Audio Upgrades

If you’ve ever seen a TV commercial for a high-tech new car in which the audio system has been custom designed by experts to provide a listening experience that rivals the best home audio systems and wished you could have one, we’ve got news for you. You can and you don’t have to buy an expensive new car! Your local In Car Expert can design, install and calibrate a new custom audio system that sounds even better than the one in the commercial.

If you’re considering the purchase of an audio upgrade for your car, it may be helpful to ask yourself a few questions and write down the answers so your local expert can help you make the right choices:

1. Are you looking for the ability to play music from a device or in a format that your current system doesn’t support? If you answered “yes” then you may need a new radio or an adapter to connect your favorite media player or your phone to your existing system. Some details about that are included in a subsequent section. If not, then you may not need to replace the radio (head unit). For more information about adding media playback options, look in the subsequent sections; “Satellite Radio”, “HD Radio” and “Connecting Your Phone”.

2. Are you looking for an improvement in clarity, the ability to play the system louder without ugly sounding distortion, or are you looking for more bass? If you answer yes to any or all of these, you may benefit from new speakers, an amplifier or two, a better subwoofer and a signal processor.


Be sure to take your notes and some of your favorite music when you visit one of our experts. That will help them design and configure a system that exceeds your expectations. To help you, we’ve included some explanations of the various components from which you’ll choose.

Head Unit:
Also referred to as “the radio”, this is the unit mounted in the dashboard that controls many of the functions of the audio system. While it is an important piece of equipment, it isn’t the primary contributor to the sound of the system. The head unit provides the ability to play back all sorts of media types and can provide options to connect with your phone or another portable media player. If you listen to music stored on or streamed to a portable device but your factory radio doesn’t provide an opportunity to conveniently connect that device to the system in your car, you may want to consider a new head unit. See more information in “Connecting Your Phone” and in “Factory Integration”

Speakers:
Ultimately, these are what you hear when you listen to your system. Good speakers should be able to handle enough power to play at the level you require without distortion. The speakers in the front of the car are the most important because those are mostly what you hear. The rear speakers provide sound for rear seat passengers and help to create a more realistic experience for front seat passengers. While the front and rear speakers can reproduce some bass, they aren’t designed to reproduce really low notes at high output levels. For those, you’ll need a subwoofer.

Subwoofer:
This is a speaker designed to produce the lowest notes in the recording. A great sounding subwoofer adds interest and the visceral impact you hear at a concert, or in a club. A subwoofer usually needs to be enclosed in a box of some kind. Your expert can custom build an enclosure that matches your car and leaves plenty of room for cargo.

Amplifier:
Amplifiers are designed to provide the power necessary for your system to play more loudly than a system that’s powered by the small amplifier in the radio (head unit). While you may think, “I don’t need concert levels in my car”, having a little more power than you think you need is important because it prevents distortion that sounds bad. It’s always better to have a little more power than you think you need than a little less.

Signal Processor:
A signal processor can be the most beneficial of all audio upgrades because it allows your local expert to compensate for the acoustic properties of your car’s interior, just like the designers of those factory systems that are fine-tuned before the car is built. Signal processors often include powerful equalizers, crossovers and other features that can make your car sound like a much more expensive home audio system. If you’re thinking about keeping the factory radio (head unit) a signal processor may be necessary to connect the aftermarket gear to the radio and to provide the tuning tools necessary for a high performance system. See “Factory Integration” for more information.

Connect Your Smart Phone

Because so much additional content is available through streaming data from the internet and because you may need to make and receive calls using your phone while you drive, getting the right connection between your phone and the system in your car is important. There are several considerations when choosing a connection scheme: convenience, the ability to control phone apps from the touchscreen of the head unit and sound quality. There are two basic ways to connect; wireless and wired.

Wireless Connection:
For many people, the primary use of the phone while driving is for making and receiving phone calls. A Bluetooth connection makes that easy using the speakers in the car and a separate microphone. In a Bluetooth connection, the phone is paired with the car’s head unit over a wireless connection. Every subsequent time you enter the car, the phone and the head unit pair automatically. With Bluetooth, you will be alerted to an incoming call over the car’s speakers and you can answer, talk and hang up without having to hold the phone. Many factory-installed head units now include Bluetooth. If your car doesn’t include this feature, it can be added by replacing the radio or by adding a Bluetooth adapter designed specifically for connection to your existing head unit. That adapter isn’t available for every head unit. Ask your local expert.

