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1999-2005 BMW 3 Series sedan

1999 • 2000 • 2001 • 2002 • 2003 • 2004 • 2005

1999-2006 BMW 3 series sedan

In a nutshell: This article is an overview of your BMW's audio system and its upgrade options. Use our vehicle selector to find the gear that will fit your 3 Series. 

Overview of the BMW 3 Series sedan

The BMW 3 Series has changed a lot over the years, but it's never lost that certain something that makes it, for many, the finest sports/luxury car in the world. That's why almost any car magazine's annual "top ten" or "best of" list almost automatically includes a 3 Series. It's kind of become a cliché, but hey, the car really is that good. A lot of manufacturers have tried to imitate and improve upon the 3's all-around excellence, but few have succeeded for long.

The fourth generation 3, known internally and to serious BMW fans as the E46, was, like its forebears, a wonderful combination of comfort, power, and driving feel. In sedan form, it's totally capable of hauling the family, but it's also happy to haul something else when Mom or Dad finds a curvy stretch of road. The styling, a somewhat controversial subject back in the day, has aged remarkably well, and the interior remains a comfortable, well-designed workplace for serious drivers and their lucky passengers.

BMW 3 Series radio

The 3's base radio was somewhat pedestrian (Crutchfield Research Photo)

Factory stereo system

As wonderful as the driving experience might be in a 3 Series sedan, the audio experience was less enthralling. We've seen the stock systems described as "muffled," which is not exactly what you want in a stereo. Muffled or not, the receiver and speakers are still aging rapidly, so if you're serious about sound, you'll want to replace them.

The standard factory system consisted of a BMW-branded AM/FM/CD receiver (or cassette, in early models) and ten speakers. The optional 12-speaker Harman Kardon system used the same radio, but added better speakers and a subwoofer. A trunk-mounted CD changer was another audio option.

A trunk-mounted CD (later DVD)-based navigation system was also available on the 3 Series, and the route information was displayed on a variety of receivers with ever-larger screens over the years.

BMW 3 Series nav receiver

Replacing the factory nav unit is not a job for the average DIY-er (Crutchfield Research Photo)

Replacing your factory radio

You’ll face different installation scenarios, depending on which factory system you have. The standard radio is no big deal. The Harman Kardon system adds a little twist. The navigation system is a deal breaker. We’ll discuss all three situations below, but the best solution for these systems is a complete system overhaul — replacing the receiver, factory amp(s) and speakers. If speaker-only replacement is your best option, look for aftermarket speakers with an impedance equal to or greater than that of the factory speakers.

If you have questions, give us a call and let our expert advisors help you find the gear you need. After the sale, you'll have access to our Tech Support team for the lifetime of your gear.

Standard stereo system

Replacing your car's standard "BMW Business" receiver with a single-DIN (2" tall) receiver is a bit of a challenge, but it's thoroughly within the capabilities of most DIY-oriented car owners. There's a bit of trimming and adjusting to be done, but other than that, this is a straightforward project.

Installing a receiver with a fold-down face might seem like a good idea, but the screen will block the center dash vents, so we don't recommend it. The good news is that iDrive had yet to trickle down to the 3 Series, so upgrading the factory audio system is much easier than it is on later models. So let’s get to it...

Using a panel tool, pry off the plastic trim above the glove box. Then, pry off the trim strip above the radio. You'll want to work carefully, because you don't want to damage these plastic panels. With the panels out of the way, you'll need to remove the two Phillips screws securing the factory radio. Pull it out, disconnect it, and remove it.

BMW 3 series dash kit single-DIN

You'll need this dash kit to install a new receiver in your BMW

Remove the DIN sleeve and trim ring from your new receiver, then use a utility knife to trim off the three tabs located on the top of the receiver mounting kit. You'll want to test fit the receiver by sliding the DIN sleeve, then the receiver, into the dash. Check the mounting kit on the face of the receiver to make sure it's flush. If the receiver sits too deep into the dash, your installation kit (deeply discounted with your Crutchfield stereo purchase) includes a spacer ring that can be placed behind the sleeve to space the receiver outward.

From there, connect the receiver wiring adapter (also deeply discounted) to the receiver’s wires following the included instructions. Slide the DIN sleeve (using the spacer ring if needed) into the dash. Secure the sleeve by bending the securing tabs. Hold the receiver near the dash, connect the receiver wiring adapter to the factory harness and plug in the antenna lead, using the antenna adapter. Slide the receiver all the way into the sleeve, then install the mounting kit trim plate and secure it to the dash using the screws you previously removed.

