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Upgrading the audio gear in the family vehicle

A mother and daughter install a sound system in a 2007 Toyota RAV4

Maggie and Michele in front of St. Anne's

Sharing the family vehicle means some give and take, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Michele and her daughter, Maggie, split their driving duties between work, school, and family trips. But with the factory audio system in their RAV4 delivering a lack of clarity, limited ways to play their music, and sub-par hands-free calling, they knew they had to make a change.


What Michele wanted

Michele serves as a technology coordinator at a local elementary school, so she loves trying out the newest tech stuff. In their 2007 Toyota RAV4, better Bluetooth® performance over the dreadfully muffled factory hands-free system was crucial. She also wanted onscreen display for music and her Waze® navigation app info. Michele also needed much better sound from her music and audiobooks, so the various tonal adjustments she had been making weren't necessary.

What Maggie wanted

Maggie is actually the primary driver of the RAV4. In the mornings, she drops off Mom, then heads to school. That’s when she wants to spin the volume knob higher with­out the nasty sound the factory system delivered. Most importantly, her idea of an upgrade included quick and easy controls that let her keep her full attention on the road. A USB port would be handy for the mornings she forgot to charge her phone.

A little help from Crutchfield

Since they weren’t sure about the right gear they needed for the RAV4, Michele and Maggie talked with me (I’d been a longtime Crutchfield Advisor before launching my writing career). I identified the common aspects of what they wanted, researched products that fit the car, and balanced choices that stayed within the established $1,000 budget.


Maggie and Michele take factory radio out.

A team effort in removing the Toyota radio provides some confidence.

The installation game plan

Although they had no car installation experience, Maggie and Michele wanted to put the new gear in the RAV4 themselves. When they saw all the gear involved, there were some concerns that they'd gotten in over their heads. But, I mentioned the exclusive Crutchfield MasterSheet™ instructions and tech support they’d receive with their gear, so they were actually psyched to take it on.

They found the removal of the factory radio to be straightforward, giving them some confidence. With the radio out of the way, they fished the Bluetooth microphone and HDMI cable to the radio location, so they could easily plug them into the back of their new Kenwood receiver. This also enabled them to place the mic and iPhone® connections where they would be most effective.

Maggie wiring up receiver.

Maggie connects the wiring harness using Posi-Product connectors.

Divide and conquer

Maggie took on wiring the new receiver to the interface harness required by the RAV4. Though it initially looked like a mess of wires, Maggie used the included diagrams to identify the ones she needed, and connected them with Posi-Products. She then prepared the mounting kit for the radio installation in the dash.

Michele, meanwhile, removed the door panels to get at the stock speakers. Once she got used to the “pop” of the clips releasing as the panel tool did its job, she made short work of it. Just before taking the old speakers out, she and Maggie connected the new receiver to make sure all channels were working. The new radio had already begun improving the sound of the factory speakers, so they couldn’t wait to get their new Rockford Fosgate Prime speakers installed.

Michele tackles the door panels.

Michele removes the door panels to remove the factory speakers.

Finishing the job

Next came the time to mount the new speakers and finish plugging in everything. Michele and Maggie had a few questions about the speaker wiring, but a couple of calls to Crutchfield’s tech support provided them with the answers they needed to complete the job.

The Kenwood DDX5901HD receiver includes an option for connecting a smartphone using an HDMI input on the rear panel. With the Apple® digital A/V adapter and HDMI cable they installed, they can charge their phones and see their apps on the larger 6.1" display. They’re also able to control the iHeartRadio® Internet radio and Waze® navigation apps with the stereo’s touchscreen controls.

DIY images for 2007 RAV4

Just before the speaker installation, Maggie applies some Dynamat to lessen unwanted vibrations, and then she and Michele completed the receiver wiring.


The results and reactions

With all of the receiver and speaker connections made and the radio cranked, Maggie and Michele noticed an immediate sound improvement on the first radio station they came across. They went through a few menu options to make sure their various Bluetooth®, iPhone®, and speaker connections were working. With everything working great, they had to force themselves to stop listening so they could reinstall the door and dash panels. The final results looked and sounded professional.

Maggie noticed a huge difference in the overall sound quality right away. She cranked the volume and the output was clear and loud, which is exactly what she wanted when Mom wasn't in the car. Maggie could easily charge her phone, and her friends told her they could hear her clearly on the hands-free setup. 

Michele was also a fan of the hands-free calling, since she was no longer missing half of what everybody was saying. It was much better in terms of call clarity and overall music quality. Once she zeroed in on the settings for various sources, she liked the controls and display for her Waze app and her music.

Before and After dash layout in 2007 RAV4

The gear I recommended

Kenwood 5901 DVD receiver
Kenwood DDX5901HD DVD receiver

This receiver includes an HD Radio™ tuner, Bluetooth® connectivity for clear hands-free calling and audio streaming, and user-friendly touchscreen controls. The iPhone 5 app integration makes it possible to view various apps on the 6.1" touchscreen.

Rockford Fosgate Prime R1675-S 6-3/4" Component Speakers
Rockford Fosgate Prime R1675-S 6-3/4" Component Speakers

These efficient speakers fit in the front doors of the RAV4 and deliver a broad soundstage without requiring a lot of power. The tweeters swivel to fire directly at a prime listening position for crisp highs.

Rockford Fosgate Prime R165X3 6-3/4" 3-way speakers
Rockford Fosgate Prime R165X3 6-3/4" 3-way Car Speakers

The 3-way design provides better separation for all frequencies, and these speakers fit in the rear doors, complementing the Prime components up front.

Apple Lightning to HDMI Bundle
Apple Lightning to HDMI Bundle

This bundle includes a 6' HDMI cable, an Apple digital A/V adapter, and an Apple Lightning-to-USB cable, for connecting Michele's and Maggie's iPhones to the HDMI-equipped Kenwood receiver.

Dynamat Xtreme speaker kit
Dynamat 10415 Xtreme Speaker Kit

Adding Dynamat Xtreme to the speaker locations dampens unwanted vibrations for better midbass performance without distracting resonances. It works easily around contoured metal surfaces. It didn't add a lot of time to the installation, but I felt it would help improve the overall sound of the system and keep costs down.

Crutchfield's here for you

You can upgrade your vehicle's car audio system too. With the installation hardware, MasterSheet installation guides, and legendary tech support that Crutchfield offers, you can start to enjoy your commutes and family trips a lot more, like Michele and Maggie do.


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