Bluetooth is available in aftermarket head units in nearly every price range. Many of the newer head units also include streaming of an audio signal from the phone to the head unit over Bluetooth when you aren’t using the phone to make or receive a call. You’ll also be able to control the track up and track down buttons to select the music to which you want to listen.

If you are mostly interested in streaming audio from your phone to your audio system over Bluetooth and don’t want to replace your head unit, consider a signal processor with a Bluetooth module if you are upgrading the rest of the audio system.

Finally, some newer aftermarket head units now offer onboard WiFi for connection to a WiFi hotspot (while parked at home) or one that you create in the car through your smartphone or a mobile hotspot. With this connection, you can access many media streaming services and internet sites and apps directly from the head unit.

A wireless connection between your phone and your car audio system has benefits and drawbacks when compared to a wired connection. A few of the drawbacks are that your phone won’t be charged while you drive and the connection quality between the phone and your car audio system may be of lower quality than you find acceptable. Finally, there are some features of the phone that you won’t be able to access over a wireless connection. Convenience is the major benefit of a wireless connection. You won’t have to remove our phone from your pocket, purse or briefcase in order to use some of the phone features while you drive. If you’re interested in basic features like making and receiving calls and streaming audio from your phone, a wireless connection may be right for you.

Wired Connection:
A wired connection is just what it sounds like—you’ll use a wire to connect the phone to the car’s system. If you just want to listen to audio files that are stored in your phone or streamed to your phone, the simplest connection is a basic audio connection using a 3.5mm cable that connects between the headphone output of your phone and the AUX input of the car’s system. This simple connection provides the best sound quality. In addition to the simple audio connection, you may also want to plug the phone into a power port using a cigarette lighter power adapter. This connection scheme is convenient, but it offers no ability to control the phone’s apps from the radio and doesn’t provide a safe way to make and receive phone calls “handsfree”, which is required in many states. It does, however, provide the best sound quality for listening to audio store in or streamed to the phone.

Another wired connection involves plugging the USB or Apple lightning connector directly into a head unit designed to provide this compatibility via USB. With this connection, the head unit will offer some set of controls over some apps on the phone as well as a high quality connection for music. This connection will also keep the phone charged while you drive. One such connection and control scheme is called Mirrorlink. Mirrorlink simply duplicates the display of your phone on the car’s head unit display screen. The apps still run on the phone, but you’re able to control them with the head unit’s touchscreen. With Mirrorlink, you can use your phone for navigation, to make and receive phone calls and to play media files. Other apps can be used too. You can check out Mirrorlink in more detail here:

www.mirrorlink.com

If you are an Apple or Android phone enthusiast, you may want to consider a new head unit that includes Apple’s CarPlay or Android Auto. Head units with these functions extend many of your favorite apps to the head unit, offering the ability to use the apps in a more convenient and appropriate way while you drive. You can explore the available features and compatible devices here:

www.apple.com/ios/carplay
www.android.com/auto

If all of this sounds complicated, that’s because it is. There are many options to consider and the most appropriate one depends on how you use your phone, the car in which you use it, the complexity of the audio system that’s already installed and your experience in using this kind of technology outside the car. Your local in car expert will be able to help you. Before you go for a consultation, make a list of the apps you use, the apps you want to use while you drive and the media content you want to be able to access in the car. All of this information will help your local expert choose the right system for you.

Music Streaming

Music Streaming Services and Internet Radio:

With internet access, many additional sources of audio and video programming are available. Pandora, IHeartRadio, Spotify, YouTube, Napster, Tidal, AppleMusic and a host of other streaming media services can all be accessed with an internet connection.

At home, you may access these services using a broadband connection to the internet. You may have audio equipment that’s connected directly to the cable (your home audio system) or you may have audio products that connect wirelessly to a WiFi router to receive the audio signal. Alternately, you may choose to stream the program to your phone using your mobile data plan and then stream the audio signal to the speaker using the Bluetooth transmitter in your phone.

Since a broadband connection over cable isn’t an option in a car, you’ll have to access the internet using mobile data. The most popular way to access internet content in the car is by using the mobile data plan for your smartphone. Alternately, a few new aftermarket head units include the ability to connect to the internet by plugging in a USB modem, just like you would plug one into a laptop. Some radios will connect via WiFi to a mobile hotspot. In that scenario, the hotspot would receive data from the internet and other devices in the car could receive the data via a WiFi connection to the hotspot.

