Car audio getting better?

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Time Is On My Side, Dec 12, 2018.

  1. Time Is On My Side

    Time Is On My Side Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Your mom's house
    Have car audio systems gotten better? I grew up in the 1990s and I always remember car audio systems sounding pretty bad. Our family's 1986 Toyota Pickup didn't even come stock with a stereo system - you had to order it separately. And even then, it was just your standard AM/FM/tape deck with two speakers. The speakers didn't sound good at all. I noticed this stayed the same probably until recent years. My 2008 Volkswagen Jetta has the 6-disc CD changer and for a factory system, this thing sounds just as good as the custom one I had in my 1995 Honda Civic with the 4-channel amp, 8" Sony speakers in front and 6" Sony speakers in back with 2 12" dual subs. Has it gotten that much better or am I just getting comfortable with a mediocre car audio system?
    head_unit likes this.
  2. csgreene

    csgreene Forum Resident

    Idaho, USA
    The Mark Levinson system in my Lexus Land Cruiser is pretty good and my rig is from 2002.
  3. allied333

    allied333 TUBE AMPLIFIER REBUILDER - inquire

    I say improvements since the 1990s for sure. 2008 to 2018? I think it just depends upon the system.
  4. Time Is On My Side

    Time Is On My Side Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Your mom's house
    I'm not sure what brand of speakers/amp/subs the Volkswagen comes with, but I know the radio is Chinese-made though not sure what company made it. Maybe it's been so long since the good system in my Honda that I've lost frame of reference :-(
  5. 2trackmind

    2trackmind Forum Resident

    I've noticed base factory systems from the past 12 years or so sound pretty good. My friend has a 2017 Ford Escape with the base stereo and I am really impressed with how good it sounds.
    carrick doone likes this.
  6. qwerty

    qwerty A resident of the SH_Forums.

    For the most part, I think the stock sound system sold in most cars is considered to be adequate for the needs of the general public who don't have discerning audio tastes. They don't want to put money into areas of the vehicle what aren't going to translate into greater sales. Whenever I drive a relatively new vehicle I'm always disappointed with the quality of the audio. It's reasonable, and probably better quality than what was standard 30 years ago, but not fantastic. Some higher-level vehicles are marketed as having higher-quality audio systems, I can't comment on their quality.

    From my (limited) viewpoint, if you want decent audio in a vehicle you need to upgrade into after-market equipment.
    johnnypaddock likes this.
  7. Helom

    Helom I'll take the monkey coffins

    Varies greatly with manufacturer and model IME. I worked as a mobile audio installer for about 2 years. The worst sounding stock systems, IMO, were usually from Toyota. Many BMWs at that time (2001 - 2003) had terrible systems as well. I recall Nissan had some decent factory systems, as did Saab. Some of the Bose systems were alright, others were atrocious. Regardless of factory system, premium or otherwise, they rarely could compete with aftermarket drivers, a decent class AB amp, and a little EQ help from AudioControl. I've even installed 2- speaker systems that I preferred over some of the 10-speaker factory jobs.
    qwerty likes this.
  8. Tim 2


    Alberta Canada
    I suppose this depends on whether were talking about after market systems or factory.
    I'm sure the ability to build a good aftermarket system has improved but I'm unsure of the value of factory systems.
    I purchase a Jeep Grand Cherokee ever couple of years with the best audio system available, the system in the last one is far from the system in my first, a 2000 model. The price of the upgraded factory system has gone from a few hundred dollars extra to thousands.
  9. GoldprintAudio

    GoldprintAudio Forum Resident

    Lexington, NC
    Without a doubt, car systems have come a long way. If you have a chance, check out the B&W systems in the higher end BMW's or Volvos (yes, Volvo). Or Levinson in Lexus.

    One that I was not super impressed with (which surprised me a bit actually), is Burmester in was not my favorite for the asking prices of the upgrade.

    Alpine systems in the nicer Ram trucks is surprisingly good as well.
  10. 4xoddic

    4xoddic Forum Resident

    Let me start by stating the DSP (digital signal processing) in my 2015 Widex in-ear hearing aids is a vast improvement in car audio appreciation, based upon ~ 48 years of car audio experience.

    My $400, 1965 MG1100 came with an AM/FM, one speaker unit.

