car stereo automobile sound system

I am looking to get good sound in the car as I am spoiled from what I have in the house. Can any one help me as to where should I start looking e.g. speakers amps heads etc. I prefer to get high end life like sound with sound stage and depth rather than a loud heavy bass system. thanks.
Look into Alpine's and/or Pioneer's *top-of-the-line* head units, they're awesome.

Speakers: ADS, JL, or MB Quart component sets.

Amps: Older PPI's (Art series) or JL's current offerings.
The more power, the better.
These will fit the bill with quantity AND quality (I'd put a separate amp on each component set)

Sub: A pair of sealed JL 10's will be plenty suitable for audiophile standards.
One nice, big, clean amp, with lots of power and control for killer bass.

Install: Locate a reputable installer to have it *done right* and you'll be in the sound quality-plus catagory, and may never want to leave the car !!
Audiophile quality car sound is an oxymoron!
There are as many high end car audio products as there are for home. Unfortunately, strict redbook audio in cars is rare in this age of "mobile entertainment," i.e., Playstations, DVD players, navigation, etc...

That being said, all my cars have had aftermarket audio systems installed. I always have adhered to the front stage philosophy.

In my car audio system, I run it completely active - that means each driver has it's own amplifier driving it. The response and dynamic range are simply amazing. If I could run my home system completely active (at a reasonable cost), I would do it in a heartbeat.

My system is set up similar to a home system - first of all, it's hidden so it doesn't attract thieves. Next, it is critical to set up the front stage - that includes the stereo image and depth that seems to go beyond the windshield, as if singers are coming from your front bumper.

This is not easy to accomplish if speakers are only mounted on the doors. You have to decide how committed you are to obtaining "perfect sound" in your car.

My front stage is mounted in the kick panel area and the drivers are aimed to cross-over to provide a stable image. In addition to this, my head unit has digital time correction capability. Like Tact units for the home, this allows the user to set up the distances of the speakers so that the sound arrives at the driver at precisely the same time.

AS in home audio, source unit, drivers, and amplifiers are critical.

To put it in perspective, I have set up the car audio system so that I can plug it into an ac outlet in my garage. This way I can listen to the system without running the engine. I enjoy the car audio system as much as the home system.


PS They make tube amplifiers for car audio as well. They used to make Class A car amps as well, but nothing current to my knowledge.
I must disagree with Rx8man. Pioneer and Alpine sound very mid-low-fi to me. For truly good head units there are three brands I would consider.

The first is Eclipse. Look for a head unit with the 24-bit delta-sigma DAC. I have the 5444 (last year's model) and the sound is incredible. In a direct listening test, it sounded far better than the top of the line Alpine. Even the lower line Eclipse units have better sound than Alpine, Pioneer, Sony, Panasonic, Blaupunkt, etc. - you get the idea. The Eclipse website is

I believe Nakamichi makes a good line of head units as well. Since they do not have a dealer in my area, I have not been able to listen to them. Their website is
This is a flash site so make sure your computer is capable. They play some decent music while you browse on this site suggesting that they are as passionate about sound as you are. (But of course this could just be clever marketing!)

For the ultimate head unit-CD changer-amp-speaker setup, I would like to see someone try McIntosh. They definitely have the McIntosh look which may or may not complement your interior, but if the sound is as good as their home products it should be worth the premium price. Website:

I'll second the vote for MB Quart speakers. They are probably the best of the widely available speakers. Go for the top of the line.

Another speaker to look at is Dynaudio. They are not cheap and the speakers have VERY large magnets as do their home speakers so they eat current for breakfast - make sure you pair them with a competant amp. I have heard them and the sound is very good.

A third brand to look at is Focal (same company that makes Focal_JM Labs home speakers). I have heard these also and the sound is good. I prefered the sound of the Dynaudio's, but they were not the top of the line Focals so it wasn't really a fair comparason. Let your ears decide if you can arrange to listen to both.

