Matching Car Speakers To Head Unit: why and how

For someone who spends a lot of time in their car daily, a good stereo system is very important. Whether you spend long hours commuting to and from work, stuck in huge traffic jams all day long or go on long road trips very frequently, a good stereo goes a long way in uplifting the whole experience of driving. And on top of that, if you are a dedicated audiophile, then you will know how important it is when matching your new car speakers to your head unit..

Have you ever thought of buying new speakers for your car because you want to upgrade them or your old speakers got blown up. You’ve realized that there are a lot of things that you don’t understand about the process.

You might have gone online and looked at some of the recommendations for the best speakers for your car, but there are so many of them and figuring out whether they are right for your car is a whole another nightmare.

You might be hoping that If only you could get all the information you’d need for changing your speakers in one place, right? Don’t worry, we’ve got it covered. This article has been specifically designed to match your car speakers to your head unit. So, let’s get started.

Why should you match speakers to a head unit?

You can’t just buy the most expensive and biggest speakers you can find and fit them in your car. It just doesn’t work like that. Even the best speakers on the market may not be the best fit for your car stereo.

If the speakers that you’ve bought are more powerful than your head unit, then either your head unit will get messed up or your new speakers will blow up just like your old ones. On the other hand, if your speakers can’t handle the power output of your head unit, then the sound will be really affected.

A lot of different things need to come together for your car audio system to deliver the best possible sound. There’s no one right answer for every system. Since you’re trying to customize your car, you have to take the approach of finding the perfect system that’s custom suited for your needs. That’s why it is very important to match your speakers to the head unit. Now that you’ve understood why you should do it, let’s take a look at the how.

How do you match speakers to a head unit?

Now, when it comes to matching your speakers, the elements that come into play are the head unit, the different types and components of speakers, the material of the speakers and the sensitivity and power handling capacity of both the head unit and the speakers.

Let’s start with the head unit. It is the heart and soul of the whole audio system. The head unit is the one that distributes the sound waves to all the other components of your audio system.

So, figuring out your head unit is of paramount importance. There are usually two types of head units: low powered (15 watts RMS per channel) or high powered (16 watts RMS per channel).

Low powered head unit

If your stereo is low powered, then it is recommended to pair them with high-sensitivity speakers. When they are high-powered, then pairing them with low-sensitivity speakers will do the job.

Discovering that your current head unit maybe not suitable, then it is advisable to consider buying a new head unit as well along with a set of compatible speakers to get the desired sound quality.

Sensitivity –  In basic terms, sensitivity is the measurement of the amount of volume coming out a speaker for a particular amount of power or in other words, the measurement of how efficient a speaker is in turning a certain amount of power into a volume of sound. Measured in decibels, figuring out the right sensitivity of your speakers will provide impeccable sound quality. 

Power Handling (Wattage) – Power handling is a measurement of the amount of power your car speakers can operate on and figuring that part out is very important as speakers are specifically designed to handle a particular amount of power.

Measured in watts (RMS), a high-wattage set of speakers is not necessary if your stereo is a low-powered system. Checking the maximum RMS power-handling capabilities will tell you realistically how much your speakers can handle on a consistent basis rather on a short bursts basis.

Always look out for speakers whose RMS rating is as close as possible to the head unit’s output.

All of the three things mentioned above will need to be considered in detail before moving on to the next item in the list: the speakers.

Which type of speakers should I buy?

car head unit showing apps

Phew! A whole lot of details for a set of speakers, right? Don’t worry, if you’ve made it this far, I’m sure you’ll handle the rest. So, to start with, let’s take a look at the type of speakers for you to choose from:

Full range speakers

Full-range speakers – Full-range speakers are the ones that pack all the different elements of a speaker inside a single cabinet. They come with built-in woofers and tweeters, with the woofer handling the lows while the tweeters handle the highs.

The woofers in most of the full-range speakers handle frequencies ranging from 40hz to 300hz and these are the frequency sounds created by the bass guitars and the kick drums as well as other bass instruments.

Tweeters, on the other hand, handle the highest frequencies ranging from 2,000hz to 20,000hz and are usually the smallest component in a speaker. 

Some full-range speakers also come equipped with a mid-range driver which are responsible for handling frequency ranges between that of a tweeter and a woofer (300hz – 2000hz). The mid-range drivers really help in delivering clean and crisp quality of sound at medium volume range. 

Component speakers

Component Speakers – Component speakers are the ones where each of the components of a speaker is available separately and they need to be assembled individually in your car. A component system consists of separate woofers, tweeters and crossovers; all of which work together in tandem to produce a high quality of sound.

