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A 5-step plan for upgrading your car stereo system

How to build your sound system one step at a time

Building a great car audio system doesn't have to be a budget-straining, all-at-once proposition. You can build the system of your dreams in stages. In this article, we'll share our plan and strategy. 


pgrading your car audio system in stages is a lot easier on the wallet, plus you’ll get to enjoy hearing your system improve with each new step in the process. The best part is that there's no "right" way to approach it. You can perform the following steps in the order that works best for you.

Install a new receiver

1. Replace the factory radio

Installing a new receiver makes any system sound better. You'll get more power, which means better sound from your speakers at any volume. Depending on the receiver you choose, you can enjoy music from your iPod® or CD collection, Pandora® Internet radio or a local HD Radio™ station. If you're into satellite radio (or want to be), choose one that's SiriusXM-Ready. Hands-free calling is practically an essential these days, so look for a receiver with built-in Bluetooth® connectivity.

To learn more about your aftermarket stereo options, check out our car stereo buying guide.

New speakers typically have much larger magnets than speakers that come with your car

2. Get new speakers

That new receiver will make your factory speakers sound better simply by giving them more power. But if you're happy with the factory radio, skip straight to the speakers. If you're serious about sound, you'll need aftermarket speakers. If you have a 4-door (or more) vehicle, start up front where you sit, then take care of the other locations as your budget allows. Crutchfield carries car speakers of nearly every size, shape, and type. Our Outfit My Car tool will show you which ones will fit your vehicle. And check out our car speakers buying guide to learn more.

Component speakers

Quick tip about speakers

Here’s an expert tip if you’re buying one set of speakers at a time: If your first set of speakers is a full-range set for the front doors, make sure to choose speakers that will also fit the rear doors. Later, you can upgrade to component speakers up front and move those coaxials to the back.

Installing an amplifier

3. Give your stereo system more power

Once you’ve replaced the speakers, the next step is to add an amplifier to give them more power. The added power will make the speakers live up to their true potential, bringing out the details and clarity of your music. You’ll need a 4-channel amp to power your front and rear speakers. Another tip: if you intend to add a subwoofer, you can power it with the amp’s rear channels until you’re ready to add a separate subwoofer amp.

For more info on choosing the right amp for your system, check out our car amplifier buying guide.

Subwoofer and box

4. Time for some bass

For many, installing a subwoofer is the moment they look forward to the most. Even if you're not a major basshead, you'll appreciate the added depth a good sub adds to your music. Be sure to check out our guide to matching subs and amps to make sure you're on the right track now, and in the future.

Two amps mounted on a subwoofer box

5. Add a dedicated amplifier to the sub

If you want more thump from your sub, you'll need to give it more juice. A dedicated mono amp will give your sub (or subs) the juice you need to get the bigl bass sound you want. And if your subs are located in the trunk of your car, now's a great time to line the trunk lid with Dynamat to reduce vibrations.

Ready to start upgrading your car audio system?

The great thing about building your own car stereo system is that you can build it your way, on your schedule. If you're ready to get started now, visit our Outfit My Car page and enter your vehicle information to see what fits. If you have any questions, give us a shout via phone or chat.

  • Don Wolff from Banff, Alberta

    Posted on 11/17/2023

    I own a 2006 Nissan Xterra with the stock Rockford Fosgate 9 channel amp. I want to replace the in-dash 6 disc CD player:) with a modern receiver. Everything works well and sounds all right, but I'd love better sound. After I pick out a new head unit, would you recommend replacing the 17 year old amp as well? I don't want to install a new head unit and 6 months later have to replace the factory amp located behind and below the deck. If you think I should replace the original amp at the same time, is it wise to relocate the amp to a more accessible location?

    Commenter image

    Jon Paul from Crutchfield

    on 11/20/2023

    Don, 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.
  • Gilbert Cunanan

    Posted on 9/12/2023

    I'm commenting in 2023. How do you keep the car's information system intact? Do modern audio head units support them?