Harman Kardon system

When you replace the radio in a Harman Kardon-equipped car, you’ll also need a special adapter called a line output converter. That's because the factory amplifier requires a low-level signal from the new radio.

As we've already hinted, when you purchase your new stereo from Crutchfield, we’ll make sure you get all of the installation gear you need (mounting kit, wiring harness, antenna adapter, AND this line output converter) and give you a deep discount on them.

Stereo with factory navigation system

Replacing the navigation system’s radio is not something to undertake lightly. It requires extensive modification. You’ll have to fabricate a custom mounting kit – there aren’t any ready-made aftermarket kits available. You’ll also have to extend the wires from the wiring harness all the way to the trunk where the car’s tuner/amp module is located. That means running those new wires all the way through the length of the car.

This is not a job for the average do-it-yourselfer and we don't recommend trying it. That said, if you HAVE tried it already, feel free to share your trials, tribulations, and successes in the comments below. We'd love to hear from you, and we're sure your fellow owners will, too.

Tools needed: Phillips screwdriver, panel tool, small flat blade screwdriver, utility knife

Shop for car stereos that fit your BMW 3 Series

Steering wheel audio controls

It's relatively easy to retain your BMW's steering wheel audio controls when you install a new stereo. When you enter your vehicle information, our database will choose the adapter you need to make your factory steering wheel controls work with your new receiver.

BMW 3-series sedan front door

The 3's front doors are reasonably easy to work with (Crutchfield Research Photo)

Replacing your factory speakers

The 3 Series sedan has speakers in the front doors, rear doors, and rear deck. The Harman Kardon system adds a couple of small woofers on the underside of the rear deck.

Front door speakers

The front door speaker array consists of woofers at the bottom of the door, mid-range speakers in (fittingly) the middle of the door panels, and 1-1/2" tweeters in the sail panels. The crossover points for the system are not known (by us, anyway) at this time. If you know, please share your knowledge in the Comments section below!

The woofer can be replaced with 5-1/4" or 6-1/2" speakers with the help of mounting brackets that are included with your Crutchfield speaker purchase. The 2-1/2" mid-range speakers are mounted in the grille, which is attached to the door panel itself. Same-size replacements are not available, but smaller speakers can be secured in this space with the help of a universal backstrap. A wiring harness is not available for this location, so you'll have to splice, solder, or (better, easier idea) use a set of Posi-Products speaker connectors.

Getting to the woofer and the mid involves removing the door panel. This is relatively light duty, requiring little more than some panel and Torx screw removal. There is a bit of a difference between the two doors, though, since the power mirror switch assembly is located on the driver's side. The passenger's side has a blank panel in that space. Both can be removed with a panel tool.

Detailed, illustrated instructions for this disassembly process can be found in the Crutchfield MasterSheet that's included free with your stereo or speaker purchase. The key element here is to work carefully and patiently when removing the plastic door panels.

BMW 3 series door tweeter

You'll need an aftermarket bracket to install new tweeters (Crutchfield Research Photo)

Tweeters

To remove the tweeters, you'll start by removing two retaining clips from the trim on the front edge of the door. Pull that edge trim out just enough to access the tweeter; then remove the Torx T30 screw that secures the tweeter/bracket assembly. Pull the tweeter out and cut the wires close to the terminal. Obviously, having done that, you'll need some more Posi-Products to connect the new tweeter to the factory wiring. You'll also need a universal backstrap to secure the tweeter in place behind the sail panel.

Tools needed: Phillips screwdriver, small flat blade screwdriver, panel tool, Torx T30 driver, Torx T20 driver

BMW 3 series rear door speaker

The rear door speakers are mounted in the door panel (Crutchfield Research Photo)

Rear door speakers

With the low-end duties handled by the rear deck speakers (see below), BMW installed 2-1/2" component tweeters in the rear doors. They're easy to reach, but same-size replacements are not available and neither is a wiring harness.

These speakers are mounted in the door panel, so you'll need to remove the panel to replace them. As with the front doors, there's nothing terribly complicated going on here. Your Crutchfield MasterSheet will walk you through each step in the process.

Your best bet here is to replace these and the rear deck speakers (see below) with a set of aftermarket component speakers. To install a slightly smaller component tweeter in this spot, you'll need a universal backstrap and Posi-Products connectors.

