How to set up the best component speakers for optimum car system?
If you are someone that cares about high-end car audio then you know that a component system is the only way to go. It will be time-consuming, expensive and require you to know what you are doing but the end result is absolutely worth it. Component speakers ensure that the drivers for the tweeter and woofer are separate and also introduces a crossover to help the speakers do their job optimally. This means that the tweeter and the woofers are only handling frequencies that they were designed to do so thus limiting distortion and extracting every last bit of performance from these speakers.
1. What does a component speaker system consist of?
A component speaker system breaks down the frequencies and then channels them to dedicated drivers for the tweeter and the woofers. This is the complete opposite of most factory installed systems that try and do entire job with a shared driver.
A component speaker system could consist of just one tweeter and a woofer or a higher-end setup could include a midrange speaker as well. One of the most important parts of a component speaker system is the crossover or DPS.
A crossover is nothing but a traffic cop for the frequencies coming through from the radio or the amplifier. It makes sure that frequencies above a certain range are directed towards the tweeter while frequencies below a certain range are directed towards the woofer. This results in a sound stage that is super realistic, tonal clarity like the musician intended and a more accurate imaging experience than any other kind of speaker system you can install in the car.
Having a number of separate components means that there will be some additional work that will be required during installation. Also, the expertise required to install these component speakers is much greater than for other systems.
2. Essential factors of an optimum audio system
#1 Buying high quality aftermarket product
There are three cardinal rules that you should adhere to when buying and installing a high-quality audio system for your car. The first is to buy a high-quality aftermarket product because even the best cars come with some terrible kits fitted in them from the factory.
The speakers that come with the car are always the co-axial kinds where all the drivers, tweeter and woofer are rolled into one package so that the system takes the least amount of space and is easy to install. No amount of fancy branding and promises can bring it close to a component speaker system.
#2 Correct position, correct installation
The second rule is to have your component speaker system installed. Making sure that the tweeter, the speaker, and the crossover are in the optimum position is something of an art form. It is much easier to mess up this part and end up with distortion, noise or sound that arrives at different times to the listener.
We recommend making the use of the services of a professional for this part and why this will add to your expense in the short term, it will ensure that you get optimum performance out of your car audio system in the long term.
#3 Crossover or DSP included
The third rule for making sure that you have a component system that is truly high end and working to the best of its capacities is to ensure it includes a crossover or a digital sound processor. A crossover will help direct the right frequencies to the speaker and woofer respectively while the digital sound processor will help transform the source signal and undo any equalizations or filters that may be applied to it.
This is particularly useful if you are working with a factory installed unit that is often designed to compress sound and make the tiny included speakers sound better.
3. How to Install Tweeters?
Tweeters are the tiny speakers that will deal with high frequencies, the likes of which are often beyond the capabilities of coaxial speakers. They are an absolute necessity to develop a proper soundstage and ensure that the sound being heard is balanced on all fronts.
Since tweeters are designed to handle high frequencies, they depend on a crossover to help direct only the correct frequencies to them and keep them functioning without any distortion.
So what is the best place to install tweeters?
There are a couple of rules that need to be kept in mind when installing the tweeters. It is highly recommended to keep the tweeter above the levels of the woofers and preferably close to the driver so that a stereo soundstage can be set up.
Tweeters can be installed with an angled mount, flush mounting or a surface mount depending upon the car and the space available. The easiest is probably the surface mount since it does not need any alteration to the car’s interior but it will leave you with a visible speaker. If that does not bother you then it is an excellent option.
The most common places where tweeters are installed include the sail panel, dashboard edges, the A-pillar and the upper part of the door. As you can note, all of these places are deliberately chosen to be high up.
Going with any one of these locations is a good option but care should be taken to ensure that the tweeters are kept within 12 inches of the speaker otherwise there is a risk of the sound arriving at slightly different times to the listener and thus causing distortion.
The basic procedure involved in installing tweeters goes something like this. The first part is to gain access to the installed audio system. All the wires connecting the head unit to the old speakers need to be removed (in some cases the head unit may be replaced as well). Be sure to cut off the power source of your car so that there is no chance of a short circuit.
Once the old stuff is out, add in the crossover by soldering its cable input to the main power source. The high-frequency wire has to go to the tweeter while the low-frequency wire will go to the woofer.
The tweeters have to be installed in their mounted location and depending on the exact location as well as the mounting method, some panels may need to be removed, holes need to be drilled or mounts need to be secured.
4. How to install Midrange speakers?
Midrange speakers are not always a part of a component speaker setup but if truly want the best audio system in your car then they must be. Think of the music you listen to and a large majority of that will lie in the midrange frequency. Adding a midrange speaker to the conventional tweeter and woofer setup also helps create a much deeper soundstage and a better imaging experience.
Since the most critical audio information lies in the midrange, we cannot recommend including a dedicated midrange speaker as a part of your setup highly enough.
Let’s come to the best location for these midrange speakers.
The most critical part about the placement of your midrange speaker is its distance from the tweeter. Ideally, the tweeter and the midrange speaker must be placed as close together as possible with a maximum of 2 feet between them being acceptable.
Both the tweeter and the midrange speaker should have a direct path to the listener for maximum effect. Also, wherever possible the midrange speaker and the tweeter should ideally be placed in a vertical line to each other as this will help increase the imaging capability of the audio system.
There may be certain situations where it is not possible to place the midrange speaker and the tweeter within 2 feet of each other. Here, we recommend increasing the distance to 7 feet or more. It is not ideal but it will prevent any distortion from occurring that is often seen within the 2-7 feet placement range.
The most common and the best locations for the placement of the midrange speakers include the sail or kick panels, the dash or the doors. These speakers should be placed high up next to the tweeters.