    Commenter image

    Jon Paul from Crutchfield

    on 9/12/2023

    Gilbert, It depends on the car, the aftermarket radio, and the harness. When you enter your vehicle's info into our Outfit My Car tool, you'll see which stereos fit your car, plus the correct harness. If you have any questions, our advisors are available via phone or chat.
  • Drew T.

    Posted on 6/23/2023

    This article/list is good for anyone just starting out with car audio. I recently purchased a used 2002 Buick Regal as a secondary car/daily driver to work to keep the miles off my newer 2018 Honda Accord. As soon as I got the Buick, out came the factory head unit, replaced with my goto favorite for receivers, Alpine. The head unit upgrade alone breathed new life into the factory speakers. Not too long after that, I threw 2 12s in a sealed box in there along with a 1000w monoblock sub amp, and let me tell you, my system crushes in my regal now. I've pretty much parked my Accord and only drive it on the rarest of occasions now because I love the audio system in my Buick so much!! Thanks Crutchfield!!

    Commenter image

    Crutchfield Writing Team from Crutchfield

    on 6/26/2023

    Happy to help, Drew!
  • Humberto Munoz from Potomac Md.

    Posted on 7/27/2022

    I'm always upgrading sound on my rides and the first step is always the speakers, even the ones belonging to premium sound systems aren't good enough, this time for a Tiguan SE, first, I did Polk DB6502 front, Infinity reference REF5032 back, second; later a powered sub Sound Ordnance B8-PTD and finally, a JL Audio JD400/4 amplifier; so far no complains and, better sound, way cheaper than upgrade trim with extras that I don't need or want, even not shy compared to a Lexus 16 speaker system, not kidding, but of course, all the upgrades come from Crutchfield.

  • Arun from Edison

    Posted on 7/27/2022

    Great article. I have a 2014 Acura MDX. Factory head unit which I know I cannot replace (wish I could). I replaced 4 door speakers (happy with that). Replaced factory sub but still do not feel any bass kick at all. Question best way to add a thump to my bass (don't need to shake the world, just enjoy my tunes). Would you recommend a 5 channel amp or dedicated sub amp (and how to connect either way) and any way of adding Android Auto?

    Commenter image

    Jon Paul from Crutchfield

    on 8/1/2022

    Arun, 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.
  • Luke Rehnberg from Louisville

    Posted on 6/16/2022

    I got the Jensen Car 8000, and it says it has an amp included, would I have to get another amp too? Or would the one in it be fine

    Commenter image

    Jon Paul from Crutchfield

    on 6/17/2022

    Luke, You shouldn't have to, but it depends on the kind of system you're trying to build. With questions like this, 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.
  • Michelle Catapang

    Posted on 10/15/2021

    Thank you for providing us with recommendations. Nice content!

  • Rufus from Seattle

    Posted on 5/30/2021

    I find this slightly confusing, because if I don't care about other new features in a receiver, then the only reason to upgrade that first is power. But I can get that from an amp, so do I add an amp or speakers first if I'm keeping the factory head unit?

    Commenter image

    Jon Paul from Crutchfield

    on 6/1/2021

    Rufus, We'd probably choose speakers first, then add an amp. 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.
  • Brent W from Phoenix

    Posted on 4/27/2021

    I think mentioning a 5 channel amp is worth noting. Although it's not always the most economical nor performance choice. It's the most simple and practical choice for someone who wants to add a subwoofer/power 4 speakers. Otherwise it can become a space issue as well as become too complicated for an amateurs skills. Great post though!

  • Ryan S from Brooklyn, NY

    Posted on 3/12/2021

    I have 2005 Honda Odyssey. It has an aftermarket stereo and it sounds very lackluster. I need a double DIN with Bluetooth and Android Auto, if possible. Any suggestions?

    Commenter image

    Jon Paul from Crutchfield

    on 3/15/2021

    Ryan, We can help with that. I've sent your question to our sales team, and they'll be contacting you via email soon. For immediate help, you can contact them via phone or chat.

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