Identifying Shortcomings in OEM Car Audio Systems

Let’s face it, some of us audiophiles spend more time traveling in cars than we do sitting in our home theater enjoying music. But just how good are OEM car audio systems, even in the luxury cars? And, can they be enhanced or improved upon? We discuss this in our first of several to come Youtube videos identifying shortcomings in OEM car audio systems.

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Jerry Miller says:

This is really a great idea! I spend more time in my car than my home theater. OEM vs. after market discussions is a must.

Jim Starbuck says:

Loving this!!! My love for quality sounding music doesn’t end when I leave my home. I took a great deal of time in researching and designing my system for my truck just so I can enjoy the listening experience there as well (and always looking to better it). So I hope that this video gets enough positive feedback so that you will continue to do these types of videos as well.

In as much as manufacturers “inflate” the numbers for their home audio and video products, I believe they take even further liberty in doing this with their car audio products. I am almost certain this has to do with the fact that the major consumer base for car audio is young and impressionable kids and young adults who get infatuated by big numbers on the product and therefor it sells. So would love to see you bring a little light and truth to this part of the market as well!!!

Paul Mayorga says:

Great job on this video. Your expertise in the home audio will be welcomed in the car audio. I had a 2006 BMW 3 series with Harman Kardon Logic 7 and it was pretty good. Too bad auto industry is cheaping out in the audio system. My guess is like the home theater amplifiers, cars are now including technologies from other companies for which they have to pay a premium. Keep up the good work!

Fogell Mclovin says:

BimmerCode for BMW by Stephan Gauch

Faron S. says:

Enjoyed this video. I’m wanting to replace my system in my accessible van it’s an 08 Honda Oydssey (very low miles) with factory system. The center seats are removed and I can park my chair in the passenger compartment. The back seats don’t fold flat as the computer and such to operate the lift resides under them. I’m not much into watching dvd’s but would like a system that sounds really good over the road noise while driving . Any suggestions? Thank you in advance.

Chris D says:

Thanks for the video. In my Audi S4 I found a big improvement in using an outboard DAC. I prefer to use a Fiio X5 loaded with 2 128G SD cards fed into the car audio Aux input. I can store around 400 CD’s of uncompressed audio on the Fiio. It sounds better than the CD deck in the car and much better than the compressed MP3 on the SD cards through the Audi DAC. The cons are that you don’t see album art and titles on the car infotainment screen and you have to manually turn the DAC on and off. I found it pretty easy to get into the habit of powering on the DAC when I start the car and pressing pause when I turn it off. The Fiio has a nice feature where it will sleep after a minute when paused. The Fiio has equalization built in that is much more tunable than the Audi system so I can flatten the response better. The other advantage of an outboard DAC like this is that I can take my music to another vehicle very easily. Other than that, I am using the stock Audi ‘premium’/B&O system.

Joonas Mällinen says:

Interested in Kia/Hyundai OEM audiosystem. Could some miniDSP product be good choice to correct car audiosystem?

Daniel B. Holeman says:

Thumbs up! Many people spend a lot of time in cars and it is an area that needs your input.

Matthew Bolstad says:

Great idea Gene! Would love to hear your impressions of the B&O systems, newer (post 2007) GM Bose, and check out the Mazda offerings, I hear they rival some moderate aftermarket installs.

ZekePolaris says:

I’d be interested to hear your impressions of the Genesis G80’s lexicon audio system personally. Since you can’t add the audio system as a single option, but as a package that increases the price by $5,000 to upgrade to the 14 speaker system (premium package) and then an additional $5,000 for the 17 speaker system (ultimate package) when purchasing the 3.8L option.

Rafael Morel says:

love this video and the jl audio route is great i just purchased jl audio subs and amps for my car because the new car i just purchased the premium system is terrible. i’m looking now as to which components i will be adding and dsp the components i have it narrowed down between the focal k2 or the morel, on the dsp end i’m not sure yet.

Mark B says:

Seriously looking forward to this Gene. I had a Focal/Alpine upgrade in my 123D that with some other preparation work in the doors sounded fantastic. I’ve not personally heard the HK system in a 1er/2er, but have read several reports that they’re just not worth the money. So it’s great that someone with your know-how has stepped up to this, even though it seems as if the solutions are already out there. Let’s see how you get on. Cheers.

