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In Car Audio – Setting up your stereo

20 June 2010 18 Comments

All of us, at some time in our life, want to fit a sound system into our vehicles and so many of us have no experience on how to go about it and the operation manuals don’t give sufficient information in fitting the system in such a way that you use optimal power from the frontloader.  In this blog I will explain the correct way to install your new frontloader into your vehicle. This will lay a foundation in explaining the more complex issues on the installation of it’s components and accessories in future blogs. 

For a sound system to work to it’s optimum you need to get the basics right first.  For the purpose of not being bias to brands, I will not mention any of my personal favourites as it’s a question of personel preference and budget.

To start, you will need a frontloader with an RCA output if you do decide to connect an amp and subwoofer, however, there are ways of connecting an amplifier should your frontloader not have an RCA output. Any frontloader that has a power output of 45 X 4 (45 watts X 4 Channels) or higher will be sufficient.  A frontloader will be pretty useless without speakers so you will need front and rear speakers.  These are refered to as “mids” and comes in different shapes, sizes and power.  Remember that, ultimately, you would want a surround sound effect and therefore the power output of the front and rear speakers should not differ by much and a 20 to 60 watt difference will be fine.  Normally, 60 to 200 watt speakers are fitted to standard vehicles, which in most instances sounds better than expected.  Lastly you would want to fit an amp/s and subwoofer/s.

Your frontloader will need a wiring harness which connects your power source (which can be connected directly from the battery or ignition), your speakers, RCA’s and the remote wire which connects the frontloader to the amplifier. Your antenna connects from a separate connection and is solely there for frequency receiving.  RCA outputs, which connects your external amplifier to the frontloader, is situated next to the antenna connection and looks completely different to all the other connections.  Your frontloader will probably not operate without the antenna connected, depending on the brand.

From the wiring harness you will find colourcoded wires which runs to either side of the vehicle for the speakers situated in the front and rear doors. The doorpockets which holds the speakers are normally 4/5 inches (can be 6” inches depending on the vehicle manufacturer).  These sizes are important to know before you buy your speakers as you don’t want to modify the doors on a new vehicle which is most probably under finance.  Fitting these speakers are easy, however, it does take a lot of patients and determination removing the internal door panels to remove the old speakers and fit the new replacements.  Make sure the new speakers are of better quality and power output before replacing as you don’t want to be disappointed in your new setup.

Connecting the subwoofer to the radio will require an amplifier.  The amplifier converts your normal 45 watts to the power output displayed on the amplifier. The amplifier connects to the frontloader via the RCA’s and the remote wire. It’s connected to the battery via a fused wire (standard 8 guage).  For safety purposes the fuse should be connected as close as possible to the battery yet far enough to prohibit the fuse holder from melting due to the heat coming from the engine.  Your amplifier must be grounded to the vehicles’ body via a wire the same size as your power cable.  There are different brands and sizes of amplifiers available and should be greater than the power usage of the subwoofers. An amplifier also consists out of many channel options (1 aka monoblock, 2 and 4 channel) and is very important when choosing your amplifier – subwoofer combo

The subwoofer connects to the amplifier with 1 wire (svc) but should be relatively thick depending on the power demand from the subwoofer.  There are various options to take in consideration when choosing your subwoofer such as size (8, 10, 12, 15 or even 18 inches in radius) power usage (wattage) and single or double voice coil (svc/dvc) options.  It is extremely important to know that your subwoofer needs to be placed in just the right enclosure.  If the enclosure is too big or to small the subwoofer will not play to it’s optimum and can also determine the lifespan of your subwoofer.

In short, your frontloader is connected to your battery which gives it 12v power to operate.  From the frontloader, your speakers gets connected (maximum of 4 speakers) as well as your antenna, RCA’s and remote wire.  Your amplifier connects to your frontloader via the RCA’s and remote wire, however, receives it’s 12v power directly from the battery.  The power source runs through the amp and must be grounded.  If the amplifier is not grounded you can damage the amplifier/subwoofer and in some instances burn it out completely.  Your subwoofer then connects to your amplifier via a single (thick) wire depending on the voicecoil.  For all the wiring required to connect the amplifier and subwoofer to the frontloader and vehicle battery there are various types of wiring kits available at all vehicle audio dealers.

This is a basic setup and a more in depth explanation of each component and accessory will be handled in future blogs.


18 Comments »

  • Thorpe said:

    i nevr knew how to wire up the stereo in a car until today. keep up the website
    Citroen saxo and the stereo is very old

  • Perla said:

    They are much different from speakers you would buy for your home, office, or computer.

