Car audio – what do you need to know about the options available?

Buying a new car and looking at the audio options available to you? With the range of options available this can get confusing.

These days, a number of well known home entertainment brands are working with car manufacturers to make their systems available – for example, Mark Levinson (Lexus), Bose (Nissan, Mazda and Skoda), Harman Kardon (BMW), Bowers and Wilkins and Bang and Olufsen (Audi), Dynaudio (Volkswagen), Infinity (Hyundai), Meridian (Jaguar), Mcintosh (Subaru) and Bermester (Mercedes-Benz).

But what are the components of these audio systems and what do the various terms mean?

Firstly, the amplifier and channels and speakers – these are the components that amplify or boost the audio and make the output louder. The stronger the speaker signal, to less distortion of the sound through the speaker, and higher the quality of output with clearer sound. There are different types of speakers which handle the different ranges of sound – high frequency sounds are reproduced by tweeters, bass is handled by larger low range speakers and subwoofers, while the mid-range is looked after by mid-range speakers.

The number of channels refers to the number of amplifier outputs and the number of speakers that are attached. The more channels there are, the higher the number of speakers and the greater the range of sound and volume that can be reproduced. Channels are sometimes described by two numbers separated by a decimal point. A 12.2 system has 12 speakers and two subwoofers.

Secondly, watts which refers to the electrical power of a sound system. Simply put, the more watts, the more powerful the output – for example, a basic system in a small car may have 50 watts, while an expensive system in a large car may have 1000 watts.

Surround sound, which is next generation stereo uses speakers placed around the cabin to create a greater degree of depth of sound.

Active noise cancelling is a technique whereby the system plays the exact inverse sound wave of ambient noise caused by tyres and wind, relaying it through the stereo speakers. The two opposite sounds actually cancel each other out.

It might seem strange that playing additional sound through a speaker might help improve cabin ambience but the systems can be very effective.

A higher-end system will provide an equaliser – which will allow you to adjust the balance between base and treble, to allow you to customise the sound for different types of music.

Customising your in-car sound system can range from the modest to the magnificent. The simple addition of an amp can lift your car’s sound profile to a much more enjoyable level. But for some people the bigger and bolder the system, the better – the choice is yours.