Introduction: Cheap and Easy Car Speakers

Picture of Cheap and Easy Car Speakers

This was the problem that faced me: my car is old enough that it doesn't have an AUX jack to plug an iPod into. However, it's not old enough to have a cassette tape player, so I can't use one of those nifty adapters. Retrofitting it so that it does have a jack would be too expensive. The result is that I can't play music from my iPod in my car. I decided that the best solution was to build a sort of iPod dock designed to fit in the car, one that would run off of the cigarette lighter outlet and be cheaper than a regular iPod dock. I made it out of a set of old computer speakers and designed it to fit my car. Here is the result. Feel free to rate and comment. Hope you like it!

P.S. I understand that an FM transmitter is a viable solution. It has been pointed out several times in the comments. However, this is what I made, and it is merely one way of doing things. Thanks.

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

The reason that this project is so easy is that it uses old computer speakers as its base. Computer speakers already have the circuitry built in, so no extra effort or amplifiers are necessary. I got a very nice pair for $5 off of Craigslist (they're normally $15).

Materials:
-Computer speakers - $5 (on Craigslist)
-Sheet plastic - $5
-Car power adapter* - $9.99 (at radioshack )
-Stereo plug - $3.99 (for  a pack of two at radioshack )
-Window screen - $0 (I got mine from an old window)
-Small nuts and bolts (I had plenty of these already)

Total: $24

Tools:
-Jigsaw
-Power drill
-Hole-cutting drill bit
-Soldering materials
-Screwdriver
*A word about adapters: my speakers ran on an AC adapter that produced 12V DC at about 1.5 amps, so I got a 12V 2A adapter. There are other adapters with different outputs, so be sure to get one that fits your speakers.

Step 2: Dismantle the Speakers

Picture of Dismantle the Speakers

First, remove any covers or screens. Then unscrew everything. If it still doesn't come apart, pry it open with a screwdriver or something. You won't be needing that plastic covering anyway. Also remove the circuit board. It's probably inside the right speaker. Cut the wire going from the audio jack to the circuit board if you can't remove it. Be sure to save the volume knob.

Step 3: Choose and Trace Your Compartment

Picture of Choose and Trace Your Compartment

Find a good place in the car for the two speakers. I used the compartment in the middle of the front seats. Then you have to trace the outline of that compartment. To do this I took a piece of paper, placed it over the compartment, and just sort of traced over the edges. Then, I transferred that outline to a piece of cardboard and cut it out so I could use it as a template. If anyone has a more accurate way of doing it, let me know.

Step 4: Cut the Plastic

Picture of Cut the Plastic

Trace the outline of the compartment onto the plastic, which should be covered in some sort of adhesive paper, and cut it out using a jigsaw or something similar. Try to be very exact; it's important for the plastic to fit tightly into the compartment.

Step 5: Drill the Holes

Picture of Drill the Holes

You need three drill bits for this part: a large hole saw bit (mine was 2 1/2 inches), a drill bit the size of your bolts, and a smaller one for drilling pilot holes. While still keeping the paper on the plastic, place your speakers face-down on top in the position you want them to be. My compartment was too small to fit both speakers side by side, so I placed them diagonally and overlapped one corner (it looks cool anyway). Once you have them positioned, trace their outlines and mark the position of the bracket holes (the speakers should look like the one in the picture below, with a bracket attached). Find the center of your circular speaker hole by drawing lines from the corners of the rectangular-ish bracket shaper and marking their intersection. Once you have all of the holes marked, drill the large holes with the hole saw bit (be sure to keep it centered) and the small holes, starting with pilot holes and moving in to the larger bit. Plastic is a little slippery, so pay attention to keeping the drill on track.

Step 6: Attach the Speakers and the Screen

Picture of Attach the Speakers and the Screen

Now that you have the holes cut, the speakers can be attached. Here's where that screen comes in. Cut a section out about the size you need. This is easier if it's the kind that isn't actually metal. Trim it down so that it fits nicely and leaves room for where you're going to put the volume knob. Then poke holes for the bolts and put on the screen, the speakers, and the nuts. It should look like the last picture.
P.S. This later turned out to be an important window. I got in trouble. Oops... So make sure your window really is old.

