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Car Audio Systems

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Car Audio Systems

Bobby Buys
September 10, 2011

We spend most of our daily lives in the car, which is why the in-car audio system is as important as home entertainment systems. Many car manufacturers provide excellent audio systems which come standard. However, some are keen to invest that little extra time and shop around for a personalised car audio system.

What should you look for in a car audio system? There are several key factors to consider before parting with your hard-earned money. Let's take a look at these.

Cost Prices for a good quality car audio system vary considerably. You can reduce costs by fitting and connecting all the components yourself, but be prepared for technical frustration if you decide to take this route.

As with most things in life, you get what you pay for, so it is worthwhile going for the best you can afford. But be careful that you are not paying an excessive price just for a brand name.

Sound Quality

There are two basic measurements that are quoted in car audio specifications, signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) and frequency response (FR).

SNR is a measurement of the strength of the sound that you want to hear (the signal) against the sounds you don't want (the noise). SNR is measured in decibels. In general, a higher decibel level will mean a better sounding system with less distortion and less background noise.

FR is a measurement of the maximum and minimum sound frequencies that can be reproduced by the system. FR is measured in Hertz (Hz) and is usually given as a range. The wider the range, the more accurately will the top and bottom end frequencies be reproduced. You should look for a range of at least 10 to 20 kHz.


It's no good getting a car audio system with first class sound quality at a great price, if it stops operating within a couple of weeks of installation. Unfortunately, there's no real measurement of durability, apart from reviews by other purchasers. Take the time to explore the Internet and check other users' experiences before you buy.


Remember that if you decide to opt for a car audio system that is not supplied by your car manufacturer, you may be faced with physical problems in installation. Additionally, a system that sounds great in one vehicle model may sound totally different in your car, due to the acoustic environment.

Probably the best piece of advice you can get is this, "trust your own ears." If your car audio system sounds good to you, that's the most important factor. Whatever in-car sound system you opt for, remember to enjoy it with your windows closed (for the sake of your fellow motorists) and at a moderate level (for the sake of your own ears).

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