Because you’ll access the internet using a mobile data plan, it’s important to consider the amount of data that you believe you’ll use and purchase a plan that will accommodate your listening habits. Many of the streaming services stream the data at different rates depending on the kind of connection you make. At home and over a cable modem, the service may stream at 320kBPS, but over a mobile data connection, the stream will be lower resolution. Depending on the bit rate, the sound quality may suffer, but you’ll use less data.

To get an idea of how much data you’ll need to purchase to support your music streaming habit, consider that a 10GB data plan will allow you to stream the best resolution available (320kB/second) for about 70 hours if that’s all you do with your phone. Data consumption rates for video are much higher.

Radar and Laser Detection

If you drive often or if you drive long distances, you may want to consider the purchase of a radar and/or laser detector. The primary function of these devices are to alert you to the presence of police who are using radar or laser to determine your speed—and to issue you a ticket if you’re going too fast. Police radar and laser are subject to the interpretation of the policeman using the devices, and sometimes, even if you aren’t the one speeding, you may be the one getting ticketed.

In addition to hand held monitoring devices, police departments also use red light cameras, and traffic cameras set up to monitor traffic movement. If your speed is detected or you’ve been viewed running a red light, you may be issued a ticket automatically after the camera takes a picture of your license plate.

If you’d like to know where the speed traps are along your route so you can avoid being cited for speeding or other violations, a radar and/or laser detector can be an invaluable device.

In addition to speed monitoring devices, there are many other devices that use radar and years ago, radar detectors were incapable of making a distinction between police radar and other things like automatic door openers and other radar applications that cause false alarms. Many of the newer detectors include GPS and memory and are able to store the locations of these false triggers as well as the locations of traffic cameras using data updates through a smartphone app. Radar detection has come a long way since the days of incessant beeping for seemingly no reason.

There are two basic types of radar detectors: stealth and portable. The mobile detector is attached to the windshield or the dashboard of the car with some kind of a suction cup mount or a bracket. This arrangement makes it a simple matter to move it from one car to another. The downside of a windshield mounted detector is that it may partially block the driver’s field of vision and it can often be seen easily by the police. While detectors are legal in most states, the presence of the detector may alert the police to the possibility that you’re the speeder.

The stealth detectors are much more expensive and must be installed permanently, but there are significant advantages. First, they are not easily seen by the police officer and can be installed so that they blend perfectly with the interior of your car. Second, they won’t block your field of vision. They never need to have their batteries recharged. They can also include front and rear mounted sensors and additional laser sensors designed to provide much better and more consistent detection no matter whether the officer or the traffic camera is in front of you or in back.

Your local expert can help you choose the radar detector that’s right for you.

Remote Starters

Did you know that you can start your car from your phone?

If you’re concerned about the security of your vehicle, you may want to consider adding a remote controlled alarm system for an added measure of protection. Many alar systems also offer convenience features that aren’t offered in alarm systems included from the car maker.

A basic security system includes a remote control or a smart phone app, which you can use to turn on and off the security system from outside the car and also includes sensors to indicate if a door, the hood or the trunk has been opened while you’ve been away. Additional sensors can detect attempts to break the glass or to move the car. If any of these events are detected, the alarm system will sound a loud siren to call attention to the break-in attempt and will render the vehicle inoperable while the siren is sounding. Some systems include 2-way communication to alert you to the attempt through the remote control or smartphone app.

In the even that your car is stolen, an alarm system working in conjunction with a GPS tracking system can help the police locate and retrieve the car. Your insurance company may give you a break on your premiums if one of these devices is installed in your car.

In addition to enhanced security, alarm systems offer several useful convenience features. Remote door and trunk unlocking are common convenience features. A remote starter will allow you to start the car so the air conditioner or heater can cool or heat the interior before you arrive. When the car is started remotely, the security system is still active, so even though the car is running, security isn’t compromised. These features can be activated using a remote control or even a smartphone app.

If your car includes a security system installed at the factory, you may be able to add features like remote start to the factory alarm system. Many new security systems are designed to integrate with the factory alarm system to provide additional sensors for enhanced security and additional convenience features, too.

Your local expert can recommend the right system for you.

