Car Stereo System 101




well bmlbytes did a beautiful job with his instructable. But i guess its my turn to take a swing at explaining how to buy, install and modify your subwoofers, and audio to perform to their fullest extent. Now remember these are guidelines to help buy equipment. my system is one of the cheapest, but i figure if your in the position to buy decent stuff, these are the guidelines to follow.

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Step 1: Buying

Well, there are a few aspect you have to keep into account.
- price/ what your willing to pay
- wattage
- brand
- music listened to
obviously more bass i good. However i doubt a fan of orchestra is going to need a 1000 watt system. thinking of what music you listen to will determine what size system is acquit to what you listen to. And in the end will give you a price range. Obviously Rap, of course is the number one, music type associated with subwoofer systems. i personally listen to NO rap, but Classic rock, and a smiggit of new rock. For my need i really dont need much watts. but i guess "brag rights" got to me. i personally own a 1000w system and LOVE it. I enjoy listening to Godzilla by Blue Oyster Cult, it is one of the best songs with bass. Led Zepplin offers tons of bass and enjoy them as well. But this just demonstrates what is needed and what u might want. next is the idea of brand, brand will offer better sound than others and better warranty. Here is a guide to the goods and bads of subwoofers and amps:

Good brands, including but not limited to: Alpine, Rockford Fosgate, Kicker, JL Audio, Soundstream, ARC Audio, Cadence, Diamond Audio, Focal, Dayton (subs), Precision Power, some MTX, RE audio, Fi car audio, Sundown Audio, Hertz, MB Quart, Zapco, Infinity, Incriminator Audio, Missing Link Audio, JBL, Mach5, Ascendent audio, and DC sound labs, Digital Designs, Pioneer Premier; old school brands: Lanzar, Hifonics, Orion, and Phoenix Gold.

Mediocre brands (brands that are good for the money, but there is better): Quantum Audio, Sony ES line, Memphis (I have heard of lots of problems with their amps), Dual, Infinity (in my opinion), Pioneer, Kenwood (in my opinion).

Junk brands, including, but not limited to: Pyramid, Boss, Profile, Lanzar (except old school Lanzars), HiFonics (again except old school, series VIII and earlier), Legacy, American Pro, Rampage, MA Audio, Alphasonik, Crunch, Lightning Audio, Visionik, Audiovox, Volfenhag, Rockwood, Jensen, American Legacy, Audiobahn, Sony Explod line, VR3, JVC, Pyle. Any thing at Wal-Mart, or an auto parts store.

now some may be labeled as bad, but some actually with the right components will sound good. Good places to check are Ebay,, and your local craigslist.

Step 2: Ok, You Have Your Stuff...

OK, with the tips in the last step, you hopefully have your amp and subs. Now the subs can either be integrated into your headliner or in a homemade or bought box, that sets in your trunk. As far as boxes go, you want a a box built of MDF, if anybody has held that stuff you can back the idea of how this wood is solid stuff. There also the guys who either buy or build boxes to fit mesh with their cars. The way these boxes are built is through the process of using fiberglass to build boxes. However these are usually time consuming and all in all expensive. Personally i bought a set that included, the amp, 2 12" subs, box, and all wiring. So i just stuck with the stock box. There is However a difference between boxes there are enclosed and open. enclosed have no where for the air created by the subs to leave, and therefore, hit harder. I truly don't understand the purpose of open boxes that allow the air to leave. but get your set up, and prepare for the next step.

Step 3: Postioning of Componets

The question is, where is your amp to go? You can do a few things. You can plan it underneath a seat, on the back or top of the box, on the headliner or a customly installed. Remember the amp will create a bit of heat so make sure to put it in a ventilated area. I personally attached it to the top of the amp. I did have it applied to the headliner, but due to it being a %100 chrome amp, when the sun hit it i could NOT see out my back window. So heed my wisdom, if that's your case. A factor to the positioning of your amp is your cord length as well. I originally got my wires along with the kit but ended up buying a new set of cords for $10 due to the originals being to short. I ended up catching myself at a local walmart picking up a 25 ft. rca cord. which, the way i routed it worked beautifully. Also if you are thinking of running a high input. the positioning of the amp is important as well.

