Any advice on car audio?

I have an older Saab and am thinking about investing in a new audio system since this one does not have a cd player\, or an amp.
Is it possible to get good sound in a car? Any advice on how do to so without spending a ton of money, money that i could put into my home system?
Yes, it is possible to get good sound -- infact, surprisingly good sound -- in a car. However, it is NOT possible to do this cheaply. In addition to the cost of the equipment itself, it is absolutely necessary to install sound deadening materials inside the car. Road noise is very intrusive, particularly if you have an older car that lacked good soundproofing in the first place. Without good soundproofing, you'll lose most of the high frequencies, and need a lot more amplification to compensate for the loss of low frequencies due to road/tire/engine noise.

When I installed a good audio system in my car, I had the help of a friend who was a professional car audio technician. We essentially stripped the inside of the car (seats, carpets, headliner, dash and transmission consoles, door panels, etc), and then applied Dexdamp soundproofing panels (DynaMat is the other commercial material) to all of the interior surfaces, as well as the trunk, inside surface of the trunk lid, and inside surface of the hood. To complete the treatment, we shot expanding soundproofing foam inside the door shells. Then, on top of the damping panels on the floorboards, I then installed a heavy under-carpet soundproofing material designed for yachts. All of this is pretty labor-intensive, but there is little point in buying good car audio gear if you fail to provide a relatively quiet car interior. With good soundproofing, you can reduce the interior noise level by at least 6 db, and sometimes by as much as 10-12 db. This may not sound like a big reduction in noise, but it is.

In addition to the soundproofing, you will also need -- at a minimum -- decent replacement speakers and a good amp (or amps). You will probably also find that you need a new CD player, separate subwoofer, and probably an equalizer or digital signal processor (DSP) to contour the frequency response (which can pretty non-linear in a car). If you get really serious about this, you will also want to have 1-2 large power supply capacitors (in the 0.5 to 1.0 farad range). Top all of this gear off with some good audio wiring harnesses, and you can easily spend in the $2000-2500 range (assuming you or a friend do the labor).

When the job is done right, a good car audio system can have excellent frequency response, great imaging, and very good dynamic range. It's certainly not equal to a top home system -- think of it more as a really large set of headphones.
Loaded question since so much of car audio is ridiculously over-marketed lies (1000W amplifiers?). Man what a mess the car audio market is.

Okay, here are my thoughts on the car audio thing, ignore at will. Unlike a home audio system you cannot move the speakers around to suit your taste and more importantly the speakers really do make the biggest difference. Check out Focal and maybe some of the higher end Infinity speakers to get a feel for what's possible. You'll need discrete subwoofer(s) but like a good audio system adjust them so they blend nicely with the speakers in the car. I said blend, not boom. Add some dash mounted tweeters, they will make a big difference to your perception of the sound.

The head unit is a tuner and control center, don't get carried away spending a bunch of money on it. The amplifiers matter since a) they are WAY over spec'd and b) need to drive a bunch of speakers simultaneously. Get TWO amps and divide the load reasonably evenly if you can. The CD changer? Get something reliable and matches your head unit for easy hook up (I prefer Pioneer over Alpine for reliability). Wires? Get some 12 gauge from Home Depot, they'll do nicely. Finally, make sure your battery can handle the draw, nothing worse than sitting at a light and your tunes cutting out cuz your battery can't keep up.

Is it worth it? To me it is, I love good music when I'm toolin' down the highway at less than the legal limit. Many people will argue my choices were not ideal, but check out my "systems" and click on my Supra for some ideas. All bought on Ebay BTW. Happy listening, Jeff
"less than the legal limit"? Huge typo!!!!! I'd have a LOT better system if I obeyed the laws and didn't have to shell out long green to cover off speeding tickets. SD is dead-on (pun intended), treat the car then load it up. Best, JL
Hey Jeff

if you find that your amps draw more than the battery wants to put out(do your dash lights dim whent he bass hits?), install a good capacitor. Lightning Audio makes these.