Rear Seat Entertainment

Benefits of a Car Video System
Of course, watching video while you drive is a dangerous distraction and we don’t recommend doing that. However, a video system can be a great way to entertain passengers, kids in the back seat and a good way for the driver to pass time while the vehicle is parked. There are some additional benefits to a video system that includes a screen that’s viewable by the driver. Images from back-up and side-view cameras and images from an installed navigation system can be displayed on screen. This is becoming more and more common in the factory installed systems in new cars. Just like with high performance audio systems, you don’t have to buy a new car to get one. All of these features are available from your local aftermarket expert.

Front-Seat Viewing Options
If you drive a new car, you may already have a screen that’s capable of viewing video installed. If you do, then you may have many of the features listed above. If you don’t have a monitor or a touchscreen monitor installed from the factory but you want the ability to see videos while you are parked or if you want a back-up or side view camera system to display images on a dash mounted screen, you may need a new head unit that includes those options. These units are often referred to as a “2-DIN” or Double-DIN” head unit. When shopping for one of these units, it’s important to be sure there’s room in the dashboard for the new unit to replace the old one. Your local expert can look at your car and indicate what’s possible and suggest the right unit.

Since the new head unit will replace the one that’s there, it’s important to be sure the one you choose also includes the media playback options that are important to you. Many of these 2-DIN units are able to play back, DVDs and CDs. They also include AM/FM tuners and some include satellite radio or are “satellite radio ready”. That means that an additional piece of equipment may be necessary. Don’t assume that because your original radio included the feature you like best the new one will too. Make a list of important features to help the expert find the radio that suits you. If you want to be able to play back media files from your phone, be sure to include that in your criteria for choosing a new radio.

If your original head unit is controlled by some buttons on the steering wheel, be sure to let the expert know that those are important. Your new radio may require an additional adapter to allow those buttons to control the new radio.

If you also have kids or want to provide the ability for rear seat passengers to watch video, you may want to choose a new head unit that includes “multi-zone” capability. That means that the video screen in the front of the car can display controls for the system and that different program material can be sent to the rear seat screens simultaneously. It may be more convenient for the rear seat video systems to be completely independent from the rest of the system. You may want your kids to be able to control what they watch and listen to their own audio programs through headphones while you enjoy listening to music while you drive. If this is important to you, be sure to let your local expert know.

Finally, when choosing a new radio, try it out in the showroom. The touchscreen should be easy to use and easy to understand. It may take some practice to use the new radio easily while you drive, so be sure to keep the manual handy and refer to it as you get adjusted to using the new one.


Rear Seat Entertainment
Rear Seat Entertainment is a popular option that’s factory installed in many luxury sedans, SUVs and Minivans. These systems are designed to provide entertainment for rear seat passengers. Each system may be independently operated or they may all function together as a system with the head unit mounted in the dashboard.

The two most popular options for rear seat video offered in the aftermarket are headrest monitors or fold-down monitors that are mounted to the ceiling of the vehicle. Headrest monitors are mounted in the back of the front seat headrest for convenient viewing by the rear seat passenger. The size of the screen is, of course, limited to the size of the headrest, often 5” or 7”. Fold-down monitors mounted to the ceiling can be larger. There can also be one monitor mounted to the ceiling for viewing by both rear seat passengers, or there can be two—one for each rear seat passenger.

Rear seat entertainment systems often include a wireless or wired connection to a pair or several pairs of headphones, which allows rear seat passengers to enjoy program material that’s different from what the driver or front seat passengers choose without the distraction of having several programs playing from a shared audio system. This is a popular option for parents who want to provide entertainment for children in the back seat.

The rear seat systems may include DVD players built into the screens, or a separate player may be installed under the seat or in a center console. Most of these systems have audio and video input connectors that make it easy to connect a phone or a portable media player. Be sure to discuss these options with your local expert.

Safety Systems

Parking Sensors, Backup Cameras, 360 Degree Cameras and Dash Cams

If you drive a big car or an SUV, it can be difficult to see what’s going on behind you when you’re backing up or what’s ahead at ground level when you’re parking. Many of the car makers have added parking sensors, backup cameras and 360 degree cameras to help. Additionally, thousands of kids are the victims of “backovers” every year. The problem is so serious that the HNTSA is now requiring every new car to include a back up camera system by 2018.

You don’t have to wait or buy a new car to get this technology, though. Backup cameras are now available from your local expert. Of course, just a camera isn’t useful unless there’s a screen in your car that can be used to display the camera’s view. If your head unit includes a video screen, there may be a video input designed to accept the input from a backup camera. If you are using a factory head unit with a screen, there may be an adapter available that adds that video input. If not, an additional screen can be installed. There are even replacement rear view mirrors that include a video screen that can display the camera view.