Golden Gamers12 says:

Don’t think you’ll ever change!!! Gm and Ford have been using 5.1 for 15 years. I love when my customers of my dealerships think Honda and Toyota have great value. I make the most money off them. I pay more for 2 year old Ford Fusions then 2 year old Camrys. Worked for BMW for 10 years. Should only lease them. They always break down. Lexus IS the biggest joke. Good luck and I like your home theater stuff.

Haruchio Pagani says:

Very good rout indeed. Interested in a full review of Lexus Mark Levinson systems and undertand what sort of power makes to each speaker and how the amp used actually measures, if that is possible 🙂

Chris Gatti says:

Gene, look into Helix DSP amps. They can accept the balanced differential outputs of the bmw hi-fi head unit. They are powerful amps with a great DSP built in, you tune it with your mic and a pc. For speakers look into morel mids and tweeters they also have a thin 8 in that I think would fit under the seat, I think it is the msw265 or something like that, check parts express. For non DSP amps the jl audio will also accept the differential outputs, but stay away from the cheap Xd series. Upgrade to the HD models. You could run the HD600 which is 150 by 4. You would run 1 channel to each mid/tweeter combo in the doors and each underseat. Don’t bother amping the rear deck speakers they sound like ass, even upgraded.

Garry Rogers says:

Thumbs up on Auto review!! I think you should look at outdoor speaker set ups too. (Real systems with subs)

6768scat says:

Hey Gene , I had the same problem with the 2017 BMW X3 M Sport . What I found that worked for me was just disconnecting the center channel speaker , cause it was as you said useless . My biggest issue was the bass the under seat 8 inch woofers are muffled by the seats and are just that woofers not sub woofers . So I tied into the factory wires for the woofers and put them into a Audio Control LC2i which compensates for the factory bass roll off put that into a 600 watt class “D” power amp with a 1 farad cap and a Kenwood 12 inch tube sub . I spend around 400-500 bucks did all the work myself and once I got it all dialed in I was blown away and happy !!! This set up took away forcing the factory system from trying to do what it couldn’t so the kids and highs are clear and sweet and the thin sound because of the bass roll off was gone !!!!

Kevin Heckeler says:

Swapping higher quality tweeters in (front) components breathes some life. I also have added small subs in the trunk, tapping into the rear deck speakers for a signal (and EQ’d the remaining speakers for less bass). With the right ears you can tune it to sound significantly better and come in at well under $1000USD without having to replace the stock system, or all the system’s speakers.

Tony B says:

this is very awesome that you are getting into car audio. I hope you continue to share your upgrades and findings. I have a 16 Mazda cx5 with the Bose system. I’ve done a whole bunch to the system and still working on it. It also features a center channel, which I’ve done something interesting with. My car did not have tweeters. The 3 dash speakers are covering from about 250hz all the way up to 15k hz. I replaced them with Dayton audio nd91 drivers, added passive crossovers that low pass the midrange at 4.8k Hz and added tweeters to the left and right, but not the center. Tweeters are in the A pillars. Dash speakers are still ran off Bose amp. Added JL zr800 midbass in the doors, 100 watts each. And JL 12w6v3’s. Also I completely faded all the sound to the front and disconnected the rest of the Bose speakers. I find it sounds much better without the rear fill channels IMO.

Anthony Diaz says:

I look forward to see how you improve the sound of the factory system.

Fogell Mclovin says:

BimmerLink for BMW by Stephan Gauch

Vince Manalo says:

Great vid!

Petrolhead says:

Very interesting. When is the next instalment?

Brian Hyndman says:

A segment like this has not been done in a very long time please keep it up.

Smokie Vapez says:

cant go wrong with JL

David Martins says:

More of this plz.

Jeff Taylor says:

I had a 2004 TL with the ELS system which I thought was great. I then switched to a 2008 Lexus IS with the Mark Levinson system which I found a little disappointing. They must have improved it with the newer IS you had. My 2012 TL’s audio system was far better than previous two systems and I really loved it. My 2015 TLX is definitely a step backwards as far as the audio system is concerned 🙁

Amanda Rodgers says:

good video the B and O system VW  Sharon and a retune throw the obd port now sounds good

John Freeman says:

Yes, I like this and please do one on a Ford sound system, like what is in a Fusion Hybrid.

