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What are factory sound processors?

Upgrade your sound and keep your factory stereo


Zak Billmeier

Zak Billmeier grew up in southern Vermont and coastal Maine. After graduating from Mary Washington College with a Geography degree he still isn't sure quite what to do with, he eventually settled in the mountains of Central Virginia. He spends his free time chasing his daughter around, taking pictures, gardening and cooking. He joined Crutchfield's car A/V writing team in 2007 and is now a lead producer on our video team.

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Factory car stereos are getting more and more complicated, as car manufacturers move away from standard-sized receivers to complicated, integrated designs. Often they are tied into a navigation system, climate controls, or other electronic functions, which make swapping them out for aftermarket stereos difficult or even impossible. The problem is, its sound might not be up to your lofty standards.

Replacing the factory speakers is a great way to start. You might also choose to add an amplifier or subwoofer — or both. All of these things, done together or on their own, will improve your factory stereo's sound. But there will always be something holding you back, and it's built right into the stereo.

Factory stereos have built-in sound shaping

Your factory stereo uses preset equalization designed to make cheap factory speakers sound better, meaning that it automatically adjusts the different frequencies, creating audio "peaks and valleys" which can degrade sound quality. It is particularly noticeable when you add amplifiers, speakers and subwoofers to your setup, as any deficits in the sound are literally amplified.

Most factory stereos also limit the bass output as volume increases in an attempt to protect the speakers. The trouble is, even if you upgrade your speakers and install an amp and subwoofer, the bass output is still limited by your factory stereo. This throws your system out of balance and makes the bass sound muddy and weak.

So what if the factory sound doesn't cut it?

Fortunately, there's an easy cure. You can install a sound processor, which strips away the sound-shaping limitations enforced by your factory stereo and sends a clean signal to your external amplifiers. The amps send the signal to your speakers and subs. Your reward will be resonant lows, sparkling highs, and a realistic sense of space and depth.

Are these sound processors complicated to install?

Installation generally isn't too difficult — these processors connect to your stereo using your vehicle's speaker wires, and then to your amps and subs. You'll be able to keep the look and controls of your factory stereo, but expand your system for serious sound.

Sound processor setup
  • A sound processor connects to your factory system through your stereo's speaker wires.
  • The processor removes the factory sound-shaping, so the signal is clean.
  • The signal is sent to your external amplifier(s). The amps power your front and rear speakers, and subwoofers.

We carry several different factory sound processors, each with slightly different capabilities. Here are a few:

Audio Control LC6i

AudioControl's line of factory sound processors lets you take your factory stereo to a new level — they can convert the amplified signal from premium factory systems so you can add your own amps and subs. Their line drivers can send a clean, 9.5-volt signal to an aftermarket amp, giving you clean sound. All their processors have highly customizable configurations.

Alpine PXA-H800

Alpine PXA-H800: Alpine's IMPRINT™ sound-shaping technology is the secret to this processor. Place the included microphone wherever you want and IMPRINT measures your vehicle's acoustics and uses its powerful digital processing to clean up the factory sound and tuning the stereo's output specifically to match your vehicle. You'll be able to tweak the sound a lot further with over 31 bands of EQ per speaker channel and over 10 bands for the sub.

Rockford Fosgate 3Sixty.3

Rockford Fosgate's 3Sixty.3 processor works with your laptop to give you awesome control. Once you load the software from the included setup CD, you can connect the 3Sixty.3 to your laptop with the included USB cable, and get to work creating a perfect-sounding system with the user interface controls displayed on your computer's screen.


The Helix DSP PRO processor works with your PC to open up a world of sonic adjustments that will maximize the performance of almost any car audio system. The DSP PRO processes its digital signals at 64-bit resolution and 96 KHz sampling rate so you'll get very high fidelity sound along with virtually no noise or distortion.


The Helix DSP PRO's display shows all the controls and settings on your computer screen

Give us a call to see which of these factory sound processors is a good match for your needs. One thing's for sure, your factory stereo will sound a whole lot better.

  • Mr Innovator from Oregon

    Posted on 6/16/2015 3:51:19 PM

    Highly considering an Aftermarket HU for my 2014 Toyota Tundra however my door lock,chimes etc maintenance, Navigation & personal reminders are all integrated into factory HU. Crutchfeild has several aftermarket HU choices BUT the dilemma is if I go that route how much of the those so called minor conveniences from the factory am I willing to lose, for example on my model if I forget to close the sunroof and exit the vehicle I get an immediate chime to remind me that it's left open. A minor loss if it can't be integrated into a aftermarket HU, but it's a major loss if it happens to rain & you forgot because of the former factory reminder. I think Crutchfeild will eventually do this but they or someone should do a item by item cost benefit analysis of retaining factory HU vrs aftermarket HU, not your run of the mill audio specs. As any respectable audiophile knows the factory DSP's is so choked down & unalterable that it's almost worthless to modify with add on's. I assume a aftermarket FSP would solve most of these issues but a real hard core test would be how much of a sound stage do you get vrs dumping the entire manufacturers system & getting a proven aftermarket HU with programable sound stage. I'd Like to hear from any Tundra owners that have done ONLY an FSP add on to factory & someone that went 100% aftermarket then have both list pro's & cons of their install & soundstage.

