Upgrading Car Speakers Without An Amp – can/should you?

When it comes to car audio, more often than not the factory-installed sound system is not quite what you would like it to be. But plenty of people might not want or be able to overhaul the entire sound system in one go, or aren’t sure what upgrades need to happen together. So what can you do?

Sometimes, people consider upgrading their speakers first, without adding an amplifier. There are pros and cons to this, of course, both in terms of quality and performance. Let’s take a look at what you should know and consider both when purchasing new speakers and before making a decision about an amplifier.

Does Upgrading Car Speakers Make A Difference?

Upgrading your car speakers is going to be one of the most noticeable changes you make to your car’s audio system. Most manufacturers don’t put “premium sound” in their base models, requiring you to spend a hefty chunk of change on a car that would. But speakers are so crucial to getting the sound you really want out of your car.

Because speakers are what produce the sound you actually hear, most people want to start there. But maybe you thought about upgrading the stereo or amplifier first and are thinking about leaving factory speakers installed. In my experience, though, that is not going to get the most out of that new stereo or amp since you’re limiting the whole system’s output.

Will Upgrading My Car Speakers Improve Sound?

The basic sound system most cars ship with, even today, is just good enough to be manufactured. It degrades significantly over time and is not made to deliver crisp, clear audio. Upgrading your speakers will allow you to get more dynamic volume and more dynamic sound because aftermarket speakers are designed to deliver good sound, not just to finish a car sold on a sales floor.

You can also tailor your system so your audio sounds the way you want it to sound. By being able to manually select your sound range, power handling, and materials, you can decide between things like mellow or bright highs, intense or more subtle bass, and so on. This is, essentially, a guarantee that you’ll improve the sound in your car’s audio system, since you will be able to completely customize it for whatever you like the most.

What Are The Best Speakers For A Car?

If you go online and search for car speakers, chances are the number of results will be downright staggering. There’s a whole plethora of options out there and not all of them are of the same quality or even right for your system. You might be wondering where to begin and what, exactly, you need to pay attention to when making your purchases.

What Kind Of Car Speakers Should I Get?

What you want to do is make sure your car speakers match both the sound system you’re installing them to and the car itself. There are plenty of brands out there, which you can sift through with various filters and ratings lists online, but there are a few brands that come out on top regularly: Focal, Kicker, JL Audio, and Infinity. Many other brands make fantastic products, but that’s where I would personally start.

You also need to look into your speakers’ specs to make sure you install speakers that are going to not only fit your car but are also made out of the best materials for what you need. These materials will not only affect the longevity of your system but also the way your audio sounds, so it’s good to know what materials will deliver.

Sensitivity

Choosing the right speaker sensitivity for your system is an important part of getting the most out of whatever parts you’re using. Making sure your sensitivity is appropriate for your system increases longevity, prevents blow-out, and allows for high quality gear to really shine.

For a high-powered sound system of 16 RMS or higher, lower sensitivity ratings will perform well. For low-powered systems, higher sensitivity ratings of 90 dB and higher will work better to draw out the most from that lower power.

Power Handling

Power handling or the power rating is the wattage your speakers can handle, which has to do with the amount of raw power you’re pumping through your system. It’s important to match the power rating to either the amp you purchase or the factory amplifier if you decide not to purchase one. If you don’t, too much or too little power can damage your speakers pretty quickly so make sure you check thoroughly.

Full-Range vs. Component

There are two overall types of speakers: full-range and component speakers. Most people are probably used to full-range speakers, but component speakers can be a great option if you’re trying to get a very specific sound out of your system or are looking to invest in some really high-end gear.

Full-range speakers contain aspects for each range of sound: lows, mids, and highs. In short, they include a small woofer for the lows with a tweeter attached for the highs. Some even have additional drivers added specifically to bring out the mids or add further clarity to your sound. These are a great option if you’re looking for a simple sound system without too much extra.

Component speakers are what you want if you’re looking to well and truly maximize your sound quality. These speakers are individually dedicated to a sound range and allow you to mount the various parts (such as woofers and tweeters) where it is most advantageous for you and your sound quality. This allows you a greater depth of sound and a much more tailored sound system than full-range speakers, and I’d recommend you go with this system if possible.

