How to Build a Car Audio Sound System - Stinger

Stock car audio just won't cut it for most audiophiles. Upgrading your car audio system brings the boom with better speakers, more amp power, and finer sound control. Quality materials and modular design ensure a system is built to last and adapt to your evolving audio desires. Building a car audio sound system involves considering your needs, lifestyle, and budget. Here's a breakdown of the key factors to help you make an informed decision.

1. Understanding Your Vehicle and Needs

    Vehicle Type & Usage: Knowing your vehicle type (Ford F-150, Jeep Wrangler, etc.) and how you use it (daily driving, off-roading, car shows, etc.) is crucial. Different vehicle models have varying sound system layouts and space constraints. Off-roading might require weather-resistant components, while daily driving might prioritize features like Bluetooth connectivity.

    Sound Preferences: What kind of sound are you looking for? Do you crave booming bass, crisp highs, or a balanced soundscape? This will guide your component selection, especially speakers and subwoofers.

    Budget: Aftermarket car audio components can vary significantly in price. Determine a realistic budget for your sound system parts: radio head unit, speakers, amplifier, subwoofer, signal processor, wiring, and installation (if not DIY).

    2. Choosing the Core Components

      Radio Head Unit (Stereo): The heart of your system. The head unit takes the audio signal from the source and amplifies it to a level powerful enough to drive your car speakers. It also applies basic signal processing like equalization (EQ) to adjust the sound profile (bass, treble, etc.) based on your preferences.

      Heigh10 Radio head unit
      (Above) The HEIGH10 10-in Radio Head-Unit

      Here's an analogy: Think of the radio head unit as the conductor of an orchestra. It receives the sheet music (audio signal), interprets it (processes the signal), and instructs the musicians (amplifier and speakers) how to play it (controls volume and sound characteristics). When choosing your radio head unit, consider features like:

      • Display Size: Most touchscreen radios vary from size 6.8-in to 10-in. 6.8-in radios that are 4-in tall are known as Double-Din head units and have become the standard size in more modern vehicles. As infotainment radios continue to evolve, car owners are demanding even larger screens. Stinger offers the HEIGH10, a 10-in feature-packed radio with a large touchscreen display.

      • Power Output: Adequate power is needed to drive your speakers. The head unit's power output determines how loud it can drive your speakers, especially if you are not using an external amplifier. Higher RMS (Root Mean Square) wattage ratings generally indicate more power. However, the actual volume you experience depends on your speakers' efficiency as well. When using an external amplifier, the head unit’s low level RCA outputs need to have at least 4v of signal strength to reject any inducted noise that can be picked up when the cables are run through the vehicle.

      • Connectivity: Bluetooth is a must-have for hands-free calling and music streaming. Apple CarPlay/Android Auto are also essential for seamless phone integration.

      Speakers: Stock car speakers are often underwhelming. Most aftermarket speakers offer much better sound. There are a few things you should consider when looking at speakers: What kind of sound are you aiming for - crystal clear highs, deep bass, or a balanced soundscape? How comfortable are you with installing audio components? How much are you willing to spend?  This will influence your speaker choice, especially between component speakers and coaxial speakers. Let’s examine the differences and understand how they can be used together:

      audiocontrol pnw 2.75-in car speakers
      (Above) AudioControl PNW 2.75-in 25 Watt Component Speakers, Midrange Drivers

      • Component + Coaxial Speakers: Integrating component speakers (in the front) and coaxial speakers (in the rear) in a car audio system is quite common nowadays and is especially beneficial in vehicles like Jeeps, where the sound might otherwise escape more easily.

        • Front Component Speakers: Component speakers excel in the front due to their separate tweeter and woofer design. This allows for precise positioning of the tweeter at ear level, creating a wider and more accurate stereo image (soundstage). You'll hear instruments and vocals panned across the front dash with better separation and clarity. Tweeters are the tiny but mighty speakers in your car audio system specifically designed to reproduce high-frequency sounds (usually above 2,000 Hertz). They play a crucial role in delivering a clear, crisp, and well-rounded listening experience. For those who want dedicated tweeters, dome tweeters and compression tweeters are the most common types available.

        • Rear Coaxial Speakers: Coaxial speakers, with their combined tweeter and woofer, are perfect for the rear because pinpoint imaging is less critical there. They can fill the cabin with sound, creating a wider and more spacious listening experience.

      Amplifier: An amplifier is needed if you want significant power improvement or plan to use a subwoofer. An amp boosts the signal coming from your head unit, allowing your speakers to play louder and with less distortion, especially at higher volumes. Subwoofers require a lot of power to reproduce deep bass frequencies and no vehicle radio head unit alone has enough power to drive subwoofers. If you are an avid off-roader, consider an amplifier that is weather-resistant. There are 3 important factors that you should consider when choosing an amp.

