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Upgrade your car stereo's sound

...without replacing the factory radio

Sometimes, you just have to keep the factory stereo. And the good news is that you don't have to replace the factory radio to get awesome car audio sound. Below, we'll show you a few examples of how to improve on the OEM sound system without replacing the radio. 


actory stereo systems often leave a lot to be desired. For example, sometimes they're programmed with equalization (EQ) curves that compensate for the system’s lack of power by reducing the level of the bass. And if you want to replace the stereo, the dash designs of some vehicles make it difficult – or impossible – to do. 

And sometimes, especially in newer cars, like the 2013 Ford Focus shown above, the factory stereo is actually pretty cool. But there's still plenty of room for improved sound. 

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 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.

Stealthy add-ons 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.

Alpine PXE-0850SX

Spectacular sound for nearly any factory stereo

Alpine’s developed a neat product that solves the sound issues of many factory systems. The PXE-0850X amplifier/processor takes up to three pairs of high-level inputs, processes the sound, then sends out up to eight channels of amplified signal to your vehicle’s tweeters, midrange drivers, woofers, and subwoofers.

Alpine PXE-0850X

You use an app on your Bluetooth® device or wired PC to adjust a 31-band EQ and set crossovers and time alignment for better fidelity and imaging. Crutchfield Car A/V Editor Matt installed a PXE-0850S, the earlier version of the PXE-0850X, in his 2014 Ford Focus, and had this to say: 

The PXE-0850X amp/processor comes with a wired LCD remote controller so you can control volume, store and recall EQ presets, and select between sources from the driver's seat.

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.


Kicker VSS Powerstage subwoofer for the 2012 Mustang

Of course Kicker includes a subwoofer! 

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 precut and terminated to make installation easier. Step-by-step, illustrated instructions make this sonic upgrade a fun and rewarding project.


VSS 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.

AudioControl D-6.1200

Add power and sound control

A problem with many premium sound systems is that replacing the puny factory amp with a more powerful one will mean losing some of the vehicle’s audio functions and audible notifications.

The AudioControl D-6.1200 6-channel amplifier with digital signal processing makes a great solution, retaining your vehicle’s audio and communication functions while adding tons of power and tuning ability to your system.

AudioControl 6.1200

The D-6.1200 can use your vehicle's factory amplifier outputs to provide a clean audio input signal for this amp, so all factory audio features are retained. You control the amp's sound processing by way of your computer and AudioControl's DSP control app. It lets you apply and adjust filters to match signal to speaker, set the time alignment so the stereo image will sit centered on the driver seat, and adjust the tone to perfection.

AudioControl Smart-User DSP software

Smart-User DSP tuning software on a laptop (DM-810 version shown)


Improve the sound of your factory stereo

These are just three ways 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.

  • Daniel from PHX

    Posted on 7/13/2022

    I am not an expert by any means, but I've had quite a few systems over the years and noticed one glaring issue with factory stereos. They aren't loud! Now I don't mean they can't sound great, I mean in most cases when you crank it up it's like you can put it on 80-90% and they protect the system by not letting you completely blare it. Once I put a kenwood deck into my Ford F-150 and the stereo on volume 22 (out of 100) was louder than the factory deck at 100% max with same factory speakers. This brings me to my question. I want to keep my 2016 Hyundai Sante Fe premium sound system and add the MTX subs combo you guys recommending. I saw the ways I can add control with the neat add-ons. But will I will be able to physically turn these speakers up in a way the factory setup seems to block? Seems like an obvious no but wondering your thoughts. I think my current speakers, tweeters, factory amp are good enough to pair with new subs/amp and like the deck style in car. I just worry I won't get most out of it because the limitation on adjusting the volume after I tune it all.

