8 Common Mistakes Made by Car Audio n00bies and How To Avoid Them

Hi kids, like all things in life there are lessons to be learned when venturing into something new. Many of which we teach ourselves, but most of which we learn the absolute hard way. The latter cannot be any truer than when getting into the precarious hobby/life-calling of Car Audio. Clipping, Distortion, Fried Amps, Burnt Voice Coils, Blown Speakers, Static, Popping, Cooked Wires, Swelling Batteries, Capacitors that melt a hole right through the trunk floor (True story); all this can can be easily avoided if you just take the time to take in the information available to you. If you want to be a cool kid and figure it out yourself then go right ahead, we’ll use you as an example on a later post 😉 If you’d like to avoid custom air vents in your trunk, then carefully read through these 8 Common Mistakes Made by Car Audio n00bies and avoid them at all costs!!

1Read, Read, & Read S’more!


If you’ve gotten this far in the post, then you clearly have the ability to get this done. Good job, you’re ahead of the game! For starters, manuals are your best friend. To be fair, manuals are often that nerdy friend of yours that ruins the grading curve, but with a little effort that nerd can be a real asset. A proper manufacturer (more on that later) will provide a proper manual with all the information you need to know about your product. The manual will often let you know what kind of wiring you need, what the potential output is, how to wire it, what the knobly bits do, etc… SonicElectronix Tech Support is NOT a book club; our guys are not meant to read the manual to you, so please read it yourself! Even if your product doesn’t come with a manual, Car Audio hasn’t really evolved beyond its basics – for the most part. So if your manual doesn’t have the answer, then you can often get your answer from a similar product’s manual. Your $99 Million-Watt amp doesn’t come with a manual? That’s strange. You want to strap it, but don’t know how? Probably a bad idea, but ok lets do that. The first thing you should always do is read the information available on the manufacture’s website. If the manufacture’s website is as thorough as their lack of a manual, then what is the first thing EVERYONE does when there’s a question that needs to be answered? Google, duh: Click Me!!!! Hey look!, a SonicElectronix Learning Center article…by yours truly! Coincidence. Jokes aside, the internet is a great start to any question you may have. The first rule of the internet applies here, however, ‘Tread with caution!’ . We all would love to think that everything you read on the internet is the truth (Read: $99 Million-Watt amp) , but that isn’t always the case. Always make sure you also take the time to ensure that the source you are getting your information from is a credible source. Our Learning Center is a great wealth of information and knowledge so, of course, we recommend checking with us whenever you have any questions/concerns/problems/etc…, but we also support the idea of our customers reading up on articles/posts from other sources; there is no such thing as Too Much Information. Asking a stupid question is better than making a stupid mistake. This is why we developed our community Q&A Tab on our website, to encourage everyone to ask whatever questions they may have. Check out the Q&A Tab for yourself. Now, lets get a little more detailed:

2Performance Is Only As Good As Its Source! Pt. 1 


Your amplifier Does NOT make power. It converts power, or current, from your electrical system and turns it into a high power audible energy. If the amp can’t get all the power it needs it will not produce its full output. Period. If the Voltage or Current drops too low even the best amplifiers on the market will drop below its rated output. This is why it is very important that you match your awesome new amplifier/subwoofer/speakers/etc. with proper wiring and a proper source of power! Always begin with making sure your charging system is in good working order, and consider OFC Wiring when possible. Any high performance audio amplifier will increase the demand on your alternator and battery. Still, most common installs (i.e. >~1200w True RMS) can often run perfectly fine off a stock system. Keep in mind there is a HUGE difference between the electrical system of a Hummer H2 vs a Geo Metro and there is also a huge difference between the electrical system of a Hummer H2 with a fried Stator vs a GEO Metro with a brand new Stator; many variables, so Plan Accordingly. If you are unsure, have your charging system tested by a professional technician. Our SonicElectronix sales team cannot magically determine if your walled off 2007 Volkswagen Beetle’s OEM alternator can handle the load of your 1.21 gigawatts system. A bit of a hyperbole, but you get the point. Far too many enthusiasts believe that all you need is “good” equipment to get “good” sound; that is not the case. You need a “good” system, which includes your source. The same can be said for the AUDIO, which leads us the next mistake.

