With such a wide range of components and devices on the market for car audio systems, the big question is “Where do I start?”
You must first decide what exactly you want to do. If you want to build a car audio system for a daily driver (the car you drive to and from work) with good sounds, but aren’t interested in racing, a system can easily be built for under $1000. However, if you’re looking for the monster of bass, be prepared to spend a lot of money on your system.
One of the most important things to consider when building a car audio system is planning. Get an idea of where you are going to place components, subwoofers, amplifiers, and power distribution. Many headaches can be avoided with proper planning!
For the basic system, let’s look at some of the necessary components.
Let’s start with the head unit (CD player) first. Obviously you’re going to want a good head unit. If you start with a good quality CD player and choose to upgrade your sound system in the future, buy a head unit that will grow with you. Some of the features you may want to consider are:
1.CD changer controls
2. XM/Sirius controls (if you decide to add satellite radio in the future)
3. Dual RCA outputs (carries signal to amplifiers)
4. Pause button (important for racing)
5. Detachable face or other safety devices
6. High Voltage Line Driver – Will send the sound signal at a higher voltage to your amplifier(s) reducing noise and improving overall sound quality.
Once you’ve chosen your head unit, you’ll want to make a decision about amplifiers and subwoofers. Keep in mind that you get what you pay for. A $30 subwoofer will be just as big as a $300 subwoofer, but the capabilities of each will be very different. Look at the power handling of each subwoofer and decide accordingly. You’ll want the subwoofers to work with your amplifier(s) (see compatibility).
You should also take into account the space available in your vehicle. Are you willing to give up your entire cargo area? How many subwoofers fit? Decide the size. Sizes range from 8″ to 18″, some are square (Kicker), but most are round. Also take into account the resistance (ohms) of the subwoofer and make sure they are compatible with your amplifier(s) (see compatibility). The choice of subwoofer will also have an effect on the enclosure you decide to build or buy. For the basic system, I would recommend buying a pre-made subwoofer box. This will save you quite a bit of money and headache (especially if you end up building it two or three times!). Make sure you take accurate measurements of your cargo area before you build or buy an enclosure!
Other components may be needed depending on the type of system you’re building and how elaborate you want your sound to be. For the competition vehicle, consider upgrading your alternator, adding a battery to your system (maybe more), installing high-quality RCA cables, power leads, ground leads, and speaker wire. You may need to add a capacitor to provide your amp with a power reserve for the bigger hits from the subwoofers. You may need an electronic crossover, an equalizer, replacement factory speakers, an amplifier for your midrange and tweeters, additional speakers inside your vehicle for staging, etc.
For the next step, visit us online at
Warning: This is an addictive hobby!