Step 7: Two More Holes and a Circuit Board

Picture of Two More Holes and a Circuit Board

Now you have to attach the circuit board. Mine had four important things attached to it: a volume knob, a little green LED, a plug for power, and a plug for the left speaker. The latter two will come later and face away from the plastic. The knob and the LED will stick out the front of the plastic, so they need holes. Mark where you want them and drill. Once that's done, put the circuit board in between the speakers so that everything is in the right place. I found that the easiest way to attach it is with a piece of duct tape (no one's going to see it).

Step 8: Shorten Wires and Solder

Picture of Shorten Wires and Solder

You probably had to cut a wire or two to remove the speakers from their original casing. If you didn't, you may still want to. This step is not entirely necessary, but I recommend shortening the wires, just to keep things neat. First, cut the wire that goes to the left speaker (the right speaker should already be attached to the circuit board), shorten it, and solder in the middle (this involves soldering two wires, the positive and negative inputs, which are both contained in the cable). You can insulate it and cover it with heat-shrink wrap or electrical tape.
There are two ways to deal with the audio plug: you can treat it like the other wire and shorten it by cutting some out in the middle and soldering the three wires inside, or you can attach a new plug at the end and eliminate the break. I chose the second method. For that method you need a new stereo plug. It should have a plastic cover on the bottom that unscrews. Remove it and slip it down over the wire. The plug will have three terminals: one big one at the base and two smaller ones. The cable that was connected to the original plug has three wires: one unshielded and two wrapped in regular rubber coverings. Notice a pattern? The uninsulated wire gets soldered to the large terminal on the plug—this is ground. The other two are left and right. You can figure out which is which with a little experimentation, although it doesn't really matter.
Finally, plug in the power adapter to the power jack on the circuit board.

Step 9: Install It!

Picture of Install It!

Well, almost. One more important thing: since all of the contacts underneath the circuit board are exposed, it is likely that they will be touching something metal. This is bad. More than one contact is touching the same piece of metal could cause a short in the circuitry. If this is the case, insulate any suspicious exposed electronic connections with electrical tape or something.

Anyway, after testing it with the original power adapter (recommended), I simply had to install it in my car. My original stencil had been accurate and it fit nicely into the compartment. It should be set up so that the power cord comes out and is plugged into the nearest cigarette outlet (in my car there was one behind the compartment) and the audio cable comes out in front so that it can be plugged into your music player. The neat thing about this design is that you can tuck the cable into the compartment, close it, and the whole thing is hidden. To listen, open the compartment, plug in your music player, turn on the speakers by clicking on the volume knob, and rock out!

Comments

abottomley (author)2013-08-31

I just bought an old beat up Pontiac. The stereo was torn out and the speakers were all kicked in. The door on the compartment in the middle of the car is missing as well... So this is a perfect fix! Definitely going to do this.

jacobske (author)2011-10-18

PC (now vehicle) subwoofer is working/reverberating terribly when I plug it into the cigarette lighter. The satellite speakers are working great.

The speakers are 12 V ac/dc, 1500 mah. The adapter powering them is 12 V, 2 amps. This happens whether I plug the subwoofer power source into the cigarette lighter or another 12 v accessory plug that's wired directly to the battery.

What gives?

kip

natrinicle (author)jacobske2012-07-24

I had this same issue with an MP3 player when using the car as a source of power. It seems to be the alternator noise causing feedback from the speaker source. Try wiring up a line cleanser in the power line like this one: http://www.amazon.com/Pyramid-NS12-InLine-Noise-Suppressor/dp/B0007V5X4U/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1343152667&sr=8-1&keywords=line+filter+car

Another option would be to try and wire a large capacitor in parallel with the power line. This is a little less effective, but seems to work ok for a cheap fix.

unaffiliatedperson (author)2011-06-28

handy for a CB setup

Sponzyparadox (author)2011-05-27

Stupid question, but wouldn't an FM radio transmitter adapter work just as well? Cool project though be great to mod into a portable guitar amp or simmilar!

nixiadel (author)Sponzyparadox2011-06-11

The FM transmitters are not worth the cost to buy them. The last reply was right. the sound quality is very poor and you have to deal with picking up other peoples transmitions and the occational station. This is a nice alternative for the happy DIY'er.

Vinsu (author)Sponzyparadox2011-05-28

FM-transmitters won't deliver good enough signal to one that likes even some kind of sound guality. Using salvaged parts isn't much better solution than FM-signals but definately more datisfying to build than using new ones.
Success.

jessejwk (author)Vinsu2011-05-31

Glad you liked it

kyismaster (author)2011-05-28

You could easily done this with a car subwoofer.

