Whether you love driving or absolutely hate it, high-end car audio makes your time in the car much better.
Some people love to take a car out on the open road, the countryside flowing beside them as they guide a finely tuned machine through curves and straightaways. Simultaneously you feel a part of the larger world, a part of nature, but you also are wrapped in one of the finest examples of human ingenuity ever conceived. Some like to speed over the asphalt, the movement transcendent and part of the connection the driver feels to a world that moves too slowly. Others like to take their time, keeping to speed limits, taking in the scenery, and making the most of the journey regardless of the destination.
Regardless of which type of driver you are, chances are that you enjoy listening to something while driving. While it could be music, talk-radio, or just your navigation system, nothing makes an experience better than adding a rich, full soundtrack from the best high-end car audio brands. Here's some music for your ears though -- we've compiled our favorite high-end car audio brands and products to help you pick the best one.
Does high-end car audio even matter?
When you think of necessary systems for your car, your mind likely goes more to what’s under the hood rather than in center of the dashboard. However, unless the car is a professional racing vehicle, there is no driving situation not improved by having the best possible sound system you can.
In bygone years, people would risk their lives taking days to travel the distance a single driver can cover in a day. But even when a crew of people piled into a covered wagon, there was always someone with a guitar, harmonica, or some other musical instrument. There is something about traveling to music that just feels right to people. Thus, yes -- high-end car audio matters.
Okay, if it’s so important, what is the value of high-end car audio?
A friend once had a car in which the radio was broken, so she stuck a boombox powered by a battery under the passenger dash. After a little adjustment, her music ended up sounding better than when her car radio worked. After she replaced it, the sound was so substandard, she immediately saved up to replace all of her speakers. High-end car audio is one of those things you have to hear to understand why it’s necessary.
Listening to music is both a passive and active way to appreciate art. Active because it stimulates your mind and, if the beat is right, you can dance to it. It’s passive, because we can listen to music when doing almost anything else. It’s so essential that visual art forms like television and movies all include musical scores for their programs. Imagine watching Star Wars or Lost without the distinctive music behind it? The art is worse for its absence.
So, if listening to music is so important, why not use high-end car audio brands to ensure that your listening experience is the best it can be? You will truly appreciate the fullness of the music. You can hear discrete instruments and sounds. Or even just hear the lyrics better so you don’t sing the wrong words accidentally. High-end car audio can make your car your favorite place to listen to music.
How do high-end car audio brands compare to factory car audio systems?
If you’ve purchased a car in the past ten years or so, chances are your default sound system features some sort of high-end car audio features. Manufacturers realized that if they partnered with certain high-end car audio brands, some drivers wouldn’t feel the need to upgrade their sound systems. Any after-market head unit, for example, will typically feature twice the amplifier power than a factory unit. Still, even with these cars, there are things you can add and tweak to improve your sonic experience.
Factory systems often feature an over-reliance on bass, with speakers optimized for the bass-heavy music of today. However, all the parts of the equalizer matter and it would be a pain to have to adjust those settings just to switch from listening to hip-hop to jazz. When you invest in high-end car audio brands, you can effectively create a bespoke system. This means you could invest in a speaker system that looks beyond simple bass bumping, and even can allow you to program multiple equalizer settings so that you get the best sound for every song.
If you are all about the booming bass, then high-end car audio is an absolute must for you. Factory systems are about enough bass for “cool” moms and dads heading to pick up the kids. However, if you want to rattle some windows, you’ll need high-end car audio brands to outfit your system with better speakers, sub-woofers, and amplifiers. No matter what sort of sound you enjoy, high-end car audio delivers it in a subtle, but superior way to standard systems.
Characteristics of High-End Car Audio Brands
When you are looking to upgrade your sound system, don’t just go for the most expensive. No, what you want to look for are the characteristics that set high-end car audio brands apart from competitors. Just like with any purchase, you should do in-depth research. Guides like this are a great place to start, but double-check what you read to ensure you’re getting the best information.
Remember when it comes to music, almost everything is subjective. What one reviewer or audiophile thinks is perfection may actually sound like a bag of angry cats to you. If you like crisp, clear music, you may want to look for head units, speakers, or amplifiers that deliver what they promise. If you like your music loud, look for head units with ample power, with speakers and amps that can handle it.