The way i see it, leave the serious listening for at home, the car stereo should "Add" to the driving experience, not be the entire focal point, or yer gonna end up running into somone. It should be Dynamic, Loud, and capable of giving a good kidney massage. :)
sorry to stray from the topic but:

is there a single driver speaker made for cars?

I like the idea of no crossover and would rather sacrifice the high end in favor of better mids. I hope to hear a good single driver speaker for the home someday as well.

Don't waste too much money on a car system.
You can go all out like Mr. Campbell advises, but it costs time and money. How much time do you really spend in the car? Since these car audio companies change their lines every two weeks ;-) it's easy to find something decent on sale too.
I'd rather spend around $500.00 for a good head unit (CD receiver with removeable face and 4 x 100 watts - Ha ha), upgrade the speakers if necessary, and be happy.
You'll never get the car to sound like your home system. Save your money and spend it on music and upgrading the home system.
I second Golden_ears on most points.My introduction to music
reproduction began in car audio.Started in '78 and retired few years ago.Done a few great set-ups.The better sounding rigs really are ground up projects,choosing a good vehicle
picking out equipment,improving electrical system from stock
and interiors as well.In the end you have issues to which only more "stuff" in the signal path helps.The good news is
the entry level gear is a bargain now(If you don't get bitten by mobile theater bugs)I alway advise start simple.
Remember thieves abound and loud rigs advertise best.

Start with your front stage.Pick out a head unit with good ergonomics(remember you may not be only driver on the road with electronic distractions)I dig units w/steering wheel remotes,several brands have that option or hanheld ones for
relatively cheap.Mosfet amplified head units are now very common and start at under 2 bills includes digital domain parametric equalization.Go for efficient speakers
well placed 2way seperates in lower kick panel pods seem to work best.Upgrade paths can be more power.Tweeters can be added up higher in dash and powered by headunit.Infinity makes nice very flexible efficient powered sub.Thing about
autosound you should keep in mind is that cars are noisy enviroment(70+db background noise,best demo is sitting in a parking lot or the stores display)They have complex electrical systems and many digital sytems now,and boundary effects,oh my.
So start small clean efficient.Place your speakers well.
Philjolet, the only single driver units I am aware of have those paper whizzer cones in them. Typically they are on the low end, price wise and I am sure they aren't intended as anything but a cheap, full range speaker with limited ability. They do make good coaxial speakers but separates are really the only way to go. Getting the tweeter placement higher up in the car and properly positioned is the only way to get anything approaching stereo separation. Anything less is just so much noise coming from your door panels.
I was into car audio for quite some time and built a number of systems (separates & subs) for my cars including a 1984 VW GTI, a 1988 Toyota 4Runner, a 1988 Porsche 911 and a 1994 SeaRay 180BR...yes...a boat...then I got into home audio and never looked I wish I hadn't wasted so many $$$ on car audio that was either stolen or sold with the vehicle...sure it sounds nice, but I find that the less I listen to music in my car now (with the exception of road trips)...the more I appreciate my music when I get home. Just my 2c

Hi, I'm going to throw my little bit of my reality here. I've been doing systems for my car for over 25 years, and still enjoy it quite a bit. I started my career performing car installations, though I have moved on to other technologies. And though I'll admit that I have scaled back my systems, I still enjoy upgrading the stock system in my car. It is car audio that got me into the audiophile bug. For it was these systems that I started noticing more elements in the music, I'd be driving along and notice that I had never heard something in a song before. I was missing stuff. I had a decent image, full sound, and details appeared before and around me. I learned through this experience to begin to look for more from my home system.

I'll also add, as Ellery911 mentioned, I lived in my car, hours each day, two-hours minimum, typically more. So having a better system in my car was a requirement for me. I am now listening more to home system and less to my car. Though the car still sounds good, the house sounds great.

