Car Audio Systems – Overview
Today, when you buy a new or even a used car it is almost impossible not to have a stereo device installed in it. Whether it is a stock audio system or an aftermarket one, you’ll be able to at least play music or radio in your car and with more advanced units DVD movies, satellite radio, mobile device paring and many more. But it wasn’t always like that.
One of the first commercial car radios came in the early 1930s from Galvin Manufacturing Corporation. The Galvin brothers (Paul and Joseph) introduced the first commercial car radio in 1930. and it was the famous Motorola 5T71. It was sold for about $120 and was available for the most popular automobiles. In the UK, Crossley introduced his car radio system in 1932. and in the same year a German manufacturer Blaupunkt installed their first radio to a Studebaker car. In 1952.
Blaupunkt became the first to produce FM receivers. In 1956. Motorola launched a 16 2/3 rpm record player known as the HiWay HI-FI and was restricted to a small number of Chrysler models. In 1959. RCA and ARC introduced the 45 rpm record player but then in the early ‘60s Earl Muntz came up with the 4 track tape player and was the first commercial car stereo but it was fairly popular. Then, in 1964. Philips launched the Compact Cassette which changed everything.
As car stereo was becoming increasingly popular people started building stronger and stronger amplifiers. In 1983, Zed Audio produced the first 200W per channel car amplifier. It was basically a standard home amplifier that was redesigned for in car use. It wasn’t long before car audio competitions took place. The first recorded one occurred back in 1981. in Bakersfield, California. It was called the Sound Off Competition and was a part of the Summertime Car Show. It instantly became an annual event due to its popularity. Today there are numerous competitions around the world where the latest technology is shown and tested.
There are several different components that make a car audio system. The most important ones are the head unit, speakers, amplifiers and sub-woofers.
Stock car audio systems are the basic option that you get with your new car. Depending on the manufacturer and model of the car, different systems are installed ranging from basic OEM CD players to brand name audio systems like GBL and BOSE.
The head unit is the primary control device of any car audio system. It is usually installed in the center of the dash panel, right between the driver and the passenger but that doesn’t necessary have to be the case. Some people like to customize their cars to meet their desires so head units can be found on various locations around the cockpit.
It is a multipurpose device that controls the whole audio system. It is almost always equipped with a radio receiver and tuner. It used to be equipped with a cassette player but you can hardly find a head unit with a cassette player today. Even CD players are getting obsolete. They have been replaced by In Dash Audio Video DVD recievers and USB ports.
It is also equipped with a small amplifier and usually with bass, treble and sound equalizer control. More modern units have several input/output ports that can be used for external devices like GPS navigation or rear view cameras. Regular or “normal” head units come in a size called the single DIN. It is a manufacturing standard and comes from the ISO 7736 standard.
There are also larger head units which are referred to as the double DIN units. These units usually have a large display or a Touchscreen. You can browse through a wide ringe of accessories here.
Car speaker is basically the same as any other speaker, just specially designed for mobile use. The most common difference is in the materials used for the production. Some speakers have protection plating for corrosion resistance; others have coated membranes to resist expansion under high temperatures.
One of the biggest differences between regular and car speakers design is the multi-axial mounting of different types of speakers in the same footprint and their non-circular shaped cones made to reduce their size and to provide a better fit in some areas. Speakers are usually mounted on several common locations like the front dash, the rear deck and the doors. Sub-woofers are almost always installed in the trunk but can also be placed under the back seat.
Modern car speaker systems even offer the 5.1 and even 7.1 surround sound systems for additional performance.
Sub-woofers are basically a specific type of speaker that reproduces low frequency sounds. Car sub-woofers are mostly the same as any other sub-woofer. The main difference is the design.
Car sub-woofers are often designed to look better than they sound. They are equipped with grill covers, light effects, translucent materials, Plexiglas covers and boxes and many other pretty looking things. Sub-woofer is made to boost low frequencies that regular speakers can’t handle so good. They usually range from 8 to 15 inches in diameter but some can be found as large as 32 inches in diameter!
Even though head units have integrated amplifiers, there are usually not powerful enough to support an aftermarket speaker system. Also, some head units lack the equalizer and crossover controls desired by some users.
Car amplifier is basically a mobile audio amplifier made specifically for in car use. Some car manufacturers, however, install additional amplifiers along with their audio systems but this is usually the case with only the top end models.
Sound damping is an effective way to remove the excess vibration of the panels and other car parts created by the sub-woofer low frequency bass tones. The cavities in the doors or the trunk are filled and lined by a sound deadening material, usually a material called rubberized asphalt or either butyl. It is easy to use and can simply be placed in any cavity with a roller and a hair dryer.
Another aftermarket product commonly used for advanced sound systems are the capacitors. They basically store energy that the amplifier can draw when the general electrical capabilities of the vehicle are exceeded. They come in various different sizes, from as small as 1 farad to huge ones with over 100 farads.