Read the reviews!
One of the best things you can do is dig into the reviews of the products you are checking out. The people who’ve tried the product already offer great insight on what your expectations should be. Some high-end car audio brands might be lauded by audio and electronics publications, but if the customers don’t like it that’s something else to consider. Be sure to read both negative and positive reviews to acquire the broadest understanding of all facets of your potential high-end car audio.
What to Look for in High-End Car Audio Brands
There are many good brands out there for high-end car audio, but figuring out which ones are best for you is the real trick. Unlike with some luxury tech, such as high-end kitchen appliances, it is not always necessary to use the same brand for all your items. While smart ovens and smart refrigerators can often work best with other devices made by the same company, when it comes to high-end car audio brands this isn’t always true. Some brands do certain parts of the system better than others. We break it down for you below.
The head unit is the user interface for your car’s sound system. Thus, it’s important to ensure that the device you have has the features you want. You will also want a head unit that sends powerful signals to the speakers without the aid of an amplifier.
Almost any head unit will be better than the one installed by the auto maker, but just how better they are can vary. For example, brands like Pioneer, Alpine, and Kenwood, often feature higher pre-amp power because these companies also make speakers. They know what customers need.
Other brands, like Sony and Jensen, offer features and settings that they know drivers want to have. Ease of use is just as important, so that’s why these high-end car audio brands focus mostly on that experience. This also means that they will work just as well with any other high-end car audio brands producing amplifiers and speakers.
An amplifier is a crucial part of any high-end car audio system. Thus, there are a number of high-end car audio brands who make these devices for people looking to pack more power into their sound system. While almost all head units come with a small amplifier, the addition of one of these devices will take your car’s audio experience and supercharge it.
Amps can either be used to power all of the speakers in your car, usually a four or six channel system, or they can be added to power sub-woofers. Usually those amps only feature one channel, but offer a great deal more power.
Brands like MTX, Skar, and Orion, are not well known in the public marketplace. But to anyone who knows anything about these amps, these brands’ products are widely respected. Other brands, such as JL Audio and Alpine, enjoy wider recognition from those who aren’t high-end car audio enthusiasts. However, the product you choose has to fit your specific needs.
Your speakers are arguably the most important and most sensitive part of upgrading your car’s sound system. If you don’t make sure they can support the power from your head unit or your amplifier, you run the risk of blowing them. This will break the speaker, and your music will become almost unlistenable.
Similarly, if the speakers you choose require more power than your head unit provides, the sound is muted. No matter how high you turn up the volume, it won’t sound quite right. So, make sure you know the wattage they can handle. Because of this, you may be tempted to save the speakers for last, but really you should upgrade them first.
Sometimes upgrading your speakers alone can make your car’s audio system sound brand new. As long as you stick to trusted high-end car audio brands like Alpine, Kenwood, BOSS, JL Audio, Rockford Fossgate, or others, chances are the speakers will be able to handle whatever you put in. So, decide on your upgrades all at once, but if you start with the speakers you don’t run the risk of blowing out the old ones when you put in your new tech.
Different Types of Sub-woofers
The sub-woofer is an extra speaker added to systems that reproduce low frequency bass, adding a fullness to the sound you might only get from high-end headphones. These aren’t usually for the casual music listener though. But, if you want to add one, you need to know about the two main types of sub-woofers before you can figure out which high-end car audio brands offer the best ones.
The most common set up is the boxed sub-woofer, which comes in three different types. There are sealed sub-woofers which produce crisp, clean sound but requires a lot of power. A ported sub-woofer is essentially the same as a sealed box but features an opening next to the speaker. This reduces the power needed and increases the sound, offering that “boom” most enjoyed by fans of hip-hop, reggae, or R&B. Finally, there are bandpass sub-woofers, essentially a two chamber speaker. This is the loudest option, but the box will likely take up a lot of space in your trunk.
There are free air sub-woofers, which consist of a speaker affixed to a board or other flat surface in the trunk, using the actual trunk space as the enclosure needed to produce the sound. They have a flat frequency response, are easy to install, and requires much less power than boxed sub-woofers. However, especially if the speakers are powerful, you can end up with that “rattling” effect that makes people think you have a top line sound system in a bottom of the barrel car.
