Upgrading car speakers pays off again -- big time
Ken Nail has written about car audio for Crutchfield since 2003, after four years as Crutchfield Sales Advisor, and 10 years as a music teacher. He's an avid music listener, whose favorites are classical and film music. When not chained to a desk, Ken spends most of his time training for triathlons and marathons, and likes getting outside for backpacking, downhill skiing, and bicycle touring. He attended West Virginia University, where he received a Master's Degree in Music Performance and a Bachelor's Degree in History.
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A few years back, I upgraded my truck's 2-way front speakers to a set of component speakers, powered by an amp (40 watts RMS per channel). The improvement in sound quality was quite noticeable. The sound field moved up, there was much better imaging of instruments and vocals, and details in the music came through like never before. You would have had a hard time convincing me that I could make another quantum leap in sound quality by upgrading to a better set of component speakers.
My old component speakers were a good quality pair, from a respected brand, but priced in the middle of the range (I'm thrifty about things like that). Thanks to a sweet deal from Alpine, I was able to replace them with a considerably more expensive pair without breaking the bank. With the addition of Alpine's SPX-17REF component system, I expected an improvement, but the difference in sound quality was every bit as dramatic as it was when I first upgraded to component speakers. Here are a few of the highlights I experienced:
Greatly improved imaging: The ring radiator tweeters of the SPX-17REF system did an absolutely awesome job of placing the instruments -- much superior to the regular silk dome tweeters of the old pair. I'm a fan of orchestral music and film soundtracks, and when I played a few of my favorite tracks, I could clearly "place" the location of the instruments with precision. I could almost see the orchestra in front of me when I closed my eyes (fortunately, I wasn't driving while I did this). In addition to the improved imaging, the sound field was wider and deeper. When listening to a well recorded track, the sound field seemed to extend outside the car to the right and left, and beyond the windshield in the front.
Presentation of details: Well known tracks presented a entirely new level of detail in the sound. Subtle scrapes and ticks from the bows of the violins leapt out at me, and the inner lines of densely layered passages spoke with clarity. In fact, I heard some parts I'd never even noticed before.
Low-frequency extension: My old setup always left a bit of a hole in the bass response between where the woofers started fading out and the subwoofer kicked in. I could never quite fix it to my liking despite my best efforts. The SPX-17REF's woofers boasted superior low-frequency extension, so the bass was solid and uninterrupted all the way down. There was extra kick in the low midrange that made all the music I played sound stronger and gutsier.
Improved response at all dynamic levels: With the new system I could crank up the volume without a hint of strain or harshness. But even at low volumes, the sound was precise and clear. An added bonus: My '98 Ranger pickup truck isn't the quietest platform when you're on the road. When I drove at highway speed with my old speakers I'd lose details at low volume. With the new components, the sound continued to come through clearly, even with the road noise.
No doubt about it -- better speakers improved the overall sound. No big surprise there. What surprised me was how much further they took the performance of my system. For me, the moral of the story is to not stay satisfied -- even a good system can be improved with the right additions.