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What are factory sound processors?

Upgrade your sound and keep your factory stereo

Zak Billmeier grew up in southern Vermont and coastal Maine. After graduating from Mary Washington College with a Geography degree he still isn't sure quite what to do with, he eventually settled in the mountains of Central Virginia. He spends his free time chasing his daughter around, taking pictures, gardening and cooking. He joined Crutchfield's car A/V writing team in 2007 and is now a lead producer on our video team.

More from Zak Billmeier

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Kicker's Front Row puts your music where it should be — right up in front of you

Factory car stereos are getting more and more complicated, as car manufacturers move away from standard-sized receivers to complicated, integrated designs. Often they are tied into a navigation system, climate controls, or other electronic functions, which make swapping them out for aftermarket stereos difficult or even impossible. The problem is, its sound might not be up to your lofty standards.

Replacing the factory speakers is a great way to start. You might also choose to add an amplifier or subwoofer — or both. All of these things, done together or on their own, will improve your factory stereo's sound. But there will always be something holding you back, and it's built right into the stereo.

Factory stereos have built-in sound shaping

Your factory stereo uses preset equalization designed to make cheap factory speakers sound better, meaning that it automatically adjusts the different frequencies, creating audio "peaks and valleys" which can degrade sound quality. It is particularly noticeable when you add amplifiers, speakers and subwoofers to your setup, as any deficits in the sound are literally amplified.

Most factory stereos also limit the bass output as volume increases in an attempt to protect the speakers. The trouble is, even if you upgrade your speakers and install an amp and subwoofer, the bass output is still limited by your factory stereo. This throws your system out of balance and makes the bass sound muddy and weak.

How can I overcome the factory processing?

Fortunately, there's an easy cure. You can install a sound processor, which strips away the sound-shaping limitations enforced by your factory stereo and sends a clean signal to your external amplifiers. The amps send the signal to your speakers and subs. Your reward will be resonant lows, sparkling highs, and a realistic sense of space and depth.

Are these sound processors complicated to install?

Installation generally isn't too difficult — these processors connect to your stereo using your vehicle's speaker wires, and then to your amps and subs. You'll be able to keep the look and controls of your factory stereo, but expand your system for serious sound.

Sound processor system diagram
  • A sound processor connects to your factory stereo through the stereo's speaker wires.
  • The processor removes the factory sound-shaping, so the signal is clean.
  • The signal is sent to your external amplifier(s). The amps power your front and rear speakers, and subwoofers.

Choosing the right sound processor

We carry a handfull of different factory sound processors, each with slightly different capabilities. Generally speaking, they range from "easy to use" to "seriously intense". Here are some examples:  

JL Audio FiX 82 sound processor

JL Audio FiX 82 sound processor

Processors like the JL Audio FiX™ only require you to connect them to your factory stereo and aftermarket amplifier, then they do all the sound shaping for you. No hassles or tweaking needed — easy in, easy out. 

Audio Control LC6i

Audio Control LC6i sound processor

For a more traditional approach, check out AudioControl's line of factory sound processors. They clean up the sound and give you manual control of the output for your amps. They're a particularly good choice if you have a premium factory stereo system. They can convert the amplified signal from premium factory systems so you can add your own amps and subs. AudioControl's line drivers can send a clean, 9.5-volt signal to an aftermarket amp, giving you clean sound. All their processors have highly customizable configurations.

Rockford Fosgate 3Sixty.3 signal processor

Rockford Fosgate 3Sixty.3 signal processor

At the other end of the spectrum are processors like the Rockford Fosgate 3Sixty.3. Once you've installed it in your system, run a USB cable to your laptop and and you can not only flatten the factory stereo's processing, but you can also use a 31-band equalizer to adjust the sound to your heart's content. The 3Sixty.3 is a hardcore sound-shaping toolbox for the serious sound tweaker. 

