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Lead image

The keys to better sound with a factory stereo

Sometimes a new amp and speakers aren't enough

In this installation story, we'll discuss two issues you might face when replacing factory speakers in newer vehicles:

  • The stereo limits bass output at higher volumes 
  • A radio shutdown circuit turns off the sound

Here's how a Crutchfield trainer dealt with these problems while upgrading the sound system in his new car. 

J.R., who helps train all of our new advisors here at Crutchfield, had a problem: he'd bought a brand-new car that he loved, but wasn't happy with the sound of the factory stereo. To fix know what, why don't I let him tell the story?

J.R. standing next to his red Subaru

J.R. with his Crosstrek, Grenadine

A car that's nearly perfect...

My bright red 2020 Subaru Crosstrek (I named her Grenadine!) is the first car I’ve bought brand new since 1993, and I LOVE it. It drives like a dream — it has the perfect mix of on- and off-road driving features, the handling is responsive, and in sport mode, with its CVT transmission and the paddle shifters, it’s zippy! 

I also love the dash layout and my factory stereo features, but after driving it for a day or two, one thing became clear: I was very disappointed by the sound of the factory system. It was thinner than I wanted it to be, and when I turned the volume up, the bass would drop out completely. Luckily, I knew exactly how to fix all that. 

Installing a tweeter in the dash

The goal: all new audio components

Early in the planning stages, I decided to go with an all-Kicker system. I'm a big fan of their powerful, punchy sound, and the versatility of their gear. I put a set of KS Series components in the front door and dash (that's where the tweeters mount in my car), and matching KS Series 2-ways in back. 

Installing a speaker in the car door

In back, I put in Kicker's cool 47TRTP122 downward-firing subwoofer, because I need that bass! What's cool about it is that it's designed to allow you to stack stuff on top of it. So I get all the bass I want, and still have room for all my Disc Golf gear. 

Subwoofer in the rear cargo are with luggage on top of it

To power the whole setup, I installed a 5-channel KX Series amplifier under the passenger seat. It puts out a ton of power, which makes me happy, and couldn't fit the space more perfectly. (Unfortunately, that amp is no longer available, but we have plenty of other Kicker amplifiers to power your system.) 

Car amp and line converter under front seat

A line output converter helps elevate the sound

Of course, none of these upgrades would have been possible without a couple of pieces of essential gear. The first, an LC7i line output converter (LOC) from AudioControl.

LOCs take an amplified, speaker-level signal and step it down to preamp-level, which most amplifiers prefer to work with. But the LC7i from AudioControl also did a couple of things for me to ensure that I was sending the cleanest sound possible to my new amp.

Car amp and line output converter being installed

The most important function for me, is its bass restoration feature, which AudioControl calls AccuBASS. My factory stereo is like those in a surpringly large number of new vehicles that turns down the bass output when you turn the volume up on the stereo. It does this to protect the cheap factory speakers from getting overpowered. But this makes for a terrible audio experience – especially when you're trying to upgrade to better speakers with more power-handling ability.

AccuBASS restores this missing bass as the factory stereo rolls it off, so there's no loss in performance. In other words, I get all the thump from my subwoofer that I demand. And that's a great thing.

The LC7i also does signal summing, which combines the different signals from the separate speakers (say, the highs from the tweeters and lows from the door woofers) into a single, full-range signal to feed into the new amp. I didn't need this feature because all of the outputs from my stereo are full range.

A load generator to prevent radio shutdown

The most important piece of the puzzle, however, was the smallest: a load-generating device from AudioControl. It's a brilliant little component that'll help lots of customers with their projects.

Wiring a load generator with a screwdriver

It's the unfortunate case that many newer factory stereos will only send out audio signal if they sense an exact impedance load from the speakers that are connected to them. So if you change the speakers or try to add an amplifier by tapping into the factory speaker wires for input signal, the stereo thinks that no speaker is connected and shuts off its audio output stage. And that's just no good for anybody.

My Subaru is a little different. The radio would likely still output signal to the front speakers. The problem comes when the vehicle does a self check for the health report. The internal computer would notice something was wrong with the front output, which is a big deal since the car has the telematics system that lets me call 911 in case of an accident and such. And it would not be good for the vehicle to think a safety feature isn’t working. 