Depending on your car, your choice of installer/wiring/speaker placement may have a big impact on your ultimate sound. You can't play around with speaker placement, cables etc. as you can with home speakers so try to get an installer with a good reputation and one you can trust.
I gave up on car audio so many years ago. when comparing the top car audio systems of the world and competing with competition cars. Not for spl but for sound quality and installation. I have never heard a car recreate a soundstage of a modest home system(Thiel 2.3’s). After winning a few car stereo competitions in wattage class, and creating a center channel in the air vents and door panels and dynamat throughout. The are a lot of musical sound systems and even a few headunits containing dsp creating a center channel; The older units by pioneer and Rockford fosgate. The jl audio in large sealed enclosures are great for subs. Speakers by ADS and MB Quart and Boston Acoustic Pro series are very musical and accurate. Amps from Alpine Pro Series for the front section and a RF punch series or phoenix gold amp for the subs. If you put a lot of wattage to the car make sure you use a large capacitor from the engine. If you don’t get a head unit with dsp. Another very musical head unit is an older nakamichi cd player.

I recommend using a separate DAC. I have a SONY CD changer with digital output. The DAC is a Theta Pro Basic IIIA preceeded by 10 jitter filters. Speakers are Dynaudio which are tri-amped.
I tried for many years to approach the sound achievable in the best of home audio.I could get a few key metrics,high volume,dynamics,low frequency.
However image palpability,dimensionality,that reach out and hold it quality eludes.
Closest I could get was Dynaudio mid/tweeter combo in fabricated kick panels with no center channel.Just straight stereo no DSP tricks and you had to lean in to the middle for best focus.The interior glass boundaries always color the sonics far too much.
Even 5.1 sounds much processing in close quarters just shy of natural.In the end you'll settle for dynamics,low end,and volume...but motor started going down the highway it's all downhill.
Holly cow, I hope I am not around you guys when you are "listening" to the nuances of audiophile equipment while driving! There is a time to listen and that is not while driving, therefore no need or possibility of having audiophile quality system in a car.
Of course you might be using the car system as a portable "boom box" to disturb fellow picnickers!
If you must drive while listening to an audiophile system, install a driver simulator in your listening room.
Salut, Bob P.
I'll Second Key_metric's point of view, and add my own.

Head unit: Eclipse or Macintosh

Amps: Precision Power (PPI), make sure you get the good ones, not the lower line (I can't remember how they are distinguished, except by the specs).

Speakers: MB Quart. No question. Go top of the line and go for the competition crossovers and with proper installation, nothing (IMHO) can touch them.

Subs: JL Audio.

Head units to avoid like the plague: Sony, including the ES line and Alpine, unless you like severe digital glare.

Kenwood, unless you like ridiculously bloated bass and

Pioneer, unless you like having the midrange scooped out of your music.

I realize a lot of this is subjective, but at least it will give you a refence to start with. With these brands, expect to spend in the range of $4-5K including install to get top of the line with excellent sound. Hope that helps.
Nak makes the best cd head unit I've heard, specifically the 45z, but dealers are difficult to find, and units are known to be temperamental and at least for the 45z range. The error correction is bad, if it exists at all (I don't know) -CDs have to be really good shape or they will skip. I for one stopped buying used CDs because they never play all the way through. I don't know the story for X00-CD series. Also, I agree that Dynaudio is super. The major problem I have encountered is finding HUs and speakers that aren't bright, which is almost half the reason I like Dyn and Nak.

You won't be able to get the sound you can from a home system due to obvious constraints. While width from speakers mounted in kick-panels is doable, soundstage and depth in particular are not exactly the last things "to go" when putting a quality stereo in a car. Reduce noise, get a good tonal balance, some detail and reliability, and that's about all you can ask for, ime.
Hey, I musta fallen behind times, 3 outta 4 equipment suggestions ain't too bad considering the adavancements in car audio.
I'll do some more homework on the head unit catagory................................