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buildyourown
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 15, 2009 10:37 am    Post subject: Van stereo 101 Reply with quote

Ok, now that I got all the safety issues ironed out with my van, the #1 item on the upgrade list is a new stereo. It's a '91 and currently has a cassette deck and door and rear cabinet speakers.
I did a search, and read lots of good info in the archives.
The problem is, I don't know much about car audio and there is a LOT of info out there, most of it marketing hype.

The deck parts seems easy. Looks like I can spend $200 and get something decent with an iPod hookup.
Speakers/amps/crossovers are a bit confusing.
What do I NEED to get a decent sounding system. Quality is more important than quantity. I'm thinking 4" in the doors, the biggest (6") in the rear cabinet, and some tweeters in the dash. How big an amp would I need to drive this well? How do I figure that out?
I think my biggest speaker in my truck is 6" and the sound is decent.

I know this isn't a "van" specific question, but I'd really like some input from somebody who has experience with vanagons and isn't a complete car stereo nut who is gonna tell me to drop $2k.

Thanks for any help.
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PNW Westy Owner
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 15, 2009 10:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I went through a multi-step process to get what I have today in my Westy. Which is separates in the front doors, 4 inch in the rear cabinet and a sub woofer under the seat. These are powered by a 4 channel amp and a sub-woofer dedicated amp. Note that you don't have to do all this at once.

If I had to do it again and stay on a budget, I would invest in a high quality head unit that had enough outputs to support a sub and/or other amps, and enough inputs to support ipods and other devices (DVD, USB).

Then if I could live with the current speakers for a time, I would go straight to a sub-woofer. Bass in a Vanagon seems to disappear at any speed over 25mph. A sub really changes the music experience and you don't need to crank it to get the effect. I go for sound quality over sound pressure level.

Infinity makes the Basslink, it combines the sub and amp into one and sells for around $200. You can also buy individual subs and amps that will likely perform better, but at a higher cost.

What ever you end up doing will in part be dependent on your head unit so my $.02 is to invest there then spread the cost over time to do the rest.

Hope this helps.
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Crankey
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 15, 2009 9:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

read up on head units...maybe on crutchfield's site or even cnet I spose. look for features you want HD, Blue-tooth USB etc. alot are "ready" for HD radio or blue-tooth but you gotta buy extra parts for it to work.

go to a car stereo store and listen to front door speakers (bring your iPod)

you could get a head unit with it's own amp and speaks for the front doors as a starting point.

then later add an amp and a pair of speakers for the rear. if you get the right amp you could also run a sub with it.

doing a good job installing speakers in the doors can make or break the system. look for pics of door speaker installs.

I've read that it's best to have an amp that's more powerful than the specs for the speakers. the reason mentioned is a maxed out distorted signal from the amp can do more damage to a speaker than a clean signal that's over the speakers rating. just what I've read anyway.
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castlerox
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 15, 2009 11:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I am doing the same thing right now.

Here is what I am going to do, very simple and I think it will work fine for what I need.

You are right on the money with a good deck. I am going alpine, I have owned several before and they sound awesome. This is the one I am going with because it has a built in amp, more than enough to drive the 4's and 6's. It has the USB iPod in and an Auxillary jack (laptop in for DVD viewing =)).

http://www.bestbuy.com/site/olspage.jsp?skuId=8699296&type=product&id=1199494645981

I am getting the infinity 2way similar to this:
http://www.bestbuy.com/site/olspage.jsp?skuId=8210848&type=product&id=1166234894371

and 6" similar to this:
http://www.bestbuy.com/site/olspage.jsp?id=abcat0302008&type=category

Then, a self-powered bazooka tube. I would just keep it simple and bypass the whole amp thing:
http://www.bestbuy.com/site/olspage.jsp?skuId=9036...8011402526


So that is what I am going to do. I only used the BestBuy site to show you specific stuff. I am going to get half of it used or at the cheapest source I can find.

