Car speakers FAQ
When you're shopping for speakers, it's only natural to have questions. This FAQ is a great starting point whether you're considering upgrading from factory sound for the first time or you're looking to optimize your current system.
Sound and performance questions
- What kind of a difference do new speakers really make?
- How much power do I need for my new speakers?
- Will my factory radio power aftermarket speakers?
- Do speakers with a higher efficiency rating sound better?
- Does the type of tweeter make a difference in the sound I hear?
- What difference do cone materials make?
- What innovations in aftermarket speakers can help improve the sound of my system?
- My front speakers sound distorted when I crank up my system. Is there any way to improve their performance?
- What advantage do I gain by choosing component speakers for my car?
- My new component speakers aren't living up to my expectations. What's wrong?
- What's the most affordable way to get crisper highs and better stereo imaging in my car?
Sound and performance questions
Q: What kind of a difference do new speakers really make?
A: You'll find that replacing your factory speakers can make a noticeable difference. Music sounds crisper, more dynamic, and closer to the way it was recorded and better than it would with a worn-out or low-quality speaker.
Speaker replacement is also the single most cost-effective car stereo upgrade you can perform. And even the newer, factory-installed speaker systems, which may sound OK at first, aren't typically built to give you the years of reliable, ear-pleasing sound you can expect from a good pair of aftermarket speakers.
Q: How much power do I need for my new speakers?
A: While manufacturers give a range of RMS, or continuous, power that will work for the speaker, getting towards the upper end of that power range or even exceeding it yields the best results. That said, a speaker with a lower RMS power range will be more suitable for powering with a factory or aftermarket stereo, while a higher RMS range will work better with an external amplifier.
With an external amplifier, you should pick an amp with a power rating in the upper end of your speaker's power range. For example, if a speaker is rated to handle up to 35 watts of RMS power, it will perform closer to optimum as your power source approaches delivery of 35 watts.
JL Audio’s TR650-CXi 6-1/2" speakers have an RMS power range of 10-50 watts. This makes them a solid match with an aftermarket stereo, but even better with an external amplifier.
It's better to overpower a speaker than to underpower it — the distortion caused when you push a low-powered amp or receiver to its limit is much more likely to harm a speaker than too much power.
Q: Will my factory radio power a set of aftermarket speakers?
A: In most cases, yes. Aftermarket speakers will certainly sound better with a little more juice, but most of our speakers will sound just fine with factory power. The exceptions are matched component sets, and any speaker with a minimum RMS power rating of 8 watts or more.
Q: Do speakers with a higher efficiency rating sound better?
A: Efficiency ratings don't tell you how good a speaker "sounds." They simply indicate how well the speaker uses power. If you're using a low-powered factory system, you'll want to choose a speaker with a higher efficiency rating (90 db and up). Low-efficiency speakers can sound great, but they'll need a high-powered receiver or amplifier for energy.
Q: Does the type of tweeter make a difference in the sound I hear?
A: Speaker manufacturers use a variety of materials in their tweeters, such as paper, silk, ceramic, titanium, polyetherimide, and so on. One type of meterial is not necessarily superior to another, because they all have different characteristics and reproduce sound in slightly different ways. As a rule, paper is responsive because it is so light, while composites are more durable. You'll find that silk and silk/polymer blends sound very smooth and even.
In general, a dome tweeter provides better dispersion and off-axis imaging than a cone tweeter. A balanced dome tweeter combines the two designs with a dome mounted within a cone. You might want to listen to a variety of tweeter materials and designs to find the one that suits your musical taste.
Read our article about tweeter design for a more in-depth discussion.
Q: What difference do cone materials make?
A: As with tweeters, woofer cones come in a variety of materials. They can be made of treated paper, synthetics, or composites. Woofer cones need to be more rigid because their task is to reproduce strong bass notes. Again, paper tends to be less durable, but responds quicker than other materials. All of these can sound great; you just need to experiment with different sounds and materials to find what's right for you.
The polymer composite cone on this Polk Audio woofer is lightweight, yet rigid, so it can move fast and retain its shape
Q: What innovations in aftermarket speakers can help improve the sound of my system?
A: If you're looking to "tweak" your system for optimal performance, you should be aware of some of the great features that several speaker manufacturers offer. For improved imaging, many tweeters come in adjustable mounts that let you focus high frequencies more precisely to your listening position.
Some speakers have bi-amp inputs, so you can power the woofer and tweeter from separate amplifiers for more powerful sound.
Q: My new front speakers sound distorted when I crank up my system. Is there any way to improve their performance?