Rockford Fosgate 3Sixty.3 control screen

From your laptop, the 3Sixty.3 lets you control every aspect of your sound system. 

Keep the look, love the sound

For some car owners, radio replacement isn't a thing they can't do; it's a thing they don't want to do. And that's okay. With a sound processor, you don't have to put up with a lousy stereo just because you genuinely like the look of your car's interior or some of the infotainment functions. If you've tired of settling, give us a call and let us help you find a sound processor that's right for you and your car.

Last updated December 08, 2016
  • Mr Innovator from Oregon

    Posted on 6/16/2015 3:51:19 PM

    Highly considering an Aftermarket HU for my 2014 Toyota Tundra however my door lock,chimes etc maintenance, Navigation & personal reminders are all integrated into factory HU. Crutchfeild has several aftermarket HU choices BUT the dilemma is if I go that route how much of the those so called minor conveniences from the factory am I willing to lose, for example on my model if I forget to close the sunroof and exit the vehicle I get an immediate chime to remind me that it's left open. A minor loss if it can't be integrated into a aftermarket HU, but it's a major loss if it happens to rain & you forgot because of the former factory reminder. I think Crutchfeild will eventually do this but they or someone should do a item by item cost benefit analysis of retaining factory HU vrs aftermarket HU, not your run of the mill audio specs. As any respectable audiophile knows the factory DSP's is so choked down & unalterable that it's almost worthless to modify with add on's. I assume a aftermarket FSP would solve most of these issues but a real hard core test would be how much of a sound stage do you get vrs dumping the entire manufacturers system & getting a proven aftermarket HU with programable sound stage. I'd Like to hear from any Tundra owners that have done ONLY an FSP add on to factory & someone that went 100% aftermarket then have both list pro's & cons of their install & soundstage.

  • Robert Ferency-Viars from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/17/2015 1:23:06 PM

    I think your situation is pretty cut and dried, as far as the cost-benefit goes: if you change the stereo, you lose the navigation system, aux & USB inputs, and you have to hardwire all the connections. In my mind, that's not worth doing in a nice truck that has a pretty good factory stereo system. Maybe put in some aftermarket speakers (but make sure you get low-impedance speakers to match the factory speakers) or a subwoofer. Of course, using a factory signal processor changes that. You get to keep all the nice bells & whistles Toyota gave you in the dash, but replace all the other audio components with your choice of amps and speakers. Your truck is a prime candidate for this approach. Give us a call if you have any questions or would like some help selecting the gear.

  • Pavol from Prague

    Posted on 6/24/2015 6:45:49 PM

    Hi there, Considering to upgrade speakers on my VW Golf Mk7 with 2-way FOCAL Performance Expert PS 165F (both in front and rear doors). In addition the doors will be filled with three layers of noise blocking and anti vibration material (ZN FINISH and STP GOLD). I am concerned with the output of the stock Composition Media stereo (4x20w). Could you please give me an advice if the stereo's output will be appropriate in comparison with the speakers' output? Shall I rather go for lower Focal series as the factory stereo will not be able to utilize full 165F's potential? Or shall I rather buy aftermarket DSP/amp in order to match the speakers' level? My goal is just to have crispier sound at normal level of sound volume hence I believe that don't need high power output. I prefer to listen liquid drum and bass and house music. Many thanks and regards, Pavol

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/26/2015 3:19:42 PM

    Pavol, Almost all car audio systems benefit by the addition of an amplifier in musical clarity, energy, and loudness. While your sound will improve with the installation of those speakers alone, it will improve even more if you drive each of them with 50 to 75 watts RMS.

  • Jazzy Blue from PHILADELPHIA

    Posted on 7/5/2015 2:10:28 PM

    I have a 2014 Chrysler 300 w Beats audio...I love the sound at high volume but need a way to improve sound at lower volume. Will sound processor fix this problem and increase factory bass?

