upgrade is “buy once, cry once.” This phrase refers to the cost of making an investment in quality products and expert installation. We know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there will always be less expensive speakers, amplifiers, subwoofers and radios available somewhere. These less expensive solutions could be lower quality and less reliable or previously enjoyed. When you buy a high-quality product, initially it might hurt your wallet a little more, but you won’t have to upgrade it a few months down the road because its performance has been disappointing. If you’ve ever bought a toy from a dollar store, you’ll understand.
Let’s look at the purchase of an amplifier to power a car audio system. Perhaps you want a five-channel amp to power speakers in the front and rear of the vehicle, along with a subwoofer. Five-channel amps are hot items these days. You can likely find a solution emblazoned with inconceivably impossible power ratings online for under $300. In a store, that number might double for something with accurate power ratings, better noise specifications and dramatically improved reliability. For double that price, you get into great-quality amplifiers that do a better job of amplifying your music without adding distortion to the signal.
Think of an amplifier like a digital camera. Walmart sells digital cameras for around $30. Will a $30 camera take a photograph of your car or a cake? Yep. Will a $300 camera take a better photo? It most definitely will. There will be more detail in the image, so the subject will look more realistic. The color balance will be improved, so what you see in the photo will match what you saw in real life. What about a $3,000 camera? Does an expensive camera take an even better picture? If you get down to the nitty-gritty of color accuracy, image exposure and contrast, most professional cameras produce images that are truly realistic. In case you wondered, yes, there are $30,000+ cameras that photographers use for studio and high-end modeling shoots. If you want to see each eyelash on a model’s face, then a 50- or 100-megapixel camera from Phase One or Hasselblad is the right tool for the job.
Car audio amplifiers increase in accuracy and performance as their price increases. You’ll hear more of the details in your music and less hiss and distortion as the design and components improve. At the top end of the range, all you hear is the original recording without interpretation or emphasis. This applies to many speakers as well. Better speakers reproduce your music without adding unwanted harmonic content or distortion. Your installer can tune the system to sound the way you want, and everything will sound real.
Car Audio Installation Challenges
If you choose high-end audio components, then expect to spend some money to have them integrated into your vehicle properly. As vehicles and their audio systems become more elaborate, the days of upgrading the stereo in your driveway are quickly coming to an end. Professional car audio technicians have the tools and training to measure the signals coming out of a factory amplifier to determine if there is any processing present, then determine how to proceed with the upgrade. Likewise, they know how to handle Active Noise Control (ANC) systems and modules that inject engine sounds into the factory audio system. Finally, they have the training to deal with stop-start and hybrid vehicles, as well as those with aluminum or adhesive-assembled chassis.
We’ve talked to thousands of consumers over the decades, and we appreciate their frustration in finding the right technician to work on their vehicle. Not everyone in this industry is a genuine professional. While MECP Advanced and Master status aren’t a guarantee of quality workmanship, looking for stores that employ technicians with those certifications is likely to set you on the right path. Your job as a consumer is to shop for a retailer who has the expertise to complete your upgrade in a way that optimizes the performance, reliability and safety of your investment. Screwing speakers into a door and connecting the wires isn’t enough to ensure that everything will function reliably. If the store doesn’t offer installation services, how are they going to ensure that you’re happy with your investment?
Shopping for a retailer involves quantifying the quality of your interaction, their solution and their services. Many professionals in our industry call this the consultation process. They listen to your perspective, inspect and evaluate the vehicle, then provide a solution that meets your criteria.
If you’re happy with the solution, your shopping process isn’t over. You’ll want to see examples of their work. You may, depending on the scale of the project, want to see their fabrication facilities. You’ll pretty much always want to audition a demo vehicle, especially if your upgrade involves tuning a digital signal processor. You have to be comfortable with every aspect of their services before you spend your hard-earned money.
Invest Your Car Audio Money Wisely
Your vehicle is an important part of your life. You likely rely on it to get to work every day and to see friends and family on the weekend. Cars and trucks have become incredibly complex. Computer data networks, countless sensors and even internet connectivity are now commonplace. Asking someone unqualified to modify your vehicle is a risky proposition.
The shopping process can be long, and you may pay a little more for quality workmanship, but we genuinely believe that the extra investment will pay off in improved performance and reliability for your car audio upgrade.