#caramplifiers PHOENIX, AZ

Car Audio Q&A


If I replace my car stereo, will I lose my steering wheel controls?

Aftermarket car stereo manufacturers often provide a special adapter for steering wheel control integration on most car models. Typically these special adapters are an additional add-on to your stereo purchase so it’s important to factor that into your budget.

How do I connect my iPhone or MP3 player to my stereo and what’s the difference between an aux cable vs a USB connector?

Just about every aftermarket car stereo available these days will include some form of smartphone or MP3 integration. The most common integrations are the auxiliary plugin, Bluetooth, or USB.

AUX Cable
The auxiliary option is typically a standard 3.5 mm cable that you plug into the new car audio receiver and your devices headphone jack. This is a basic option that only provides a sound output through your car speakers without any additional integration features. The downsides of an aux plugin are they tend to transmit background and system noise. Additionally, you will have to control the music from the device itself which is a safety hazard.

Bluetooth has been growing in popularity as the desired smartphone integration solution and has almost become standard in almost all OEM and aftermarket stereo systems. There are several benefits to Bluetooth which include the wireless nature of the integration, telephone integration allowing you to make and place phone calls through your car stereo (provided your stereo incorporates this feature), autoplay features which allow your stereo to automatically start playing your music when you get in the car, and the elimination of line noise. The downsides of Bluetooth include lack of playback controls and a loss in audio quality.

Integrations through USB provide the most features and sound quality of all MP3 car stereo integrations. USB benefits include device charging, enhanced playback controls, smartphone app integration, and enhanced sound quality. A USB connection allows you to control the music on your device from your stereo interface including common music apps like Pandora. It also allows for digital sound to be transmitted from your device to your stereo rather than the analog signals provided by the AUX cable. The downside of a USB integration is it requires your phone to be physically connected to your stereo through a cable.

How much power do factory car stereo systems have?

Factory stereo power ratings vary widely and depend on a range of factors. If your car comes with a premium car stereo package, you most likely have some form of external OEM amplifier in your vehicle. Aftermarket car stereos, without a doubt, provide more power than the majority of factory car audio systems.

One factor to keep in mind while comparing care stereo specifications is a typical 100-watt factory car stereo system described by your car dealer most likely consists of 4 channels of 25-watt peak power. This translates roughly to 10 watts RMS (continuous) power per speaker. While not bad for a factory system, this is a far cry from even the lowest budget aftermarket car stereo’s on the market.

If you need help calculating the wattage for your stereo, check out our car audio calculator page.

How much power should I be looking for in an aftermarket car stereo in order to get optimum sound and performance from my car audio system?

While there are no magic formulas for calculating your optimum stereo wattage, the general rule is to match your power output with your speakers recommended wattage. If you put too much wattage to your speakers, the speakers will distort. Additionally, pushing more power to your speakers than they can handle is the quickest way to ruin your speakers rendering your new investment worthless. On the flip side, if you underpower your speakers, you’ll be leaving audio performance on the table and the speakers won’t provide the richness and depth of sound you’re looking for.

Before making a final decision on your car audio power needs, there are a few items to consider:

  • How efficient are your speakers? The speakers you choose have a direct influence on the overall power throughout your system. If your plan is to power your speakers only with your stereo head unit, power efficient speakers that have a sensitivity of 90 dB or high will provide you more performance for your money. If however, you plan to install high-performance component style speakers, your best option would be to invest in an external amplifier to power your speakers.
  • Do you plan to add a subwoofer to your car stereo system? Subwoofers require a substantial amount of power in order to reproduce low tones at reasonable volumes. Therefore it is always best to include an external subwoofer amplifier to power your subwoofers. You can either power your subwoofer with a dedicated amp that incorporates high-frequency audio filtering designed specifically for subwoofers, or you can get a full range amplifier to power your entire system.Due to the fact that subwoofers require substantially more power to perform optimally, you should plan to provide the same amount of power to your subwoofer as your other speakers at a minimum. For example, if your car stereo provides 80 watts of power to your speakers (4 x 20watts), then plan on providing at least 80 watts of additional power to your subwoofer.
  • Another factor to consider is how good your stereo wiring is. Electrical connections are only as good as their weakest link. If you have old, spotty wiring, you run the risk of shorts, frequency and power loss, and high resistance to your power and speaker wiring that reduces the amount of power your speakers actually receive from the stereo head unit and amplifiers. If you have an older vehicle or plan to install a high capacity audio system, you should consider factoring in running new larger gauge wiring to your components into your budget.
  • A final important consideration is your vehicle’s environment and how you plan to use your car stereo system. If your vehicle is a lower model or sports car, car manufacturers often use little to no sound dampening materials which result in more road noise and potential sound loss. In this case, you’ll want to provide a little more juice to your car stereo system to offset any sound loss and overcome road noise. If however, you drive a luxury vehicle that incorporates more sound dampening material, you won’t need to provide as much power to get the same sound volume and quality.Speaker location, road/car noise, dampening materials, and personal tastes are all factors to take into consideration when deciding the amount of power to incorporate into your car audio build. If you need help calculating the wattage for your stereo, check out our car audio calculator page.

