How to upgrade your car's audio
© Joey Gordon
Want to get your car booming? Here’s how to take your audio setup to the next level.
If you want your car to have an impact on people’s ears, you’ve basically got two choices: upgrade the exhaust system and let the engine sing, or upgrade your audio and let the subwoofers and tweeters do all the work.
For some people, upgrading their car’s audio is the single most important mod they can make. But how do you actually do it? We spoke to Carl Shakespeare from Studio InCar, one of the UK’s top audio companies, to find out what’s involved, what you should buy and how much it might all cost.
So Carl, what are the most common ways to upgrade the audio system in your car?
There are basically two different ways. Most people want functionality. Take a Ford Focus with a standard factory FM radio and tape player: if the customer isn’t fussed about having really top-level sound – say they just want phone, bluetooth and CD connections – it would just be a case of fitting a head unit upgrade.
The other option is for the ‘car guys’, who are my primary clientele and who are after a better sound. This would include upgrading speakers, doors, DSPs [Digital Signal Processors], streaming, amplifiers, and sound deadening – the last is a must! With these two different types of upgrades, the customers who want great sound will tend to get both because nine times out of 10, they will get a head unit with functionality included in the total upgrade.
And how much does an audio upgrade cost?
That’s a very broad question, because there are so many different variables. But for example, if you’re just after some extra functionality, a head unit would start from around £200 – this would include a £150 deck and around £50 to fit. That would include hands-free, bluetooth and things like that.
Prices can go all the way up to £35,000+
At Studio InCar we only use specific units, as we only use the best. If a customer is spending money, it needs to be a substantial upgrade. An entry-level head unit with install would start at £550-600, and include a £400 deck with good sound and all the functionality you’d expect. When we upgrade just the head unit, we generally retain the factory speaker system. Any extra link in an audio chain is a loss in quality, so we try to use as few extra connections as possible. For example, a standard BMW E92 has an integrated head unit and Logic 7 speaker system; we would keep the head unit system, add a DSP, integrate the sound to the DSP from a deck or secondary head unit, and then possibly make some changes like adding an amplifier and upgrading the speakers.
For a speaker system upgrade, your average speakers, amp and DSP system, without speccing a head unit, would start from around £1,250 for a full system, including labour and parts and also things like custom baffles. Prices can range from this all the way up to £35,000+, which is our top price to date – although there is still room to spend more money if you want!
Can you upgrade the audio in any car?
Yes, you can upgrade any vehicle – it just depends how much work is involved to create the desired high quality sound. My most common cars are BMW M cars, Audi RSs, luxury lifestyle cars and Land Rovers. It’s a very indulgent business to be in; upgraded audio is not something that someone needs, it’s something that they want, and generally they are willing to pay for the quality that we provide.
And finally, are there any cool hacks you can tell us for having good audio in your car?
Well, if you take your iPad out of your house and into your car, you’ve already got the best head unit you could have. You can stream to things with the correct file format and there’s no need for something like ‘CarPlay’ if you just have your tablet. You can add so much luxury and functionality with something as simple as an iPad.