How to get better sound without paying a penny
Three simple and free tweaks to maximise your existing car stereo’s true potential
What is good music? For many drivers, good music is what makes their commutes more enjoyable. These days, the audio system that comes with your car can vary quite significantly in terms of functionality and quality. It can range from a no-frills kit with just the bare essentials to something premium, boasting more speakers than you can count with your hand.
What’s more, one man’s meat can be another man’s poison. We each have our unique sound preferences, and personalisations to the car’s interior can also skew its acoustics. In addition, each car manufacturer has a different philosophy to sound calibration. These factors can lead to a noticeable gap between your expectations and what your factory-fitted audio system can deliver.
The good news is most modern CD and multimedia car receivers (head units) are customisable. With our tips below and a little patience, you can easily make the sound from your car’s audio system much closer to your liking without paying a penny.
Step 1: Getting the fundamentals right
Even the best car audio system can sound less than satisfactory if it is poorly configured. Start by experimenting with the standard settings, followed by the advanced controls once you have gained sufficient experience.
|Standard||Balance||Determines the loudness between the left and right speakers||Dial in the sound stage by ensuring the vocals are tightly in focus, and projected from the centre of the dashboard.|
|Fade||Same effect as balance, except it affects the front and rear speakers|
|Advanced||Time alignment, delay or distance||Synchronises the sound from each speaker and subwoofer (sub) and where it converges in the car||Calibrating all the speakers and subs to produce more cohesive and natural tunes|
|Level or gain control||Maintains equal loudness across all speakers and subs|
|Crossover or low- and high-pass filters||Integrates different category of speakers. For example, tweeter and midrange driver|
The Pioneer AVH-Z5050BT Z-Series Multimedia Receiver supports adjustable cutoff frequency and slope to seamlessly integrate a subwoofer with the speakers
You can download free mobile apps like tone generator and real time analyser to further simplify the speaker calibration process. By connecting your smartphone’s headphone output to the head unit’s auxiliary input, you can analyse your car’s internal acoustics and compensate utilising the advanced settings.
Step 2: Personalising with tone controls
There is a high likelihood that your head unit has some form of tone control, which can help you customise the sound characteristics of your system. Examples of these controls include loudness, sound presets, bass and treble, and graphics or parametric equaliser.
|Tone control||Function||Simplicity||Level of customisation|
|Loudness||Typically used to produce more dynamic sound at lower volume||High||Low|
|Sound presets like Rock and Pop||Optimises the system based on different genres of music||High||Average|
|Bass and treble adjustments||Users can independently control the low (bass) and high (treble) frequencies||Average||Average|
|Graphics or parametric equaliser||Provides the most granular control with up to 13 adjustable frequencies||Low||High|
The new Pioneer DEH-S5050BT CD receiver features a 13-band equaliser
Make incremental adjustments instead of maxing out the setting to avoid distortion, and play your favourite soundtracks to compare the difference. Just remember that these tone controls can only take you so far, and cannot substitute an actual subwoofer to achieve deeper and stronger bass.
Step 3: Pick a higher-quality source
Quality matters, now more so than ever with newer technology and digital content. You may have an audiophile-grade system and still end up with forgettable sound due to lower-quality analogue sources like FM radio – unless you want to hear the source imperfections in greater detail. Eliminate the hiss and crackle completely by switching to digital media.
|Digital media||Overview||Sound quality||Availability|
|MP3||MP3 files with higher bit rates or lower compression will provide better sound quality||Average to high||High|
|Bluetooth||Bluetooth trades convenience for sound quality to wirelessly stream music from mobile devices to the head unit||Average||Average|
|Compact disc (CD)||CDs are bulky and limited in storage capacity, making them less popular among car makers and consumers||High||High|
|Online music streaming services like Spotify||Drivers can access millions of music titles at CD-quality sound, but availability is currently limited to selected ASEAN countries|
(Is Spotify available in my country?)
|Lossless audio like FLAC||Unlike MP3 which is a “lossy” format, FLAC and other lossless audio formats can preserve the original fidelity of a music recording||Best||Low|
You can convert CDs into MP3 files utilising freeware at a bitrate of 256kbps, which offers the best balance between sound quality and file size. Play Spotify at the highest quality by manually setting the streaming option, but be mindful of the higher amount of data that will be downloaded.
The next step
Following these 3 simple steps should provide a perceivable sound improvement to elevate your in-car entertainment experience. However, your mileage will vary, especially if you are tweaking a poorly designed car audio system.
When you’re ready to take the next step up, explore aftermarket components such as the latest Pioneer receivers and speakers. Simply approach our authorised dealers – they are trained experts and offer only original Pioneer products with local warranty to give you complete peace of mind.
Follow our Facebook page for the latest product announcements and updates.