Materials

There are three things to consider when it comes to speaker materials: woofer material, tweeter material, and the material that surrounds your woofer. Getting the right materials for each part will ensure both high quality and long-lasting speakers. Speaker material varies from component to component, so you want to make sure you’re getting the right materials for the right purposes.

For woofers, you’ll want to get something that is stiff and lightweight like polypropylene, polypropylene mixed with mica, or woven fibers coated in light metals such as aluminum or titanium. For tweeters, you have a couple of options: something soft like a textile blend if you want mellow highs or something hard like metal or ceramic if you want brighter highs.

The last material to consider is the material for the surround on your woofer. For this, you’ll almost definitely want to go with rubber, as it is durable and simply gives the best performance. If you’re on a budget, though, foam and cloth will work. They just don’t last as long because they don’t have the same durability as rubber.

Do You Need An Amp For Aftermarket Speakers?

Bringing new speakers into your sound system means you’re bringing in products that are likely more sensitive and responsive to audio input than your factory speakers were. This is especially true if you’re adding a subwoofer and your car didn’t have one before. Since the speakers are already more responsive, you might wonder what an amplifier would really do for you.

Does A Car Amp Improve Sound Quality?

Some people argue that amps are really only necessary if you’re adding a subwoofer, but I’d argue that that’s not true. Amplifiers also deliver crisp highs and can help minimize external noise from your car from being pumped through the stereo, not to mention the added power you can get from your system with an amp.

There’s also a risk when you use a factory amplifier that the power handling won’t be appropriate for your new speakers. You should always try to match this wherever possible because, if you don’t, the factory amplifier won’t deliver the right power to your new speakers. This can result in distortion and rapid degradation of sound quality as well as a shorter lifespan for your new gear.

I have reviewed two amps – The BOSS R1100M monoblock – which is mainly used to power subwoofers and the other is the Alpine MRV-F300 which is a 4 channel amp. Take a read through these reviews to get a feel for the typical features each one has to help you decide if you need an amp or not.

Do You Really Need An Amp For Car Speakers?

Because each car comes with a factory-installed amplifier, you might be wondering whether or not investing in an amp is the right move. However, even though your car comes with an amp pre-installed, it’s not one that can truly deliver if you’ve upgraded your system at all. This is in terms of both sound quality and power, as most factory sound systems are low-power.

If you use an amp that doesn’t deliver the right amount of power to your speakers, it will damage your speakers over time, and your investment won’t last. It can even damage your speakers rapidly if your car’s factory amplifier is on the higher end for power handling and you get speakers that just can’t handle that. This makes choosing the right amp an essential part of upgrading your sound system.

How Many Watts Is Good For A Car Stereo?

While there are, for the most part, standardardized power ratings on amplifiers, what’s far more important than getting the one with the most power is making sure it matches the speakers you’ve installed. RMS is the power rating for amplifiers and speakers, which is usually represented by a range (“10-60 watts RMS,” for example).

If you’re having trouble locating the RMS or you’ve gotten a used product that you aren’t sure about, look it up. Matching the RMS is absolutely crucial here because pumping too much or too little power into your speakers can damage them and you want to make sure your good sound lasts. You don’t ever want to leave this up to chance.

Summary

Getting in the car and turning on your favorite music should be a truly enjoyable experience and the best way to ensure that is to make sure you have the right sound system. Your speakers, in particular, are a critical piece of this puzzle and you want to make sure you make the right decisions when it comes to them. This is both important when it comes to the specs of your speakers and making sure you’re supplying them with the right power.

That’s why it’s also important to make sure your system’s amplifier is right for your speakers. Oftentimes, getting a non-factory amp can not only deliver a serious difference in sound quality but also give your speakers just the right power handling to give them the longevity you’d expect. In my opinion, it’s definitely better to make that investment on an amplifier instead of having to replace it all again down the road because a factory-installed amp damaged your new equipment.

Once you know what to look for and decide what materials and speaker type will deliver the sound you want, getting new speakers is easily one of the most rewarding parts of upgrading your car audio system. If you’re adding an amp to that mix, your sound quality will skyrocket from what you had before, and that is a truly exciting prospect.

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