From time to time we get a question or run into a conversation about the best possible speakers one can put into their vehicles aftermarket and why manufacturers almost never offer these options within their premium packages/upgrades. It’s a fair question and an easy one to answer.
We never test in-vehicle sound systems here for content since there is a completely dedicated community out there for this topic. It would also cost a fortune to violate our own warranties or risk scratching personal vehicles by constantly swapping out parts just to see how they sound. However, that doesn’t change the fact that there are a number of obsessed audiophiles here (I am one of these) that have made personal changes to fulfill our cravings while on the road.
Although these achievements almost never replicate what we can accomplish at home. The complexity of upgrading the system in your car is not for the weak of heart and can sometimes require extensive knowledge when it comes to working on vehicles. Then there is the selection of products you have access to when upgrading those boring stock speakers.
As an audiophile, you typically never find what you are hoping to when you visit car audio dealers. Instead, you are met with brands like Sony, Kicker, Pioneer, Polk Audio, and other familiar names. Although these brands are just fine within the markets of beginner to intermediate sound, they are no solution for audiophiles looking to get the same audio they have at home.
Instead, you hope for brands like Paradigm, Bowers & Wilkins, KEF, MBL, Revel, Meridian, and other high-end names that deliver sound on levels far greater than those typical store-bought options previously mentioned. These store almost never carry brands for the same reason manufacturers never offer them to begin with (usually).
For one, it usually just isn’t worth the hassle when it comes to environment alone. When you play with audiophile sound, you have to be able to fully calibrate and position your speakers for the best experience. Something you can’t always do inside of a vehicle. You can’t exactly adjust the direction each speaker is facing. Sometimes they are simply focused on randomly filling the whole car as a whole and not creating specific sweet spots (this depends on the specific vehicle) and that would never work well.
Then there is the general acoustics of your in-vehicle environment. How noisy it is inside the car and how much this is going to interfere with the sound. Now you are talking about modifications to the car just to be able to enjoy the range of your speakers. Taking apart your doors to add dense material to help isolate outside sound and other materials around the inside to help keep inside sound from reflecting all over.
So to offer audiophile sound at the manufacture’s level as an upgradable package would mean a hefty package that would require a lot of modification to the vehicle. Unless they cut corners and didn’t correct the inside environment to compliment the sound. But then you’re just going to hate the outcome.
This brings us to the topic of price. Audiophile speakers and equipment are designed to deliver the highest possible sound quality, and as a result, they can be significantly more expensive than your average store-bought speaker. The fact that many of them are hand-crafted and personally tested by someone for quality assurance before shipping them out also adds to the price. This would significantly raise the price of the vehicle as well, bringing it outside of the comfort range of most consumers.
Speaking of hand-crafted, this also makes it difficult for some companies to meet demand when it comes to mass-selling of these products. A lot of audiophile companies are only used to moving so many units a year due to the time it takes to carefully manufacture, calibrate, test, and approve every item that ships. To drop the expectation that they are to suddenly mass produce these products for a popular vehicle model would either cause a huge list of back-ordered vehicles or a drop in overall product quality (which defeats the purpose).
This doesn’t mean it isn’t impossible though. There are options out there, like Lotus that partnered with KEF and brands like BMW that have been known to have limited runs with companies like B&W). Again though, this inflates cost, design, and availability based on what products they are using from these companies and how fast these companies can manufacture them for these vehicle manufacturers. It is usually specific models that target those with a lot of money and are already expensive to begin with. So what’s another $10K-$20K, right?
So that is why you typically don’t find “true” audiophile sounds within vehicles. There are examples of it happening, but they are few compared to what’s out there and typically expensive (or sometimes you find a dumbed down product from the company that is used more for a sales trick than it is potential quality). After-market dealers typically don’t even bother due to the limited niche that would be looking for it (and all of the additional product they’d have to offer on the shelves just to balance the acoustics of the vehicle),
You do find companies that throw the audiophile term around to raise interest in their vehicles. Companies like Tesla have been known to do that. Usually though, this doesn’t extend past high-resolution systems that are used to impress those who don’t know what true audiophile audio really sounds like. Ford has done this before as well, but usually it comes down to these companies partnering from people that used to work with some of these audiophile companies to develop cheaper alternatives that can manufacture in-house to save money. Not audiophile in quality, but at least better than your typical stock speakers.
For example, Tesla gobbled someone up that used to work for Bang & Olufsen (B&O) to design its speakers. No one knows who Ford hired, but one day the “stock” speakers in some of the company’s vehicles started sounding pretty ear-worthy.
So for now, you will likely still have to settle on the brands that hover between “good” sound and “audiophile” sound. In other words, the category of “great” sounding speakers. Like Infinity, Bose, Focol, B&O, and others.
Co-Authors: James H.
Totally agree with this. I tried researching how to get my car to sound like my stereo does but nope. You can at least try to make it sound pretty darn good though with what’s out there. No stores where I live sell anything darn good though and I want to be able to listen before I buy anything.