Our Favorite High-End Car Audio Brands: Products
Clearly there is much to know about high-end car audio brands. With so many components and products on the market, choosing the right ones can be daunting. See our favorite choices below:
High-End Car Audio Brands: Head Unit Products
Now that you've learned all about high-end audio for your car, it's time to start shopping! Try these top options for your head unit.
1. Alpine CDE-HD149BT
Alpine is one of the top high-end car audio brands, and its CDE-HD149BT is a big head unit in a small package. While it cuts a slender profile in your dash, you don’t lose out on any features other than those that require a video screen. (Though if you wanted to add one, it’s compatible with them). It promises four channels capable of 50 watts, connections for up to three subwoofers, and a nine band parametric sound equalizer. It’s compatible with iPhones, Androids, and other devices via a wireless Bluetooth connection or a dedicated USB auxiliary cable. The detachable faceplate even features four different colors of lights for the display.
2. Sony MEX-XB100BT
The Sony MEX-XB100BT in-dash head unit is a great piece of equipment from a high-end car audio brand with whom you’re likely already familiar. This product boasts four channels with a peak of 100 watts, a digital amplifier, and an advanced sound equalizer with many preset configurations. This unit not only links easily to your phone or music device, but also works with satellite radio and even Pandora streaming radio. You can download an app to your phone that allows your passengers to work the radio remotely from their phones. Sadly, this unit was discontinued by the manufacturer. However, until Sony comes out with it’s next generation device, grab these when you can find them. Sony may not be known as one of the best high-end car audio brands, but it does know electronics. So, for head units at least, they are in the game.
3. Pioneer MVH-1400NEX
This Pioneer digital multimedia video receiver features a display just over six inches, and are made to fit specific makes and models of cars. Like many cutting edge factory systems, this head unit doesn’t just control your sound system, but many other things including a camera to assist with backing up the car. The touchscreen is easy to use and not distracting, but it also comes with a steering wheel control that allows for an even more intuitive experience.
The screen has an 800 x 400 resolution and a clear resistive touchscreen. You can install apps, including those for music services like Spotify. It also features MIXTRAX, an AI-assisted “DJ” that adds transitions and effects to your own music. However, this is not suggested for kids or people who are easily distracted while driving, especially for some of the more visual elements. Pioneer has long been one of the best known high-end car audio brands for speakers, but with units like this, that may change.
4. Kenwood DDX419
Kenwood is another one of the legacy high-end car audio brands, especially for after market head units. With this in-dash unit it’s looking to reclaim its former glory. This can play CDs, DVDs, and even read music and video files from a USB memory stick. It requires a Kenwood cable to fully integrate phone music with the touch screen, but the Bluetooth connection works as usual. It also offers limited control on-screen for apps like Netflix and YouTube, to keep the kids entertained on long trips. This head unit features six channels of output without needing to add an amplifier. There are inputs on the front for USB devices and A/V cable inputs on both the front and rear of the unit. It also offers very specific controls for speaker systems, including subwoofers. The device even allows you to change the color of the light up buttons to match the color of your car’s display.
5. Jensen VX7020
The Jensen VX7020 head unit features a screen just over six inches, and pairs easily with most Bluetooth enabled devices for streaming music, video, or making phone calls. The touchscreen has high resolution and features iGO Primo Navigation. Optimized for automobile travel, it displays bright road maps and highlights points of interest on your routes. Or you can simply pair your phone to the unit and use your preferred service. This unit can also pump out a lot of sound to the rest of your system. Jensen was one of the top high-end car audio brands for head units in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but with this device they show they are as relevant as ever.
High-End Car Audio Brands: Amplifier Product
On to the amplifiers! Check out these top options for the best high-end car audio!
1. Skar Audio Monoblock
The Skar Audio Monoblock is a great amplifier for someone who is looking to add a subwoofer to their existing sound system. It produces 4900 watts per channel of power continuously at one Ohn and half that at 2 Ohms. It’s unobtrusive and very easy to install.
2. Orion HCCA1500
Orion is one of the high-end car audio brands that doesn’t just care about producing a quality product but wants it to look sharp, too. Even if amplifiers are not usually parts of your car’s sound system on display, you won’t mind if your passengers catch a glimpse of the bright red HCCA 1500.2. A two channel amplifier, it peaks at 3000 watts and offers 1500 watts of continuous power at 4 Ohms.