Hope that help!
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mightyart
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 16, 2009 6:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Car stereo can really be confusing, the more you read the more confusing it can get.
First ask yourself what you want.
Just radio, CD's, DVD's, mp3's?
Then look at your budget, stick with name brands, and look at what will fit.
A simple system can consist of a decent radio, and a decent pair of speakers.
In a Vanagon you want to go for a more high power head unit if you want to hear the music on the highway.
There are other things you can do to get better sound from what you have or are going to get.
I wrote a post about it.
http://www.thesamba.com/vw/forum/viewtopic.php?p=875410
Here's what I just put in, it's a work in progress.
http://www.thesamba.com/vw/forum/viewtopic.php?t=347832
It's kind of like castlerox wants to put in.
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wasserbox
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 16, 2009 7:12 am    Post subject: Re: Van stereo 101 Reply with quote

Had a long post typed up yesterday.... but never posted it.

Basically - don't go cheap on the head unit. You're looking in the right ballpark - $200 to $300.

Closely compare the features you want.
RMS is important. That's the wattage it'll put out to the speakers. You don't need to buy a separate amp or crossovers for a basic 4-speaker system. The amp is built in, and the bass / treble can be controlled by the head unit.

There are several different ways to use your Ipod with a car stereo
Here's some terminology explained

    USB Input - Connect Ipod via usb cable, and control Ipod with the Ipod

    Ipod controls built in - will connect your Ipod via an Ipod cable and control the ipod with the rotary knob on the stereo

    Aux-in - if it doesn't say USB or Ipod, you can use a standard male-male headphone cable.

    Ipod "Ready" - can connect an Ipod, but you'll need to buy an accessory cable. Could be either native Ipod controls on the head unit, or controlled via the ipod.


Some other handy features:
Bluetooth - there are 2 main kinds. Bluetooth hands-free and Bluetooth Stereo/Headset. Hands free will connect your stereo to your phone for placing / receiving calls just like one of those earbud units. Headset / stereo will allow you to run a bluetooth music player through your stereo wirelessly.

Other things you will want later down the road are pre-amp outputs, a dimmer feature... maybe satellite radio ready...

When comparing costs, make sure that the features you are comparing are INCLUDED. If it doesn't say that it's included, it's an additional add-on. Alpine doesn't include jack in their head units. They are Ready for everything, but they are all addons for about $50 each whereas Pioneer has many many features built in.

Stick with the major brands - Pioneer, Alpine, Kenwood or Sony.

Speakers : Basically - bigger is better. Front is more important than rear - especially in a Van. You "can" fit 6.5" speakers in the doors, and if you're willing - I'd recommend it. But you'll need some sort of crank-arm adapter... Replacing 4" speakers with 4" speakers will not give you a huge improvement, but replacing the stock vanagon speakers will definitely make a difference.

Look for good polypropelene cones, and big magnets. Brand name isn't important. There's a lot of hype in car audio speakers. I have PYLE and Boss Audio speakers in my van - they sound just as good as the Infiniti's that I have in another car. And in a van, even if you spend a grand on sound dampening, you will still have so much road noise that the differences in quality of the speakers will never be noticeable.

Subs - powered subs (bazooka / basslink) are pretty good, and super convenient. I have a basslink in one car. It's nice and easy. In my van I have a 10" separate sub with a 200w amp. The basslink sounds better because it's a better installation, but if I ever get around to building an enclosure for the separate sub/amp, It'll blow it away.

Best of luck.


Last edited by wasserbox on Thu Apr 16, 2009 7:22 am; edited 2 times in total
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 16, 2009 7:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

castlerox wrote:

Then, a self-powered bazooka tube. I would just keep it simple and bypass the whole amp thing:
http://www.bestbuy.com/site/olspage.jsp?skuId=9036...8011402526


I have one of these, mine's an older 10" Kenwood powered tube that sits under the jumpseat. Easy to install, out of the way, and it makes a HUGE difference.
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mightyart
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 16, 2009 7:57 am    Post subject: Re: Van stereo 101 Reply with quote

wasserbox wrote:

Look for good polypropelene cones, and big magnets. Brand name isn't important. There's a lot of hype in car audio speakers. I have PYLE and Boss Audio speakers in my van - they sound just as good as the Infiniti's that I have in another car. And in a van, even if you spend a grand on sound dampening, you will still have so much road noise that the differences in quality of the speakers will never be noticeable.


