If you’re like me, buying a car is only the first step in owning a car. While the salesman is ranting on about this feature and that benefit (I know, I know, it’s his job) I’m looking around planning the custom work I’m going to do. There are rims and window tinting, and of course a good sealant (see http://www.cenano.net/automotive-application/ for my favorite). But what’s the first and most important change that I – and many, many others like me – will make when we drive our new ride off the lot?
That’s right. A new sound system. But with the many different brands out there and the brand roulette of hardware manufacturers in general, which one do you choose? In my humble, consumption-driven opinion, here are the top 5 brands to look for.
Pioneer stereo products are always solidly built, they always deliver quality sound, and they don’t cost too much. If your goal is to pull the biggest sound for the smallest investment, then you really can’t go wrong with a Pioneer system, and the Pioneer systems also tend to be pretty intuitive. That’s a big bonus if you’re going to install the system yourself and don’t have a lot of experience.
Alpine has historically been a rock-solid car audio performer, consistently landing squarely in critics’ top 5 or top 10 lists. It’s usually a little more expensive than a Pioneer, and on some models the added features mean added buttons that I don’t feel are completely necessary. But an Alpine stereo will probably deliver the best sound at a non-specialty price.
Now we’re getting into the higher-end stuff. Harmon/Kardon is probably best known now for being the audio system of choice for new Mercedes cars, and if that’s the car you’re driving off the lot you might think twice about ripping it out. In any configuration, an H/K audio system is going to provide excellent sound, especially if you like complex, sophisticated music like classical or jazz.
Bose car audio delivers similar sound quality to the Harmon/Kardon, although usually at a slightly lower price point, and the Bose is actually my system of choice. Again, if you like listening to complex music, the richer, cleaner sound you get out of a higher-end system is worth the extra money. If your music tends to consist of 9 parts bass and one part indecipherable lyrics, on the other hand, don’t bother.
1. Bang & Olefson
You can’t beat a B&O system, which is probably why critics tend to rate the Bang & Olefson Advanced Audio System in the Audi A8 as the best built-in car audio running. This would be my favorite if I could afford it: the only drawback of these ridiculously refined speakers is that they cost a pretty penny.