Car audio upgrades for the sane

All I want is decent sounding music in my car. It’s a Fiesta with the base (read: shit) speaker system, which as far as I can tell is a couple cheap and nasty 4" and 1" speakers in the doors. There are noticeable areas in the middle of the frequency spectrum which just don’t come out of those speakers.

Is there way to go about upgrading those speakers on a budget? I don’t want a subwoofer capable of shaking any body panels off; I just want to be able to hear melodies clearly. Google only points me to sites whose idea of “budget” is “how much subwoofer can you afford?”.

I got a pair of nice 6x9 Pioneers for my rear deck at Wal-Mart for about $75 last year. If you can find a place to put them in your car, they’re a safe bet for an immediate sound upgrade.

Or you can probably get a new pair of Pioneer or Sony 1" tweeters and 4" (or 6 1/2" if you can fit them) speakers there for less than $80 if you just want to replace what you’ve got.

Agreed. A decent pair of 6x9’s should be very cheap and should provide exactly what you’re looking for. Not sure where you’d put them in a Fiesta, though, unless you put them in a couple of wedge boxes.

First upgrade the speakers, then (if you can afford it) upgrade the amplifier that drives them.

While the “biggest subwoofer” philosophy is clearly silly, so is the “no subwoofer”. One of the reasons your stock speakers sound lacking in the midrange is because you can’t do a good sound across the full spectrum on speakers that size, and missing bass is REALLY noticeable. Best to farm off the low frequencies to a subwoofer.

IMHO do not get a “Bazooka” self-powered tube-shaped “subwoofer”, those are really muddy sounding, not tight at all.

What is your budget? In my first car, a 1994 Acura Integra, I got what I considered really great sound by keeping the stock head unit and upgrading the speakers and amplifier, with a budget of $1,000:

  • front speakers to “entry level” MB Quart 6-1/2" component speakers (they were something like $175 a pair?)
  • rear speakers to “full range” MB Quart 6x9 (something like $75 a pair?)
  • JL Audio 8" “Microsub” put in my trunk (about $175)
  • A small 5-channel amplifier by a/d/s I could fit in the corner of my trunk (about $350)

Plus installation came to just about $1,000, a bit more after taxes. If I were to try to replicate this setup today, based onprices at, I think it could look like:

  • Kenwood XR5S 5-channel amp - $360
  • JL Audio 8" “Truck” subwoofer with enclosure (low profile, can put behind rear seat and keep most of your trunk space) - $160
  • MB Quart RSI-216 6-1/2" components (on sale for $119)
  • MB Quart DKG-169 6x9 2-way speakers (on sale for $75)

About $700 in stuff, plus you have to buy the wiring kits, and maybe pay for installation if you’re not going to do it yourself.

Of course your tastes in speaker warmth/brightness, etc. may not lead you to MB Quart, that’s my own preference.

But yeah, if your budget is more in the $100-$200 range, just replace the stock speakers and wait for later (if ever) to do the amp+subwoofer.

To me though, the difference was very appreciable. Not just for bass heavy pop music but also jazz and classical as well (e.g., Copland’s “Fanfare For The Common Man”).

You could do it in phases -

1 - good 6x9s or 5x7s in the front to replace stock speakers
2 - move them to the rear, put components in the front
3 - Power them with a 5-channel amp (but without subwoofer yet - 5th channel inactive)
4 - add small single-driver subwoofer

Each step is a noticeable improvement, with #1 and #3/#4 being the biggest leaps.

One comment on this - to my mind there’s no point in upgrading the rear speakers first, unless you sit in the back seat or are a taxi/limo driver catering to back seat passengers :slight_smile:

In my Integra car stereo setup (a coupe) I usually had the fader set to 2 notches biased to the front, to move the sound stage to somewhere between the dashboard and me - the sound should seem like it’s coming from very close in front of you, not behind you. The rear speakers were for “filler sound”.

I don’t do that in a car with more seats/speakers where the rear passengers are given more equal weighting, though.

Go to and select “outfit my car”. You can see your options of what speakers and radios will fit and what the price ranges are.

Thanks for the pointers. I’m definitely not interested in spending a whole lot, no more than a few hundred. But it looks like I can easily replace the existing speakers. How important is it to get a new crossover to match the speakers? Crutchfield seems to offer systems with speaker/tweeter/crossover – is that everything I need for a first step?

after a bit more research the front doors have 1" tweeters and 6.5" speakers. The rear doors don’t have anything in my model, but there are another couple of 6.5" speakers in the less-craptastic trim level. So I’m guessing there’s a place under the plastic interior panels to put speakers if I was interested in running cutting a whole and running wires around… Don’t think there will be an easy place to put 5x7 or 6x9 speakers anywhere though.

You definately want the crossover for the door speakers. They usually come as a set (component systems they’re called) like you indicated. If you don’t use a crossover or the correct crossover you can easily blow the 1" tweeters.
A newer high powered deck and some component speakers may be all you want/need. If there is a place for rear speakers it will definately add to the sound.

I’ve spent some serious money on car audio in the past, but have largely abandoned trying to retro-fit existing cars as the results are so poor compared to cars that have stereos designed around them. My 2003 Denali SUV has a very good quality stereo system that sounds better than retrofits costing thousands because the audio system was designed at the engineering stage to work with the existing resonant cavities and sonic profile of the car interior.

The sonic environment of Fiesta would probably be quite difficult to work with. Upgrade as you desire but don’t expect miracles.

IMHO the sane do not upgrade the stereos in their cars.

If they care enough about audio quality, they buy a car with a decent factory stereo, and they live with its limitations. A car is by definition a horrible acoustic environment anyway, so no matter what you do it’s not going to be as good as a home stereo. But a lot of factory stereos these days are quite good, and as astro says, will virtually always be better than something you try to retrofit.

If you find it a fun hobby to mess with this stuff and want to upgrade anyway, that is fine. I am the same way with some things. But we are, by definition, not sane.