The load generator connects to the factory speaker wires on one end, and to the AudioControl LOC's speaker-level inputs on the other. It fools the stereo into thinking it's seeing exactly the impedance load it wants to see, and continues to send out audio signal. From there, the other components take over, and I'm a very happy guy when I'm driving.

JR behind the wheel, with his dog riding shotgun

How does it sound?

In a word: spectacular. The new speaker array sounds so good. The staging is way up on the dash, the dynamics are great, and I can hear every detail. It’s awesome. And I get plenty of bass response to feel my music in addition to hearing it. Now my car is perfect, and I get a little bit giddy every time I jump in it. 

Let J.R. tell you all about it

J.R. is the co-host of the Crutchfield podcast and gave us the inside scoop on his installation. 

Need a hand with your factory system?

If you're ready to leave your thin factory sound behind, give us a call. We'll help you make sure you have all the components you need to make it all happen.


Last updated 1/29/2021
  • Jerome

    Posted on 7/21/2021

    I have a 2021 crosstrek 8" no nav non HK radio and am considering this upgrade. I am curious where you placed the crossover for the front speakers. Did you run new speaker wires or use the factory harness?

  • Jeff Wood from Manteca

    Posted on 5/31/2021

    What about a 2017 Chevy Silverado with Bose. Everything I hear sounds like it's a complete nightmare to deal with to upgrade. Please help

    Commenter image

    Crutchfield Writing Team from Crutchfield

    on 6/1/2021

    Jeff, When you enter your vehicle's info into our Outfit My Car tool, you'll see which stereos fit your car, plus the correct harness. If you have any questions, our advisors are available via phone or chat.
  • Mark Willis from San Pedro, CA

    Posted on 3/3/2021

    I have a 2015 Cross Trek, love th car, hate th stereo, which is showing signs of dieing. What is an easy replacement for th base dash unit, adding gps. Then I can upgrade th speakers with possibly a small sub. Thanks, Mark

  • Sam from Madison

    Posted on 2/26/2021

    Hey JR, love all your product videos from the labs and CES. Why not the KS2704 on the dash instead of the KSS6504 included tweeter? I know you'd be leftover with a perfectly good silk tweeter, but any other reason?

  • Commenter image

    Matt Freeman from Crutchfield

    Posted on 2/26/2021

    Hi, Joe. Glad you're thinking about this upgrade! J.R. is currently helping train our next team of advisors, but we've passed along your question to our advisor team, one of whom should be in touch soon. In the meantime, you can also feel free to reach out by online chat or phone to any of our excellent advisors, who will be able to walk you through your options and help you build the right system.

  • Victor Cortes from Chicago

    Posted on 2/25/2021

    Hi I'm wondering what would you recommend to upgrade the sound in a Mazda 2019 CX 3?

  • Jeremy bates from Daphne

    Posted on 2/25/2021

    What all will I need to upgrade factory speakers and add an amp for my woofers. I am going to use the factory head unit because it has my navigation and other features

    Commenter image

    Matt Freeman from Crutchfield

    on 2/26/2021

    Hi, Jeremy. The gear you'd need to build an ideal system around your vehicle will depend on what you drive, and what your sonic goals are. We'd recommend giving one of our experts a call at 888-955-6000 to walk through your options.
  • Jeff from Los Alamitos ca

    Posted on 2/25/2021

    i need to do something similiar to my 2020 Mazda3 that has a BOse premium system. it is hardly premium. sounds like a transitior radio has 2 51/4 inch subs under the footwell down low. when you go to move the soundstage to the rear it just completely disappears. SO pissed on this waste of money. want to put FOcal speakers in it w a amp like a Match brand. something that will kick some ass.... your thoughts. ??

    Commenter image

    Matt Freeman from Crutchfield

    on 2/26/2021

    Hi, Jeff. Thanks for writing in, and we definitely hear your frustration. For a project with this potential level of complexity, we'd definitely recommend giving one of our advisors a call at 888-955-6000 to walk through your options.
  • joe bacot from rochester

    Posted on 2/24/2021

    read your write up on your subaru crosstrek 2020, i brought a 2021 CrossTrek (base model). I'd like to get your recommendation on upgrading the system to mimic what you did. Sub, Tweeters in the dash, front and rear speakers, LOC and Audio control. can JR reach out?

  • Dennis Green from Burlington

    Posted on 2/24/2021

    Loved this story. Just what I needed to hear. Going to look at upgrading my factory sound on my 2021 forte gt