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A 2004 Lexus SUV gets an audio upgrade for big adventure

A Crutchfield employee gears up for overlanding and more

"Sound quality is crucial because my radio is always on. Wherever I go, I’m listening to music," Crutchfield commercial designer Carlos tells me. His new pride and joy is a 2004 Lexus GX 470, and he loves everything about it — except how his music sounded. That was an especially big problem because he plans on spending a lot more time in it than he’d first thought.

Gearing up for off-roading

Overlanding, a popular name for old-fashioned off-roading in camping-equipped SUVs, wasn’t really on Carlos’s radar until he bought his GX 470. The vehicle is known for its reliability, capability, and luxury appointments, so he thought it would be the perfect family vehicle — and it is. But when he realized it’s a top choice among overlanding enthusiasts, Carlos, who’s always been handy with a wrench and has no fear of vehicle modification, steeped himself in the culture.

The gear

Gear from Kicker and JL Audio transform how music sounds in the Lexus.

Carlos's factory radio problem

Carlos dove into modifying his GX 470 by adding auto accessories like LEDs, replacing the wheels, and improving the suspension. He was quickly ready for a full season of camping with the overlanding group he'd started at church. Well, almost. He still had to fix the disappointing factory sound. A great start would have been a new stereo, but our research team doesn't recommend replacement for his vehicle. Having helped customers with countless systems, he knew just the thing to do: load it up with a new amplifier, line output converter, speakers, and a subwoofer.

JL Audio amplifier and Kicker signal processor

Harnessing the signal and adding power

When mapping out his new system, Carlos kept an eye on dimensions. He needed an amp that could do a lot of heavy lifting but not take up too much space. (He has big plans to add custom shelving for maximum camping capacity.) JL Audio's RD900/5 5-channel amp checked all the boxes, providing premium power to his new speakers and sub while easily fitting in his factory amp location under the driver seat.

When it came to harnessing a clean, full-range signal, Carlos relied on Kicker's KEYLOC smart line output converter, which creates a handshake between the Lexus factory radio and the new amp. Built into this nifty device are critical tools like automatic frequency response detection and factory EQ correction, which gave Carlos a leg up on improving his overall sound quality. Who doesn't love easy tuning?

Installing Kicker speakers

Speakers a'plenty

I asked if there was anything decent about the existing factory system. "Staging was present," he said. "When my kids would watch a DVD on the rear seat monitor, I could hear sound move right to left, but that was about it. There was no bass. Like none. Turns out the sub was dead."

To add more fullness to his sound, Carlos replaced the existing, worn-out 3-way component system and rear speakers with Kicker KS Series speakers. To get that bass he was craving, he added a Kicker enclosure loaded with an 8" sub. Once again, with overlanding in mind, he made sure that the sub wouldn't cramp his camping plans. Its downfiring design and load-bearing capacity means he can stash (or build) things on top of it when he needs to.

Carlos hooking up the Kicker subwoofer

By prioritizing practicality along with sound quality, Carlos built the perfect system for his new home away from home, but his tinkering isn't done. What's next? He has his eyes on our Thule carriers and Midland CB radios.

Carlos with his Lexus GX 470

What's right for you?

"The most important thing for me is that a system helps me enjoy my day," Carlos said. Pretty great advice! Find out what fits your vehicle and get your dream system started. If you have any questions, contact our advisors for help.

  • Rsy from Boston

    Posted on 10/1/2023

    Hello what tire and wheel package are you running ?

  • Jeff

    Posted on 5/8/2023

    What a perfect article - so many (like me) with a GX470 and struggle with audio upgrades, esp with the Nav system. Curious how you handled streaming since that is not a factory option, at least not for music.

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