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/7/2015 11:48:49 AM

    Jazzy, The sound quality of almost any system will benefit from the addition of a sound processor. From your description, it sounds like your premium system changes tone as the volume changes. A processor like JL Audio's CleanSweep compensates for this effect, resulting in a flat signal that you can EQ to your own taste. Almost any processor will allow you to set the tone the way you like at the volume you like.

  • ct from San Diego

    Posted on 10/28/2015 6:34:41 PM

    I have a Pioneer deh-80prs hu. Would it benefit if run through a digital sound processor?

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 10/29/2015 10:11:53 AM

    CT, That receiver has all the digital sound processing you'll probably ever need right onboard, so any additional processor would be unnecessary. The DEH-80PRS' features include time alignment, 16-band equalization, and 3-way crossovers for active systems.

  • David from Nottingham

    Posted on 11/7/2015 5:49:46 AM

    I'm looking to do a boot build in my Mk4 golf r32, and keeping the standard stereo. Just stumbled across these and thinking they could be a very good idea to get the most out of my (future) system. Any recommendations? (complete novice at this)

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 11/9/2015 3:47:40 PM

    David, I think any of the processors mentioned in this article might work for you, but not knowing anything about your vehicle (it's not available in the US) nor what processors are available in your country, I can't say for sure which would work best. For a novice, I'd recommend going to a local car audio shop and ask for their opinions and recommendations.

  • Brent from Petawawa

    Posted on 1/9/2016 10:30:08 PM

    I got a 2015 kia forte sx model so far with factory HU, kicker cs 6.5 componts up front, 6x9 alpine spr69 rear+ pdxf4 and two 10" alpine type r + mrx MRX-M110 and soon to replace the factory with INE-W960 is it worth investing in to a sound processor two ?

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 1/11/2016 1:39:57 PM

    Brent, Alpine's INE-W960 navigation receiver includes 9-band equalization and time correction, so you may not ever need an additional signal processor in order to get excellent sound. But if you're unhappy with the sound available, adding a digital signal processor to your system should enable you to attain the sound you want.

  • David Strum from Hopewell

    Posted on 4/5/2016 7:13:29 AM

    Hello. I have a 2013 Honda Accord Sport. Factory 180w stereo. I installed Polk Audio Db6501 components in the doors, factory rear speakers, and I had a Pioneer GM D8601 amp powering 2 10" JL Audio W3s installed. I was thinking of adding a DSP and possibly an amp to power the Polk's. What would be a good DSP option? Also, when I turn my ignition off, a tone cones through my subs like a single bump. Will a DSP remediate this issue? Thanks in advance.

  • Chris Stevenson from Frisco

    Posted on 4/5/2016 1:09:38 PM

    I have a 2011 Yukon Denali with Bose premium system. I have upgraded and bypassed the Bose amp using Audiocontrol L6ci LOC Currently running kicker ix1000.5,( about to upgrade to Arc Audio 1200.6 amp ) Would something like an Audison Bit One or BIt Ten, or other like brand be an upgrade over the Audiocontrol L6ci and help better the SQ of my system and function as a LOC? Speakers in my system listed below- open to upgrades: 6.5" dsk hertz components in front, 6.5" RF Punch 3-ways in rear JL 12" 3v3 4ohm sub in rear- (sub is in small ( built to spec) sealed box. )

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 4/6/2016 3:02:42 PM

    David and Chris, I've forwarded your questions to Crutchfield's Sales Advisor Team, and a member will get in touch with you by email to offer suggestions and help you choose the right DSP for you and your vehicle. For immediate help, you can contact them via phone or chat - just click on the phone icon at the very top of this page.

  • Lee

    Posted on 4/23/2016 2:14:58 PM

    I have a 2015 Ford Edge Sport with premium sony sound. I installed sub and a amp and used a stinger LOC on the factory sub, when i start the car the subs hum 4 or 5 times with the door closed but with the door open it doesnt do it. I also have motor noise coming from the subs. Ive got a good short ground, cant figure it out please help!

