Hi-fi audio for cars, is this just a dream? Until recently, the interior of a vehicle presented many challenges in terms of listening to music. The noise of the motor, and more noise from the undercarriage, along with electronics and speakers of mediocre quality, have long conspired to take much of the pleasure out of listening to CD-Audio discs (excessive saturation, poor tonal balance, etc.).
But progress made by automobile manufacturers has allowed for quieter cars, including very quiet electric and hybrid models, as well as most midrange and high-end fueled automobiles. Additionally, comfort has improved to such a point that it is sometimes nicer to take a seat in your car than it is on an ordinary couch.
Do improvements made in terms of acoustic isolation mean that all the conditions for an in-car hi-fi listening experience are now met? The answer is a resounding yes. The interior of a car presents a unique opportunity in that it generates very little resonance. Apart from glass surfaces, all of the materials found in the interior of an automobile are able to dampen sound waves and prevent unwelcome resonance. A dream for for any audiophile who is disappointed by a living room which generates surges in the frequency response or simply cancels out certain frequency ranges.
Nearly 70% of the sound produced by a driver only reaches our ears after reflecting off of one or several surfaces.
Another advantage is the closeness of the speakers to the listener, shortening the distance between the drivers and the listener’s ears. The shorter the distance between the two, the lower the distortion rate will be as a result.
Drivers made by leading manufacturers
The inside of a car is a favorable environment from an acoustic perspective, and it also facilitates the installation of multiple speaker drivers. Most recent cars are designed with predetermined locations to install at least 6 speakers, each fitted with pre-installed cables. It has also become common to find tweeters or midrange drivers installed along the dashboard and even infrabass drivers hidden beneath the front or back seats. An ever-increasing array of drivers join forces to allow the listener to become immersed in a very wide soundstage.
Leading hi-fi manufacturers such as Focal and Davis Acoustics have developed ranges of highly efficient drivers, directly descended from models designed for hi-fi speakers. Focal’s famous “W” composite sandwich cones and Flax cones are also integrated into the brand’s speaker packs for automobiles.
DSP amplifiers and touchscreens
Class D amplifiers, which are widely integrated into today’s stereo amplifiers and home theater receivers (especially high-end models), have benefited from some considerable improvements since their emergence about 20 years ago. Very energy efficient, these amplifiers can be paired up with older car radios to improve performance exponentially. Powerful and devoutly audiophile, the amplifiers integrated into modern car radios are capable of reaching very high sound levels with hardly any distortion.
Today’s car radios are equipped with digital USB inputs to connect an iPhone or a flash drive, and while some are fitted with SD card readers for playing audio files, many also have a Bluetooth receiver for wireless playback of files streamed from a smartphone or tablet. In addition, a large number of models have a touchscreen and are compatible with Apple CarPlay or Android Audio, thus granting access to Google Maps or Waze, for example.
Equipping your automobile
Your car is certainly already equipped with a car radio and speakers. Many possibilities for upgrades exist. Replacing your current speakers with hi-fi models (Focal, for example) will significantly improve your listening experience. Adding a power amplifier, connected to your current car radio’s pre-out outputs, is a sure-fire way to boost the performance of your current speakers. Adding an active subwoofer (car subwoofer) will extend the frequency response of your current system for a more credible sound, or even a physical one if that’s what you’re aiming for.This post is also available in: French