Choosing Good Car Audio Equipment

Without having years of experience knowing the different brands there are a few ways to determine what is good gear.

Build Quality

Actually hold the unit in your hands and look it over with both your eyes and your fingers. What type of materials is it made of? What is the quality of the finish? Does it look and feel like a quality piece of equipment? Can you see obvious workmanship flaws in the unit? If it's a subwoofer, how heavy is the magnet? Poor quality units will usually have smaller magnets and better units will have larger magnets. This is not always true as some of the second rate manufacturers are putting very large magnets on their subwoofers, knowing that large magnets are a feature associated with quality subwoofers. Also manufacturers are finding new ways to increase the power of the magnets while reducing the actual size of the magnet.

Quality amplifiers are also known for having a heavy chassis. Again, this is not always the case as some manufacturers are building small, inferior amplifiers into very large and heavy cases. Likewise, some of the newer class D amplifiers have smaller heatsinks because their efficient design does not require the heat dissipation of the class A/B amplifiers.

Head units should have buttons that feel solid and do not wobble around when you touch them. Speakers should be made of quality materials. Especially the cones which need to be designed to handle the automotive environment. This is particularly important when you live in an environment with extreme temperatures. Look for cones that are made of one of the various plastics like polypropylene or coated/treated paper. Regular paper cones tend to break down over time. Look for separate tweeters on coaxial speakers rather than the "whizzer cone" (a stiffened paper that looks like the open end of a triangular water cup). See the photo below.

Speaker with "Whizzer" Cone Tweeter
Image courtesy of Parts Express


Another sales technique that manufacturers can employ is the finish of the equipment. If the equipment looks gaudy or the styling is over the top then there's a very good chance that they're covering up deficiencies in the unit. This is especially true for subwoofers that are completely chromed or amplifiers that have "level meters" built in. Now this does not mean that all stylish equipment is of poor quality. In fact many top manufacturers offer the option of having their equipment chrome plated for shows and competitions. But if the units are chrome plated by default than the chances are good that it is not a top performing unit.

Manufacturer's Reputation

Ask around. Just because you don't know the manufacturer's reputation doesn't mean others don't. Go to the newsgroups and forums and find out what others have to say about the equipment. Keep in mind that not all of the opinions will be from "experts" and that some people have had bad experiences with certain brands. Obviously the shops will be biased either towards or against the brand depending on what they carry. Find out how long the company has been in business. Check their warranties and see if they stand behind their equipment. Their track record with other consumers will tell you a lot about the quality of their equipment.

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