    1970 MG Midget, no factory stereo. A HS friend's older brother had a National Rent To Buy Car Stereo franchise, & installed an 8-track (could NOT insert/eject without tranny in Reverse). I put two 4" speakers in the cardboard separating the trunk. With the top down, playing the Easy Rider Soundtrack, & Steppenwolf 's 'The Pusher' came on @ a stoplight, I sheepishly turned down the volume.

    Most of the following 43 years of car ownership were all DIY upgrades:

    1975 Toyota SR5 pickup, no radio, I installed a Craig cassette & 2 4" speakers in the back corners of the cab, above ear level.

    1988 FJ62 Land Cruiser, I replaced the front 4" speakers w/Polk 4" component/tweeters just below windows; rears with 6" Polk coaxials; the Dolby B cassette player was still going strong 18 years later.

    1988.5 Suzuki Samurai ($4995 + $1K for A/C), I splurged on install of $600 Blaupunkt cassette & 6" components/tweeters above doors. Imaging pretty sweet.

    2000 Toyota Tundra LTD came w/component speakers. I've had no complaints in 19 years of listening. I did replace the dead 6-disc changer with a Pioneer Scion single CD w/ipod cable.

    I replaced the stock speakers in our 1997 Lexus LX450 & 2002 Suzuki Vitara, with great results.

    2009 Nissan Xterra came w/Rockford Fosgate 6 speakers + sub. Too dang complex for an easy upgrade from 2 ohm, outboard amp, for easy DIY.

    I'm pretty sure my last car audio purchase is our new 2019 Land Cruiser w/Entune Premium JBL Audio with Integrated Navigation and Entune App Suite. This audio system includes a huge 9-inch touchscreen and 10 high-quality JBL speakers.

    I have a Jensen KA5 amp (NIB) & several sets of Polk & Infinity speakers gathering dust. No DIY plans, as yet.
  11. eflatminor

    eflatminor Forum Resident

    Not in BMWs! The stock systems, ALL OF THEM, are horrendous. I mean un-listenable at any volume.
    Scott222C and Helom like this.
  12. bever70

    bever70 It's all about the soundstage

    Volvo has a very good stock audio system at the moment, way better than most upper brands. In fact I can actually just sit in the car sometimes (not driving) to enjoy all the details coming out of the speakers. The equalizer works also very good and accurate (in a car, I find an equalizer necessary to compensate for the road rumble) and that's not even the upgraded (harman kardon) system, which I never heard so it could sound actually worse for that matter.
    Gasman1003 likes this.
  13. Dennis0675

    Dennis0675 Basic Member

    Cars are getting quieter and that helps. On my last two F-150's I purchased the best options they had for a stereo but the difference between the 5.7 liter V8 and the Eccoboost motor was the biggest impact on the sound of the audio. I missed the sound of the big V8 exhaust at first but the quiet of the ride makes for a better listening experience for the audio. With an electric car there is almost nothing to hear but the stereo.
    SBurke and Gasman1003 like this.
  14. PhilBiker

    PhilBiker member number 666

    Northern VA, USA
    My wife has an upgraded H/K system in her Merdeces E350 that plays DVD-Audio and multichannel DTS CDs. It's great. The stock system in my 2005 C Coupe sounds nice since I upgraded the speakers. Same with my 2014 Subaru - upgrading the speakers made a huge difference.
    Gasman1003 likes this.
  15. Gasman1003

    Gasman1003 "Mumbling Member”

    Liverpool UK
    I think car audio is definitely getting better.

    I recently changed my vehicle, and even though it’s a 2007 model, the sound system is wonderful.

    It seems to be an Alpine upgraded system, offered as an option by the manufacturer, complete with subwoofer.

    I have got used to all its features yet, but was pleasantly surprised to find that the system compensates for whether the roof is up or down and automatically adjusts the volume.

    To my ears the sound quality is excellent, so I can only imagine how much progress had been made in the past 12 years.
  16. Xabby

    Xabby Forum Resident

    Galicia (Spain)
    If you want to appreciate the improvement of these years, try listening to an Audi with B&O.
    oboogie, cdash99 and Gasman1003 like this.
  17. SNDVSN

    SNDVSN Forum Resident

    Harman Kardon in my BMW 1 series is decent.
  18. Thermionic Dude

    Thermionic Dude Forum Resident

    Beat me to it by a minute!