MeatPopsycle says:

Do they still have Sound Advice locations down in Florida? I think that is the only store I have ever been in that had high quality components on hand.

markndani says:

Gene, it’s quite possible you’ve already figured out which route you want to take, but I’ll put in my two cents anyway. You touched on the car’s physical limitations; trying to recreate a home hi-fi signature in a mobile environment definitely isn’t easy. That being said, I’d like to offer up the following points:

1) While you can normally move drivers around pretty easily at home, especially when it comes to finding optimal subwoofer locations, you’re much more limited in a car. That’s not to say you’re completely stuck with location. Moving the midrange and tweeter even closer together and positioning them in pods on the dash will certainly help with imaging. While it might feel nice to have the midbass drivers under the seats, you may not be giving those drivers the needed airspace to really shine. If that’s the case, either consider building an enclosure for those drivers or relocating them to the kick panels or in the doors themselves (obviously this will require modification).

2) If some of the items in (1) aren’t feasible, you can in fact use DSP to correct these things…BUT…OEM systems tend to generate their own DSP systems as is. To combat this, you would really benefit from a device that’s meant to correct that signal as much as possible. You mentioned using JL’s TWK-D8 and I think you having a BMW gives you an inherent advantage thanks to its fiber-optic link, but know that you’ll still have to correct a fair amount for those factory settings (specifically time alignment). I would suggest looking at something like the Helix DSP Pro as its interface seems a little more intuitive and the company’s pedigree definitely carries its fair share of weight in the car audio world

3) Once you’ve figured out driver placement and processing, you’ll want to consider acoustically treating your car. You’ve got a wealth of surfaces, cavities, and environments in that interior that are going to combat your ability to accurately hear the source material. Consider a 3-step acoustic treatment: CLD (Dynamat) on metal surfaces, CCF over the CLD, and mass-loaded vinyl over the CCF (specifically on your doors). Look into FAST rings to ensure that your drivers aren’t allowed to project into the door cards (assuming you don’t move your drivers into dedicated pods). Finally, dash mats may look ugly, but they do a decent job of taming reflections across the dash

4) Don’t buy into the common belief that “all car audio amps sound the same.” Once you step out of the mainstream market, you’ll find some really solid options in Class A (Mosconi), A/B (Zapco), D (SSA, Hybrid, Steg, Helix, Brax), and G/H (Genesis) topologies. The main differentiator will be how much power you want to devote to powering these amplifiers. If space is your concern, Class D or G/H would be the way to go. I noticed in one of your responses to a previous comment that you’d like to stick with JL based on their outreach, but just keep in mind that most of us sound quality guys would consider them mid-tier in the car audio world.

I’m sure it goes without saying and you probably already know this, but focus spending more at the source. A better DSP and amplification will carry far more weight in the long run than cheaping out here and hoping to compensate through your selection of drivers.

Since this comment’s getting pretty long, I’ll just say that I’m willing to answer any additional questions offline with you, should you have them. I’ve been a fan since the AVRant podcasts started and would love to give back somehow.

Kef103 says:

I had that system . They decided a DVD player is cheaper than speakers totally . No tweeter in the rear at all

Golden Gamers12 says:

Stick to home theater! Buy better cars too! Acura, Lexus and BMW are horrible.

Doug Swinford says:

I like the idea that you’re trying, because I too have a Bose system with the center speaker. I can’t begin to explain how bad the sound is, or the fact that the car company decided to add a ‘safety system’ that automatically reduces or increases the sound when coming to a stop or speeding up …. truly baffles me because I’m always playing with the shall we say ‘custom GM sound system’ ….. IF you want to call it that !! An amp would truly help though in my truck !!

Chris Drye says:

Are these concerns also valid for the M140i? I.e. is it exactly the same sound system in the M140i?

Brandon Hayden says:

You should try a 2017 Lexus RX or RC with Mark Levinson I work at a Lexus dealership and those two are the best I have heard

Chris Gatti says:

Oh Gene one more thing when you set crossovers, you will want to high pass the door mid/tweeter combo at 150 hz and low pass the 8 in at the same 150.

bobkilla430 says:

love to see you doing reviews on the higher end (benz, porsche) systems.

GregLH0 says:

I have an idea on what you guys can do for a video topic, tips on hunting down speakers at garage sales. I’ve been doing this for a few years now and I’ve come across enough audio equipment now to make 2 5.1 frakenstein sets that actually preform well using speakers from MB quarts domain series, paradigm, and JBL. All speakers that were cost a pretty penny in the day that I got for under $50 for a pair and occasionally for $10.

The best thing that can be done is to kill off the stigma of buying used speakers, especially when they are really good used speakers.

