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How to Set Up Car Audio System  

James Benchman
Last Updated on
by James Benchman

How to set up a car audio system will heavily depend on the system’s size, components, and your vehicle’s make and model. There are a number of options in terms of speakers, receivers, amps, and subs you can choose from. This should be based on your budget and sound needs. If you’re a beginner and don’t know much about car audio setups, we’ll give you a rundown of the basic components you need in order to get the best sound at a reasonable price. 

Building a Car Audio System 

Building an audio system on your own can be a challenge, especially if you’re a beginner. Unlike the average stereo system you have at home, where you can basically mix and match components, car audio components are usually designed with a specific, brand/make, and model in mind. Additionally, it can be difficult to connect everything together and install the system in a tight, confined space. 

You have a couple of options here. First, you can start off with a new audio system and replace major components slowly, over time, or you can purchase the entire system all at once. Whichever option you decide to go with, be sure and focus on choosing excellent speakers, which is the essential part of any system. 


Just like a home sound system, the speakers in your car’s audio system are very important. The mounting location, shape, size, and power needs will all be critical considerations for your setup. 

How to Set Up Car Audio System

Your first step should be figuring out the kind of speakers that will actually fit in your car (see our car speakers reviews guide). If you’re looking for a total system, consider rear, center, and front speakers as well. Remember, some speakers can require a special type of enclosure. These enclosures will take up quite a bit of space. 

The next step will be cross-checking the speaker’s power handling capacity with the power output of the head unit and amp. Be sure you include the crossovers for tweeters and mid-range speakers. The goal here is to avoid under powering the equipment. 


A subwoofer that’s designed for vehicle use will require more power than the average speakers. When installed in a car, subwoofers also need to be mounted inside a special enclosure. You can purchase an enclosure that’s specifically designed for your type of car, or you can have an enclosure custom built. 

There are several different types of enclosures to consider based on the type of the vehicle and size of the sub. In terms of subwoofer size, the most common are eight, ten, and twelve-inch models. Some companies offer amplified subs with an enclosure. This type of woofer is often installed behind the seat in a truck or in the trunk of a car. 

In terms of quality, be very selective regarding the sub you choose. We recommend the CT Sounds Meso 10 Inch Car Subwoofer 1500w RMS Dual 2 Ohm or any of the subs in our car subwoofers reviews guide.


A car’s head unit typically has a built-in amp that runs about fifty watts per channel. Many car audio enthusiasts feel that an external amp is the best choice considering they allow you to separately adjust the high-frequency levels, mid-range, bass, and they also offer more power. A well-balanced system will always sound better. 

Since subs require more power than a standard speaker, you may want to consider buying a separate amp just for the sub and allow the amp that’s built into the head unit drive the speakers. However, for this type of setup, using a separate amp will require installing crossovers between the speakers and the amp in order to distribute the signals correctly. 

See the best 4 channel and 5 channel amps, and our car amplifier reviews guide.

Receivers and Head Units:

Receivers and Head Units

When you’re setting up a new system, you can always use the existing in-dash receiver or head unit, or you can replace it with a new model. When it comes to factory head units, the big downside here is that they don’t have any preamp outputs, which means you won’t be able to use any type of external amp. While there is line level to speaker level converters, these usually have a negative impact on sound quality. 

The chassis size is important to know if you’re replacing the in-dash head unit. There are oversized and standard sized head units available. Oversized units are known as double DIN stereo, while the standard size models are known as a single DIN stereo. During this time, you should also consider if you want a DVD or CD player installed. 


If you have a basic understanding of cars, tools, and plenty of patience, then you should be able to handle installing your new audio system. 

If you’re not confident in your skills and have finally finished handpicking a new audio setup, then it may be worth the extra cash to have the system set up by a professional. There are many companies that can provide this type of service. 

Fine-Tuning Sound:

Whether you decide to install your new audio setup yourself or have a pro do it, after the fact you’ll want to tinker with the system in order to get the right sound based on the type of music you listen to and the volume you normally listen to it at. 

Additionally, if you’re not satisfied with the sound quality of your new setup or you simply want more power you may want to consider making a few upgrades at some point. 

There are many ways you can easily upgrade a car audio system, but as a beginner, you don’t want to dive in and try to squeeze in extra sets of speakers or another sub without doing your homework. 

If you’re not sure whether or not your car’s audio system needs an upgrade, you can do a couple of simple audio tests to determine if upgrades are needed. Listen to some music in your car and keep your ears open for clarity and quality. If you find yourself constantly needing to adjust the treble due to a lack of clarity, it’s a simple fix. If your music sounds distorted when your music is cranked up, there are some things you can tweak to improve the sound quality.

You can click here to learn more in our article on how to tune car audio system.

About James Benchman
James Benchman
James is an Automotive Mechanic with over 20 years experience and 300+ car repairs. He is an expert with cars and has worked with different models from the biggest brands. James is a Mechanic , Husband , Father of 3 , and head of content at Caraudiologic. Learn more about us
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