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Upgrade your car's sound

...without replacing the factory stereo

In the 1950's, I'd take the family television's vacuum tubes down to Willow Grove Radio and TV Repair, check them with the giant tester machine, buy new replacement tubes, and reassemble the repaired television, so my mom and dad could enjoy their precious, respectively, Dean Martin and Red Skelton shows. In the 1960's, I studied radio and electronics at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. After college, in the early 70's, I joined a rock 'n roll band as the soundman, learning how to operate the electronics that make music sound good. Then, I worked in a music store in Austin manufacturing, installing, repairing, and operating sound systems and components for recording studios, nightclubs, and touring bands. I moved back to Charlottesville permanently in 1984 and opened a little demo recording studio. I also attempted to put to practical use the creative writing degree I had picked up along the way. In 2006, I finally came to my senses and got this job at Crutchfield where they actually pay me to ramble on, rant, and explain the things I love about music, electronics, and getting good sound.

More from Buck Pomerantz

Kia Soul dash

Sometimes, you just have to leave the factory stereo in place.

Factory stereo systems leave a lot to be desired. They’re often programmed with equalization (EQ) curves that compensate for the system’s lack of power by reducing the level of the bass, for instance. And because the speakers are all located at different distances from you, the sound arrives at your ears at different times, making your music sound a little muddy. Often, the best solution is to replace the factory stereo, but the dash designs of some vehicles can make that option difficult, or less than desirable.

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 two 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.

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.


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.

Soundgate%20subwoofer

Kicker VSS Powerstage subwoofer for the 2012 Mustang

Of course, there's a subwoofer with it

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.

Powerstage%20subwoofer%20installed%20in%20the%20Mustang

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.


This is just one way 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.

  • Angel C. Reyes from Saipan, MP

    Posted on 7/26/2015

    I have a 2014 Honda Civic EX with factory stereo and I want to add a powered subwoofer. What do I need to make a complete install? Thanks In Advance...

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/27/2015

    Angel, Make sure that the powered sub you pick has speaker-level inputs. That way, you can tap off the rear deck full-range speaker wiring to get the sub's input signal. This will require two 2-conductor speaker wires long enough to stretch from the rear deck speakers to wherever you mount your sub. 18- or 16-gauge wire will work. You'll also need an amplifier wiring kit containing power and ground wires plus the proper fuse. The size kit you'll need depends on which powered sub you pick. Just give us a call at the toll-free number or go to chat and we'll set you up with everything you need.

  • Aldrin from Clarksville

    Posted on 7/29/2015

    I have a 1981 Toyota pickup with the original push knob. Not even a cassette. I would like to upgrade my 3 1/2" factory original speakers without having to cut out for bigger speakers. I'd like to keep this truck original as much as as possible. I would also like to find a device compatible with the original radio to improve sound and volume output to the new speakers. I am having a difficult time trying to find what I want that actually fits (plug and play) my application

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/30/2015

    Aldrin, If you visit our vehicle selector, you can enter your vehicle information and quickly find out what speakers fit your truck. I've forwarded your question 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 speakers for you and your vehicle. For immediate help, you can contact them via phone or chat.

  • Timothy Whittall from United States

    Posted on 8/15/2015

    Good advice

  • Cody from United States

    Posted on 8/16/2015

    Hi, I recently bought new kicker speakers for my 07 (new body style) chevy silverado, from you guys and was wondering if the kicker VSS powerstage was compatible for my factory stereo unit. thanks,

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/17/2015

    Cody, Crutchfield carries two Powerstage systems, one of which may fit your vehicle: the one for a crew cab and the one for an extended cab.

  • Charles Barrington from Mooringsport, LA

    Posted on 9/3/2015

    I have a 2002 Chevy Silverado with the factory am-fm CD player. It also has a factory cassette player as the aux input. In 2003 I had it upgraded with subs, replaced the factory speakers and amps for both with an EQ that is fed from a reducer of some sort that is wired into the front speaker outputs. I understand that an aftermarket head unit would be superior for sound but I didn't want that look. Now I am using a fm modulator to utilize my IPhone 5S as a music and podcast player and am very disappointed I the sound quality and static. Especially at night. What are my options to improve sound quality but retain my factory head unit?

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/3/2015

    Charles, you've already done pretty much everything you can to improve the audio side of things. Your FM modulator is your weakest link. You need to upgrade the source input. That might mean finding a new stereo that you're comfortable with. On the other hand, if your factory stereo has an "AUX" button, then you can add an external iPhone adapter, which should indeed improve the audio quality. I've sent your message to our advisors. One of them will be in touch via email soon. But if you don't want to wait, just give us a call!