    Commenter image

    Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    on 7/14/2022

    Daniel, With questions like this, it's always better to have a conversation with a real live human. Give us a call and talk to one of our Advisors. We can help you choose the right gear and give you the right advice on how to install it.
  • Robert from Jeddah

    Posted on 2/9/2022

    Hello. Was wondering if you could advise on the possible need for a new Amp. I am installing a stinger heigh 10 on Jeep 2915 rubicon with upgraded alpine system. Would this be helpful or not. Please recommend appropriate amp to replace original factory alpine amp

    Commenter image

    Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    on 2/10/2022

    Robert, Adding an amplifier will always improve the sound. I don't know what's available in your area, so I can't give you a specific recommendation. Maybe a local car audio shop can help.
  • Michael from Citrus springs

    Posted on 11/25/2021

    I have a 2017 Audi A3 sedan that I would like to add an amp and sub to, but I don't want to replace the factory stereo. Is there anything available that will allow me to do just that? Please e-mail me a response. Thank you

    Commenter image

    Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    on 11/29/2021

    Michael, If your vehicle's sound system has no factory amplifier, you can use the technique described in How to connect an amplifier to a factory stereo. If there's a factory amp, you'll have to use an interface device customized for your vehicle. Give us a call, so an Advisor can help you get the right gear for you and your car.
  • Peter

    Posted on 10/14/2021

    Is a factory signal that has been corrected by a DSP just as good as a high end aftermarket head unit signal, or does output voltage/strength of the signal matter for the best audio quality. Thank you

    Commenter image

    Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    on 10/15/2021

    Peter, An aftermarket receiver will most likely perform better and produce a higher fidelity signal than a factory radio. Signal strength certainly plays a part in that fidelity.
  • James Campbell from Castaic

    Posted on 8/11/2021

    I just got a GMC 2021 sierra with factory audio. Is it possible to replace the speakers with any aftermarket speakers ( jl audio ect) without having to add any additional amp. Or would the factory amp be sufficient to be able to run normally? I just want to change the speakers.

    Commenter image

    Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    on 8/12/2021

    James, There are quite a few speakers that will fit in your vehicle and sound good run by the factory radio. Give us a call, so an Advisor can help you pick out the perfect speakers for your system.
  • Zoltan L kopa from Kissimmee

    Posted on 6/10/2021

    2016 Chevy euinox I like to add a subwoofer, I already have one factory but because active noise canceling, it just don't work like a real sub,please help me what can I do to get NY bass on

    Commenter image

    Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    on 6/14/2021

    Zoltan, An internet search for defeating the active noise control (ANC) in a '16 Chevy Equinox will lead you to solutions that'll allow an aftermarket subwoofer to operate properly.
  • Eric Zikmanis from Phoenix

    Posted on 2/11/2021

    My daughter is going to buy a 2019 or 2020 Mustang. We built a stereo in her Kia that will not go with the car. Can we add the amps and component speakers and leave the stock speakers intact and functioning?

    Commenter image

    Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    on 3/23/2021

    Eric, Give us a call so an Advisor can help you and your daughter sort out what's the best upgrade solution for whichever car she gets.
  • Em from Alameda

    Posted on 1/30/2021

    I would like to keep the factory radio in my 2002 BMW 325Ci, but I want to somehow add bluetooth or iphone controls? How does that work?

    Commenter image

    Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    on 3/22/2021

    Em, If your car's receiver has a USB input, you could get a Bluetooth receiver to connect your phone to the stereo. Give us a call so an Advisor can confirm whether it's possible with the factory receiver or not.
  • Vincent lim from Anaheim

    Posted on 12/16/2020

    Is it possible to bypass 2008 acura tsx factory amp without losing navigation voice on speakers and replace it with an aftermarket amp?

  • Josh Mattingly from Louisville, Ky

    Posted on 7/26/2020

    Hello. I have a 2007 Honda Civic Si, in which I do believe the factory amp under the driver seat has quit working, making my rear deck (2x6 1/2 speakers, and 8" sub" stop playing. What's the best way to go about getting sound back to my car. And also the cheapest route here?

    Commenter image

    Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    on 8/3/2020

    Josh, The best way would be to give us a call so an Advisor can help you sort out what's wrong and find a solution.

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