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Upgrade your car's sound

...without replacing the factory stereo


Buck Pomerantz

Buck Pomerantz was born and raised in Philadelphia. His parents bought their first television set when he was born. He figured out how to run it by the time he was two. Besides athletics, his formative interests included electronics, amateur radio, music, and stage crew work. He got his BA in writing from Brown University. Then he joined a rock 'n roll band as their soundman and moved to Charlottesville, Virginia. After that venture failed, he spent time in Boston, New Orleans, and Berkeley. He worked in a music store in Austin manufacturing, installing, repairing, and operating sound systems for recording studios, clubs, and bands. He moved back to Charlottesville, ran a little recording studio and finally joined Crutchfield as a copywriter. He has 2 grown children and 3 grandchildren, but after a good nap he can still rock out.

More from Buck Pomerantz

Kia Soul dash

Sometimes, you just have to leave the factory stereo in place.

Factory stereo systems leave a lot to be desired. They’re often programmed with equalization (EQ) curves that compensate for the system’s lack of power by reducing the level of the bass, for instance. And because the speakers are all located at different distances from you, the sound arrives at your ears at different times, making your music sound a little muddy. Often, the best solution is to replace the factory stereo, but the dash designs of some vehicles can make that option difficult, or less than desirable.

Custom sound system upgrades to the rescue

Luckily, this problem has some solutions that let you keep your factory stereo and get spectacular sound, customized for your specific vehicle. The two upgrade systems we discuss in this article improve the factory sound of different vehicles in different ways — you can call us if you need a hand deciding which will work best for yours.

Keep your dash intact

In addition to improving the sound to match your vehicle’s size and shape, these upgrade systems are "stealthy," in that they’re designed to fit in your vehicle with no visible modifications to its interior, except for the addition of a subwoofer.

Kicker VSS™ Powerstage™

Custom fit and programmed to make your vehicle sound great

A Kicker VSS Powerstage system upgrade will transform your vehicle's stock radio and speakers into a high-fidelity sound system capable of giving you full, accurate, and richly textured music. And it does it without changing the look of your car's interior or dash.

VSS Powerstage

VSS Powerstage system for the 2012 Ford Mustang

It plugs into your factory wiring with no cutting

The heart of the system is the VSS Powerstage processor/amp module that plugs in between your car's stock receiver and speakers with the help of a vehicle-specific wiring harness. Kicker's technicians measured the acoustics of the specific vehicle's interior, then developed a program to get the strongest and cleanest audio performance possible from the stock speakers. The VSS Powerstage module breathes new life into your vehicle's factory system, automatically correcting for the limitations of the factory speakers, then adding plenty of power so the speakers can sound their best.

Soundgate%20subwooferKicker VSS Powerstage subwoofer for the 2012 Mustang

Of course, there's a subwoofer with it

A powered subwoofer, built to fit exactly in your vehicle, supplies the bass you need for fully balanced music. VSS Powerstage upgrades come with all the wiring pre-cut and terminated to make installation easier. Step-by-step, illustrated instructions make this sonic upgrade a fun and rewarding project.

Powerstage%20subwoofer%20installed%20in%20the%20MustangVSS Powerstage subwoofer installed in the Mustang

They’re currently available for many Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, and Jeep vehicles. Use our vehicle selector to see if there's a Kicker VSS Powerstage system available for yours.

This is just one way to add improved sound to your car without changing the factory stereo. For more ideas, check out the Factory Radio Improvement section of our website, or give us a call and talk to our knowledgeable advisors. They'll help you figure out the options available for your car.
  • Angel C. Reyes from Saipan, MP

    Posted on 7/26/2015 6:30:50 AM

    I have a 2014 Honda Civic EX with factory stereo and I want to add a powered subwoofer. What do I need to make a complete install? Thanks In Advance...

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/27/2015 10:49:26 AM

    Angel, Make sure that the powered sub you pick has speaker-level inputs. That way, you can tap off the rear deck full-range speaker wiring to get the sub's input signal. This will require two 2-conductor speaker wires long enough to stretch from the rear deck speakers to wherever you mount your sub. 18- or 16-gauge wire will work. You'll also need an amplifier wiring kit containing power and ground wires plus the proper fuse. The size kit you'll need depends on which powered sub you pick. Just give us a call at the toll-free number or go to chat and we'll set you up with everything you need.

  • Aldrin from Clarksville

    Posted on 7/29/2015 5:47:18 PM

    I have a 1981 Toyota pickup with the original push knob. Not even a cassette. I would like to upgrade my 3 1/2" factory original speakers without having to cut out for bigger speakers. I'd like to keep this truck original as much as as possible. I would also like to find a device compatible with the original radio to improve sound and volume output to the new speakers. I am having a difficult time trying to find what I want that actually fits (plug and play) my application

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/30/2015 10:55:11 AM

    Aldrin, If you visit our vehicle selector, you can enter your vehicle information and quickly find out what speakers fit your truck. I've forwarded your question 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 speakers for you and your vehicle. For immediate help, you can contact them via phone or chat.