My car has a large factory radio, why can’t I replace it with an over sized aftermarket stereo?

Large car stereo head units come in two different sizes. One size is 3″ tall (or DIN-and-a-half) which are commonly found in GM and Chrysler vehicles. The other is 4″ tall (or double-DIN) which are found in most other cars and trucks.

If your vehicle’s dash opening is different by even a slight fraction of an inch from standard oversize openings, you won’t be able to install an oversized aftermarket stereo without modifying your dash. As an example, most Fords appear as if they can accept a double-DIN radio without issue, however, in reality, the dash opening is too small.

What are preamp or RCA outputs?

A preamp output often referred to the brand name RCA, is a preamplified audio signal output which allows you to connect one or more external car audio amplifiers. These cables provide low distortion audio signals for amplifiers and are commonly used to provide the audio signal for subwoofer amps. The subwoofer preamp output is important to your car stereo because it provides your system with cleaner low frequencies as opposed to standard line level stereo outputs.

What’s the difference between RMS power and peak power?

When car audio manufacturers display peak power in their advertising they are referring to the amount of power that a car speaker can handle during a brief musical burst. RMS power handling, on the other hand, is a much more reliable rating to use when determining the speaker’s power requirements and capacity. Power for speakers is measured in watts. A watt is a unit of electrical power that equals one-volt times one amp and signifies energy consumed by the device.

What does a car speakers sensitivity rating signify?

The sensitivity rating also referred to as an efficiency rating, is used to rate the effectiveness of a car speakers ability to convert power into audio sound. The higher the sensitivity rating, the more efficient a car or truck speaker is and converting energy into sound. As a result, a higher efficiency rating means a louder speaker at the same power input. The more efficient a speaker or subwoofer is, the more power you need from your amplifier.

Efficient speakers and subwoofers help you to maximize your power capacity. Most sensitivity ratings measure a speaker’s output with one watt of input that is one meter from the driver. Some sensitivity ratings of a speaker are measures using 2.83 volts of input rather than one watt.

Efficiency is not an accurate indicator of a speaker or subwoofer’s output capability. Efficiency should not be used to compare other speakers and subwoofers to determine which is louder than the other.

I installed an amplifier in my car, and now my lights dim when my subwoofer hit’s low notes or I play my stereo loud. Why is that?

When vehicle lights dim after a subwoofer installation, it is an indication that your amplifier was not installed properly. Dimming lights mean the amplifier is not able to draw the power required from your car’s electrical system to perform as intended. There are a few things to check if your vehicle is experiencing this behavior:

  • Make sure the power and ground wires that you used to connect your amplifier to the battery and ground are the proper gauge. The ground wire needs to be at least as large as the power cable if not larger.
  • Check your ground wire connection to the body of your car. Make sure the ground wire is firmly connected to the vehicle’s body and all paint has been removed from the area where the cable is in contact with the car. You want a metal to metal contact for your ground wire to ensure the electrical return to the battery has the least resistance possible.
  • In addition to the power and ground cables to the amplifier, you may also need to upgrade the wire that connects your car or truck battery to the frame and the wire running from the alternator to the battery. This is often referred to as the BIG 3 upgrade in the car audio world.
  • If your lights still dim after checking all of the above connections and cables, then you most likely need to explore adding a capacitor between the battery and the amplifier to provide a reserve of stored energy for those serious bass notes. You should also consider looking into a larger or high output alternator to accommodate the increased electrical energy needed to run all of your electronics.

What is car amplifier clipping?

Amplifier clipping is when the amplifier produces distortion in the sound it produces due to a lack of sufficient power. When a car amplifier is pushed beyond its max power handling capability, the amplifier will produce square sound waves which in turn produces in distortion. In some cases, prolonged car amp clipping can result in a fried amplifier.

What is car audio sound dampening material?

Sound dampening material, commonly referred to by the brand name Dynamat, is a specially engineered material that can be placed on car panels, behind car speakers, in trunks, and car floors to help reduce road noise and panel vibrations. Auto manufacturers use sound dampening material to improve the ride quality of your vehicle and cut engine noise down in the cab. Luxury cars will often use thicker sound dampening in more places to provide a quiet, luxury ride.

We are strong advocates of sound dampening materials at Apex Customs Phoenix. When you’re making an investment in quality audio gear, adding even a small amount of sound dampening material to your installation can result in a significant improvement in the sound quality produced by your new gear.

Do I have to replace my factory radio to improve the sound quality of my car stereo?

The short answer is no. There are a wide variety of options to improve the quality of your car audio sound. You can swap out factory speakers, add external amplifiers or add sound dampening material to provide real improvements to the quality of your stereo. In some instances simply adding new sources like iPhone inputs or bluetooth can provide all the improvements you need.

When interfacing with a factory car stereo, it is critical that it is done properly. Today’s modern stereo head units provide a significant amount of integrated features with your vehicle. If aftermarket stereo parts are not integrated properly, you can cause significant damage to your cars computer system.