Step 4: Wiring, Wiring, Wiring

The wiring of an amp can get a little tricky. if you have a custom/ aftermarket deck, you most likely have a rca output. This will allow you to run a red and white RCA directly to your amp. simple.... just run it under your carpet and off under the door edging. then to the trunk. All cars are different so i cant truly explain to a T how to do this. my 99 Monte Carlo made it quite easy for me to do this. i installed 2 80w speakers in the panels next to the passengers. this required me to take the panels off and cut hole, the removal of the panels made running the remote and power quite easy. However if you dont own a after market deck, or if you do but it doesn't offer RCA out a PAC converter is in order to carry out that signal. attaching the black, white, or optional brown wires gives the female RCA connections a signal.

The 12v, positive, or +, is going to go to the battery. You ca run it through the door, or you can drill or find a hole in the firewall. Most common positive cords are 10-5 gauge wire. just run it the same as you would the other wires. Under the carpet. I have heard that it is optimal to run the power under one side of the car and the RCA under the other side. The reasoning is due to power sending or tampering with the signal given to the RCA.

The remote can be set up in many different ways. The remote is also know as power antenna. Which, if you read your deck manual you will find that the power antenna is the blue wire. HOwever for my 99 Monte, i have no power antenna but rather, i connect it to my ignition system which is my red wire. follow your connector to make sure your running a blue or red wire.

Aka -, ground, or, negative, your ground is the simplest of the 3 wires your running. Just find a local bolt found in the truck. And bolt down your 9 gauge wire and screw it into the amp. Make sure its a good ground i ran a ground with a bad ground for a while, then fixed it, and the sound after it was fixed was sooo much better. A good indicator of a bad ground is when the car starts there is a loud thump noise coming from the system.

so i guss in conclusion, these are a few more guidelines of setting up a car system / amp.

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58 Discussions


4 years ago

I have a question what are some good and okay brands of car stereo head units


4 years ago

Is it ok to do different brands Of parts in my sound system like 2 10 inch kicker subs and 4 door speakers that are JL's and a Rockford amp or will this setup diminish sound


4 years ago on Introduction

how many watts should my head unit be if im getting 2-12 inch subs in my car ? thanks


5 years ago on Introduction

Assembling a stereo system just takes an understanding of what your purchasing. Virtually any receiver will do, the staple being Pioneer. If your looking for sound and don't worry about loud, Crunch, Dual and most other NAME BRAND audio equipment will do.

If all your doing is adding bass to a factory/Head unit upgrade. Your looking at roughly 80 Watts RMS between front/rear speakers all together. Rule of thumb is try to double the RMS power to the stereo's RMS. This can be done easily for about a Hondo. I did this with a Dual XPR520.2 400W Max amp. Running an Audiobahn 400W 10 inch sub in a Q Logic box. The rated RMS output is 150W x 1 @ 4 Ohms. I was impressed with the sound of this amp, so I purchased a second amp and ran it 75W X 2 @ 2 Ohms to the four door speakers. This cleaned up the sound to the doors but created another problem. The bass was not loud enough. So after setting the levels it is no louder then the head unit was. But cleaner sounding.

I do want it to be loud so I am awaiting a Crunch DRA850.2 800W amp. I am going to guess the real RMS wattage to be 2 x 100W @ 4 Ohms/2 x 150 @ 2 Ohms/1 x 300 @ 4 Ohms. This should be way more then enough power while I commute to and from work.

I will tell anyone this though. If you are looking for amazing amps, Rockford Fosgate is pretty hard to beat. Almost all their amps are rated conservatively RMS ratings. Also JL is the standard, I don't care who you are. Other good names are Xtant, Clarion, Pioneer Premiere, Earthquake, Kicker (Not Walmart Kicker), Polk. But there is definitely crap out there to. BOSS Audio makes some of the worst stuff available, Pyramid, Pyle, and most of the Sony Xploid series.