A: Try a set of Bass Blockers. These act as high-pass crossovers to guard against distortion, especially when you turn up the volume. Remember, the smaller the speaker, the more difficulty it has reproducing low notes at high volume. Eliminating low frequencies from a smaller coaxial speaker means you'll get cleaner, louder performance. And, since the bass coming from your back speakers (or subs) is omnidirectional, you'll never know the bass blockers are there!
Q: What's the advantage of choosing component speakers for my car?
A: With a properly powered set of matched components, you'll get better imaging and a much more detailed and dynamic sound than you could expect from conventional speakers.
Mounting the separate tweeter closer to your ears optimizes your speakers' imaging and brings out a level of detail you may have never heard before. The premium-quality woofers deliver forceful, dynamic bass and midrange, while the separate crossover networks will properly routing your highs and lows to protect your tweeters and make your system sound its best. As a rule, component speakers generally require an external amplifier to really come alive.
- Check the crossover setting — many think that a flat setting for the tweeters is the way to go, but you'll often find that you need to attenuate the highs to counteract too much brightness
- Are you feeding them enough power? With most sets of components running them off your receiver just can't give them enough power to operate properly. Remember, underpowering your speakers is more dangerous than overpowering them.
- Like a good sub, speakers need time to break in.
- Are you getting rattles and vibrations? Check your mountings — you may benefit from installing foam baffles and Dynamat in your doors. Keep in mind, you've created new openings for the tweeters as well.
Q: What's the most affordable way to get crisper highs and better stereo imaging in my car?
A: If you often find yourself reaching for the tone control to "sharpen" your stereo sound, you're likely to notice a big improvement when you install a pair of add-on tweeters to your system. Most factory speakers are "dual-cone" models — they use paper whizzer cones to reproduce high frequencies. The result is sound that's dull and lifeless. You'd be stunned at the number of "premium" or "name brand" factory systems we've seen that rely on these little paper megaphones to handle the highs.
What makes tweeters so important? It's true that they reproduce the high notes, but there's more to the story. Besides being responsible for recreating the very highest frequencies in your music, tweeters impact the realism of the overall sound as well. This is because the ultra-high frequency information that tweeters handle helps render the specific timbre of each instrument in your music.
Timbre is a word used to describe an individual instrument's sonic fingerprint or voice. A good pair of tweeters will help you distinguish an overdriven guitar sound from a saxophone, and a saxophone from a trumpet. High-quality tweeters also add crispness to your music for a more realistic listening experience. They can ensure that the sound of a snare drum comes across as a satisfying crack instead of a muted thud, and they help you hear the rattle and click of strings plucked on an upright bass. You'll feel like you're right there in the studio with your favorite musicians.
Add-on tweeters also give you placement flexibility. They'll help you achieve realistic stereo imaging — that sense of the precise physical location of each of the musicians in the recording.
Q: I have 6"x9" speakers in my car. Why doesn’t your website show that any 6"x9" speakers fit?
A: Even though speakers are classified by cone size, it’s not the only factor in determining if a speaker fits your car. Sometimes speakers are too tall or too deep for the locations they’re meant to go in. In addition to measuring every speaker model we carry, we also measure thousands of vehicles. That's how we know that we're recommending the right stuff for your car or truck. If a speaker you’re interested in isn’t listed as fitting, give us a call. Sometimes minor modifications can make it work.
Mounting height and depth, along with tweeter protrusion, are major factors in determining whether or not a speaker fits your car. (Click the photo for a larger view.)
Q: How difficult will it be to install my new speakers?
A: You can count on a simple installation with any of our "Easy-Fit" speakers. And in most cases, a new pair of speakers is about the easiest car audio component to install in your vehicle. As a Crutchfield customer, you'll benefit from the free, vehicle-specific instructions found in our MasterSheet™, free wiring harnesses that eliminate splicing, and our friendly, toll-free technical support. For a more detailed look at what's involved, check out our car speaker installation page.
Q: Do I need new wire to replace my factory speakers?
A: Factory speaker wire is fine if you're powering your new speakers with a factory or aftermarket stereo. But if you plan to install an external amplifier that's rated at 50 watts RMS or more per channel, then we recommend that you run new speaker wire.
Q: Can I use my factory grilles for installation?
A: You certainly can. In many cases, aftermarket speakers come with manufacturer grilles (usually sporting the speaker-maker's logo), which you can use if you prefer. Some manufacturers are shipping speakers with radical-looking grilles that are designed for excellent cosmetics and minimal sound obstruction.