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 4/25/2016 12:42:40 PM

    Lee, Most of the time, interference and noises that change pitch with the engine's RPMs are caused by loose or inadequate ground connections. If you bought any of your gear from Crutchfield, you could call Tech Support for free help troubleshooting your system. Their toll-free number would be on your invoice. If you purchased your equipment elsewhere, you can still get expert Crutchfield Tech Support - 90 days-worth for only $30. Click on this link for details.

  • Gregory from Inkster

    Posted on 5/6/2016 11:46:12 PM

    I have a 2007 Chrysler aspen with navigation system, rear dvd player, all the bells and whistles controlled by the radio. I have a nagging volume limiter that constantly kills my sound when I'm driving. It never stays up at a satisfactory level unless its nighttime. Will a sound processor help me sir. I have an alpine factory system in my truck. It seems like every radio tech here in Michigan seems to think that there is nothing I can do about it unless I swap out the entire system compromising all my controls. I cannot do that, will you please help me with some honest advice. I would greatly appreciate it. The sound processor thing seems logical. I wander why no one has advised me to try that.

  • Steve from Chandler, AZ

    Posted on 5/8/2016 8:33:59 PM

    I have a 2016 Tacoma double cab with the JBL system. I think it sounds muddy and bass heavy. It does have a sub and a reasonably powerful amp. I'd like to clean up the factory signal and increase the amount of equalization. Can I run some type of DSP or FSP that would give me a good signal but still allow me to use the factory amp / speakers? Then I could decide what speakers need to be replaced, if any, or what I need to add for amps. Or are there any amplified DSP's?

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/9/2016 11:24:58 AM

    Gregory, There are a few digital signal processors that can solve your problems. For example, JL Audio's FiX 82 processor automatically removes all factory processing leaving you with a flat, coherent signal for your aftermarket amps to work with. An AudioControl DQ-61 can take your factory signals, combine them, and let you add you own EQ and time alignment for your amplifiers to then pass along to your speakers. I've forwarded your questions to Crutchfield's Sales Advisor Team, and a member will get in touch with you by email to offer suggestions and help you choose the right gear for you and your vehicle. For immediate help, you can contact them via phone or chat - just click on the phone icon at the very top of this page.

  • Mike Offre from Boston

    Posted on 5/11/2016 11:54:12 AM

    Hello. I currently have a 1999 Lexus ES300 with the Pioneer factory stereo/amp/speaker/tweeter/sub setup. I plan to switch the stereo/amp to the Nakamichi ones and replace the OEM speaker/tweeter/sub with a Polk Audio set. I purpose want to keep the OEM head unit for the tape/cd to explain why I'm going that route. I'm wondering how I can incorporate a factory sound processor into that mix to add "oomph" to the Nakamichi stereo/amp?

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/13/2016 4:36:46 PM

    Mike, To get great sound while keeping a factory system, you can use a sound processor that has speaker-level inputs, like Rockford Fosgate's 3Sixty.3 digital signal processor.

  • Jay from Los Angeles

    Posted on 5/20/2016 1:47:06 PM

    I have a 2006 Lexus IS250. I only have a 3 band EQ (Bass Mid Treble). I have a 500W kicker mono amp with 2 Dual 12 inch subs. Do you think a processor will give me deeper clean bass to my subs for them to hit harder with my factory stereo or should I go along with a in trunk EQ for stronger deeper harder hitting bass?

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/23/2016 11:10:16 AM

    Jay, Almost any processor or equalizer can be used to improve the bass in a system. Maybe you should consider an AudioControl Epicenter. This processor restores and creates bass signals specifically for improved bass response.