Tools needed: Panel tool, Torx T20 driver, small flat blade screwdriver

BMW 3 series rear deck speaker

The Harman Kardon system includes rear deck speakers (Crutchfield Research Photo)

Rear deck speakers

The two rear deck speakers are 6-3/4" component models can be replaced with a variety of aftermarket speakers. Speaker mounting brackets are included free, if needed.

These top-mount speakers are quite easy to reach and replace, but there is a bit of drilling involved. Start by prying up the rear speaker grille, then remove the foam ring around the speaker. Remove the three 8mm screws securing the speaker, then disconnect it and set it aside. Place your new speaker in that spot and use it as a template for marking where you'll be drilling the new mounting holes. Remove the speaker and use a 1/8" bit to drill the holes. Use Posi-Products connectors to join the new speaker to the factory wiring, then secure it with the screws supplied. Test it out, make sure it works, then replace the grilles.

Drilling a few holes isn't tough, but you are drilling holes into your BMW, so be careful, wear eye protection, and pay attention to wiring, fuel lines and safety devices. Check your drilling depth and location to avoid damaging your car. Also, the "screws supplied" line used above isn’t always true. Check the box to make sure they're there before you start working.

Tools needed: Panel tool, 8mm socket, ratchet, and extension, drill and 1/8" bit

Shop for speakers that fit your BMW 3 Series

BMW 3 series factory sub

The Harman Kardon system also includes a deck-mounted subwoofer assembly (Crutchfield Research Photo)

Bass in your 3 Series

The Harman Kardon system adds two 6"x9" subwoofers in a plastic enclosure mounted to the underside of the rear deck between the speakers. To replace them, you'll first need to remove the enclosure from the trunk. To do so, you'll remove four 8mm screws from the bottom of the enclosure; then pry down at the rear of the enclosure to release two plastic retaining clips. Pull the enclosure out and disconnect the amp harness to remove. Once that's out of the car, you'll remove four Torx T20 screws from each speaker.

You can replace these subs, which are powered by a sub amp behind the driver's side trunk trim, with a variety of same-size, 5-1/4" or 6-1/2" subs. A speaker adapter bracket is required for the smaller models, and it's included free with your speaker purchase. Though the enclosure is rather thin, the cavities in the deck will hold a good sized magnet, so you can choose from a good selection of subs.

If that's not quite enough bass for you, or your car wasn't equipped with factory subs, you have a variety of options for adding bass. If you're thinking about a component subwoofers in a box, your available space is 30"W x 17"H x 29"/36" D. It's not a vast space, but that's plenty of room for some serious bass power.

For those who need their car's trunk to haul more than car audio equipment, a powered sub will provide plenty of thump while still leaving room for real-world concerns like groceries and luggage.

Tools needed: Panel tool, 8mm socket, ratchet, and extension, Torx T-20 driver

Shop for vehicle-specific subwoofers for your BMW 3 Series

BMW 3 series trunk

There's room for a small subwoofer back here (Crutchfield Research Photo)

Other options for your 3 Series

There are plenty of other ways to improve your 3 Series sedan. Here are some of the ways Crutchfield can help:

Amplifier

Adding an aftermarket amplifier will really help you get the most out of your new speakers. The 3-Series isn't short on cargo space, but if you still use it for family duties, a compact Class D amp would be the best choice.

Dynamat

If you like your music as pure as your driving experience, hearing more stereo and less road noise is a good start. The Dynamat Xtreme Door Kit is the perfect way to seal in sound. This heavy-duty insulating material is easy to install, and it really makes a difference.

Security

Installing a security system in your BMW isn't easy (security systems rarely are), but it's less complicated than it could be. Our Crutchfield Advisors can help figure out what you need to get the job done, but we usually recommend taking your car (and your new gear) to a professional installer.

Shop for car security systems for your BMW 3 Series

Building your system

The BMW 3 Series sedan is a car that, depending on the project, can be either easy, hard, or almost impossible for the DIY car audio enthusiast.

In the case of nav-equipped cars, the amount of work and expense involved in replacing that receiver makes it a daunting task for many owners. Replacing it with a brand-new touchscreen receiver takes a lot of time, skill, and money. Replacing it with a used or NOS (new old stock) factory model is usually cheaper, but "caveat emptor." Besides, at this point, the "nav" portion of the receiver's functionality can be easily surpassed by almost any portable GPS and most smartphones.