3Performance Is Only As Good As Its Source! Pt. 2


Repeat, far too many enthusiasts believe that all you need is “good” equipment to get “good” sound; that is not the case. If you are playing terrible audio, then the amplifier is only going to amplify terrible audio, and the drivers are going to output – you guessed it – terrible audio. By “terrible audio” I am not referring to your cherished copy of Nickelback’s “greatest hits” (sic) , instead I am referring to the actual file and/or recording that you are streaming through your headunit. For the sake of conversation, lets pretend that that which you are streaming is NOT a CD; of which houses uncompressed audio, 44.1 khz 16 bit stereo, pretty awesome audio. Instead, lets only assume compressed MP3 files. What does “Compressing audio” mean? We won’t get too deep into that – I do suggest reading up on it, however. To Car Audio junkies it basically means snipping off the highest end of the high frequencies and the lowest end of the low frequencies, along with other sciencey altering of sine wave stuff; basically you are sucking the life out of the audio. Moving on, there are Five common types of audio file bit rates: 320kbps, 256kbps, 192kbps, 160kbps, & 128kbps . Yes, there are other formats and types and etc etc etc , but one of those five will likely be the bit rate that your iTunes music is currently compressed to (go check, you’ll see). Ok, so what does all this means to us now? Well, In a nutshell 128kbps = Good, 256kbps = better, 320kbps = Best. Now, which seems like a better idea:

  1. Ok audio streaming through your headunit, Ok audio amplified by your amplifier, then Ok audio coming out of your drivers.
  2. Better audio streaming through your headunit, Better audio amplified by your amplifier, then Better audio coming out of your drivers.

I sincerely hope you chose 2 🙂 Now that you know this, make sure all the music you ever rip onto your library is ripped in “320kbps Stereo Bit Rate”. If you use iTunes, that option is within the “Import Settings>>Custom”. Even better, use CDs or WAV format; not as practical, but if you really want to flex your “audiophile” muscles, then that is what you want.

4Set Your Settings Properly!


Those settings on the side of an amplifier, they aren’t there to look pretty or to be left in the position that they came in out of the box. Moreover, none of them are there to ‘make the music louder’ and they are especially not there to be “set half way”!! You make the car audio gods very angry if you have ever used the words “half way” when describing where any of your settings are positioned. We’ve already gone over what each setting on an amplifier does in a recent Learning Center article inconspicuously titled HOW TO TUNE AN AMPLIFIER, so we won’t go over that now. Also, those settings are often explained in the MANUAL. However, it is worth saying that it is VERY important that you understand what each setting’s job is. Notice that none of them say “Make The Music Hit Harder Setting”, because none of them will do that. The settings on the side of an amplifier are easy to mess up and modestly difficult to get right; but when done right it will protect your system. Your $1,000 Sound System putting out 2,000 Unicornwatts won’t mean a thing if it isn’t tuned/set right, so do it right. Speaking of Unicornwatts:

5Just because an amplifier says it can do 1,000 UnicornWatts, It doesn’t mean it can.


Unfortunately, our market is flooded with manufactures who do not rate their products properly. Instead, they provide very ambitious figures that we will never get, Unicornwatts (For the record, I made that up.). This is largely due to the fact that there is no governing body that restricts these manufactures from putting exaggerated figures in the specifications. There once was a time where we would literally pay $1 for every Watt of power; so a 750watt amplifier would cost $750 and so on. Luckily, technology has advanced leaps and bounds beyond those times and we can now get 750watts at an affordable price (Read: JBL MS-A5001). However, that means gone are the times where we could comfortably make a purchase and know that we are buying quality. In an attempt to separate the amplifiers that are putting out unicornwatts from the amplifiers that are putting out true RMS, some manufacturers have pursued CEA-2006 Compliance certification for their amplifiers to prove to consumers that they are, in fact, getting what they pay for. The idea of “Getting what you pay for” is very strong in Car Audio. This is why we try our best to educate our customers and often urge to save their pennies a little bit longer to get into a better performing product, hopefully a CEA Compliant product. Like most consumer products, the best approach is common sense. If someone were to present you with the opportunity to purchase a 2015 500hp Car for $2,000, wouldn’t you question Every Single Thing about that offer? You’d ask “whats wrong with it?”, “show me proof”, “why so cheap?”. You ask these things because you know that such a car goes for – at least – ten times the price. This same approach goes for car audio. If you are presented the opportunity to purchase a 5000 watt Amplifier/Subwoofer for $100, you must immediately ask “whats wrong with it?” (It is probably entry level), “show me proof” (its not CEA Compliant, so there is no proof), “why so cheap?” (because its cheap!).

