Whether you drive an old used car or a brand new model right off the lot, the one thing you’re going to need (after fuel) is superb sound. For your average car enthusiast, and even your regular drive, a typical commute to work, a weekend drive or a road trip is simply not complete without your favorite music to keep you company and help stave off the doldrums of the road. While car speakers come and go, new technologies in sound production have brought a wave of new development in car speakers. Gone are the days of muffled woofers and grainy or pitchy tweeter noises. Consumers today demand the best quality for the best price, and many companies are out to deliver the best car speakers they can conceivably provide. Whether those A+ speakers come standard or are what you’re purchasing after your current speakers blew out, you’ll need to know whether what you’re getting is what you truly want.
|Low-end||Polk DB651||92 dB||360 W||8” x 14.5” x 4.8”||35 HZ - 22 KHz|
|Pioneer TS-A1605C||90 dB||360 W||7” x 7” x 4”||34 HZ - 32 KHZ|
|Rockford Fostgate PUNCH P16-S||87.2 dB||120 W||6.5” x 7” x 3”||60 HZ - 22 KHZ|
|Mid-tier||Focal Access 165 A1||92 dB||120 W||15.9” x 6.5” x 8.1”||60 HZ - 20 kHz|
|Polk Audio MM6501||94 dB||250 W||6.7” x 5.9” x 3.1”||40 HZ - 25 KHz|
|High-end||Focal K2 Power 165 KRX3||93 dB||200 W||16.9” x 10.6” x 14.2”||45 HZ - 20 KHz|
|JL Audio ZR 650-Csi||89.5 dB||225 W||21.3” x 16.1” x 4.3”||48 HZ - 25 KHZ|
The Best in Low-End Speakers
If you have just about had it with those factory-included speakers, you need look no further than the Polk db651. These intense speakers will offer you high quality sound at a low cost. The Polk db651 speakers offer a surprising mix of sound quality and value, something that every buyer needs.
These speakers are silky smooth in the high frequency range, and with good reason: the silk/polymer ¾ inch dome tweeter is designed to give you a much higher quality of sound than the flimsy tweeter likely crafted into your standard factory speakers. The high quality tweeters are unfortunately offset by much lower quality polymer/mica woofers. While you’re going get great high frequency sounds out of the db651, your lower frequencies will be of noticeably inferior quality in comparison. Despite these differences, you can still expect great quality sound, and most certainly better than what you’ll hear from factory speakers.
The Polk db561 will fit snugly into your car’s door. At a standard 6.5 inches, it’s designed for all standard car fittings. With an RMS range of 6-60 watts, and a 92 dB, you can expect these speakers to give you great, continuous sound with a very minimal amount of power from your vehicle. Indeed, due to the high frequency and low frequency ranges on the db561 being much more limited than more expensive speakers (35-20,000 Hz), your car will require much less power to operate them. They may require more juice than what came standard in your vehicle. This is still great news for hybrid drivers, and even greater news for those of you taking a cruise in a fully electric vehicle. Despite a higher power requirement, you will not sacrifice too much extra power for a much higher quality of sound.
With a peak power handling of 180, these speakers will be able to handle occasional bursts of power when you’re driving down the road with your music blasting. If you’re looking for great quality speakers for just under $100, these are the speakers for you.
If you’re ready for great sound at a low price, consider opening your wallet to purchase the Pioneer TS-A1605C. Pioneer’s brand new A series of speakers offers quality sound at extremely valuable prices, and combines new technology and speaker designs to deliver higher and better quality sounds at much lower costs than many of their competitors. Anyone looking to replace their current car speaker system should give the TS-A1605C more than just a quick look.
A multitude of pleased buyers rave about this speaker system’s sound and value. At around $100, these speakers deliver on the high end frequencies, and perform even better on the low end frequencies. Pioneer’s unique multi-layered polymer/mica woofers deliver much smoother sounds at the lower frequencies than many of their competitors. The woofers even come at a 14% increased size from a typical woofer, allowing the speakers to deliver a wider spread of sound without an increase in power consumption.