  • Gary Bolanos from New Brunswick

    Posted on 9/17/2015

    I have a 2004 acura tl. I want to make my speakers louder because the volume of my stock stereo only goes to 40. My friend said there's an adapter to do that. Just don't know which one it is.

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/18/2015

    Gary, What you're looking for is an amplifier, to boost the power going to your speakers. I've forwarded your question 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.

  • Andy from Corvallis

    Posted on 9/21/2015

    I have a 2013 Subaru Legacy and I used to have the Pioneer DEH-P7900bt that are actually died on me yesterday, so I have to go back to factory head unit. Right now, my setup is having the LOC converter to connect the factory deck to the subwoofer and I have Rockfords in fronts and pioneers for rears. With the setup right now (factory head unit), can I only straight add an EQ ? Thinking about buying Clarion EQS 746

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/21/2015

    Andy, That equalizer is designed to get connected inline between a receiver's RCA outputs and an amplifier's inputs. Without RCA outputs on your receiver nor any amplification mentioned, I see no way you can integrate that EQ into your present system.

  • Dax from POMONA

    Posted on 9/30/2015

    I replaced my 1999 Camry stereo head unit, few months later upgraded my speaker (no amp). After the installation, the stereo now requires me to crank up my volume higher. (from 14, to 30 volume level). I want to upgrade my 2014 Sienna stock speakers but I do want to keep the stereo as is. Will I have the same issue where I have to crank up the volume just to hear the sounds?

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/30/2015

    Dax, Most factory speakers have high sensitivity and low impedance so they will play loud with less amplification. Aftermarket speakers often require more power to sound as loud as the factory speakers did. This why many people put in amplifiers when they replace their speakers.

  • Anthony Espinoza from San Diego

    Posted on 11/12/2015

    I just purchased a 2016 Honda Accord and would like to know if there is anyway I can improve the sound quality in the vehicle without installing a new stereo

  • Ruben Moreno from Calexico, CA

    Posted on 1/12/2016

    Is there a VSS Powerstage System and custom powered subwoofer available for my 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo model? It comes with a stock radio and speakers. The sound right now is decent, but I know it can be improved.

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 1/12/2016

    Ruben, It appears that Kicker does not make a PowerStage upgrade system for your vehicle. Crutchfield does carry a JL Audio Stealthbox custom subwoofer for your Grand Cherokee, if you're interested in upgrading just the bass.

  • Jason from Medford, MA

    Posted on 3/22/2016

    Given the generally terrible quality of subaru stereos, and especially the WRX, I'm kind of shocked you don't have an upgrade guide right there for us poor slobs. Seems like a built in market right there. I want to keep my nifty multi-function display working, but i want a little more oomph and clarity out of my sound.

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 3/23/2016

    Jason, While there may not be a vehicle-specific solution available for improving the sound in your car, Crutchfield does offer a few digital signal processors that can hook up to the factory speaker wiring and produce high-fidelity signals for aftermarket amplifiers and speakers to play. For help deciding which would be best for you, contact us via phone or chat - just click on the phone icon at the very top of this page.

  • Darricgs400 from Rancho belago

    Posted on 4/3/2016

    Need a sub woofer for 2016 Honda civic ex

  • Jeremy from The District

    Posted on 4/24/2016

    I bought a 2016 Honda Civic Coupe LXP. I found little to no information regarding the speakers specs. The 5 inch media screen head produces 160 watts but the sound is muddy. Would swapping out factory speakers be a viable option to improve the sound clarity?

  • Glenn from Pearl River

    Posted on 7/22/2016

    Hello. I recently purchased a 2016 Toyota Camry SE and would like to upgrade my audio system with a subwoofer. However; I would like to keep my stock head unit. Is there a package or device that I can purchase that will permit this?

  • Frank from Jourdanton, Tx

    Posted on 7/23/2016

    I have a 2011 yukon with the bose system. It does not have a powered factory subwoofer. I like the bose sound, but needed more thump. I added a solo baric l7 15 with ma audio 2,000 watt mono amp. Its tapped into the rear pillar speaker via covertor for aux plugs. My problem is i couldnt get the sig to the amp so the sub wasnt hitting. Ive added a dub cross over and turned the gain up to get the signal. It hits pretty good with aux or cd. But if i try using the am/fm there is alot of static when the sub is trying to hit. What can i do to stop the signal interference when listening to the fm radio?