  • Robert Ferency-Viars from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/17/2015 1:23:06 PM

    I think your situation is pretty cut and dried, as far as the cost-benefit goes: if you change the stereo, you lose the navigation system, aux & USB inputs, and you have to hardwire all the connections. In my mind, that's not worth doing in a nice truck that has a pretty good factory stereo system. Maybe put in some aftermarket speakers (but make sure you get low-impedance speakers to match the factory speakers) or a subwoofer. Of course, using a factory signal processor changes that. You get to keep all the nice bells & whistles Toyota gave you in the dash, but replace all the other audio components with your choice of amps and speakers. Your truck is a prime candidate for this approach. Give us a call if you have any questions or would like some help selecting the gear.

  • Pavol from Prague

    Posted on 6/24/2015 6:45:49 PM

    Hi there, Considering to upgrade speakers on my VW Golf Mk7 with 2-way FOCAL Performance Expert PS 165F (both in front and rear doors). In addition the doors will be filled with three layers of noise blocking and anti vibration material (ZN FINISH and STP GOLD). I am concerned with the output of the stock Composition Media stereo (4x20w). Could you please give me an advice if the stereo's output will be appropriate in comparison with the speakers' output? Shall I rather go for lower Focal series as the factory stereo will not be able to utilize full 165F's potential? Or shall I rather buy aftermarket DSP/amp in order to match the speakers' level? My goal is just to have crispier sound at normal level of sound volume hence I believe that don't need high power output. I prefer to listen liquid drum and bass and house music. Many thanks and regards, Pavol

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/26/2015 3:19:42 PM

    Pavol, Almost all car audio systems benefit by the addition of an amplifier in musical clarity, energy, and loudness. While your sound will improve with the installation of those speakers alone, it will improve even more if you drive each of them with 50 to 75 watts RMS.

  • Jazzy Blue from PHILADELPHIA

    Posted on 7/5/2015 2:10:28 PM

    I have a 2014 Chrysler 300 w Beats audio...I love the sound at high volume but need a way to improve sound at lower volume. Will sound processor fix this problem and increase factory bass?

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/7/2015 11:48:49 AM

    Jazzy, The sound quality of almost any system will benefit from the addition of a sound processor. From your description, it sounds like your premium system changes tone as the volume changes. A processor like JL Audio's CleanSweep compensates for this effect, resulting in a flat signal that you can EQ to your own taste. Almost any processor will allow you to set the tone the way you like at the volume you like.

  • ct from San Diego

    Posted on 10/28/2015 6:34:41 PM

    I have a Pioneer deh-80prs hu. Would it benefit if run through a digital sound processor?

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 10/29/2015 10:11:53 AM

    CT, That receiver has all the digital sound processing you'll probably ever need right onboard, so any additional processor would be unnecessary. The DEH-80PRS' features include time alignment, 16-band equalization, and 3-way crossovers for active systems.

  • David from Nottingham

    Posted on 11/7/2015 5:49:46 AM

    I'm looking to do a boot build in my Mk4 golf r32, and keeping the standard stereo. Just stumbled across these and thinking they could be a very good idea to get the most out of my (future) system. Any recommendations? (complete novice at this)

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 11/9/2015 3:47:40 PM

    David, I think any of the processors mentioned in this article might work for you, but not knowing anything about your vehicle (it's not available in the US) nor what processors are available in your country, I can't say for sure which would work best. For a novice, I'd recommend going to a local car audio shop and ask for their opinions and recommendations.

  • Brent from Petawawa

    Posted on 1/9/2016 10:30:08 PM

    I got a 2015 kia forte sx model so far with factory HU, kicker cs 6.5 componts up front, 6x9 alpine spr69 rear+ pdxf4 and two 10" alpine type r + mrx MRX-M110 and soon to replace the factory with INE-W960 is it worth investing in to a sound processor two ?

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 1/11/2016 1:39:57 PM

    Brent, Alpine's INE-W960 navigation receiver includes 9-band equalization and time correction, so you may not ever need an additional signal processor in order to get excellent sound. But if you're unhappy with the sound available, adding a digital signal processor to your system should enable you to attain the sound you want.

  • David Strum from Hopewell

    Posted on 4/5/2016 7:13:29 AM

    Hello. I have a 2013 Honda Accord Sport. Factory 180w stereo. I installed Polk Audio Db6501 components in the doors, factory rear speakers, and I had a Pioneer GM D8601 amp powering 2 10" JL Audio W3s installed. I was thinking of adding a DSP and possibly an amp to power the Polk's. What would be a good DSP option? Also, when I turn my ignition off, a tone cones through my subs like a single bump. Will a DSP remediate this issue? Thanks in advance.