All Pioneer A-series speakers come with an extremely low frequency range of 34 Hz, and an ultra high frequency range of 32 kHz. This allows the speakers to produce the sounds you want from an extremely high variance, besting almost all of their competitors on that end. While most buyers will likely not be able to hear sounds on the lowest frequency, and literally no one will be able to hear the ultra high 32,000 Hz frequency, all users will be able to feel the music resonating around them. Unfortunately, these speakers are designed with a polyester-based tweeter, so a degradation of the sound over time due to moisture will be of significant concern.
On an extremely positive end, the Pioneer TS-A1605C will sip power, with a relatively low RMS of 6-50 watts, an extremely high peak power rating 350 watts and 90 dB sensitivity. That these speakers have such a large range of sound with such lower power consumption speaks volumes to Pioneer’s well-known eye for both form and function.
If you’re ready to kick your current speakers to the curb and install high quality, low cost speakers, the Pioneer TS-A1605C is for you.
Rockford Fostgate PUNCH P16-S
With factory-made car speakers, sometimes the customer is typically on the receiving end of a very bad punchline. Rockford Fosgate delivers its PUNCH line of speakers to ensure that it is you, not the factory, that gets the last laugh. Of their PUNCH line of speakers, Rockford Fosgate hides none of their pride in their description: “PUNCH speakers are designed for fanatics who don’t just listen to music, they feel it.” Judging by the intricate design and eye to detail that these speakers contain, Rockford Fosgate certainly leaves nothing to the imagination.
The P16-S is a component system that comes with all relevant parts (woofers, tweeters, crossovers) separate. While this inherently makes the system more expensive, it also allows for more sound dispersal. If you’re looking to not only be surrounded by the music, but feel it, these speakers should get your attention.
The tweeters in the P16-S are composed of polyetherimide, a unique form of plastic that has high heat resistance. This makes these tweeters extremely usable in a car speaker system, but not necessarily as beneficial as a tweeter with a metal dome. Despite the material, the P16-S produces a very high quality of sound in the higher frequencies. These speakers come with an injection molded polypropylene woofer capable of producing impressive bass sounds in the mid and lower frequencies. With a standard frequency response of 60-22,000 Hz, the P16-S is able to cover a wide range of frequencies smoothly. These speakers will meet the vast majority of your musical needs.
Most buyers have found the Rockford Fosgate P16-S to be an excellent component system that rarely disappoints.While these speakers also have a relatively low power consumption requirement with an RMS between 5-60 watts, their peak power maxes out at 120 watts. While this is not a huge concern for your casual listener, buyers who like music with significant bass and drums may want to be cautious with how high they are blasting their speakers. Buyers will also want to be cautious of speaker size before purchasing; these speakers do not come in the standard 6.5” setting, and may require more adjustments than what is common for most vehicles. Be sure to check your car speaker fittings before purchasing.
The Best in Mid-Tier Speakers
Focal Access 165 A1
When most car buyers think of “the best” in car design, they usually fall upon German, Italian or American designs. Focal is out to prove that France can be a major player in certain aspects of the designing process. The Focal Access 165 A1 is as refined as the country and culture from which it originates.
Focal has skimped on nothing when designing the under $400 Access 165 A1. The woofer and tweeter designs show an eye for quality and engineering, as well as a focus on value and quality. Most mid and high-end speaker systems utilize an inverted tweeter dome design. The Access 165 A1 utilizes this design with a very impressive aluminum dome. By shedding the plastic tweeter found in less expensive speaker systems, Focal’s Access 165 A1 is able to deliver much better sound quality at the higher frequencies, as well as better dispersal and heat resistance. The woofer is designed with high quality, waterproof fiberglass and comes couched in a non-resonant fiberglass basket. Not only does this mean these speakers can withstand the excessive pressure from the low and high end frequencies, they can also stand up to the high heat and humidity that can often occur within the speaker housing in your vehicle. At a 60 Hz – 20 kHz frequency range, these speakers will provide excellent audio production for most potential buyers.