  • Timothy Whittall from United States

    Posted on 8/15/2015 3:12:37 AM

    Good advice

  • Cody from United States

    Posted on 8/16/2015 5:14:19 PM

    Hi, I recently bought new kicker speakers for my 07 (new body style) chevy silverado, from you guys and was wondering if the kicker VSS powerstage was compatible for my factory stereo unit. thanks,

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/17/2015 11:33:06 AM

    Cody, Crutchfield carries two Powerstage systems, one of which may fit your vehicle: the one for a crew cab and the one for an extended cab.

  • Charles Barrington from Mooringsport, LA

    Posted on 9/3/2015 8:01:24 AM

    I have a 2002 Chevy Silverado with the factory am-fm CD player. It also has a factory cassette player as the aux input. In 2003 I had it upgraded with subs, replaced the factory speakers and amps for both with an EQ that is fed from a reducer of some sort that is wired into the front speaker outputs. I understand that an aftermarket head unit would be superior for sound but I didn't want that look. Now I am using a fm modulator to utilize my IPhone 5S as a music and podcast player and am very disappointed I the sound quality and static. Especially at night. What are my options to improve sound quality but retain my factory head unit?

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/3/2015 11:46:28 AM

    Charles, you've already done pretty much everything you can to improve the audio side of things. Your FM modulator is your weakest link. You need to upgrade the source input. That might mean finding a new stereo that you're comfortable with. On the other hand, if your factory stereo has an "AUX" button, then you can add an external iPhone adapter, which should indeed improve the audio quality. I've sent your message to our advisors. One of them will be in touch via email soon. But if you don't want to wait, just give us a call!

  • Gary Bolanos from New Brunswick

    Posted on 9/17/2015 10:39:40 PM

    I have a 2004 acura tl. I want to make my speakers louder because the volume of my stock stereo only goes to 40. My friend said there's an adapter to do that. Just don't know which one it is.

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/18/2015 10:21:42 AM

    Gary, What you're looking for is an amplifier, to boost the power going to your speakers. I've forwarded your question 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.

  • Andy from Corvallis

    Posted on 9/21/2015 12:05:07 PM

    I have a 2013 Subaru Legacy and I used to have the Pioneer DEH-P7900bt that are actually died on me yesterday, so I have to go back to factory head unit. Right now, my setup is having the LOC converter to connect the factory deck to the subwoofer and I have Rockfords in fronts and pioneers for rears. With the setup right now (factory head unit), can I only straight add an EQ ? Thinking about buying Clarion EQS 746

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/21/2015 12:35:39 PM

    Andy, That equalizer is designed to get connected inline between a receiver's RCA outputs and an amplifier's inputs. Without RCA outputs on your receiver nor any amplification mentioned, I see no way you can integrate that EQ into your present system.

  • Dax from POMONA

    Posted on 9/30/2015 11:18:07 AM

    I replaced my 1999 Camry stereo head unit, few months later upgraded my speaker (no amp). After the installation, the stereo now requires me to crank up my volume higher. (from 14, to 30 volume level). I want to upgrade my 2014 Sienna stock speakers but I do want to keep the stereo as is. Will I have the same issue where I have to crank up the volume just to hear the sounds?

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/30/2015 12:49:50 PM

    Dax, Most factory speakers have high sensitivity and low impedance so they will play loud with less amplification. Aftermarket speakers often require more power to sound as loud as the factory speakers did. This why many people put in amplifiers when they replace their speakers.

  • Anthony Espinoza from San Diego

    Posted on 11/12/2015 1:47:13 AM

    I just purchased a 2016 Honda Accord and would like to know if there is anyway I can improve the sound quality in the vehicle without installing a new stereo

  • Ruben Moreno from Calexico, CA

    Posted on 1/12/2016 1:48:58 AM

    Is there a VSS Powerstage System and custom powered subwoofer available for my 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo model? It comes with a stock radio and speakers. The sound right now is decent, but I know it can be improved.

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 1/12/2016 10:01:05 AM

    Ruben, It appears that Kicker does not make a PowerStage upgrade system for your vehicle. Crutchfield does carry a JL Audio Stealthbox custom subwoofer for your Grand Cherokee, if you're interested in upgrading just the bass.

  • Jason from Medford, MA

    Posted on 3/22/2016 4:11:05 PM

    Given the generally terrible quality of subaru stereos, and especially the WRX, I'm kind of shocked you don't have an upgrade guide right there for us poor slobs. Seems like a built in market right there. I want to keep my nifty multi-function display working, but i want a little more oomph and clarity out of my sound.

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 3/23/2016 2:18:27 PM

    Jason, While there may not be a vehicle-specific solution available for improving the sound in your car, Crutchfield does offer a few digital signal processors that can hook up to the factory speaker wiring and produce high-fidelity signals for aftermarket amplifiers and speakers to play. For help deciding which would be best for you, contact us via phone or chat - just click on the phone icon at the very top of this page.

  • Darricgs400 from Rancho belago

    Posted on 4/3/2016 3:37:46 AM

    Need a sub woofer for 2016 Honda civic ex

  • Jeremy from The District

    Posted on 4/24/2016 4:51:10 PM

    I bought a 2016 Honda Civic Coupe LXP. I found little to no information regarding the speakers specs. The 5 inch media screen head produces 160 watts but the sound is muddy. Would swapping out factory speakers be a viable option to improve the sound clarity?

  • sue from apex

    Posted on 5/18/2016 4:08:15 PM

    looking for info for upgrading 2015 Toyota Avalon stereo, sound from back is terrible!