  • Chris Stevenson from Frisco

    Posted on 4/5/2016 1:09:38 PM

    I have a 2011 Yukon Denali with Bose premium system. I have upgraded and bypassed the Bose amp using Audiocontrol L6ci LOC Currently running kicker ix1000.5,( about to upgrade to Arc Audio 1200.6 amp ) Would something like an Audison Bit One or BIt Ten, or other like brand be an upgrade over the Audiocontrol L6ci and help better the SQ of my system and function as a LOC? Speakers in my system listed below- open to upgrades: 6.5" dsk hertz components in front, 6.5" RF Punch 3-ways in rear JL 12" 3v3 4ohm sub in rear- (sub is in small ( built to spec) sealed box. )

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 4/6/2016 3:02:42 PM

    David and Chris, I've forwarded your questions to Crutchfield's Sales Advisor Team, and a member will get in touch with you by email to offer suggestions and help you choose the right DSP for you and your vehicle. For immediate help, you can contact them via phone or chat - just click on the phone icon at the very top of this page.

  • Lee

    Posted on 4/23/2016 2:14:58 PM

    I have a 2015 Ford Edge Sport with premium sony sound. I installed sub and a amp and used a stinger LOC on the factory sub, when i start the car the subs hum 4 or 5 times with the door closed but with the door open it doesnt do it. I also have motor noise coming from the subs. Ive got a good short ground, cant figure it out please help!

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 4/25/2016 12:42:40 PM

    Lee, Most of the time, interference and noises that change pitch with the engine's RPMs are caused by loose or inadequate ground connections. If you bought any of your gear from Crutchfield, you could call Tech Support for free help troubleshooting your system. Their toll-free number would be on your invoice. If you purchased your equipment elsewhere, you can still get expert Crutchfield Tech Support - 90 days-worth for only $30. Click on this link for details.

  • Gregory from Inkster

    Posted on 5/6/2016 11:46:12 PM

    I have a 2007 Chrysler aspen with navigation system, rear dvd player, all the bells and whistles controlled by the radio. I have a nagging volume limiter that constantly kills my sound when I'm driving. It never stays up at a satisfactory level unless its nighttime. Will a sound processor help me sir. I have an alpine factory system in my truck. It seems like every radio tech here in Michigan seems to think that there is nothing I can do about it unless I swap out the entire system compromising all my controls. I cannot do that, will you please help me with some honest advice. I would greatly appreciate it. The sound processor thing seems logical. I wander why no one has advised me to try that.

  • Steve from Chandler, AZ

    Posted on 5/8/2016 8:33:59 PM

    I have a 2016 Tacoma double cab with the JBL system. I think it sounds muddy and bass heavy. It does have a sub and a reasonably powerful amp. I'd like to clean up the factory signal and increase the amount of equalization. Can I run some type of DSP or FSP that would give me a good signal but still allow me to use the factory amp / speakers? Then I could decide what speakers need to be replaced, if any, or what I need to add for amps. Or are there any amplified DSP's?

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/9/2016 11:24:58 AM

    Gregory, There are a few digital signal processors that can solve your problems. For example, JL Audio's FiX 82 processor automatically removes all factory processing leaving you with a flat, coherent signal for your aftermarket amps to work with. An AudioControl DQ-61 can take your factory signals, combine them, and let you add you own EQ and time alignment for your amplifiers to then pass along to your speakers. I've forwarded your questions to Crutchfield's Sales Advisor Team, and a member will get in touch with you by email to offer suggestions and help you choose the right gear for you and your vehicle. For immediate help, you can contact them via phone or chat - just click on the phone icon at the very top of this page.

  • Mike Offre from Boston

    Posted on 5/11/2016 11:54:12 AM

    Hello. I currently have a 1999 Lexus ES300 with the Pioneer factory stereo/amp/speaker/tweeter/sub setup. I plan to switch the stereo/amp to the Nakamichi ones and replace the OEM speaker/tweeter/sub with a Polk Audio set. I purpose want to keep the OEM head unit for the tape/cd to explain why I'm going that route. I'm wondering how I can incorporate a factory sound processor into that mix to add "oomph" to the Nakamichi stereo/amp?

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/13/2016 4:36:46 PM

    Mike, To get great sound while keeping a factory system, you can use a sound processor that has speaker-level inputs, like Rockford Fosgate's 3Sixty.3 digital signal processor.

  • Jay from Los Angeles

    Posted on 5/20/2016 1:47:06 PM

    I have a 2006 Lexus IS250. I only have a 3 band EQ (Bass Mid Treble). I have a 500W kicker mono amp with 2 Dual 12 inch subs. Do you think a processor will give me deeper clean bass to my subs for them to hit harder with my factory stereo or should I go along with a in trunk EQ for stronger deeper harder hitting bass?

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/23/2016 11:10:16 AM

    Jay, Almost any processor or equalizer can be used to improve the bass in a system. Maybe you should consider an AudioControl Epicenter. This processor restores and creates bass signals specifically for improved bass response.

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