On the flip side of that are cars equipped with the standard radio. Replacement is obviously a lot easier with these cars, but some owners don't want to disturb the smooth factory look of the dash by installing a new receiver.

In both cases, you can make your 3 Series sound a whole lot better without replacing the stock receiver. A new amplifier, new speakers, and a subwoofer can make a huge difference in sound quality, even if the factory receiver is still in place. If you rely on digital sources for your music, there are adapters that will plug into your receiver and let you enjoy music from your smartphone or MP3 player. Satellite radio fans can install compact tuners to gain access to great SiriusXM® programming.

In other words, there are a lot of ways to make your 3 Series sound as good as it drives. Visit our Car Showroom to see what one Crutchfield employee did to improve the sound in his E46 sedan.

Find the audio gear that fits your car or truck

Visit our Outfit My Car page and enter your vehicle information to see stereos, speakers, subs, and other audio accessories that will work in your vehicle.

  • Jon P. from Crutchfield

    Posted on 10/24/2018

    CJ, The new receiver will (almost always) have a clock of its own, and you can adjust that using the receiver menu. The clock in the instrument cluster can be set independently.

  • CJ from Columbus

    Posted on 10/22/2018

    What about the clock that is tied to the stereo receiver? Will it always say enter time once I switch to aftermarket?

  • Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 4/30/2018

    Efe, Factory-to-factory swaps like that really aren't in our wheelhouse. You might find some helpful info on a BMW owners forum, though. Good luck!

  • efe

    Posted on 4/29/2018

    How easy is a straight swap of speakers from 2003 325ci (Harman Kardon system) to 2002 325i (standard). I don't intend to made any additional purchases.

  • Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 11/14/2017

    Ryan, With questions like that, 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.

  • Ryan from Rohnert Park

    Posted on 11/13/2017

    In sourcing a 4 channel amp what input capabilities are necessary in order for the amp to be compatible with the factory heady unit? Would you mind listing a few 4 channel amp options for the e46?

  • Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/30/2017

    Paul, Unfortunately, that won't work without a ridiculous amount of customization.

  • Paul from Parrish

    Posted on 5/26/2017

    Is there any options to utilize the factory volume buttons with an aftermarket radio?

  • Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 12/12/2016

    Steven, We have some that'll work. When you enter your vehicle's info into our Outfit My Car tool, you'll see the sub speakers (and other gear) that will fit your BMW. If you have any questions, our advisors are available via phone or chat.

  • STEVEN RAY from VALLEJO

    Posted on 12/9/2016

    HI, i cant seem to find replacement sub speakers that would fit in the back deck, i just want loud and clear sound what do i need. i replaced the deck with an alpine but it just doesnt seem to do it for me any help there?

  • David from Duffield

    Posted on 9/24/2016

    I had replaced my bmw navigation system with a double din receiver. There is a dash kit from metra that was recently released. The part number for the dash kit is 95-9311B. You'll only use the radio housing part of the kit if you have the 323ci. You will find the amplifier by pulling back the trunk liner, It's located to the left side, held in with bolts. The antenna plug and GPS plug are on the side. Once you release the turbo plug and the antenna/GPS plugs, you'll extend the wires from the turbo plug to the stereo. I just used 16GA speaker wire. I used the navigation bracket for the turbo plug ground. Once you have ran your wires to your radio, you'll need to extent the antenna plug too! "The antenna will have poor reception since it's not powered!" I have also found that there's no way to cut the plugs behind the existing radio to make the speakers work. I simply ran all new wires to all the speakers. FYI, the speakers are CRAP. But I am attempting to blow them before I buy new ones. You can get the tweeters to work too if you just run new wires from the speaker to the tweeter. I would still suggest that you just replace the speakers with a good set of component kickers. A few tips-make sure that you run the wires away from the convertible top mechanism or your wires will end up pinched and have a short, BAD MISTAKE, I did fix it and rerun the wiring. Tip 2- since the battery and wiring is in the back, I would also suggest installing a sub.

  • Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 1/4/2016

    Nate, The impedance issues make speaker replacement kind of tricky in these cars. The best solution for these systems is a complete system overhaul - replacing the receiver, factory amp(s) and speakers. For speaker-only replacement, look for aftermarket speakers that are equal to or greater than the impedance of the factory speakers.

  • Nate Allen from greenbelt

    Posted on 1/3/2016

    How do you handle the 2 ohm vs 8 ohm issue with BMW car speaker systems?


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