  • Dave from Dayton

    Posted on 5/31/2016 11:54:32 AM

    I have a 2015 Honda Accord Sedan, 7-speaker system. I'd like to make audio system changes in steps. The first step I'd like to take is to add a DSP and disable the ANC. I'm hoping that this will make an improvement on it's own, but am concerned about the OEM amp un-doing some of the good that the DSP does to the signal. Will I need to replace the OEM 5-channel amp to see the benefit ?

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/3/2016 10:14:08 AM

    Dave, Your vehicle is a particularly difficult one in which to upgrade the sound. One way would be to connect a DSP with speaker-level inputs and signal-summing, along with an aftermarket amplifier, that takes its inputs from the factory amp's outputs or right at the speaker connections. A great product for you to check out is Helix's P SIX DSP MK2, a powerful digital signal processor with a built-in six-channel amp. I don't know exactly what to do about the automatic noise control (ANC) in the factory system. Perhaps you could find out how to disable it in a Honda owners forum.

  • Brentton from Cheyenne

    Posted on 6/14/2016 5:07:46 PM

    Outside of the Rainbow DSP 1.8, are there and DSP options controllable and tunable directly from and iPad? Or Mac?

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/15/2016 1:10:47 PM

    Brentton, Check out AudioControl's DM-608, which has all its controls and adjustments accessible via PC, Android, or iOS device.

  • Jim from San Diego

    Posted on 6/24/2016 12:26:33 PM

    I drive a 2016 Honda Civic EX with a total of 8 factory speakers (4-6.5" and 4-tweeters). Sounds like a big bag of trash. In order to keep the HU and it's functions, I'm thinking of replacing the speakers (except for the rear tweets, probably just disconnect those) and adding the Alpine F300 to power them. I'm fairly certain that the HU is still going to hamper my sound upon completion. Do you agree and if so, which FSP would you recommend for me?

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/24/2016 3:28:10 PM

    Jim, I'm not sure the Honda receiver is as bad as you think, but you can remove all of the factory sound processing automatically with a JL Audio FiX 86 DSP.

  • Mohamed from Tehran

    Posted on 9/5/2016 9:41:51 AM

    Hi, Do i need any DSP while i have Sony RSX-GS9 Headunit? Not for controlling the EQ or HPF or ... . Im thinking about the harmonic distortion and playing High Res. music files while im connecting my Headunit to my BRAX GRAPHIC GX2400 and BRAX 3 way Component Speakers with no phase Plug. And here is my biggest question, does these DSPies convert any low quality 16bit music files to 24bit or higher?

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/6/2016 12:05:39 PM

    Mohamed, That receiver has so many tuning features, I doubt you'll need a separate DSP. Adding a DSP to a system will never improve its level of distortion. I think the Helix DSP Pro upconverts its input signal to 64-bit resolution and 96 KHz sampling rate.

  • Luke Ponte from Wasilla

    Posted on 9/8/2016 3:07:14 PM

    Hello, I have a 2015 Chevy Silverado 1500, has the 8" display, no Bose system. I have added Rockford Fosgate 10" subwoofer (T1S1-10), Rockford Fosgate amplifier (T500 - 1bdCP) In all four doors (T1650), and four PM100X1. What would be a good matching processor for this setup. Thank you

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/9/2016 10:42:34 AM

    Luke, It sounds like Rockford Fosgate's 3Sixty.3 digital signal processor will be a good match for you and your system.

  • Michael from Houston

    Posted on 11/19/2016 10:53:32 PM

    I have a Kenwood Excelon DPX59BT in a 2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee. The HU is currently feeding a Kenwood Excelon X801.5 for a set of Focal Integration ISS 690's in the front and a set of Focal Integration ISC 165 for rearfill. Also, I have a set of JL Audio 8W1v3-4's in a custom sealed enclosure for the lows. Will I benefit using the Kenwood Front Row DSP?

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 11/21/2016 11:11:37 AM

    Michael, If you want to add time-alignment, bass-enhancement, and surround sound simulation to your system, a Front Row processor by Kicker (not Kenwood) may be just what you want.