Speakers and the power driving them are the most important things for an good sound system weather it's in a massive theather or a small metal box.
You could have a super mega high power amp, and crap speakers.
The crap speakers will sound the best they ever will, but they are only going to give what they are capable of, kind of common sence.
The argument that you can use cheaper because of the noise in a van is a good one.
But better sounding and built components will sound better but with added noise.
Mediocre will still sound mediocre but with road noise.
The key is good speakers, head/amp, and get rid of the road noise.

Everyone talks about the ways to hook ipods to car stereo, few talk about the differances in sound quality in each hook-up.
USB will give you the best sound, your transfering digital signals direct to the pre-amp. (the Alpine unit I have, has an enhancer for mp3's, because of the quailty loss with compression).
Aux jack, from ipod headphone jack, alalog signal using ipod as pre-amp to another pre-amp, not as good.

Stereos are just like anything else for your van, buy cheap get cheap.


Last edited by mightyart on Thu Apr 16, 2009 8:02 am; edited 1 time in total
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1621
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 16, 2009 7:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

If I were to redo my stereo install, I would place some 6" speakers in the doors down low and have separate tweeters somewhere on the door or corners of the dash. There's a natural cavity in the Vanagon doors that allow for the larger speaker, and then simply disconnect the stock speakers and leave them in place.

An amp is nice to have for crystal clear sound without distortion. Under the seat is a convenient place to install it.

The Infinity Basslink will just fit under the rear bench if you trim the little 1/2" risers on the stands for the enclosure itself. The difference in sound quality is amazing when you add the sub... and I'm no bass-head rap junkie.

Contact Crutchfield, their reps are really helpful. They'll help you put together a nice system. Then tell them you want to think about it and find the same components elsewhere for less.
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buildyourown
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 16, 2009 8:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for all the help guys. Mightyart: I've read both of your threads several times. Good stuff in there.

Follow up question about amps:
I keep reading all this stuff about how underpowering your speakers is worse than overpowering. So if a stock headunit with 14w/channel is hooked to (4) 60w speakers, then things are obviously underpowered, but people do this all the time.
Should I just skip the amp and put my money in a head unit? An amp big enough to run what I'm looking at is a couple hundred $$$.
What about splitting the difference and buying a cheaper, smaller amp? Is it worth the money to spend $100 on a 4 channel amp, even though the speakers would be technically "underpowered"?
Seems like spending $200 on a headunit and $100 on an amp would give you better power/quality than just spending $300 on a headunit with 2 more Watts/channel.
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 16, 2009 9:14 am    Post subject: Re: Van stereo 101 Reply with quote

Dammit - lost my post again.

MP3 conversion: The audio enhancer is really only useful if you are playing MP3's from a thumb-drive or a CD, and they are ripped at a rate less than 192Kbps. Ipods and other MP3 players have good decompression algorithms built into them, and won't need that feature. It is a nice one though - problem with my stereo is that the manual sucks and I can never figure out which settings do what anymore Smile

Yep - USB direct connection is definitely the way to go. Bluetooth will give you some background static that I only notice inbetween songs, and the 3.5mini jacks are limited to basic stereo and just not great...

Speakers- Yep, Infiniti, Polk, etc are great - and you can buy them and be really happy with them. But that doesn't mean that they are magical, and that there aren't many off-brands out there that are just as good. When you start getting to really care about speakers, placement and implementation matter a lot more than brand name - and decent placement is almost impossible in a van.
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wasserbox
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 16, 2009 9:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

buildyourown wrote:
Thanks for all the help guys. Mightyart: I've read both of your threads several times. Good stuff in there.