You can expect to get very impressive sound quality out of these speakers. Hybrid and fully-electric vehicle owners rejoice! With a sensitivity rating of 92 dB, and an RMS of 6-60, these speakers will be able to sip power from your vehicle. While the peak power rating is comparatively low at 120 watts, these speakers utilize power much more efficiently than most of the competition, so you will likely not need to worry about turning the volume all the way up for extended periods of time.
At under $300, these speakers will certainly be more expensive than your standard factory-included set, but you can be sure that the attention to detail that Focal has put into them will ensure that they will provide you with long lasting, high quality music for a very good price.
Polk Audio MM6501
For those “in the know”, Polk is a name that brings warm, fuzzy feelings along with the pleasantry of good audio. Polk delivers here again with their impressive Polk Audio MM6501 speakers. These highly rated speakers (and I do mean highly) are designed specifically for those that like to push their speakers to the edge and bring them back unscathed, all while using as little power as possible.
The MM6501 is a dream for under $300. The silk composite dome tweeter delivers a pleasant, almost comforting audio at the high end frequency. While not as rigid as the more expensive metal tweeters (such as aluminum or titanium), silk tweeters are well known for the silky-smooth sound reproduction that they provide at the higher frequencies. While some users complain about this design causing a pitchy noise in those frequencies, these are few and far between, coming down more to preference. The woofer sports a honeycomb woven glass fiber material that is built for strength, resistance and resonance absorption.
Polk designed the MM6501 to best their competition in both sound production and power consumption. These speakers operate at a frequency range of 40 to 25,000 Hz, allowing buyers to feel the music just as much as they hear it. While these speakers have what some may consider an unusually low impedance of 2.7 ohm, this means that these speakers will work with almost all factory and aftermarket stereos. Although you’ll be able to power these speakers without additional amplifiers, you will need to be cautious about adding additional speakers in the future.
The MM6501 utilizes power much more impressively than most of its competitors do, allowing for these speakers to not only operate with much less power, but to also operate utilizing more power if necessary. Polk designed these speakers to work at a power range of 25 to 125 watts, and with an extremely rare, and best-in-class peak power rating of 250 watts.
If you like your music loud, but don’t want to use up too much of your car’s power supply, these speakers will be exactly what you’re looking for. Polk is well known for the quality of their speakers, and these mid-range speakers are designed for continuous audio delivery for the more refined audiophiles.
The Best in High End Speakers
Focal K2 Power 165 KRX3
Buyers should not be surprised to see the name Focal fall under the high end speaker section. Focal is persistent in their goal to show the world that France is more than just fine wine; they also excel at fine engineering when applied to creating some of the best car speakers around. The Focal K2 Power 165 KRX3 speakers deliver some of the highest quality that any audiophile can find. These sub-$2,000 speakers will set you back a pretty penny, but you may well drive away smiling after these are installed.
This component speaker system comes with all relevant parts included, but Focal decided not to stop at simple relevancy. This fully-immersive speaker system comes with two 6.75 inch woofers, two midrange speakers for higher quality at the midrange frequencies, and two tweeters to meet your higher frequency needs. Focal’s goal is to ensure that all buyers have a superb, totally immersive audio experience across all frequency channels. This set up will get you there.
The Aramid (short for “aromatic polyamide) fiber inverted dome tweeters are designed with extreme functionality and quality in mind. In case you were wondering: Aramid fibers are very strong, heat resistant materials that you may typically find in aerospace engineering and body armor fabric. These tweeters were designed for withstanding the most extreme stresses without breaking a sweat. The K2 Power 165 KRX3’s woofers are no less impressive, sporting a materials design all of Focal’s own making: a warp and humidity resistant composite of Aramid, foam and fiberglass. Not only can these woofers withstand extreme stress from the deepest low frequencies, their sound damping is almost unmatched, meaning buyers will be undeniably pleased with the quality of the bass.
The Focal K2 Power 165 KRX3 operates with extremely efficiency for the task that is has to do. While these speakers are not quite pushing the edges of audio production with a relatively standard frequency range of 45 to 20,000 Hz, they will consume power at an impressively low and well-regulated rate. An RMS of 6 to 100 watts and a peak power of 200 watts with a sensitivity of 93 dB means that these speakers will draw from your car’s power supply much more lightly than one would expect. High power, clear, exhilarant audio, and low power consumption are the hallmarks of any speaker system. On that end, the K2 Power 165 KRX3 speaker system delivers.