Parts:
Amp: $5 (with car power adapter aka cigarette lighter plug)
Subwoofer : free if you know where to look, or decent ones for 10 - 20 dollars.
Wire: <--- well.. Free with your amp ( just cut the spare wires from the aditional adapter (wall plug )
Wood base: free scrap wood at your local hardware store
Carpet: free scraps at your local carpenter store.

Price total: $5 - 25.
Price of common sense: Priceless.

Good luck on your find. If those were Logitech speakers I wouldn't complain.
My logitech blasts Crystal Clear sounds from easily 50 Feet. (it echos through the neighborhood) About the size of a brick though (two speakers together with control board and portable battery, just need to convert it to lithium now....)

jessejwk (author)kyismaster2011-05-31

That is certainly another option. What I made suits my situation just fine, but I'm sure many people would enjoy seeing your method turned into an instructable.

kyismaster (author)jessejwk2011-06-01

Didn't mean to offend you, I was just offering a more powerful option. I could easily create the instructable if I had the time but I am looking at more light weigh alternatives. I am more looking to make a portable alternative plan

jessejwk (author)kyismaster2011-06-01

No offense taken. Good luck.

kyismaster (author)jessejwk2011-06-01

Great instructable by the way.

ChillyChick (author)2011-06-01

Wonderful! Thank you. I have an OLD vehicle that does not have a sound system, it was never installed. This is the answer to my problem! Thank you again!

jessejwk (author)ChillyChick2011-06-01

Glad I could help. Post a picture when you finish. Good luck!

dimpap (author)2011-05-26

These PC speakers are really bad quality, low frequency range, and due to placing them one near the second - no stereo efect at all.

Even the cheapest FM transmitter was act and sound better

If you have too much interference in the air in your area, you always may use the transmitter which "cuts" the aerial wire of your radio, and no other FM signal may reach your radio while the transmitter is ON and you are listening an external source, as ipod. Once you switching the ipod or the transmitter OFF, the electronic circuit connects your car aerial back to the radio receiver, so you able to receive the FM signals by the regular way.
Just search eBay for FM Modulator and you will get hundreds of results, with the same price you payd for your project.

Just for example - http://cgi.ebay.com/BOSS-AUDIO-FM-MOD-FM-MODULATOR-/220788852144?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item33680a85b0

and you are getting clear stero sound, distributed between 4 speakers of your car, and as bonus opportunity to use all your EQs, sound effects, and other features of your cars head unit.

Very popular scheme, used in many handsfrees, stand alone CD Changers e.g.
Just imagine, that if such an equipment made for listening CD changer via your regular on-board FM radio, isn't it clearly indicates it is the most effective and high quality way ?

So the work you did is clean, but kinda useless
Sorry for my IMHO.

jessejwk (author)dimpap2011-05-26

Thanks for your comment, I didn't know all that about the FM modulator. As for the speakers being low quality and low frequency range, I haven't found that to be a problem in my personal testing. The compartment does a little for the bass amplification, and the quality is more than suitable. I experimented with some lower quality amplifier circuits and speakers, and these are pretty good. It works for my purposes at any rate. You may be right about the FM transmitter being a more efficient solution, but I made this project mainly because it was fun, it looks cool, and I had a pair of computer speakers on hand. Also, I was trying to see what could be done with computer speakers and maybe give other people ideas for other applications (I think someone said they were going to use it on a motorbike). Anyway, I wouldn't exactly call it useless.

dimpap (author)jessejwk2011-05-27

HI

Hope you forgive me my "useless" :)
English is definately not my native language, so some my fonetics may sound too strike :)
Of course your Idea is brilliant, and in some cases may be much more convinent, than buying new hardware. I may suppose it may also be usefull as central speaker for those who have 5.1 sound in car.
Thank you for sharing

jessejwk (author)dimpap2011-05-31

Thank you for your ideas

bpfh (author)dimpap2011-05-27

I do not agree. I have always had at best medeocre success with FM transmitters, and as mentionned here several times, you have problems with overwash from other people using the same frequency, and worse, the classic problem in a big city - finding an unused frequency without having a local station walking over your transmitter... Adding to that my car has a CD and a tape deck, a 10 buck solution is a tape to mp3 adaptor. Clearly not as elegant, but far better sound quality and reliability....