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/25/2016

    Glenn, You can use a Line Output Converter (LOC) to integrate a subwoofer amp into a factory system, tapping into the rear speaker wiring to convert the signal for the sub amp's input to handle. Even more convenient, many amplifiers have an LOC built in, and so can handle speaker-level inputs by themselves. All the Powered Subwoofers Crutchfield carries have this feature.

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/25/2016

    Frank, Without knowing how your converter connects to your factory system or what a dub crossover is and does, I can still say that if everything works well except the radio, then something about the radio's at fault. Maybe the antenna connection is loose. Check out our Noise Suppression Chart for detailed steps to take in order to eliminate noise in a system.

  • Karen from Magee

    Posted on 8/3/2016

    My in laws bought a new Kia Soul but didn't want the radio in it because it didn't have a CD player. Therefore they went down from the factory install. How can I find out what this one that came out has so I can sell it? All I know is it costs $1200.

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/4/2016

    Karen, You could contact the Kia dealership to find out what the OEM radio is and to get an idea of what the market for one would be. Although factory replacements are generally very expensive, their resale value is usually quite low.

  • Tom from Boise, ID

    Posted on 10/23/2016

    This doesn't address my main objection to the factory system, namely the lack of any way to get content into it. I have 2004 Chevy Silverado with the premium sound system (Bose speakers, etc). It has a radio and I can play CDs that I buy in the store--that's it. It won't play CD-R or CD-RW discs, no USB port, no earphone jack, no wireless, no nothing. It's useless. When I'm in this vehicle, I bring earbuds and listen to content on my phone. Third party systems like those from Crutchfield do have some of these features, but the user interface of the unit is terrible. Crutchfield, as nearly as I can tell, sells one unit with a variety of cosmetic differences. There isn't a single item in Crutchfield's catalog where power is turned on and off by pressing the volume knob like the factory unit does. People keep their vehicles a lot longer than they used to. Even vehicles that had state-of-the art systems when they were new become obsolete as they age. Does anyone retrofit factory systems with modern features?

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 10/24/2016

    Tom, 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 aftermarket receiver 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.

  • Larry from Medford

    Posted on 12/14/2016

    I have a 1992 civic VX with an acura integra GSR stock radio in it. I have a 4 speaker POLK audio setup (DB652 6.5 front/ DB522 5.25 rear) What can I do to improve my sound?

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 12/15/2016

    Larry, If you're unsatisfied with the sound after replacing the speakers, maybe upgrading the receiver will improve things. Give one of our Advisors a call, at 1-888-955-6000, for help getting the best sound in your vehicle.

  • Marty from Wylie

    Posted on 12/24/2016

    I have a 2011 Hyundai Tucsan that I have repaced the factory stealers with pioneers. I really like the factory stereo features. I want to boost the sound on it. A sub really isn't an option,just a better quality sound. Suggestions?

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 12/26/2016

    Marty, There are a lot of options for boosting the sound in your vehicle, from small power packs that can mount behind the dash to larger 4- or 5-channel amplifiers. Why don't you get in touch with a member of Crutchfield's Sales Advisor Team via phone or chat - just click on the phone icon at the very top of this page.

  • Darrell from Houston

    Posted on 1/4/2017

    What are my options for upgrading the speakers and adding a subwoofer without replacing the current head unit on a 2016 buick lacrosse?

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 1/5/2017

    Darrell, There are a lot of options for upgrading your factory sound system, from replacing speakers to adding a subwoofer. (Hint, get a subwoofer that can use factory speaker wiring for input.) Your best option is to get in touch with a member of Crutchfield's Sales Advisor Team via phone or chat, for help choosing the right gear - just click on the phone icon at the very top of this page for more information.

  • Bryan from Parrish

    Posted on 7/28/2017

    I have a 2017 Honda Accord lx and I would like to know what is needed to connect a 7-band parametric equalizer to the factory stereo. So far I have replaced all 4 factory speakers with two 40cs654 2-way Kicker speakers in the front and two Pioneer ts-a1676r 3-way on the rear deck. Does anyone have any insights???..greatly appreciated..

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/29/2017

    Bryan, To add aftermarket sound processing to a factory radio, you start by using its speaker-level, amplified outputs for the processor's inputs. Either your equalizer will have speaker-level inputs, or you will need to employ a line output converter (LOC) to lower the speaker-level signals down to line level, which the processor can handle. Then, the processor's outputs go to an amplifier to power the signals back up for the speakers to handle. You can accomplish the same thing with a single amplifier/DSP, like a AudioControl D-4.800. It features time-alignment, bass restoration, 30-band graphic EQs, as well as parametric equalization to go along with its 125 watts RMS per channel output.

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