I am asked about upgrading OEM sound systems all the time. Unfortunately, I’ve always taken the long road and explained things to individual customers in a manner which that particular person would follow and understand. But, it’s time that I try and address it in writing to share with the masses…
Factory sound systems usually don’t sound good for a number of reasons. Audio enthusiasts will certainly point out that the car makers choose terrible locations to place speakers – locations that just aren’t in acoustic friendly locations. Yes, a common location is at the bottom of the door facing your leg – certainly not optimum. Unfortunately, without spending a fairly substantial amount of money and having custom work done this isn’t going to change. So, at the most basic level, what you can do is change the components that make up your sound system – the radio (a.k.a head unit) and/or the speakers.
If you don’t know already, let me tell you that most OEM speakers are CHEAPLY made from very inexpensive materials – most commonly paper and foam. Yes, even the “Premium” systems. I did a couple of installs today where I removed and replaced speakers that were around 10 years old. Here is a picture of one of the speakers (realize that ALL of them looked like this or worse):
You can see that the once-foam surround has completely dry rotted and deteriorated. The paper cone held up a bit better, but is still in rough condition… and this was one of the better looking speakers. Obviously these speakers were in rough condition, so the ones I put in made a drastic difference resulting in very happy customers. Even if your speakers aren’t this old and in similar condition, aftermarket speakers will still make a pretty substantial difference.
Other than the materials, most all OEM speakers are simple woofers or dual-cone speakers. These speakers don’t have tweeters which handle the high frequency range (e.g. cymbals, female vocalists, etc.) and this miss a fair amount of the audible range. Whereas aftermarket speakers, even at the entry level, are made with polypropylene (i.e. plastic) cones, butyl (i.e. rubber) surrounds, and have tweeters attached – these speakers are known as coaxials. Due to their material differences, they usually last quite a bit longer and sound substantially better than their OEM counterparts. If you are interested in upgrading or just have general questions feel free to ask away!