Follow up question about amps:
I keep reading all this stuff about how underpowering your speakers is worse than overpowering. So if a stock headunit with 14w/channel is hooked to (4) 60w speakers, then things are obviously underpowered, but people do this all the time.
Should I just skip the amp and put my money in a head unit? An amp big enough to run what I'm looking at is a couple hundred $$$.
What about splitting the difference and buying a cheaper, smaller amp? Is it worth the money to spend $100 on a 4 channel amp, even though the speakers would be technically "underpowered"?
Seems like spending $200 on a headunit and $100 on an amp would give you better power/quality than just spending $300 on a headunit with 2 more Watts/channel.


The problem is with distortion - sending frequencies to a speaker that it isn't designed to reproduce. This is where you start getting into crossovers or hi/lo pass filters.

If I was trying to do a budget install, I wouldn't bother with amps on anything smaller than a 6x9. I would (and did) purchase some high-pass filters that inhibit the lower frequencies to my full range speakers.

http://www.crutchfield.com/p_127BB800A2/Bass-Block...=crossover

"Speaker Size Cut-off Frequency

6-1/2", 5"x7"/6"x8" 150 Hz
5", 5-1/4" 300 Hz
3-1/2", 4", 4"x6" 600 Hz (low power)
3-1/2", 4", 4"x6" 800 Hz (high power)"

Way cheaper than a crossover.
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mightyart
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 16, 2009 9:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

buildyourown wrote:

Follow up question about amps:
I keep reading all this stuff about how underpowering your speakers is worse than overpowering. So if a stock headunit with 14w/channel is hooked to (4) 60w speakers, then things are obviously underpowered, but people do this all the time.
Should I just skip the amp and put my money in a head unit? An amp big enough to run what I'm looking at is a couple hundred $$$.
What about splitting the difference and buying a cheaper, smaller amp? Is it worth the money to spend $100 on a 4 channel amp, even though the speakers would be technically "underpowered"?
Seems like spending $200 on a headunit and $100 on an amp would give you better power/quality than just spending $300 on a headunit with 2 more Watts/channel.


Car stereos and power output can be a dodgey thing.
The two your intrested in are peak and continuous.
Peak is the most the amp will put out/or the speaker can take (music volume is produced by varieces in wattage.)
And continuous witch is how much it can take all day long and be happy.
Car stereo makers like to play with the numbers, the cheaper the brand the more of the tendancy to exagerate.
What you have been hearing about underpowering might come from the fact that you should run you speakers efficiantly to get good sound.
At low volumes high power speakers may not sound as good being given low wattages.
I've alway's tried to match the speakers close to the amp, with about the same continuous power, and the speakers having a higher peak power.
Peak power is what will "Blow" a speaker.
Speakers move in and out to produce sound via a coil and magnet set-up.
Like everything else they have a working range of motion, blowing a speaker usually means you gave it to much power and moved it past it's range of motion, thus breaking it.
I've also seen speakers so blown that the coil is all unwound.

Ok, as far as amps, start with a good head unit, get pre-outs so you can hook an amp to it.
Hook it up and see what you think, you will find most of the time the actual power your head unit will put out is alot lower then most speakers will handle.
Leave some room for some extra power when you buy speakers, then if it's not loud enough you can always add an amp or two later.
Car stereo can be like home stereo, leave room for upgrade and you can always add to it.

Long ago when I sold stereo stuff, I learned that sound quality was subjective.
You can go between price points and actually hear a differance, but if YOU are happy with the sound that's all that matters.
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Crankey
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 16, 2009 6:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

has anyone installed 3 way components ?

I was going to go w/ 4" 2 way Focal in the stock location for now and trade up to 3 way comps later...6" woof down low on the door, 4" mid in the stock location and tweeters on the dash...probably the base model Focal comps.

I've mounted a 5/8" thick MDF plate in the stock location on the door. the door-panel is still flat. but I haven't cut speaker holes in the MDF yet.
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 17, 2009 12:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I just put some 6.5" Alpine components in the doors. I'm very happy so far. I mounted the 6.5 down low in the kick panel where the square hole in the metal is, (it just barely fit...no cuts required!) and made a custom tweeter housing out of the stock 4" grilles and some thin sheet metal flashing. Gives a great stereo image without separating the tweeters too much from their woofers. the only downside is It killed the map pocket on the driver's door. Sometimes you can squeeze a smaller speaker underneath and do some creative dremeling, but the 6.5s are too big to bother. Totally worth the tradeoff though.