3. JL Audio XD600
When it comes to amplifiers, JL Audio is one of the most high-end car audio brands around, and it’s XD600 is a six channel amplifier that can revitalize your sound system. It boasts 75 watts of continuous power at 4 Ohms and 100 watts for all six channels at 2 Ohms. It’s compact size also means it won’t take up too much space.
4. MTX Audio Thunder1000.1
While you may not have heard of MTX, car audio enthusiasts know that it is one of the most respected high-end car audio brands out there. The Thunder1000.1 is a part of the company’s thunder series, optimized for subwoofer usage. However, with the addition of a simple adapter, this device turns into a four channel amp that can push out 400 watts of power continuously.
5. Alpine PDXF6
As mentioned, if you’re talking about high-end car audio brands, Alpine is likely to come up in the discussion. It’s PDXF6 four channel amplifier packs a lot of big sound in a very small package. It offers 150 watts per channel and has variable high pass and low pass filters. It also sports a sharp blue LED indicator light.
High-End Car Audio Brands: Speaker Products
As mentioned above, the folks who make speaker systems are perhaps the most crucial high-end car audio brands to know. However, they are also the most fragile and specific to your type of vehicle. Below you will find a sampling of speaker styles and high-end car audio brands to choose from. Ultimately what speakers you choose will depend on the other parts of your system. But sometimes, just upgrading your speakers can make your old system sound brand new.
1. BOSS Audio CH6530
These 6.5' speakers feature a 40 oz. magnet structure. With a peak power of 300 Watts, these 3-way speakers are crystal clear. Each speaker's rated input power sits at an impedance 4 ohms. The red accents add a pop of color to an already sleek speaker set.
2. Kenwood KFC-1395PS
Kenwood's speakers ring in with a peak power of 320 Watts. The rated input power of 40 W impedance 4 ohms is enough to hear every note. The 5.25 inch paper cone woofer and 1.1875 inch paper cone tweeter are sure to compliment any sound system.
3. JL Audio CD-650, Evolution Component Car Speakers System
Speaker sets 1 and 2 of this series include 6.5" 2-way Evolution C2 Series coaxial car speakers and component car speakers system. Both the Component Car Speakers and the Coaxial Car Speakers handle themselves with 450 Watts per set and 225 Watts per channel. The RMS sits at 120 Watts per set or 60 Watts per channel.
4. Rockford Fosgate R165X3
The Rockford Fosgate R165X3 speakers max out at 90 Watts and RMS 40 Watts. The vacuum polypropylene cone design fits into existing systems with ease. While these do not have as high a wattage as other speaker sets, they are nonetheless, a great option.
5. Alpine SPR-60C
Alpine's SPR-60C speakers are a winning set. Featuring a peak power of 330 Watts and an RMS power of 110 Watts, the hybrid layered-pulp cones produce clear sounds. You'll definitely want to consider this option when purchasing new speakers.
High-End Car Audio Brands: Sub-woofer Products
Picking the right sub-woofer ensures you hear each bass note of your favorite song. These are two of our favorite options on the market:
1. Rockford Fosgate P300
This Class D amplifier from Rockford Fosgate is sure to knock! With a frequency response of 35 Hz to 150 Hz and remote bass-level control, this amp will do justice to your favorite genre. Choose from a 10 inch or 12 inch option for the best fit for you.
2. MTX Audio Terminator Series
The MTX Audio Terminator Series features two 12 inch subwoofers. With it's 5/8'' MDF construction and black carpet, this amp is the perfect product for those wanting a little bass with their ride.
There is no part of driving that isn’t improved by the addition of a soundtrack of your choosing.
If you’re going to be singing and dancing your way down the highway, why not make an investment in the quality of that soundtrack? Music helps us make memories, so why not make sure your memories sound the best they can? High-end car audio may not be what you think you need in your life right now. But trust us, once you upgrade your system you’ll wonder how you lived without them.
We hope you enjoyed this list, and that you found the information and products suggested useful. Even if you are only thinking about upgrading your system with these high-end car audio brand, this is a great place to start.
Share your thoughts and experiences with high-end car audio brands in the comments below, to keep the conversation going.
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