6If you can’t do it yourself, then don’t do it yourself.


Professional installation can be very expensive, we understand that. However, you aren’t just paying someone to drop a bunch of equipment into your car and send you on your way. You are paying to have the job done RIGHT. We highly encourage DIY, that’s the reason I’m typing this up and the reason to why we have the Learning Center and SonicElectronix Blog. However, there comes a time where DIY just isn’t recommended. That time is often when you yourself realize the install is just too overwhelming to continue researching, let alone attempt. When you get to a point where you’ve exhausted all resources, and still have not successfully grasped the idea of a given install, then it is time to put the install in the hands of someone who does that install for a living.

Food for Thought:
It’s less expensive to have the job done right, than it is to get a job done wrong fixed.

7Upgrading Your Door Speakers Does Not Get You A Louder System.


For some reason, there is a firm belief that simply swapping out the door speakers for better door speakers will magically make the sound system in an otherwise stock vehicle louder. Technically yes, but for the most part its a no. A better quality speaker, with a higher sensitivity, and – in some cases, a lower impedance will, in theory, provide an increase in overall volume (loudness). However, in audio vs the human ear there is often Only a discernible difference in volume when said volume raises >+3dB. Which, in most cases, just doesn’t happen when only swapping out the speakers. Given the context of what most people would associate an “acceptable performance gain”, there just isn’t such a gain. There are two major benefits in swapping out the door speakers: 1) Better overall sound quality (wider frequency response) & 2) the ability to add an amp now/later. Its the latter that will give you the Actual performance so often sought out. It is important to remember, loudness = power = amplifier. Even unicorn power will suffice. 😉

8Matching Impedance.


For as long as there have been speakers, subwoofers, and amplifiers there has been the question of ‘How are they all matched up’? The ironic part is that the answer has always followed up the question and still the question is asked despite the amount of information available. However, actually knowing how to wire speakers/subwoofers and what impedance they present isn’t as important as knowing where to look for the answers. Unless you plan to open up your own shop, its really not that important to know that three dual-4 ohm Subwoofers wired in parallel will present a 2.67 ohm final load. Instead, its best to know where to find the answers and see the different options you have available to you. Most amplifiers and Subwoofers will have the answer in the MANUAL, but if it isn’t below are two very useful links to get that answer:

  1. Subwoofer Wiring Wizard
  2. SonicElectronix YouTube Channel: How To Wire Subwoofers

The question of matching impedance is most prevalent when talking about Subwoofers vs Amps; “How do I wire my subwoofer(s) to XYZ?”. But the same idea applies to door speakers. Seldom does a scenario come up where you need to wire up door speakers together, but it isn’t impossible. Door speakers are a lot easier to figure out, but just know that you treat them as Single Voice Coil Drivers.


There you have it, read your manuals, avoid unicorns and avoid bad products; that is the key to turning in your n00b card for an Xpert card. Jokes aside, as mentioned before, Car Audio can be fairly precarious, but if approached properly and with a want to learn everyone can enjoy the benefits of music in a machine on wheels. Don’t forget people, we’re turning information from a CD/Phone/MP3 into an audio signal and making it loud enough to rattle windows, all with just ~12volts, that is a beautiful thing. Have fun!

From Pro Audio to Car Audio, the Transition has been an experience worth sharing. I traded in my Turntables for a Headunit and never looked back.

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