  • BDWW from Milwaukee

    Posted on 12/2/2016 4:23:11 PM

    Seeking the best sound processor for a 2005 Jaguar XJ8 L...Thanks!

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 12/5/2016 9:30:34 AM

    BD, Check out Helix's P SIX DSP MK2. Not only will it enable you to tune every parameter of sound to perfection via PC, it also includes a 6-channel amplifier so you can experience the power of your music as well.

  • Brian McCaffrey from Bethel, CT

    Posted on 1/19/2017 9:18:24 PM

    Hey Buck. I have a 2013 Nissan Rogue with the "premium" sound system. The sound lacks any punch and everything seems to come out of the speaker in the center dash. Not happy with the imaging at all. I was very upset to learn that with this system trading out amps and/or speakers can be very problematic. I have now decided that I would like to get a new amp(s), component front speakers, rear speakers and a new powered subwoofer. So everything but the head unit. My question is simply this, can I expect to get high quality sound with the use of some sort of sound processor to go along with everything else I am getting or will it be hit or miss?? And if yes, what should I get? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 1/20/2017 10:43:21 AM

    Brian, I've forwarded your questions to Crutchfield's Sales Advisor Team, and a member will get in touch with you by email to offer suggestions and help you choose the right gear for you and your vehicle. For immediate help, you can contact them via phone or chat - just click on the phone icon at the very top of this page.

  • Bill from Florida

    Posted on 2/2/2017 8:05:44 PM

    I have a 2017 Hyundai Sonata Sport and am keeping the stock HU (mine plays .flac files-thank you Hyundai!) and am thinking of using an AudioControl DQ-61, with either a Pioneer PDX-V9 amp or JL Audio RD900/5 amp. I own Focal ISS-165 components (tweeters will go in stock location, dash firing at windshield) and mid-woofers in the doors, knee level; Focal ISC coax in rear stock locations and a JL Audio CS112RG-W3v3 Subwoofer. 1) Since the mids and tweets are not near each other as is recommended, is there anything I can do with the DQ-61 or another processor, to digitally close the gap between the mids and tweets? 2) The processor and either amp accommodated a remote knob - do I need both or just one - which one? 3) I am concerned about the AccuBASS circuitry of the DQ-61 sounding artificial. Is that possible? I appreciate any advice you can give. Thanks!

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 2/3/2017 4:24:30 PM

    Bill, I don't think there's any signal processing that can focus a musical image spread apart by the distance between tweeter and woofer. The remote knob that comes with the DQ-61 does more than just control the volume of bass - it's also used to make time adjustments. And if you don't like what the AccuBass circuit sounds like, don't use it.

  • Daniel Winebarger from Hoschton

    Posted on 4/2/2017 11:59:29 PM

    I have a general question about these DSP's... Once a factory stereo limits or cuts out certain frequencies, how are those frequencies restored, and are they actually fully restored? It seems to me that once they are limited and the sound is sent out in edited form they would be gone and lost for good. Can you further explain? I'm interested in upgrading my 2017 Honda CR-V in this manner, but I truely want full-range original sound and to make sure that is what I'd be getting with this purchase. Also specific product recommendations would be welcomed. I'll be running the signal from my factory touchscreen stereo, through the DSP, into an Infinity Kappa5 amplifier, pushing 4- Infinity Kappa 6.5's and 2- 10" Kicker CVT's. Thanks in advance

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 4/3/2017 9:34:54 AM

    Daniel, I know it wasn't talked about much in the article - dealing with factory tuning. A great way to get a flat, clean signal from a factory system is with a JL Audio FiX 86 processor and DRC-200 remote. You'll set your radio's volume at ¾ full and then control volume with the remote. The FiX processing automatically sums, EQs, and aligns the factory signals to a unified, flat stereo mix. Then you take the outputs of the Fix and apply your own customized DSP tuning and amplification.

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