    Yes! The B&O ("3D Premium") system in my '17 A7 is so good that there are many days when I don't bother to "seriously" listen to any music at home. For many buyers, this will be the best music playback they have ever experienced and it's certainly about the best I've ever heard in a vehicle. The "3D Advanced" system is even better, but not by a huge margin to my ears; it does feature that cool motorized tweeter assembly that dramatically rises from the dashboard, but that's one piece of "over-engineering" that is probably best skipped if long-term reliability is a concern.

    The Mark Levinson system in my mother's LS460 is also quite legitimate!
  19. Xabby

    Xabby Forum Resident

    Galicia (Spain)
    And now you will understand why on many occasions I drive at low speed on the motorways because the later I reach my destination, the more moments of pleasure I can enjoy...........
    Thermionic Dude likes this.
  20. Dillydipper

    Dillydipper Sultan Of Snark

    Central PA
    Car audio is getting worse. In the most significant way: you can't re-do the system to your preferences aftermarket, without losing half the capability to the trip/diagnostic computer! :realmad:
    They are so adamant about cramming the most utliities into the car - adequate or not - that you therefore have less choice of what you can do for your sound.

    Not enough they want to take away your CD you can't ADD one, because of proprietary computer systems welded-into the chintzy-a** radio systsms!

    You can't install surround, or hi-rez audio, because Mark Levinson's already told them where the speakers go (and what the brand names should be).

    You get two choices when you buy an average "just-get-me-from-Point-A-to-Point-B" sedan anymore: something based on getting a brand name contracted for the car model...or a radio you wouldn't wish on a XM. :rolleyes:

    I'm still waiting for the exclusive Beats/Earbuds Signature Model Rolls Royce, any minute now...
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2018
  21. tman53

    tman53 Vinyl is an Addiction

    Systems might be improved but car interiors are still problematic.
  22. BayouTiger

    BayouTiger Forum Resident

    New Orleans
    I drive Mopars, their front ends have been made by Harman for ages. I don't put anything into whatever the name they buy to put on it. My wife's Range Rover says Meridian on everything but I they did anything but market the name to them. It does not sound nearly as good as the "Alpine" in my Ram. My Challenger says "Kicker" on it, but I doubt that has anything to do with it either except maybe the lame subwoofer (long gone). I don't even know what the new Charger has on it, on both cars I am usually running wide open and looking for an underpass or tunnel to roar through. No stereo sounds as good as a Catless, free-flowing Hemi!!!
  23. rebellovw

    rebellovw Forum Resident

    Prescott, AZ
    Way better - my new toy (car) has Apple car play - and I can do all kinds of cool stuff. My last head unit in my old car was a Pioneer AVIC - which was top of the line back in 2008 or so - voice control, blue tooth, steering controls - my new factory head unit smokes it - puts it to shame.
  24. Thermionic Dude

    Thermionic Dude Forum Resident

    The inherent problems of a vehicular acoustic space can be largely mitigated by DSP, and the higher-end systems do a very good job with this these days.

    (If you meant that car interiors are still problematic from a quality and style standpoint, I'd have to agree with you in many cases. Funny thing is, Japanese car interiors have been getting increasingly cheaper-feeling since the 90s (you now have to go to Lexus or Infiniti to get the same quality a Camry or Altima had in '94, for example), while GM and Ford interiors have mostly improved.)
    McLover likes this.
  25. It varies from vehicle to vehicle and brand to brand. I’ve had great systems and rubbish systems in the last 15 years.

    The sound in my 2009 Ford Mondeo Titanium was far better than in my daughter’s 2006 old shape Ford Mondeo Titanium. Both systems were Sony, but the later car was better in all areas, being sweet sounding if just a little short of oomph.

    Having said that, the sound in my wife’s 2001 Volvo S60 S was far, far better than the sound in my current 2014 Volvo V70 SE Lux. Volvo stereo quality fell off a cliff when they switched to models based on Ford platforms. The sound in Volvo P2 platform-based vehicles was all-round superb, even on base models.

    The worst I had in recent years was my 2003 Rover 75 Connoisseur, probably equalled by my 2009 Skoda Superb Elegance, which had a rubbish head unit and rubbish speakers. The Rover had the bonus of doors that played along with the speakers, as I found out when I replaced the head unit and speakers.

    Regarding my current V70, I suspect that replacing the speakers will be a massive upgrade, so that’s on plan for 2019. Going further than this can get complicated as others have said, however, since modern stereos are just part of an integrated package.

    Not so sure that modern cars are quieter, however, since tyre noise is often incredibly annoying.

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