If you are pricing audio systems to install in your new ride, you might be having some sticker shock. High-end car audio systems can cost hundreds of dollars, and even more depending on the manufacturer, aesthetic, and quality of the product. So, can you use home audio speakers in a car and save yourself some hard-earned cash?
Home audio speakers can be installed in a car. But a lot of professionals and audiophiles don’t recommend it. The design of home audio and car audio systems are optimized for their environments. Let’s look at the differences between the two and discuss why it might be worth a few extra bucks to buy a quality audio system specifically designed for your vehicle.
How do car audio systems work?
Automotive audio systems have three basic components. The radio (or head unit), an amplifier, and speakers.
- The Head Unit – The head unit in a home audio system often uses separate components that are connected by cables. In a car system, these components are combined into one unit to save space. You use the head unit to control the input and output of the signal and the volume. Or, for adjusting the tone controls, like bass and treble, to help tailor the sound.
- The Amplifier – An amplifier increases the strength of the audio signal. Some head units include a built-in amplifier suitable for smaller speakers. But most high-end systems include what is called an outboard amplifier, which is mounted separately from the head unit. This is due to their size and the heat they generate.
- The Speakers – Speakers convert the electrical signal into sound. They do this by utilizing a speaker cone to create vibrations in the air that we interpret as sound. Most factory car audio speakers are “full-range,” meaning they cover the full range of frequencies that can be heard by humans. This can result in the high and low frequencies being softer, muddied, or hard to hear at all.
Most high-end car audio systems use separate speakers, with each designed to produce specific frequencies. For example, woofers and subwoofers are used for low-frequency bass sounds. Midrange drivers cover middle-range frequencies, and tweeters produce the treble frequencies. These speakers come in a range of combinations and placements inside the car to produce the best sound quality.
The difference with home audio systems
Home audio systems are designed for optimal sound quality based on the size of the room the sound needs to fill. They often incorporate the same components as car audio systems but contain all the components inside a single cabinet.
When we listen to music in the car, we tend to crank the volume level higher than we would while at home. Because car audio levels can exceed 110-120 decibels, a home audio system may not have the capabilities to handle that amount of power. Power produces heat, and too much heat can cause damage to the speakers and system over time.
There are measurements used to describe how an audio system operates. Manufacturers build their audio systems to work best based on the environment they are intended for. There are some very technical measurements used to design the perfect audio system for a space. The components themselves are interchangeable, but you will get better performance and sound quality when you use an audio system in the space it was designed for.
- Power handling specifications
This is a measurement of how much power the speakers can handle. Power handling is divided into two numbers, the continuous power handling, and peak power handling. Just because a speaker can handle a high decibel level for a short time, doesn’t necessarily mean the system can sustain that level over a continuous period.
- Operating frequency range
This term describes the ability of speakers to handle a different range of frequencies. Car audio systems use separate speakers for specific frequencies.
- Cone Excursion
The excursion capability of a speaker references how they are designed to work with the other speakers in the car, and at what distance they should be apart from each other.
Car audio systems are designed to be used in a small, enclosed space. This is often called a “near-fired” design. Home speaker systems are optimized for use in larger spaces, like a large room in a home. Car speakers consider something called “transfer function”, meaning the small environment of a car reinforces lower frequencies.
This is a term used to describe how the system impedes the electrical current, or voltage, being transferred through the system. Car audio amplifiers use a low voltage and high amperage design that work well with 4-Ohm speakers. Home audio systems average 8 Ohms.
These technical terms and measurements all boil down to this: Car audio systems are designed to sound better and operate more efficiently in a vehicle, while home stereo systems are designed for a larger space.
There are other reasons why home stereo speakers are not the best idea for your car. The environment of a vehicle and a building is vastly different, and manufacturers consider these differences when building their products.
1. Temperatures – The temperature inside of a vehicle can reach very high and low extremes, depending on the environment. The humidity inside a vehicle can also be exceedingly high. Components of a stereo system are vulnerable to changes in temperature, and manufacturers take precautions to ensure the system will not deteriorate or corrode under these extreme conditions.
Consider that the speaker cones are made from a paper derivative, or that steel and adhesive can corrode with exposure to humidity. You can see why it’s important to have a system that is able to withstand the environment.
2. Sun Exposure – The ultraviolet rays of the sun will fade and dry out polymers and rubbers used in a stereo system. Consider what happens when you leave something sitting on your dashboard in direct sunlight. While the damage caused by sun exposure is likely to start as a purely cosmetic issue, after long-term exposure the integrity of the system and its components may be compromised and fail.
3. Vibration – Vehicles vibrate, either from the conditions of the road itself or just as part of the natural movement of a vehicle. Car stereo systems are designed with specific mounting and installation hardware that can minimize the effect of the vibration. Home stereo systems are not exposed to this amount of vibration and therefore are not optimized for use in an environment that vibrates.
Home Speaker Recommendations
Depending on your situation, you might consider using a portable speaker like this JBL on Amazon. I have seen friends use these before when the car speakers are broken or are of very poor quality.
- Wireless Bluetooth streaming
- 12 hours of playtime
- IPX7 waterproof
- Pair multiple speakers with party boost
- Premium JBL sound quality
So, can you use home audio speakers in a car? It is entirely possible, and if it is more in your budget to do so, then go for it. But be aware that you won’t get the optimized sound experience you would get from a car audio system. If you’re looking for the very best sound quality and durability, a car audio system is a way to go.