All 4 speakers (front/back) are getting driven by an alpine f250, which i believe is 40W RMS per channel. I find it works fine, although many reccomend going bigger. In my other van they're all running off the head unit, which works just fine for now.

For a sub, I'm running a little powered 8" butt-rumbler under the driver's seat. It's called a Bass600. Doesn't shake the foundation, but definitely picks up where the components leave off and fills in the low end. Subtle but firm Cool . I recommend if you're into sound quality over insane pumping. And it's totally stealth.
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madmax25
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 17, 2009 1:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Crankey wrote:
6" woof down low on the door, 4" mid in the stock location and tweeters on the dash...

I thought about doing that for quite some time, but then realized it was kinda overkill. Like the 4"s would be spitting out plenty of highs and might even make phasing problems with the tweets, and wouldn't really cover anything the woofers weren't already doing...then I thought about how to power them all and got really scared Laughing . Ended up doing what I mentioned above.

But I'm no guru and it could kick ass. I totally follow the logic.
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 17, 2009 7:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I like the sound of a 5 1/4" door speaker way better than 6" or bigger. The tend to reproduce the midrange in a tighter, cleaner fashion than the bigger speakers. If you are doing a sub you don't need the extra bass that a 6" will give.

Mids are very important to me and quite often overlooked. They are the difference in the notes of a guitar solo. They will help you differentiate between a sax and a trumpet with a horn section. The majority of the music takes place in the midrange. Clear midrange differentiation is important. As was mentioned above it isn't always the most expensive speakers that do what you want well. I found some Kickers that I really like the sound of and have been able to find them off of e-bay for really cheap.

As for power, if you under power your speakers what happens is that the amp will distort and then send that distortion out through the speakers. This can end a speakers life very quickly. If your speakers are over powered, it is the speaker that will distort and they can handle this kind of distortion better than amp distortion. Yes, most people just run off of deck power, but most people don't have really nice sounding systems.

My favorite vanagon setup is 5 1/4" with a separate aimable tweeter up in the door. A nice deck, the new Pioneers have a really good IPOD interface on them. It is simpler if the deck has outputs for front and rear and a subwoofer output. This subwoofer out will already be crossed over, so it will be sending only lows to the subs. I like the pre built amplified sub units like mentioned above. They are not audiophile quality but they are simple to install and really round out the bottom end.

As for front and rear speakers, I just learned that the hardcore audio people really like one sound source so just music from the front. I guess the reasoning is that it sounds more like a real stage. I like to have front and rear fade as an option so we can hold on a conversation in the front while my girls listen to music in the back. I nice 4 channel amp can do this quite well usually.

You can find nice amps on line as well. With a little research you can find some of the older amps that perform better than some of the newer stuff. It has become fashionable to advertise wattage that is peak wattage instead of continuous, meaning that the numbers don't always mean the same thing. I am not coming up with some of the nicer cleaner amp names right now but it doesn't take too long to search them out. Clean power is better than big power. I have Eclipse amps in my DoKa and they are super clean, although their advertised power is somewhat low.

This was a lot of rambling. I hope some of it helps.

Craig
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 17, 2009 7:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

madmax25 wrote:
. . . and made a custom tweeter housing out of the stock 4" grilles and some thin sheet metal flashing.