But all of what you do won't make a hill's bean difference if you don't have good speakers matched to it. I had Polk Audio 6.5" components in my Ram. They sounded pretty good. Then I traded it in and pulled my stereo. Replaced the speakers with Dual 6.5" speakers. WTF!!!! Those 20 dollar 6.5" 4 way speakers made my polks sound like a$$. So what did I do, I found 6.5" and 6x9's on clearance this spring at Walmart. Paid 40 bucks for them. They sound better then the Infinitiy's my friend has in his truck. DUAL speakers I think are the best kept secret in car audio. But that's me. My other friend has MB Quart and a ouple people think mine sound as good.

It all comes down to knowing what your looking for, what kind of system you want, and understanding how it all works and melds together. Anyone can run wire and blow up speakers. But a true audiophile will research and learn.


5 years ago on Step 4

Caps are completely useless in a system. If you are worried about having a big power draw from your AMP, you may as well save yourself some money and just buy another battery and daisy chain them. Caps get blown easy, they don't really work at all. They are there for a "look at my high tech system" effect.

Also, why is your system using like 20 gauge wire (lol). It is seriously time for a new wiring job. Anything over 4 gauge is a waste of a system in my opinion.


6 years ago on Step 2

Ported sub boxes have a faster response and sound much more clear. The air has a way to escape and allow the cone to move much easier. In some cases and depending on the setup, ported enclosures can be louder. In essence ported boxes are for faster and more clean audio while sealed is for harder hitting audio. It comes down to personal preference.


7 years ago on Step 2

Venting is not controlled, whereas porting is considered controlled venting, allowing for tuning. In other words, adjusting the right amount of venting. BOSE is the master or porting, and has incredibly complex methods of folding the air.

You WILL blow your speakers if you send a clipped signal (square wave) through. The MAIN reason people clip their signals is because they are increasing the gain to try to get more from their amplifier, resulting in a clipped signal being sent to an underpowered amp, and on to the drivers where they overheat the magnetic coils. An overpowered amp would also blow the speakers, but in 99% of the cases the reason for clipping is due to people trying to get more from their underpowered amplifier.

"In the case of under-powering, the driver is blown because the amplifier is driven to the point that it can no longer amplify the signal.
The amp tries to generate the amplified version of the input waveform, but runs out of "headroom" before the full wave is generated.
The result is a square wave."


10 years ago on Step 2

I understand what you're saying but again a lot of the assumption of tonal range depends on it being ported correctly. A properly ported sub will never "bottom out" if used within its proper frequency range. Most of the "distortion" is actually gain caused by the amp. for tight hits use unported for smoother bass tones go ported. Any subwoofer instruction booklet will say the same. Also I think you might be confusing vented boxes for ported boxes. Ported boxes usually have only one or two holes about 2" wide and 3-4" deep. Also I apologize if I came off a little rude, I just think if you are going to talk subs you need to explain your choices and tell why you decided not to go one way or the other.

6 replies

When a driver bottoms out, it is generally a result of clipping - underpowered. But also be careful of BASS killers. Just like there are computer viruses out there, there are driver viruses that will kill the best drivers.

The way they work is they have the driver produce a continuous frequency for an extended period of time, thereby frying the driver. Just a note on that - a sealed box holds more heat, and reduces the driver's ability to reproduce tones.


Reply 7 years ago on Step 2

Again, totally inaccurate.

Drivers do not bottom out because they are under-powered. It is a electromagnetic impossibility.

Clipping is a form of waveform distortion that occurs when an amplifier is over-driven and attempts to deliver an output voltage or current beyond its maximum capability. It has nothing to do with speakers.

Speakers have a rating called Xmax, which is the mechanical limits of the suspension (the surround and spider). You obviously will get distortion at the peaks of the Xmax, but you're more likely to get distortion at the amplifier from clipping.

Also, playing a continuous frequency for a period of time is how manufacturers test and break in drivers before shipping them to you. Usually they're played for 8-12 hrs to fully relax the suspension.

While sealed boxes can hold in heat, a properly built subwoofer can handle the excess heat produced by the driver and the little amount of heat that is produced has absolutely NOTHING to do with how a speaker reproduces sound.