My 0.02 :)

dimpap (author)bpfh2011-05-27

HI bpfh,
Thanks for commenting.
But please read the topic once again, and you will find out that :

1) the modulator I proposed is free from external radio interferences due to different and WIRED design. It is not the regular FM Transmitter mentioned here several times (see the ebay link I posted)
2) tape adapter will not fit the needs of the topic's author, because there is no cassete player in his car's headunit.

bpfh (author)dimpap2011-05-27

Hi Dimpap,

1) I'm sorry, I was responding about the line mentionning "Even the cheapest FM transmitter was act and sound better "

2) I did specifiy that I was talking about my car, having a tape deck makes things easier to connect... though on that side of things, I do not need this sort of setup for the car... but as mentionned in another post below, this is a perfect idea for my motorcycle, and  I'll be playing with some old parts this coming weekend!

Cheers,
Daniel

zack247 (author)2011-04-05

nice! i was going to talk about a shell so the bass would be better, but the compartment you put the speakers in seems to serve the same purpose as a shell would.

very nice and clean!

jessejwk (author)zack2472011-04-05

I did notice that when I removed the speakers from the compartment, the bass volume decreased; I wasn't sure why though. That explains it. Thanks for your comment!

Thereyouhaveit (author)jessejwk2011-05-31

Well , That's the reason why woofer drivers are placed into usually big enclosures , it might do something for the bass if you cut a hole on the side or a "port" .
Oh , and that's why all (except for lousy) speakers are in boxes too .

kassofcmb (author)2011-05-27

Don't listen to the "Haters" you saw a need and built something for it. Awesome

jessejwk (author)kassofcmb2011-05-30

Thank you :)

jcaresheets (author)2011-04-05

First I would like to say that this was very nicely done. Good job!! But I also wanted to add something. They have these little FM transmitters that you hookup to the headphone jack on stuff and then it does exactly what you would expect. You just tune it in on your car radio and your set to go. However these little transmitters do not look nearly as cool as what you did. :)

ryanmercer (author)jcaresheets2011-05-26

The fm transmitters are worthless here, absolutely worthless, no matter what frequency you go for it's being stepped on horribly and the audio you are trying to broadcast comes through every so faintly

Firebreed (author)ryanmercer2011-05-30

If you want FM Transmitters to work perfectly, it's simply a matter of buying a antenna adapter and running it in through a toggle. Basically, when you want to have your iPod running through the deck, toggle off the antenna which disengages the antenna from the back of the deck. It won't matter WHAT channel you're on, or WHAT anyone else is doing because you've disengaged the antenna. Whenever you want to listen to the radio again, simply flip a switch and re-engage the antenna.

I had my car setup like that and it worked perfectly. Now I've got an in dash DVD with Bluetooth, so I don't use the old system anymore. But the toggle always worked good.

knife141 (author)jcaresheets2011-04-05

The FM transmitters work fine unless you live in a metropolitan area where the FM band is very crowded. You can be sitting at a traffic light listening to bluegrass, then suddenly you're picking up rap music from the car next to you, because they've tuned into the same unused frequency that you use.

thoffman (author)knife1412011-05-27

I work in the Los Angeles area and live about 70 miles away in another radio market. Until I got my latest car with an Aux input, I used an FM transmitter (an iRiver). It worked just fine. I had to find a clear frequency, but I managed to find one even in this crowded radio market (90.5 worked well for me most of the time BTW). The transmitter I used had three presets and the full frequency range, so I was able to switch between channels depending on where I was.

It wasn't perfect. There were times when I would pick up somebody else's transmitter (though technically, they're not supposed to be strong enough to interfere between cars). Overall, though, it worked.

I did find a few tricks:

1) Make sure you get a transmitter that has the full frequency range. I had one with a handful of presets, and it was horrible.

2) If you have a long commute, get one that lets you store your own presets.

3) If you don't listen to the radio, disconnect your antenna. If you do listen to the radio, you can hook up a switch. My car had an antenna that was easily unscrewed. I did this with the first transmitter I had which only let me pick from about 10 frequencies. With the last transmitter, I didn't have to.

4) You may not be able to charge and play at the same time. I found that I would pick up interference from the charger.