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  • Simeon said:

    found your site on del.icio.us today and really liked it..
    I really like how helpful this story is, next time i will try installing my sound by myself

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  • Blair said:

    Hey Jo amazing article man, like i told you I couldn’t figure out how the hell to wire my sound system.. But if I ever need to ill come back and read this!
    I hope this blog gets loads of responses as I can see you have put many hours of thought into this post!
    Quick question when are we going to see a follow up on how to tune the car audio to your vehicles acoustics.. That’s something iv always wanted to know. But never the less I really enjoyed learning about how the setup of an In Car Audio system works.

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  • Robert said:

    Sweet! Now i can install my MTX JackHammer Subwoofer!

    @Blair – Good question about the tuning of the acoustics. Iv read a few articles, but all tend to differ. Would be nice to know if there was a ‘correct’ way.

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  • Blair said:

    @ Rob, wow dude isn’t that GTI of yours already hopping down the roads with that Premium pioneer you have!
    I also would like to know how to set that up, that’s why i asked :P

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  • jomacher said:

    Thanks for the kind comments guys.

    @ Robert – That Jackhammer is a monster of a sub and wish you all of the best in installing it. Don’t hesitate to send us your questions if indeed you need help.

    @ Blair – With regards to tuning the setup of the aucoustics, your frontloader is only as good as what you pay for it. Setting up bass and treble of the system is very limited from the frontloader. I will touch on it in the near future.

    One thing I didn’t mention in the blog is the fact that your power line from the battery to the amp should be seperated from your RCA’s and remote wire. If not, there is a chance that your vehicles revolutions might be heard through your soundsystem.

    Thanks guys. Check out the site for future sound blogs.

    [Reply]

  • jomacher said:

    @ Perla – Very much difference. Car speakers are designed to work at 4ohm (ohm = resistance)and your normal home speakers run at 8ohm. The difference is that your home or office speakers gets powered by 220v – 240v of power by it’s power source whereas your in-car speakers only require 12v. I hope that helps.

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  • Dolly said:

    Hola, i like it.
    how do i setup the amp correctly some songs sound distorted but some doent?

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  • jomacher said:

    Hi Dolly. Well, first of all I need to know if you play copied cd’s in your car. If that is the case then you computer’s settings need to be changed when copying discs. If the distrtion still occurs on playback you will need to check the settings on your amplifier. If your channel is set too high it will destort but ultimately it comes down to the quality of the recording of the disc. You can also minimise the treble on your stereo.

    Please give me a brief description of your soundsystem regarding your speakers, amplifiers (wattage, and amount of channels), subwoofers (wattage and number of subwoofers) and frontloader (wattage).

    Hope to hear from you soon.

    Jomacher

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  • Lizzi said:

    Keep up the good work, I like your writing.

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  • Jomacher said:

    Thanks for the kind words Lizzi. Check out the site tommorow where I give some advise on fault finding.

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  • Stephen lourine said:

    Nice file someone in on and this helped me a lot in my college assignment. Say thank you you on your information.

    [Reply]

  • jomacher said:

    No problem Stephen. Also check out the follow up article “In-Car Audio – Fault Finding”. Glad we could help you out and please let me know what youre assignment scored. Be sure to visit us again for the latest write ups and information.

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  • stephen said:

    Hello,
    is there any way that I could connect my mp3 player to my head-unit with out an aux input?
    its getting a little bit frustrating compiling cds to listen to all the time.

    [Reply]

  • jomacher said:

    Hi Stephan – Unfortunately there is no way you can connect your mp3 player to your frontloader without an auxilary input. However, there is a FM Modulater you can purchase from most sound shops and it plugs straight into your vehicle’s 12v power supply aka the lighter. An FM Modulater is a device that plays your music through a radio frequency. In other words, you load up your songs onto the memory stick or the on board memory of the FM Modulator, set the frequency of the FM Modulator on the same frequency as your frontloader and you listen to your tunes through your soundsystem. This is great but like everything else you do have some disadvantages such as losing signal or receiving that true radio scratch in the background of your favourite tune. You do lose sound quality and I wouldn’t reccomend this for permanent use but it’s a great way of saving for your next frontloader which has an auxilary input as the modulator does not come very expensive. I hope that helps.

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  • Shower Cubicle  said:

    Blaupunkt also makes great sounding car speakers, i use them on my dad’s car.-;

    [Reply]

  • Gate Latch · said:

    if you want some heavy bass, then you need those 18 inch car speakers on your car audio setup –

    [Reply]

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