Reply 7 years ago on Step 2

There is no difference between ported and vented. they're two different words to describe the exact same thing.


Reply 8 years ago on Step 2

Ported refers to a hole that allows air to move in and out. The port itself can be tuned. For example, consider an ABS pipe of 1"... 2"... 3"...4"... then a lenght of 1" - 8" long. Depending on the size of the pipe, and length, it will effect the movement of air.

As for vented, I've really no idea but sounds like something to do with cooling ;)


Reply 10 years ago on Step 2

nah i understand, just theres only one other instructable about subwoofers etc. why dont you make one?


8 years ago on Step 2

Ok gotta clear up some silliness...

First, the only time you would use a non-ported box is when there is a port between two separate chambers, and the drivers are run with reversed polarity. Well, there is another exception - there are drivers designed for any space... self-contained so they can be in a sealed box. Generally more expensive, and a loss of quality.

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. If the driver moves in and creates pressure, it WILL push back - and that's going to distort the sound you try to produce next. So the only time you would do this is when your second driver has reversed polarity and is moving IN when the other driver is moving OUT. That way one driver supports the other. Be careful the chambers are not too small or too large, or you will just end up with crappy sound. GOOD REASON TO JUST USE A PORTED BOX. If you aren't a sound engineer, don't try this without a plan designed by an engineer... or you are wasting your money.

There are some drivers designed specifically for non-ported boxes. Use these if you don't have the knowledge or specifications to make a sealed box.

When you use a sealed box with two drivers (one reverse polarity), you don't get to run your amp in bridged mono mode. When you run your drivers in series, it will drop from 4 to 2 Ohm... essentially providing an extra 3db output.

One other little thing, I can't tell if there's a crossover inside the box, and hopefully not. Amplifying all frequencies then throwing away that power would be a shame.

Many amplifiers have built-in crossovers... many passive. Best bet is to ONLY send the frequencies you want to amplify to the amplifier, by using an active (powered) crossover, placed before the amp.

Bunch of considerations... I recommend buying a box at FutureShop, get an active crossover and Bob's yer uncle.

1 reply

Reply 7 years ago on Step 2

I would just like to let you know, that nothing you said in your comment is remotely true or accurate.

1) Ported boxes provide a slight, natural, boost in the subwoofers Fs, which is the resonence frequency. For example, if you have a sub with an Fs of 37, you tune the port to that frequency (by adjusting the volume the port takes up) and when viewed with an RTA, you will see a boost in the 35-40hz range. The Problem with the ported box is that they're more sensitive to distortion and the sound quality is far worse. The boxes are also bigger.

2) Sealed boxes provide superior SQ and almost no distortion (regardless of how many drivers you are using). They also allow for smaller box sizes, which is always a positive thing to have.

You use a ported box when you want volume and don't care about sound quality.
You use a sealed box when you care about sound quality.

That's pretty much the end of that discussion.

Now, if you have two subwoofers, wired out of phase, the sound produced by those drivers would be cancelled out. Google Destructive Interference.

You don't need to be a sound engineer to make a good box, you just need to read the manual that comes with the subwoofer. Every respectable manufacturer includes recommended box sizes (in CuFT) and some even give you a cut list.

Any subwoofer can be used in a seal or ported box. There have been subwoofers that can be used "free air", but those are largely outdated and no longer produced.

I can't even begin to explain how you can't run your amp in bridged mono because you're using more than one driver, but then you say that running your drivers in series will drop the load in half. If you have 2 drivers and you run them in series, you have to use a mono amp (or bridge your 2ch amp).

The extra 3db output comes from using 2 drivers v.s. 1 driver and nothing to do with the load on the amplifier.


10 years ago on Step 4

oh by the way make sure you separete your power wire and your RCA's because with then running right next to each other like you have pictured you are going to runn inn to the problem of alternator noise or a whine for your speakers.

1 reply

Reply 8 years ago on Step 4

Good reason to run an extra ground wire if system allows. It would filter out such noise and all other noise. There is an animal called balanced RCA (has extra wire). May require some modification...


9 years ago on Step 4

 i really want to know why people use capacitors and extra fuses for their systems.