JL AUDIO ZR 650-CSi
At under $900, the JL Audio ZR 650-CSi speakers may be lower priced than many other high end speakers, but don’t let that fool you. These speakers come with an almost unbeatable array of features for a price that is almost hard to match.
The ZR 650-Csi is part of JL Audio’s Evolution ZR series of speakers, and JL Audio has skimped for nothing in designing these engineering marvels. Complexity is the name of the game for these speakers, both in their design and in their sound reproduction. The tweeters boast an aluminum dome, allowing for excellent high frequency sound reproduction with above average heat and resonance resistance. The mineral-filled polypropylene woofer is unfortunately similar to that which one might find is lower end, and therefore cheaper, speaker systems, but this may account for the lower overall cost of the system. That said, the woofer material will still allow for fantastic low-frequency sound reproduction, and the butyl rubber surround will help significantly with damping. Buyers will not need to worry too much about muffled basses.
Feeling the music is the name of the game for these speakers, and a frequency response of 48 Hz to a very impressive 28,000 Hz should tell you all you need to know about what JL Audio had in mind when they designed this component set. An RMS of 25-28 watts, and a peak power rating of 255 means that these speakers require a comparatively large amount of power to operate and with a very small power input window compared to other speaker systems. They will, however, provide those who like it loud to get the kind of sounds they want and may not be able to get from most other speakers. Don’t worry too much: the 89 dB sensitivity means you’ll be able to get that power without overstressing your system or blowing anything out.
With two 5-position tweeters, 2 woofers and 2 midranges, extreme audiophiles will be able to listen to, and feel, every ounce of frequency that the JL Audio ZR 650-Csi has to offer.
Novice Buyer’s Guide
Let’s face it: most of us have little clue about what goes into a good car speaker. All we know is that we want good sound, and we don’t want to have to give up an arm, leg and a few organs to afford it. Thankfully, understanding car speakers can be summed up by looking at just a few, important features. It’s never good to go shopping for tech without a little bit of knowledge on your side, and the car speaker market is a tightly packed monster filled with a lot of industry jargon. First, we’ll take a quick look at what you need to know to get the most out of your purchase. We’ll then take a look at some of the best there is to offer among the low, mid and high-end speaker systems.
Tweeters: When you think of tweeters, think of high sounds. The tweeter is a dome or cone-shaped mechanism that produces the higher frequency sounds in your speaker system. A high quality tweeter is one that will be made of strong, heat and vibration resistant material. While there are many types of materials on the market, tweeters will usually be composed of some kind of plastic, metal, or hardened and strengthened fiber. The more expensive the material it is made of, the better the quality. This holds true across all four material categories. A factory tweeter will usually be made of a cheaper plastic material, while your upper-end tweeters will use relatively expensive fabrics, such as silk, or high quality metals, such as aluminum or titanium. There is even some movement in producing diamond tweeters.
Woofers: The woofer is a cone-shaped speaker that produces the lower frequency sounds in the speaker system. Just as the tweeter gets its name from the high frequency sounds it produces, the woofer’s namesake comes from man’s best friend. Much like the tweeter, a woofer’s quality can often be measured by the material. Woofers must be able to withstand a lot of pressure from movement, therefore a good woofer material is one that is both strong and light, as well as heat resistant. Woofers come in many materials, ranging from very low-end paper materials, to very high end metals and composites that can withstand high stress without warping. While metal woofers are certainly the strongest and often the most expensive, they have drawbacks in resonance, with less of an ability to dampen sounds if not properly constructed.