Is a car a perfect audiophile experience? No way. Can you get good to excellent sound, you bet! It all depends on what you want and how much you want to spend. And you are going to get some very polarized attitudes about sound in a car. I believe even more so as compared to home audio.

I've owned several Saab models from a 99, 900, and 93, sedans, hatches, and convertible, each has it's own issues (my 99 was wonderful and unique at the time).

A couple fo things I'd like to ask:

1. What do you define as "good sound"? What are your expectations for the car?

2. You mentioned that you have an older Saab, what year? Model? And style (2 door, 4 door, hatch, convertible). There are basic installation issues and concerns that need to be addressed with each.

3. What is your budget? Good sound, depending on your definition, can be had relatively inexpensively?

4. What equipment do you have and/or like now? Knowing your tastes can nail a system a lot better.

Yes, you can do a lot of things to tweak a car to help improve the output, imaging, and environment. And there are a lot of different ideas and methods achieve this, but that's it, tweaking. As mentioned in previous posts, adding sound dampening materials (such as dynamat or dexdamp) can help lower the noise floor within the car. Especially the squeeks and rattles within your car. It'll also add a lot of weight to the car (I happen to have a box next to me right now that I was going to use for a previous installation, it covers 20 square feet and weighs 20-30 lbs, it's heavy, it'll be like adding an extra 1-2 people to your car, depending on the extent of the install, this will affect handling, ride, economy, and load ratings). If you've ever heard a Mercedes door shut, compared to an inexpensive car, there is a more solid, deep shut with the Mercedes. That is sound dampening and that is what it will do for you.

Speaker placement is also a major topic. Unlike home systems where speakers can be easily adjusted to obtain optimal sound, the car really limits this placement. A couple of things to note about placement. Car speakers, unlike home speakers, are typically designed to be very, very directional. Because there are so many hard surfaces for the sound to bounce, this helps with imaging in a car. And because multiple mounting locations can be used, tweeters up high, mids & woofers down lower, there can be other acoustical issues that occur, time relationships, acoustic separation. But by placing speakers up high, the image and soundstage will rise as well.

Also the installation location will affect the speaker. Dash speakers tend to lose bass output versus door or shelf installations (a dash does not make a good enclosure, a trunk does). And another issue is cabin gain, a cars natural environment will boost low frequencies (when everything else is done right). You can also play with speaker wiring polarity adjust the perceived imaging.

I'd start by getting some good solid speakers (separates or very high quality coaxes - and this can be separates mounted in a coax-type configuration), some dedicated amplification, and a decent front end, and you'll be surprised at the sound in the car. I have a good head unit, Clarion, a Soundstream amp, and A/D/S/ component speakers. I don't have a sub, I dropped that a couple of years ago. A cars cabin provides gain in the low-end, and speakers with decent output in the low-end will have some gain added naturally by the car. Over time I have found this setup to be more musical, though with less impact and extreme extension. And when a good song comes on, it easily overcomes any of the road noise in the car. Though I should mention that the whole car audio world changes with a convertible and/or all your windows open - then you would probably want a sub.

I've had one stereo ripped off, back in the 80's, I haven't had an issue since. It all depends were you go with the car. I don't believe you can prevent it, and this is why you have insurance (keep receipts and take pictures). A detachable face front end helps, especially if you take the faceplate with you. But many people don't, at most they remove it and leave it in the car (glovebox or door pocket). Some companies will hide the faceplate, others will use coded keys for security, all can be bypassed in one way or another (sometimes the factory will need to do it). Car alarms help as well. I believe the car itself is the more primary object of theft nowadays, anyway.

Hope this helps, Todd
FWIW - Recently, I decided to upgrade my Mitsubishi factory radio (not the Infinity model). I really didn't want to invest in a whole new system upgrade - just a better head unit. First, I installed the top-of-the-line Alpine based on its reputation. It turned out to be a real ear bleeder. I then exchanged it for a Sony CDX-M800. I can't be happier. It's looks great too!