Puppies World says:

great video… my entire business, supreme shine and outlaw auto detailing, is based on automotive audio and video integration and taking out dents, scratches swirls and washing with waxing. I often recommend to customers using my 2001 Acura CL type S. came stock with a Bose 6 disc CD changer, 3 ways… with tweeters near the window, and 5.25 inch speakers in the doors and 6.5s in the rear. I use the car as a sample with all JL audio speakers replaced and crossovers in the rear, an in dash DVD player with the emergency brake hookup hacked to view movies while the car is moving. digital surround processing from JL in the trunk, bass blockers to all speakers, 4 channel JL audio amp for speakers, 1 500 watt RMS mono JL amp bridged to a 12 inch JL sub. dynamat acoustic mats in the trunk, Kenwood DVD player with DTS surround. works perfect! it is probably the best investment I have ever made on car audio in my life as opposed to being back in high school when I would run 10 gauge wiring from the car battery with a large fuse to an amplifier under the back seat with a subwoofer in the rear and the main speakers were not Amplified at all it made for a horrible sound extremely bass orientated and it would always rattle the trunk. great video Gene as I feel car audio is often a subject matter overlooked by audiophiles since it is usually associated with a different crowd or enthusiasts. I have worked on even the nicest cars from Bentley Rolls-Royce BMW Ferrari Maserati Alfa Romeo and so on and so forth and I can tell you that no Factory car audio systems are ever complete without at least adding some sort of amplification to all speakers if not a better subwoffer with a custom enclosure. a lot of people also Overlook the power and ground cables many people need to keep in mind those need to be a very large size depending on what amplifier you are using and I always try to keep the ground cable about a foot to two feet maximum and length grounded record to the chassis or frame. also if people get some sort of headlight dimming or power loss that is often times due to not enough capacitance in the power supply system in the vehicle that is why sometimes I recommend either switching the original car battery to an Optima red or yellow top battery along with a 1 to 5 farad capacitor for juice stored when needing power on command. also the RCA cables used to make the signal path complete between amplifier and head unit must be decent quality as cars are often in motion and if those RCA plugs become damaged or loose the audio quality will be affected or impacted severely. I also always do custom installations which include using some type of wood usually in the trunk later adding carpeting to it normally supplied from the Vehicle Manufacturer in order to give it a factory appearance. I would really like it if you were to check out a few of my videos as I am trying to become an informative individual as to audio and video technology. since applying for my tax code for the automotive business I have been considering turning my YouTube channel into a website for the sale of home audio equipment although the overhead and markup are questionable to me that is why I have not yet actually created the website but have a ton of ideas in mind for integrating the existing auto detailing business with home audio sales or at least some type of business offering a service of installing home audio equipment. very nice car Gene can I also recommend using a german-made paint sealant as opposed to a man-made wax material utilizing carnuba. I will also perform a video on some of the materials I use however I recommend using a German paint sealant which is a synthetic compound that specifically works well with german-made vehicles. my business thrives on the fact that I use only extremely high-end Automotive finishing compounds usually matched specifically to the paint codes and region of manufacture.

Alex A says:

I just purchased the new Volvo S90 T6 inscription fully loaded with the B&W sound system, blows my mind. I myself have a full nautilus system in my HT (803 and 804 and 805 and the htm2 centre for a full 7.2 surround) so I knew going in what to expect as to the sound in the Volvo

Joseph Kong Ting says:

I noticed that nobody mentioned electronic crossovers with eq and delay between the head unit and amps. Patch in a home receiver temporarily to do the analysis of your choices, then reduce the eq boost in all bands on the eq that show 3dB or more. Tune to suit your taste from that point. I have found that putting a foam wedge behind the tweeters in the angle where the windscreen meets the dash, helped to clean up the high octaves. Sound deadening of panels are a must to really clean up the sound.

aegisofhonor says:

in my area we have Stereo One which used to be a mid-high end home audio dealer but went totally to car audio. They know how to make a good custom sound system for a car that sounds good. They have a lot of experience in balancing power needs with sound quality.

Oxibase says:

I think this is a good direction to move for the channel. We spend so much time in our cars. Why not learn about ways to improve the sound. In fact, many of us first gained an interest in audio gear through the automotive world. It would be nice to see a balanced, reasonable, and thoughtful approach to car audio. It certainly has its own specific problems to address. All too often car audio is presented in such a way as to appear concerned only with how many subwoofers and amps can be added to a system.

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