Powerhandling: The minimum and maximum amount of power that a speaker can handle is an important factor in your purchasing decision. The speaker’s powerhandling comes with one key number: the RMS (Root Mean Square). This is typically noted as a range, such as “2-60”, and indicates the minimum and maximum amount of watts needed to power your speakers continuously. This number is important for all car buyers, but especially for those with hybrids or fully-electric vehicles. You will want to be conscious of the amount of power that running your speakers will require. The other key, although less important, powerhandling number to note is the “peak power” number. This is typically much higher than the RMS, and is often in the hundreds, such as “180”. This number indicates the peak amount of wattage that your speakers can take at any one time. This number is often reached when listening to music with heavy bass or drum sounds. Being conscious of the powerhandling number can help you avoid overstressing your car’s speaker system and helping you avoid ruining the speakers prematurely or of experiencing a dreaded speaker blowout.
It is also important to be conscious of the speaker’s sensitivity rating, measured in decibels (dB). The higher the number, the less power a speaker requires in order to reach higher volumes without distortion. For most car speakers, this number typically ranges between 88 to 92 dB.
Frequency Range: The frequency range of your speakers determines just how deep that bass can get, and just how high those notes can reach. A speaker’s maximum and minimum frequency ranges are measured in hertz to kilohertz, with the low frequencies for car speakers ranging from 20 to 2,000 hertz (Hz), and the high frequencies from 8 to 22 kilohertz (kHz), or 8,000 to 20,000 Hz. While frequency ranges can go both higher and lower than this, this range actually represents the full range of hearing for humans. Car speakers typically are not designed to go lower, or higher, than this frequency range since humans cannot actually hear it. However, some car speakers come with ultra-high frequency supertweeters, which produce sounds in frequencies that users cannot hear, but that they can most certainly feel. High-end and mid-tier component systems will often include these, thereby increasing the price of such systems. It is important to note, however, that such systems may have different power requirements as well. Likewise, the actual range for human hearing can vary drastically based on age, with younger individuals able to hear sounds more fully in the entire range, and older individuals typically lacking the ability to hear some sounds, especially in the extreme lower and higher frequencies. As a buyer, it may even be wise to test your own hearing before purchasing a system. After all, why buy more frequency strength than you’ll need? (For what it’s worth, I did the test myself while researching for this review, and discovered my own frequency perception is between approximately 190 and 16,000 Hz, a very sad testament to my loud-music-filled youth).
Speaker Fitting Size: Your car speakers can come in all different shapes and sizes. However, there are some sizes and fittings that you should be more aware of. While speaker sizes usually range between 3.5 to 6.75 inches, the most common fitting size is 6.5 inches. Before purchasing your new speakers, make sure to check your user manual to either ensure that you are buying the right size, or that the speaker system you are purchasing comes with an adjustable attachment for multiple fittings.
While there are certainly more aspects about your future car stereos that you could consider, the above five are what every buyer new to the industry must be intelligent about before making a purchase. With those in mind, let’s take a look at a few of the best low to high-end speakers currently available on the market.
Making the Right Choice
If you are in the market for the best car speakers available, you have a tough decision to make. Do you take the risk of buying lower priced speakers that may break sooner than you’d hoped, or do you spend your entire paycheck on the most expensive set you can find? While that choice is ultimately yours, there are a few things you may want to consider:
- All-plastic systems will not give you the best quality sound. While they are cheap, they will likely also sound cheap, if not at first, then within a relatively short span of time.
- High end systems may use higher quality materials to produce better quality sounds, but few people will be able to tell the difference.
If you’re truly looking for the best bang for your buck, I suggest going with either the mid-tier Focal Access 165 A1 or the Polk Audio MM6501. Unless you’re driving a Ferrari and you need your speaker set to match the quality of your vehicle, these sub-$300 systems will provide you with the highest quality sound for the best price. Not only will you be able to reach the best mid and high range frequencies, the sound quality will be almost on par with that of the highest priced systems without giving up too much on the low end frequencies. You will likely also get much more life out of these, as the materials will not degrade nearly as fast as lower priced sets.
Choosing the right speaker system is no easy task. The nuances in sound can sometimes be difficult for the average buyer, and the multitude of options can leave even the most experienced consumer a bit flustered. Regardless of what you do choose to purchase, when buying a speaker system there is absolutely no substitute for hearing it for yourself. Everyone’s ears will tell them something slightly different, so make sure that you try before you buy.
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