Tuning your speakers
Ken Nail has written about car audio for Crutchfield since 2003, after four years as Crutchfield Sales Advisor, and 10 years as a music teacher. He's an avid music listener, whose favorites are classical and film music. When not chained to a desk, Ken spends most of his time training for triathlons and marathons, and likes getting outside for backpacking, downhill skiing, and bicycle touring. He attended West Virginia University, where he received a Master's Degree in Music Performance and a Bachelor's Degree in History.
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Even the best system can sound better with a few tweaks. Here are some key tips to help ensure you get the best possible sound out of your new investment.
Maximize your tweeter performance
The biggest advantage of component speakers versus 2- or 3-way speakers lies in the ability to mount the tweeter with a more direct path to your ears. Many component systems also include tweeter mounts or wave guides that allow you to direct the tweeter's high frequencies even more precisely. Before you install your tweeters, experiment with different tweeter locations and mounting angles if possible. A little time spent positioning your component tweeters can pay off big with a much more realistic soundstage.
Many aftermarket brands, like Audiofrog, include an array of mounting hardware so that you're well-equipped to install your tweeters right where you need them.
Some full-range speakers come equipped with tweeters that can be swiveled or pivoted. Experiment with the aiming of the tweeters before you complete the installation. As with component tweeters, careful aiming of the high frequencies can really improve the stereo image created by your system.
The crossovers in many component systems feature tweeter level settings that allow you to boost or attenuate the tweeter's output. Before you install the crossovers in a location you can't easily get to, experiment with different settings. Listen to some music with lots of high-frequency content — turn up the volume and adjust the tweeter level so the music sounds natural without being overly bright. Trust your ears, and choose the setting that sounds the best to you.
This external crossover, included in the Rockford Fosgate T-4652-S component system, features selectable tweeter levels as well as selectable on/off-axis listening to adapt to where you've installed your tweeters.
Adjusting for rear fill
Once you have your front speakers set up the way you want them, you'll want to make sure that your rear speakers are doing their part to create an ideal soundstage. While personal taste plays a role here, most experts agree that you should adjust your rear speakers so that you're just barely aware of their presence.
While your front speakers should give you the best midrange and high frequencies possible, your rear speakers can be conventional 2-ways or midrange speakers. They should add ambiance and depth to your forward soundstage — if they reveal too much high-frequency information, they'll "pull" the stereo image to the rear of your vehicle, away from where you want it.
Setting your subwoofer
If you're running a subwoofer in your trunk, you want to avoid the sensation that all the bass is coming from the rear of the car, or that the bass player is dancing his way from your trunk to your front kick panels as the music ascends. If your amp or in-dash stereo includes a built-in crossover, set the high-pass filters to feed your front speakers the lowest frequencies they can safely handle. Start with your low-pass filter set as low as possible, then raise the crossover point until you hear the "sweet spot" where the bass notes are clearly defined and punchy, yet still sound as if they are in front of you. This setup allows some bass to come from your front speakers and restricts your sub to low bass, which is very difficult to localize.
The Alpine TuneIt App, which is compatible with many of their latest receivers, allows you to make EQ adjustments, like to your low- and high-pass filters, from your smartphone.
Noise dampening and more
Simple, easy additions, like noise dampening materials, can significantly improve your system's overall sound.
Limit noise with Dynamat
Vibration dampening products, like Dynamat, deaden you car's natural resonance by absorbing the vibrations caused by your speakers and road noise. Choose Dynamat to reduce general road noise (like tire hum, engine noise, wind, etc.) that can interfere with your music. Dampening materials also improve your speakers' performance — eliminating any resonances in a door panel, for example, means that your door speakers will play with greater accuracy. The more you reduce the noise level and improve your car's acoustics, the better your music will sound. Vibration dampening can also tame a trunk-rattling subwoofer for tighter bass and less distortion.
Dynamat can be a huge help in eliminating road noise, especially in older and classic cars.
Install foam baffles
Fitted foam speaker baffles serve a dual role when installed around your full-range and component speakers. First, they help keep dirt and grime away from driver components to help maximize speaker life. Second, by forming a tight mounting seal around the speaker, the baffle can actually reduce panel-to-frame resonance for better sound. This extra material in the speaker cavity can even help reduce road noise by dulling the external vibrations that sneak into your sound system via the back of the speaker cone.
If you have questions while fine-tuning your new system, check out these articles or just give us a call.