The process for installing them is a little more complicated than just installing the tweeters alone. More amount of space will be required so you have to think about surface mounting the tweeter to try and conserve as much space as possible.
The first step is to again remove the old speakers from the car, disconnecting the wiring and soldering in the crossover correctly. You may also need to remove the side panels from the door in case that is the position you have decided on. This also involves removal of the window crank or the armrest. Once you have access to the underlying space measure twice before cutting once because it can be difficult to recover from serious mistakes at this point.
5. How to install a subwoofer
A subwoofer is a specialized speaker that produces low-frequency sounds. It is extremely popular because of the rich, high-quality bass it adds to a system. Adding a subwoofer also helps improve the functioning of the audio system as a whole because it takes care of the low-frequency sounds that speakers generally struggle to produce.
There are a number of types of subwoofers which also come in various sizes. Choose the right size of subwoofer that you can put in your car depending upon the amount of space that you have available.
The most common type of subwoofer is one that is unpowered and so requires to be hooked up to an external amplifier to draw power. Deciding on the best place to position the subwoofer in the car can be quite tricky since it usually requires a lot of space.
How about the ideal position for subwoofers?
The best options include the trunk of the car, underneath the rear seat or underneath the front seat. A lot of people have started to prefer the placement of the subwoofer underneath the seats so that they do not have to compromise on any boot space that they may have.
The first part of the installation process is to mount the subwoofer into an enclosure. This is pretty straightforward and can be done in a couple of minutes. A lot of subwoofers also come installed in enclosures as well which is something that will add to your cost but save you some installation headache.
An unpowered subwoofer now has to be wired to the amplifier from where it will draw the power needed to pump out that bass. Wiring can be done in parallel for maximum output or in a series for higher impedance.
Depending on how handy you are with your tools you may even want to build your own subwoofer enclosure to customize the size to your needs and match the aesthetics of your car. For the large majority of the population though subwoofers which come in prefabricated enclosures are the way to go.
You may have to cut out some space for them in the trunk. Make sure that you do not block access to your spare tire during this process otherwise it will end up being a long-term hassle. Also, if you end up having to drill holes for the mounting brackets make sure that you away from any brake lines, fuel tanks or other essential lines running through that area.
6. How to install a DSP
A Digital Signal Processor is designed to do one thing and one thing only: to enhance the source signal so that it can be transformed into the highest quality audio possible. Think about it. If the source signal itself does not have the necessary information or has the information masked because of the presence of equalization filters then no amount of money spent on component speakers, amplifiers or subwoofers will end up doing any good.
Even people that just want to give their factory installed system a boost or are finding that their aftermarket system does not have the zing they are looking for should install a DSP in their car.
A DSP also allows you to have tremendous control over the music setting, going far beyond just the bass, treble and mid-range adjustment. You can even boost certain frequencies or cut out others allowing you to fine-tune the car audio setup in intricate detail and to absolute perfection.
A lot of people often mistake equalizers and digital signal processors as being the same thing. They do have certain overlapping functions but it is only the DSP which will be able to improve the quality of the source signal.
Where to install DPS?
The best location to place a DSP is usually between the head unit and the amplifier. The reason for that is that this position allows the DSP to undo any external modifications or equalizations that the factory unit does to the source signal. Why would a factory unit do such a thing you may ask? The answer is to compensate for the terrible speakers these cars have installed in them.
The process of installation of a digital signal processor is not too complicated. A lot of people just end up placing it in the same location as the amplifier. There are certain sound processor units that can be added to compatible existing head units without much fuss at all.
Make sure that you check if that option is available for your car. The wiring involved in installing the DSP is not too dissimilar from that required to wire the amp. Use certain common-sense precautions like unplugging the battery terminal of your car before starting these electrical modifications since the risk of a short circuit occurring is always present.
If you are unsure about the electrical circuits in your car then we recommend taking the help of professionals because improperly wired component audio systems are the most common reason for a high-quality aftermarket system underperforming.
7. Common mistakes
There are certain common mistakes that we have noticed people tend to make while attempting to install their own component speaker system. Here are some that you should try and avoid.
Running the wires to the various parts of the car audio system located in different parts of the car can be quite challenging. It is also by far the least ‘fun’ part of the job and one which people tend to gloss over. Simple mistakes like wiring the speakers in the wrong polarity are most commonly encountered.
The best way to prevent this from happening is to use a polarity test tool during the installation process.
Problem with phase
If the quality of the sound coming through from your source is compressed or has undergone equalization then it will affect the performance of the entire speaker system. Adding a DSP will help take care of this problem once and for all. Another problem could be that the bass sounds weaker on one side of the car than the other. This can throw the bass speakers out of phase with each other.
The problem can be corrected most commonly by reversing the terminal attachments on the weak speaker.
The amount of power being supplied by the amplifier and the speaker system should be in sync otherwise it can result in distortion. You need to check the RMS rating of the amplifier and the speakers to make sure they are close to each other. If the power supplied from the amp is beyond what the speakers can handle then there will be distortion. In some cases, extremely powerful speakers may not be getting the necessary power from the amp and underperforming.
If you find an incompatibility issue then you have to change out the components to bring them in sync.
8. Tips and tricks
This is something that may sound trivial but do your research and read trusted reviews before buying your aftermarket system. We recommend speaking to your car audio shop and getting some recommendations to start with after which you can narrow down the search according to your needs and budget. There are too many people that spend way too much money on poor quality speakers.
Setting up a component speaker system so that it works to its optimum level requires some know-how otherwise it is very easy to mess things up. That being said, once you have done the proper groundwork and know the mistakes to steer clear of, it is definitely something that you can do on your own as well. For someone who is an audiophile and truly appreciates music, a component speaker system is the only way to truly scratch that itch. Learning how to install it and actually accomplishing that yourself is an added way to make the system truly unique to you.