Madmax,

I am about to install almost your exact system in my van.
The two questions of "Where to put the tweeters?", and "What do I do with the stock speaker hole?" it appears you have brilliantly solved. I plan to try this. Thanks for the tip!
As an added bonus, if the speaker grill is mounted right, the perpetual issue of the door crank handle rubbing on the grill be be solved too.
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iiigoiii
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 17, 2009 8:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

let me throw in my 2c....

head units: most units above the absolute cheapest put out accurate enough sound for any auto installation. in many manfacturer's model ranges, as you pay more you get more features and more power. there is a sweet spot where you get most of the good features, then they start adding the power.

make your list of 'must-have' features, get a head unit with those, and use a separate amp to provide the power. you can upgrade the pieces later separately. my guess is that you won't. my must-haves were simple: detachable face, mp3/mini-jack input on the face, remote control (for controlling it while in bed!), pre outs for amp. i found a panasonic unit that had those for very little $.

i didn't bother with a more sophisticated ipod input - the idea that you could hear the difference between a mini-jack analog input and a digital one...thru auto speakers...while driving 65...in a vanagon/westy...is, well, a little bit funny. same with small differences in THD.

mightyart is correct, peak power can blow your speakers. however, this isn't common. it is more often, as crankey pointed out, due to an UNDERpowered amp. here's the reason: when an amp (internal or external) is crankeyed up past the point where it can follow the sound's waveform, it starts chopping off the tops and bottoms of the peaks/troughs. at those points, a brief moment of pure DC power goes through the speaker coil, something no coil is designed to handle. those moments of DC can be more potent than a bigger amp's clean peak power. even an underpowered amp's DC can blow good speakers coils...which is more likely to happen since the amp is underpowered and you're always cranking it up!

so yes, a 14W amp going into 60W speakers is done all the time. it will work fine...unless you decide you really want to jam out with your clam out and crank the volume up past the clipping point.

so, i recommend getting the cheapest head unit with your must-haves, an amp with enough room to power your speakers (more or less, don't worry about being exact), and upgrade each later if necessary. also best to have a channel in the amp for a subwoofer, which will be one of your most useful upgrades.

mightyart wrote:
buildyourown wrote:

Follow up question about amps:
I keep reading all this stuff about how underpowering your speakers is worse than overpowering. So if a stock headunit with 14w/channel is hooked to (4) 60w speakers, then things are obviously underpowered, but people do this all the time.
Should I just skip the amp and put my money in a head unit? An amp big enough to run what I'm looking at is a couple hundred $$$.
What about splitting the difference and buying a cheaper, smaller amp? Is it worth the money to spend $100 on a 4 channel amp, even though the speakers would be technically "underpowered"?
Seems like spending $200 on a headunit and $100 on an amp would give you better power/quality than just spending $300 on a headunit with 2 more Watts/channel.


Car stereos and power output can be a dodgey thing.
The two your intrested in are peak and continuous.
Peak is the most the amp will put out/or the speaker can take (music volume is produced by varieces in wattage.)
And continuous witch is how much it can take all day long and be happy.
Car stereo makers like to play with the numbers, the cheaper the brand the more of the tendancy to exagerate.
What you have been hearing about underpowering might come from the fact that you should run you speakers efficiantly to get good sound.
At low volumes high power speakers may not sound as good being given low wattages.
I've alway's tried to match the speakers close to the amp, with about the same continuous power, and the speakers having a higher peak power.
Peak power is what will "Blow" a speaker.
Speakers move in and out to produce sound via a coil and magnet set-up.
Like everything else they have a working range of motion, blowing a speaker usually means you gave it to much power and moved it past it's range of motion, thus breaking it.
I've also seen speakers so blown that the coil is all unwound.

Ok, as far as amps, start with a good head unit, get pre-outs so you can hook an amp to it.
Hook it up and see what you think, you will find most of the time the actual power your head unit will put out is alot lower then most speakers will handle.
Leave some room for some extra power when you buy speakers, then if it's not loud enough you can always add an amp or two later.
Car stereo can be like home stereo, leave room for upgrade and you can always add to it.

Long ago when I sold stereo stuff, I learned that sound quality was subjective.
You can go between price points and actually hear a differance, but if YOU are happy with the sound that's all that matters.

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mightyart
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 17, 2009 8:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I was trying to explain it simple, but here ya go.
http://www.bcae1.com/2ltlpwr.htm
Use decent components and you won't have to worry about any of the above stuff.
Just like home stereo, start with good power and speakers.
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