When you sit in your car and listen to your favorite music, you dive deep into a state of relaxation. At that time, you do not want anything to disturb your mood. Your car audio components create that ambiance for you.
To enjoy your car audio ecosystem at its fullest, it is essential you know the ins and outs of car audio components. These various components complement each other to create the perfect environment for you. A good knowledge of car audio systems will allow you to create your unique identity through customization.
We have summarized the needs and functions of different types of car audio components for you to create that custom sound system. Let’s begin.
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6 Popular Car Audio Components Explained
This guide will give you a 360 view of essential car audio components. We will begin with the head unit, and step-by-step build and understand the relation among the other audio components.
1. Audio Receiver/Head Unit
The car audio receiver or head unit or stereo, whatever you call it, is the functional screen with which drivers and passengers interact the most. It is mounted on the dashboard and lets you control your overall car audio experience. Other than showing your current music status, it helps track information, navigate, change system settings, etc.
It has several elements embedded to ensure any service you want is a hand away from you. In-built volume and control knobs allow you to adjust volume, do tuning, and navigate menus.
Modern audio receivers for basic models come in LED or LCD, but the advanced models are integrated with touchscreen functions. The display can let you select radio station frequencies, show time, and song playlists and support the visual interface for other functions such as navigation or video playback.
You can connect your mobile or laptop to a stereo system by using a wire connection. Even better, you can use Bluetooth connectivity for both music streaming and hands-free calling. And for faster connectivity, some head units come with in-built Wi-Fi technology. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto take it to the next step by offering seamless smartphone integration. Their features let users do smartphone activities through the head unit screen. Most audio receivers give you the option of choosing from multiple audio formats including AM/FM radio, CD/DVD, USB drives, and even satellite radio or apps like Spotify and Apple Music.
Based on dimensions, Head Units are called Single-DIN and Double-DIN. The single-DIN head units are approximately 7*2 inches in length and The Double-DIN head units are approximately 7*4 inches in dimensions. They are larger, expensive, and offer more functions than a single-DIN audio receiver. They are famous for their compact tech integration and large user-friendly touch display. To know more about Single-DIN and double-DIN, read it out.
If the head unit is the director, then the amplifier is your sound technician. The amplifier takes the director’s orders (signals from the head unit) and relates or amplifies them to the singers (speakers). Amplifiers ensure that you enjoy a loud and clear sound from the speaker.
You may think why you might need an amplifier. The head unit could directly send the signal to the speakers. Here comes the catch. The signal sent from the head unit is very weak or low-level. If sent directly, the weak signal would not be sufficient to create the optimal audio experience.
So, an amplifier enhances the signal and makes it strong enough to move speaker cones. The magnitude of this amplification is determined by the amplifier’s gain setting and inherent design.
There are many kinds of car amplifiers available in the market. Mono amplifiers are specially designed for powering the subwoofers. When dealing with deep bass notes, they can handle the high current demands of subwoofers.
A 2-channel or stereo amplifier is designed to output two distinct audio channels. It can transmit signals to left and right door-speakers. You can also bridge them to power a single subwoofer with more force.
Multi-channel amplifiers can independently power 3 to 7 channels at a time. It can power door speakers, tweeters, rear deck speakers, and more from a single unit. Also, the user can create bridge with multiple channels to power a single unit or subwoofer.
You can compare speakers to a singer who delivers the sound for audio consumption. Like a singer, the speaker produces music as per the director’s (head unit) instructions. Speakers in your car convert the amplified signals into audible sound waves. They do this by creating continuous vibrations in the air, which hits our ears.
In full-range speakers or coaxial speakers, all the elements of a speaker, like tweeters, woofers, and subwoofers, are integrated into a single unit. They together are able to reproduce the entire range of frequencies.
It means that when you play a song, the speaker single-handedly will reproduce low to high-range frequencies. The biggest perk of full-range speakers is that you get all the functionalities of a speaker at an affordable price.
However, there is not much room for customization, and the audio quality is not satisfactory.
A component speaker has dedicated elements for reproducing each frequency. Unlike full-range speakers, all the parts (tweeters, woofers, subwoofers, crossovers) come separately, and they create more premium and clear sounds. You can create precise sound optimization with component speakers. But, all these benefits take up huge space in your car and budget.
Subwoofers are special singers(Speakers) who are experts in reproducing deep and dramatic voices. They bring out the profound bass notes, adding depth to the music.
Regular speakers are not very good at reproducing low-frequency sounds, usually ranging from 20Hz to 200Hz. When they play songs with high bass notes, ordinary speaker user experiences distortion and unclear sound.
To solve this issue, subwoofers are designed to reproduce sound waves with low frequency. By channeling bass frequencies to a subwoofer, the main speaker can play at higher volumes with less distortion. It certainly makes the music more full-bodied and dynamic.
Like a sound designer, the equalizer ensures that the produced sound is exactly what you want to hear. It gives you the options and tools to play with the sound. Nowadays, most modern head units come with an equalizer. But, users can purchase it separately according to their needs.
Equalizer allows you to customize specific frequency bands within an audio signal. By adjusting these bands, you can enhance or reduce particular elements of the sound, like bass, mids, or treble. Also, you can correct sound for any acoustic anomalies occurring because of the car’s interior.
The most available type available in car audio setups is Graphic Equalizers. It has multiple sliders that represent specific frequency bands. Users can control sound waves by moving the slider up or down.
More advanced Parametric Equalizers offer more precise control over the audio spectrum. Amplitude control is also possible via parametric equalizers.
Users can get benefits of both graphic and parametric equalizers if they get their hand on a Semi-parametric equalizer. But, the drawback is users can adjust the center frequency and amplitude but not the bandwidth.
6. Digital Sound Processor (DSP)
DSPs can perform some functionalities as that of an equalizer, but the customization opportunities and the scopes of DSPs are far beyond those of equalizers.
A DSP digitally receives and improves the overall quality of car audio. Then, it tailors them to best satisfy the listeners. It can do this through various means, from equalization and time alignment to phase correction and more.
Like ordinary equalizers, DSPs let you customize the band frequency to cut or boost parts of the sound spectrum according to your liking.
In a car’s interior environment, audio comes from different areas. That makes the sound waves generated by the speakers hit you in a time-gap. DSPs’ time alignment sends the wave in such a way that each speaker hits you at the same time. It creates a better car audio experience by creating more clear and focused sound.
Sound frequencies from different speakers of a system can cancel or magnify each other, which creates a muddied sound. DSPs optimize the waves’ phase to better complement each sound wave.
As we know, each type of speaker specializes in reproducing certain sound waves. So, it is necessary to send the proper signal to the right speaker. Here comes DSP’s in-built crossover to the rescue. It not only sends the right frequency but also ensures that speakers do not receive any unwanted frequencies.
As we explained the types of car audio components, you now know which component you need to upgrade to enhance your car’s audio performance. Even though each of the items is a must, you can upgrade them one by one according to your preference.
In your car audio system, the head unit is the brain of all functions. It lets you give commands and shows you everything that is going on. The signal from the head unit goes to the amplifier.
The amplifier makes the signal strong for the speakers to process. Subwoofers are a special kind of speakers custom-made for bass notes. Equalizer and DSP let you play with the sound waves and let you create the best musical experience.