What is the best sound system I can get for $1K?

I have an 07 Accord LX with basic sound and no nav. The stock Head unit and Speakers suck: No mp3 support, low volume, early distortion, etc.

It seems that good car audio systems are pretty expensive, what with $500 in speakers, another $600 in amps, $400 head unit and $300+ subwoofer. Without even counting the ipod and HD radio addons as well as the dash replacement with costs another $215.

My question to you is:

Can I start upgrading now and do incremental purchases without going over $1k? If so, what should I go for first?

I’m looking at an Alpine 9887 Head Unit (it uses Imprint which sounds neat and people seem positive about it). I heard some nice Polk speakers at the store also. $300 for the front+tweeters and $200 for the back. Replacement dash quote was $215 and the head unit is $399 ($100 more than can be gotten online).

Your informed opinions would be very useful, thanks!

I hope you don’t mind a little hijack, but I came in to post the same question, only I was going to ask if The Dopers could point me to two or three websites that would help me sort through what’s currently available. Nothing too complicated, but enough info for someone with a working knowledge of sound systems that’s out of date.

Upgrade your speakers first. This is where you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck. Factory speakers are usually constructed of cheaper, low grade materials and are the biggest contributor to poor sound quality. Even cheap aftermarket speakers will sound better than the factory ones, and are often the easiest components to replace in a system.

A good starting point is Crutchfield.com. Use their online database to see what fits your vehicle as a drop-in replacement. They’ll usually have multiple choices in all price ranges, with lots of useful guides and customer reviews of products.

Alpine always makes nice head units but only do that if you’re going for the aftermarket speakers too (Polk’s are generally good quality). A high powered deck with a fancy sound processor is only going to make those shitty factory speakers sound worse. Add amps & subs last.

Installation cost could get really high but it will be worth it if you’re not a DIY’er. Most late model cars are really a bitch and time-consuming when it comes to installing aftermarket stuff. If you’re not comfortable with removing tight fitting trim panels (often forcefully), insulation, cutting off stock connectors, etc. then it’s probably best left up to a pro to do.

Polk is good from what I remember. When you say “front+tweeter” are these component speakers?

Provided your vehicle doesn’t have an OEM amp you can absolutely do it incrementally, though unfortunately I would recommend replacing the head unit and speakers at the same time.

Crutchfield has your 9887 at 18 watts RMS. Everyone posts max power ratings, but it’s the RMS rating that’s the most important. I don’t remember if this is good for a HU though <brag>I got mine on a 4-channel Boston Acoustic amp</brag>. From a quick browse, it looks like their HU are in the 16-22 RMS range.

My suggestion would be to replace your speakers and HU first. If the bass still isn’t where you want it (the new speakers will help tremendously) find a cheap sub+box+amp kit. Don’t pay more than a couple hundred though. My 12" Eclipse kit only cost me $335.

Then if it STILL doesn’t sound like you want it, get a 4-channel amp to run your speakers.

You know, people say that, and it’s true in home audio, but I went this route and was diappointed. I replaced my front speakers with a $100 pair of Alpines and honestly, it doesn’t sound all that much different, except these speakers have some decent treble because they actually have tweeters. They sounded much better on the soundboard in the store.

Some people in audio forums suggested that I should have also replaced the head, or possibly bought an amp. Noow, one issue is that I could in fact use some more power. I can hear some clipping if I crank it up loud; I’m not sure if the new speakers are less efficient, or i I just couldn’t hear the clipping before because I didn’t have tweeters. People also suggested that my stock head might have equalization designed to match with the stock speakers, so it would make new ones sound bad. I do in fact find myself turning down the treble to make it sound right.

Personally I think it probably mostly has to do with the enclosure; the car door is less than ideal for a speaker, the speakers point towards my feet, and I think my heavy plastic grilles might hurt the sound. I actually had some extra Dynamat sound insulation put in the front doors and it’s hard to say if that made a big difference.

I second going to crutchfield.com. Good comparisons, and install info, plus a decent overview of what is new and hot.

From what I’ve seen, there are three basic types of people that go into high performance car audio shops.

Type one is the “competitor” he knows the limits of the gears he wants, and knows what components go best with each other. Money is not really an option for him, as he plans on winning a lot of it back in competition purses.

Type two is the learned audiophile. They have done their research, have a specific grouping of components in mind, and often have to special order the parts they want. Price is the cost of doing business for this guy. He won’t win any “loudest stereo” competitions, but he’s confident that his system is the best. For the most part, he probably makes a good argument for that.

Type three is the “Make me a kick-ass system for my car. Here’s how much I have to spend.” Will you get a great system? More than likely. Will all of your components be the best available? Of course not. Sales people at car audio places like to make money. They like to sell great gear too, but if you’re on the fence between two types of product, they will most likely tilt you towards the one that makes them the most money. After all, you may not be able to tell the difference anyways.

Name any brand of speaker, amp, deck, crossover, wiring system, cabinet, etc. ,and you can find people that claim that it is the best “thing” of its kind in the world. That’s not false, and it’s not true, it’s just hype. Negative feedback is not nearly as prevalent as praise is, so the field is not as level as one might like it to be.

I can tell you how much I loved my Sony deck, my RockFos tweets, Infinity mids and Kicker 12" in the trunk, but it may not be the best system for you.

Anyone who answers your OP with a definitive answer, is either trying to sell you something, or is just enamored with a brand.

The best and only answer is to shop around, do some research, ask a lot of questions, and make an informed decision. Hopefully you can talk face to face with a professional that can clarify the specs of various components, and help guide you towards what’s best for you.

Also, get a really good security system FIRST! A kick-ass sound system means nothing if it’s stolen right after you get it. I had my deck, speakers and cabinet stolen one Sunday morning. I thought it was funny that they left the amp, and my pair of expensive sunglasses there. They came back the next Sunday and got the rest. No alarm. I’m still kicking myself about that.