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Video: Factory vs. aftermarket car speakers listening test

Can you hear the difference?

A circuitous path, involving England, New York, rural Michigan, Indiana, and lots of parts in between brought Matthew Freeman to Charlottesville, where he's been writing about mobile audio/video for Crutchfield off and on since early 2000. He fosters an eclectic taste in film, and is fond of a wide range of music. A native of Albuquerque, New Mexico, he found his way to the University of Notre Dame, where, in an act of charity unsurpassed in the history of Western civilization, he was given a B.A. in English.

More from Matt Freeman

Okay, so we've been telling you forever how much better aftermarket speakers sound than factory speakers. Factory speakers are not built to last. Over time they'll deteriorate to the point where they sound truly awful. However, since that deterioration happens gradually, your ears may have gotten used to it.

Just for kicks, we set up a blind listening test in our lab and invited some of our most critical listeners to drop by and see if they could tell a difference in the sound. They'll start off listening to a very nice pair of brand new Focal speakers, priced in the hundreds of dollars. Then we'll switch to a pair of old, deteriorated cheap factory speakers, just to see how our coworkers react.

It was fun for us, but a little confusing for them!

The real point of this for you is to hear the difference between really nice, high-quality aftermarket speakers and a pair of OEM speakers that are long past their glory days. It's not meant to be a fair "test", just a fun comparison.

Video Transcript

Matt: Hi there. We're in the Crutchfield car listening room today to do a little mad scientist experiment with a set of really old and worn out factory speakers. Now the thing about factory speakers is, that when you first buy your car they can sound fantastic. They're very efficient, so they play pretty loudly, and they're fairly accurate because they're in good shape. They're brand new. But they degrade over time. Heat, extreme cold, and in many places extreme humidity conspire to take their toll. And after a while the surrounds deteriorate, the cones fall apart. They can crack and tear.

The problem is it's a gradual process. It happens over time, so you train your ear to get used to the sound. And as it gets worse, you don't quite hear how bad it is. It would be one thing if you jumped in the car and heard this. Then you would know that something was terribly wrong. But it doesn't. It doesn't go out all at once. Like I said, it deteriorates over time and so your ear gets used to it.

To make that point, to make that point clear we're gonna have a little fun today. We're gonna bring in three of our experts — a couple of our home writers and one of our car writers — to do a blind AB test with these factory speakers, these ugly guys right here, and a set of really nice Focal speakers. We will cover them with this acoustically transparent cloth so that they can't see which speakers they're listening to, and then we're gonna start them off with the set of Focal components which are, you know, sound beautiful. They have warm sound, really nice high notes, really full and rich bass and we're not gonna tell them that we're comparing them to the factory speakers. We're just gonna tell that we are comparing them to a potential competitor. And we're going to see what their immediate visceral reaction is.

Lynn: So it's very, it's a very warm sound to me, very distinct vocal. It's not muddy with the music. You can hear them separately. Wow! Is that how that's supposed to sound? Okay.

Steve: Pretty dramatic difference. Pretty pinched sounding in the upper, and I think I'm hearing some static from one side that is blown. Ahh. Sweet relief.

Matt: So what you're listening to...

Dave: A pair of blown factory speakers. Well that one's blown, at least.

Matt: So as you can see, it was pretty apparent to all of our listeners and I'm sure to you listening at home that which were the factory speakers and which were the nice Focals. The difference was so stark that nobody could mistake one for the other. So if you have a set of factory speakers that you need to replace, give one of our experts a call.

Last updated October 24, 2016
  • Barry goldsmith from Gulfport

    Posted on 7/26/2015 8:46:06 PM

    When I cut my radio in the off position the subs sound like they are on full blast what could that be

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/27/2015 2:53:20 PM

    Barry, without knowing the details of your car, it's difficult to say. It could be that you have the sub amp wired to ACC power, and it's staying on while the radio is off. A line output converter that generates remote turn-on based on audio signal could be the remedy. Alternatively, if your vehicle has a factory noise-canceling system, that could also be the root of this problem. In that case, you'll need to disconnect the factory noise-canceling mics. Please note that if you bought your gear from Crutchfield, you can call Tech Support for free help troubleshooting your system. If you purchased your equipment elsewhere, you can still get expert Crutchfield Tech Support - 90 days-worth for only $30. Check out our tech support page for details.

  • Chris from Gadsden, TN

    Posted on 3/6/2016 9:50:58 AM

    WHAT IS THE NAME OF THAT SONG!!!!!!!!!,,,,,,,I've tried finding it without success. Please tell me.

  • T.J. from Round Lake

    Posted on 3/28/2016 8:00:58 AM

    Hey Chris, it's The Boy Who Stole The Blues by Mighty Mo Rodgers.

  • david from columbus oh

    Posted on 10/17/2016 10:18:30 PM

    that hardly a fair comparison. so how do the faux-cal speakers sound after years of use and exposure to rough conditions? how do they sound up against brand new factory speakers?

  • Robert Ferency-Viars from Crutchfield

    Posted on 10/25/2016 8:41:55 AM

    David, totally fair point and questions. The listening test wasn't really meant to be a fair comparison. It was more of a practical joke on our fellow enthusiasts, but done so to help illustrate the point that if your factory speakers are a few years old, it's time to think about replacing them. Aftermarket speakers are built to last -- factory speakers, not so much. After years of use, those Focal speakers would, in my opinion, still sound better than brand new factory speakers. And they should, because you're talking about one of the top-quality speaker brands stacked up against the cheapest thing on the shelf.

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