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How to Build the Ideal Car Stereo System

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The "ideal" car audio system is not necessarily the loudest one, or the most expensive one. It's the one that best meets your needs. So,
the first step is to figure out what your needs are.

Ask yourself the right questions.

First, the most important question: What is the one thing you want your new car stereo to do for you? If you can't quite put your finger
on it, let's take a close look at your current system.

What type of car system do you have now?

How does the sound of your current system make you feel? Do you find yourself tapping your foot or drumming your fingers on the
steering wheel? Does a funky rhythm section groove get you smiling? Does a blues guitar solo send shivers down your back?

No? Is the sound flat, dull, tinny, wimpy? Then you suffer from the listening to an older car radio struggling to drive flimsy factory
speakers. Ok, we're making progress.

Now, let's look at what types of sources you have to choose from.

Are you listening to mixed tapes on an old cassette deck? Does it have CD or MD changer controls built-in? Would you enjoy a
changer's ability to put hours of music at your fingertips? Maybe you've got an in-dash CD player that sounds great — but can it play
customized CD-Rs and CD-R/Ws? Are you interested in playing MP3, WMA, or other types of digitally-compressed music formats in
your car?

How does 100 channels of crystal-clear, digital Satellite radio reception nationwide strike you? Does the picture of your kids in the back
quietly watching DVDs on a long drive appeal to you? Would a navigation system be a beneficial addition to your audio/video system?

These days, technology moves so fast that the new car audio system you bought 5 years ago is, in all likelihood, not capable of playing
many of today's most exciting music formats, not to mention playing DVD movies. Start thinking about which, if any, of these new
technologies you'd like to incorporate into your car audio system.

What are your options?

A good way to start is by making a list of the components in your system and rating them on a scale of 1-10. It usually makes sense to
begin by replacing the lowest-rated components. A new set of speakers or a new CD-R/W-compatible, MP3-capable head unit with high
RMS power can dramatically enhance your listening experience.

But you may not be starting completely from scratch. You might have certain components that you can use to build on. Augmenting your
setup with a subwoofer driven by an appropriate amplifier, for instance, will fill in the lows that full-range speakers can't reach, giving
you a richer overall sound. Or if you already have an amp, equalizers, crossovers, and surround processors can provide the precise
adjustment you need to compensate for your vehicle's acoustics.

The point is, you've got lots of approaches to choose from. The type of system that will best meet your car audio/video needs will
depend on the symptoms you're trying to address, your budget constraints, and your ultimate goals.

What if I'm unsure about where the problems lie in my current car stereo components?
Good question. It's not always easy to diagnose what is causing problems in a vehicle's audio/video system, even when you know that
you're not satisfied with its performance. But there are some simple steps you can take to help you narrow it down:

1. Listen while parked in the driveway for a few minutes

Twist all the knobs and push all the buttons. Do all the functions seem to work okay?

What would you like your radio to do that it won't do now?

 Play CDs, CD-Rs, CD-R/Ws, MP3 files?

 Tune-in digital Satellite Radio?
 Control a CD, MD, or MP3 changer?
 Play louder without distorting?
 Play DVDs on a retractable LCD Display?

Listen to each speaker individually by adjusting the balance and fader controls. Turn up the volume and the tone controls. Are
all the speakers working? Do any of them rattle or buzz?

2. Drive around and listen carefully.

Hit the highway and turn your stereo up loud enough to be heard above the road noise.

3. Now find a place to park the car.
Keeping the volume at "highway level" (but without the road noise to confuse your ear), do you hear a lot of distortion?

Set the balance, fader, and tone controls right smack in the middle. How's the overall sound of the speakers? What's lacking?
Bass? Treble? Clarity?

If your speakers sound OK at moderate volume, but not at "highway volume," you may want to start by adding more power. If the
speakers sound bad all the time, you know to replace them first.

Now it's time to start thinking about your driving habits and conditions...

Do you travel a lot?

If you spend a lot of time in your car, you should consider investing in a CD, MD, MP3 changer, or satellite radio tuner. When you match
a changer or satellite radio with a receiver with built-in controls, you get hours of music at your fingertips. You'll also get the added
"eyes-on-the-road" benefit of never having to fumble around for a disc when you want to change the music.

Like to take the family on long road trips during school vacations?
An in-dash DVD receiver can change your driving experience. Your passengers can be quietly entertained in the backseat, so you can
concentrate on getting everybody there safely.

And for those, uhm, "directionally-challenged" individuals amongst us —

End the "should we stop to ask for directions?" debate when you install a navigation system in your car. Just enter your destination into
the trip computer and follow the voice prompts and visual directions.

Drive a noisy car?

Is your music competing with your muffler for your attention? You need to give your speakers more power. An amplifier increases the
volume of your system without distorting it, so you'll have no trouble hearing your tunes with the windows down and the sunroof open.

You'll see a vast improvement in the clarity and detail of your music too. You should also check out the vibration damping materials on
our site — a little Dynamat in your vehicle can go a long way in reducing the interior noise level.

Where you do most of your driving can help you decide what to look for in a tuner.
If you're often driving through heavily populated urban or suburban areas you would benefit from a tuner with adaptive IF switching.
This feature evaluates broadcast conditions and switches the IF bandwidth automatically — eliminating interference from neighboring

You might also find that a receiver that can decode Radio Data System (RDS) signals is useful. Some FM stations transmit additional
data in the form of textual program descriptions and even traffic information, which RDS-capable tuners can use to limit station
searches and alert you to traffic road conditions.

If you're usually out on rural highways, you're going to need a really sensitive tuner. Pay attention to the FM mono sensitivity spec on
the tuners you look at: the smaller the number, the greater the tuner's ability to pick up weaker stations. Of course, a satellite radio tuner
would ensure that you receive up to 100 channels of programming in pure, digital clarity.

Weigh your listening habits...

What kinds of music do you listen to most, and how loud do you like to play your tunes?
If you like it loud and heavy, you're going to want outboard amplifiers and a sub or two for sure. Is the soft classical music your jam? A
new receiver should provide plenty of RMS wattage to full-range speakers — though you would certainly still benefit from the low-
frequency output of a component subwoofer powered by an amp.

Do you like downloading and listening to Internet music?

Buy a CD/MP3 receiver that will play MP3 files recorded on CD. Or, if you own an MP3 or MiniDisc portable, buy a receiver with an
auxiliary input.

Are you concerned about theft and your personal protection?

A security system guards your valuable A/V system and your car itself, and includes carjack protection and a panic button. Features like
remote door lock/unlock are extremely convenient, too.