A 360-degree camera system includes an on screen view of the back, both sides and the front of the vehicle. This can be very helpful when you’re parking or checking your blind spot before changing lanes. Additionally, there are systems that can sense an impact to the vehicle and record video around the car just like a video surveillance system for your house. In addition to offering convenience while you drive, these camera systems also provide increased safety for those in and around your car while you’re backing up and provide additional security while your vehicle is parked.

If you don’t need all that security, but you would find some help with parking, there’s a parking sensor solution that doesn’t require a video screen. A parking sensor system will alert you as your car approaches an obstacle either in front or behind while you’re parking. The systems use indicator lights and warning tones that increase in intensity as your proximity to obstacles is reduced. This can be very helpful in preventing the front of your car from being damaged by curbs and parking barriers. They also help to prevent backovers, because the sensors will also detect people and animals.

Portable dash cameras are designed to hang from the windshield or to be attached to the top of the dashboard. They begin recording when you start your car and stop recording when you turn off the ignition. They are designed to record everything that happens in front of your car while you drive. The video is stored on a built-in or removable storage device and the recording is a loop. After the memory is full, the device begins writing over the oldest saved video. Dash cams can be useful in helping you remember what happened in a crash or a near miss. They also provide proof that can help you file an insurance claim if the incident is recorded on video.

Your local expert can help you find the right system to be integrated into your existing system or into an upgraded system no matter how old your car is.

Satellite Radio

SiriusXM Satellite Radio System

Satellite radio subscription service offers hundreds of commercial free channels with all kinds of programming. Music channels are arranged by genre. Talk radio, sports programming and news is available too. Although satellite radio offers specialized programming and hundreds of channels, just like cable at home, your local AM and FM channels aren’t available via satellite. You’ll need to use the traditional radio in your car to access those.

Many radios, including the factory installed radio in your car are “satellite ready”. That means you can add satellite radio without having to replace the head unit. In some cases, an additional tuner is required, and that tuner can simply be plugged in and controlled by the head unit once your subscription is active. If your head unit isn’t satellite ready, you can add satellite radio with a satellite vehicle kit. The vehicle kit includes a satellite tuner and antenna that are installed in addition to your head unit. The audio signal from the vehicle kit is connected to the car’s audio system by plugging it into an available aux input jack. Alternately, an FM transmitter can be used to send the sound from the satellite kit to the factory installed radio. This connection scheme should be considered a last resort, especially in areas where the FM band is full of stations as sound quality is often not stellar.

You can also access satellite radio programming with your smartphone using an app. See more about this in the subsequent section, “Connecting Your Phone”.

If you’re a satellite radio enthusiast, opt for the dedicated satellite tuner designed to work with your head unit, whether it’s the factory installed unit or an aftermarket unit. Sound quality and signal reliability will be best and using it will be more convenient.

Security Systems

Security Alarm Systems and Remote Starters

If you’re concerned about the security of your vehicle, you may want to consider adding a remote controlled alarm system for an added measure of protection. Many alarm systems also offer convenience features that aren’t offered in alarm systems included from the car maker.

A basic security system includes a remote control or a smart phone app, which you can use to turn on and off the security system from outside the car and also includes sensors to indicate if a door, the hood or the trunk has been opened while you’ve been away. Additional sensors can detect attempts to break the glass or to move the car. If any of these events are detected, the alarm system will sound a loud siren to call attention to the break-in attempt and will render the vehicle inoperable while the siren is sounding. Some systems include 2-way communication to alert you to the attempt through the remote control or smartphone app.

In the even that your car is stolen, an alarm system working in conjunction with a GPS tracking system can help the police locate and retrieve the car. Your insurance company may give you a break on your premiums if one of these devices is installed in your car.

In addition to enhanced security, alarm systems offer several useful convenience features. Remote door and trunk unlocking are common convenience features. A remote starter will allow you to start the car so the air conditioner or heater can cool or heat the interior before you arrive. When the car is started remotely, the security system is still active, so even though the car is running, security isn’t compromised. These features can be activated using a remote control or even a smartphone app.

If your car includes a security system installed at the factory, you may be able to add features like remote start to the factory alarm system. Many new security systems are designed to integrate with the factory alarm system to provide additional sensors for enhanced security and additional convenience features, too.

Your local expert can recommend the right system for you.

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