      Weather-resistant car amplifier
      (Above) The AudioControl ACX-300.1 300 Watt All Weather Amplifier, great for off-roaders

      • Power Output: This is measured in watts (W) and indicates the amplifier's ability to drive your speakers. It's crucial to match the amplifier's power output to the power handling capacity of your speakers. Using an underpowered amplifier can lead to distorted sound, while an overpowered one might damage your speakers.

      • Channels: Amplifiers come in different channel configurations, like 2-channels, 4-channel, or even more. This determines how many speakers you can connect. Choose an amplifier with enough channels for your speaker setup: mono amplifier (for a single subwoofer), 2-channel amplifiers (for powering front or rear speakers), 4-channel amplifiers (for powering all four speakers in a car), and 5-channel amplifiers (for powering four speakers and a subwoofer).

      • Class of Amplifier: This refers to the design and efficiency of the amplifier. Here's a breakdown of common amplifier classes:
        • Class A: Very inefficient but offers the highest sound quality (often not used in car audio due to power consumption).

        • Class AB: A balance between efficiency and sound quality (most common in car audio). Class AB amplifiers deliver excellent sound quality with minimal distortion. Audiophiles often favor Class AB amplifiers for their natural and detailed sound reproduction.

        • Class D: Highly efficient and generates less heat. Since they spend very little time actively amplifying the signal and more time in an "off" state, they waste less power as heat. Due to their efficient design, Class D amplifiers can be built smaller than traditional Class A or AB amplifiers with similar power output. This makes them ideal for space-constrained car audio installations.


      Subwoofer:  A subwoofer makes music richer and more impactful, especially for bass-heavy genres. By offloading low frequencies, your speakers can focus on mids and highs, creating a more balanced soundscape. Here are a few factors you should be aware of:

      swing-gate subwoofer jeep wrangler
      (Above) Jeep Wrangler Swing-Gate Loaded Sealed Subwoofer Enclosure

      • Size & Trunk Space: Consider the available space in your trunk or hatchback for mounting the subwoofer enclosure. Subwoofers come in various sizes, typically ranging from 8-in to 15-in in diameter. A larger subwoofer can produce deeper bass, but it also requires a larger enclosure. If you have a vehicle with limited space, consider a compact subwoofer or under-seat options. For example, Stinger has built custom-fitted, under seat dual 8-in subwoofers for the Jeep Gladiator JT and swing-gate subwoofer for the Jeep Wrangler

      • Power Handling: A subwoofer's ability to handle power from the amplifier without distortion is important. Choose a subwoofer with proper power handling capabilities that match or exceed the power output of your amplifier. Using a subwoofer with insufficient power handling can damage the subwoofer if pushed too hard.

      • Enclosure Type: Subwoofers typically need to be mounted in an enclosure to function properly. The enclosure design (sealed, ported) significantly affects the subwoofer's sound characteristics. Sealed enclosures are generally more compact but might not produce the deepest bass. Ported enclosures can produce deeper bass but require more space.

      Wiring: Using high quality car audio wiring isn't just about connecting components. It ensures top-notch sound by minimizing signal loss for crisp audio, uses robust materials for long-lasting performance, and delivers power efficiently to avoid distortion. 

      3. Additional Considerations

        Equalizers & Digital Signal Processors (DSP): Equalizers and DSPs allow you to fine-tune the timing and output of each speaker to create a more cohesive and balanced soundstage, virtually placing the speakers in optimal locations for your ears. An equalizer is a good choice for audio enthusiasts who want basic sound personalization. DSPs are ideal for audiophiles who crave ultimate sound control and precise tuning.

        Sound Damping: Larger vehicle such as Jeeps and trucks are known for road noise. Compared to sedans, they often have less soundproofing built into the cabin due to their focus on off-road capability and weight reduction. Adding sound deadening material to doors, floors, and the roof can significantly reduce noise and enhance the sound quality of your system. Stinger has just released its own line of Silencer sound damping materials, engineered to reduce unwanted noise and vibrations so that you can enjoy every beat and note of your audio experience to the fullest.

        silencer sound deadening material

        4. Budget 

        Building a complete car audio sound system can range from $500 - $5,000. Spending more on high quality components may make more sense if you are an experienced car enthusiast, but if you are a beginner looking to make moderate improvements, entry-level options will probably make more sense for you.

        Stinger Audio products are great for beginners with little experience to upgrade their audio system. 

        AudioControl offers a wide selection of audio products that make sense for users looking for an uncompromising, high-fidelity sound system. Integrating these audio components will result in a significant upgrade over stock audio systems.

        5. Installation Options

          DIY Installation: If you're comfortable with car wiring and modifications, you can tackle the installation yourself. We do have installation guides for a variety of our products.

          Professional Installation: For complex setups or if you lack experience, consider a reputable car audio shop for proper wiring, component integration, and system optimization. Check out the installer locator here to find one near you.


          By prioritizing your needs, considering these factors, and carefully choosing the components, you can build a car audio sound system that elevates your off-road adventures or daily commutes.


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