Component speaker systems are capable of handling bigger power outputs than full-range speakers and usually provide better and more realistic quality of sound with more depth too. They are also built to be sturdy and durable to handle the high power output of the head unit. 

When you are building your component speaker setup, there are two important units you should know about:

External crossovers

External Crossovers – External crossovers are the components that separate the frequencies coming out of the head input and sending the appropriate frequencies to the different components.

As tweeters are responsible for high frequencies and woofers handle the low ones, having a good external crossover allows both of them to reproduce only those frequencies which are required of them and in turn, produce clean and good quality sound. 

Most external crossovers allow you to connect separate cables to the tweeter and the woofer, which means that the low frequencies and high frequencies flow through dedicated channels to the corresponding components. All of this allows you to build a cool high-performance audio system. 

Amplifiers

Amplifiers – Since we are talking about high-performance systems, it will be incomplete to do so without amplifiers. The job of an amplifier can be understood simply by its name; it takes the audio signal from the head unit and amplifies it without distortion so that the speakers and the woofers can do their magic.

Usually, stock head units do not contain powerful built-in amplifiers, which means even if you buy high-quality component speakers, the signal from the stereo will not be good enough for the speakers to reproduce. 

One of the main complaints with any speaker is that when you increase the volume too much, you are greeted by annoying distortions.

Amplifiers cut that out. One other factor you should keep in mind is whether your stock head unit has preamp outputs. These divert from the built-in amplifier and deliver proper signals to your external amplifier.

If not, then you should either look for amps that have speaker-level inputs or you should consider buying a new head unit which has preamp outputs.

Amplifiers are available in different configurations based on the power as well as the number of speakers that can be connected to them. The mono channel amps can connect to one speaker while some amps can connect up to 6 speakers at a time.

Since the primary job of an amplifier is to increase the power of an audio signal, matching the RMS ratings of your speakers and the amplifier is crucial for producing the best sound for you.   

Picking the correct materials

The next most important thing in your speakers is the materials with which they are built. Although they are not as crucial as the above-mentioned components of a speaker system, since we are talking about all the factors that can be crucial for a good quality sound, you might want to give a bit of consideration to materials.

Good materials make your speaker lasts longer and also help in damping and absorbing some of the bass from the woofers for a balanced sound. Let’s look at some of the materials for different components:

Materials for tweeters – Tweeters reproduce high frequencies and as such, they should be made of poly, silk or textile blends and if you like listening in really high frequencies, then you should buy tweeters made of ceramics or graphite. 

Materials for woofers – The woofers should be made of materials that are stiff yet lightweight at the same time to handle the low frequencies. Polypropylene mixed with mica helps in producing accurate bass notes. Synthetics which are coated with aluminium and titanium or woven fabrics also do the job efficiently.

How many watts should the speaker have?

The answer to that question depends on your personal listening habits. If you are a fan of loud booming music, then a 90db 200 Watts speaker will be enough for your requirements. If you like to listen to lighter classical music, then a 50 Watts speaker will be enough.

How many watts should my head unit have?

A factory head unit in your car will likely produce 50 to 200 Watts of power which will complement your bass requirements.

If you are planning to use an aftermarket stereo, then anything capable of delivering 300 Watts of power and above spread over a few channels and a woofer will really take your sound to the next level. All of this will depend on pairing the head unit with the right speaker system as we discussed above.

Matching car speakers to head unit

When you plan on designing the perfect audio system for your car, it is very important to pay close attention to all of those factors mentioned above. Because if you’ve actually taken that approach of finding the best sound, then you might as well do it all the way. Otherwise, small problems will always pop-up every now and then.

A superb set of speakers will be useless if the head unit can’t deliver the power the speakers were designed to handle and vice-versa.

As an overall recommendation, you should go for speakers that can produce up to 90db if you are using low-powered head units with 15 watts RMS power. These Kicker KS series speakers have a low power requirement of 15 Watts

If you plan to install high-powered head units with power outputs of 40 watts RMS or more, then 40-100 watts RMS speakers are more suitable. These Rockford Fosgate 6.5″ speakers are amazing.

Before deciding on the speakers, head units, woofers or any other technical stuff, the first thing that needs to be taken care of is the overall goal of the upgrade you plan on doing.

Whether you want a system that produces a really decent and clean sound that’s ideal for your daily commute or you want your audio system to give you a rocking experience every time you are inside the car. So, have you decided which speakers and head units you want? 

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

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