The most important thing I learned, however, was:

5) Do *not* crank your media player up to full blast. You want to keep the volume down to around 50% or maybe lower. If you turn it up too high, it *will* cause distortion when it's transmitted over FM and it *will* sound horrible. I had a friend with a transmitter who said it was the worst sound ever, until I told him to turn down his player.

knife141 (author)thoffman2011-05-27

It has been about 6-7 years ago that I used an FM transmitter. I don't know if anything has changed with these since then, but at the time they only offered the choice of three frequencies. In the area I live in, two of these three frequencies were occupied by radio stations, leaving all of us to use the only one available. I finally bought an adapter for my radio, and wired the satellite input into it directly.

jcaresheets (author)knife1412011-04-05

Ahhh I suppose. Like I said though, this was done very nicely.

jessejwk (author)jcaresheets2011-04-05

Thanks! I did consider the FM transmitter method, but I had heard a lot about interference and bad performance.

Flyinseamnky (author)jessejwk2011-05-26

I had an FM transmitter, and it was quickly thrown in the junk drawer. If you have to drive large distances, or you live between big cities like I do then the radio stations change alot depending on where you are at. It would help if there was a universal blank station, but then you could have the problem knife141 has. I like this instructable too. gives you a nice finished/hidden look when not in use.

ivanadrian (author)jessejwk2011-05-26

i've been using a transmitter for a while now, and its great
never had a problem with interference or anything of the sort
it came with a little remote to switch through the tracks its great
http://www.bigboxstore.com/car-accessories/car-mp3

zack247 (author)jessejwk2011-04-05

in my city its not the interference thats a problem, its the transmitters themselves, look out for any that are made out of incredibly cheap materials, the headphone jacks on those break considerably easy.

DragonDon (author)jcaresheets2011-05-26

I believe FM transmitters are a much better way to go. You just have to find ones that will allow you to choose the frequency you transmit on. That way you avoid any interference. So say that 'they all suck' is an over-generalization because that would me that you are saying that FM in general doesn't work at all in your city. Which is obviously not true because there are radio stations that do work without being interfered with. I'm pretty sure you can get a nice one for $24 off eBay. I picked up mine at a local Canadian Tire for like $15 and never had an issue with it in my town (population 500,000).

Still, this is a good instructable. It does take a lot of work/creativity to make what you did. Good work!

sherriott (author)jcaresheets2011-05-24

Like going cable-free with streaming video, the FM transmitter thing works a lot better on paper than it does in the real world. I live in a town with a relatively small number of radio stations, and every attempt at using a transmitter resulted in miserable quality and intermittent audio. I'm definitely going to try this (and add the FM transmitter to my garage sale collection).

flyingpuppy (author)sherriott2011-05-26

Oh, don't sell that transmitter! Use it to play tricks on people. You can plug it into a voice recorder, record something personal and freaky, then transmit it to a friends' radio at an appropriate moment. I made my Dad talk to the radio one time that way... : )

davIRE (author)2011-05-26

i like how it fits so neatly in the centre console, nice work

Magehound (author)2011-05-26

I think this is a good idea, I listen to pandora at work through a set of old computer speakers. You can get them fairly cheaply too at a yard sell/e-bay.

I was wondering have you thought about using a set that also has a sub-woofer with it? You could place the sub under one of the seats and you would get the full range of music.

Also since your 12v power is behind the compartment, what about taking the bottom out of the compartment and tie in another power point to the one that sticks out of the back? That way you can not tell that anything is there when the top is closed.

jessejwk (author)Magehound2011-05-26

Both great ideas. I think I see a second version coming...

rollnaway (author)2011-05-26

I use a cassette adapter. $10

pdub77 (author)rollnaway2011-05-26

Uh, reread the intro. . . =)

jessejwk (author)pdub772011-05-26

:)

BtheBike (author)rollnaway2011-05-26

My brother ripped out his deck . He plugs his phone/mp3 direct into the stock amp under the seat . plays on the stock door speakers

knife141 (author)2011-04-04

Nice job! Old pc speakers are really great when you need reasonably decent audio at a good price. Its nice that not only do you get speakers, but you get the amplifier as well! The last set of pc speakers I bought for a project cost me $5 at a Goodwill store, and they sound great. I enjoyed your Instructable.

Kasm279 (author)knife1412011-05-26

I got a set of old Gateway 2000 branded Altec Lansings a while back for $3.75, and they sound GREAT!

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