Car Audio Systems: More important than Ever!

100 years ago, the world’s love affair with the personal automobile was already in full swing. While vehicles were being purchased in droves by people from all walks of life, the in-car experience of driving in the early age of the automobile was a symphony of engine noises, tires howling over unpaved roads, brake and suspension squeaks and wind. It’s hard to believe that people ever drove without some kind of music, news or talk radio, but that’s exactly how it was up until the 1930s when manufacturers started integrating single-speaker AM radios into vehicles. Fast forward to today, cars now features incredibly powerful multi-source audio systems that deliver wattage orders of magnitude greater than what the Hollywood Bowl was capable of in the 1950s.


How important are car audio systems?


Anybody that spends time behind the wheel will tell you that having a radio is a must-have feature. With average US commutes hovering around 30 minutes each way, drivers can get stressed out, bored and even worse, tired, in constant stop and go traffic. Having a great sounding stereo system actually keeps drivers focused while driving, helping them feel less stressed out in traffic, more alert and energized.


In addition to maintaining driver cognition, audio systems are a major selling feature for new vehicles. A study from IHS Markit, where more than 5,000 vehicle owners were surveyed, found that 73 percent of vehicle buyers indicated that a brand name audio system would influence their future vehicle purchase decision, with 83 percent of respondents willing to pay extra for it. On top of that, 54 percent of respondents that find branded audio systems to be an important factor in their vehicle purchases want their system to be standard in the vehicle they purchase.


What makes up a great sound system?


In the beginning, car audio systems were comprised of single-speaker radios capable of receiving local AM radio stations. Since then, numerous improvements in audio quality and music sources have been folded into the mix, many of which were introduced by Clarion. Today, even base/standard model vehicles come equipped with terrestrial and satellite radio receivers, and apps for streaming from a plethora of music and news podcast services. On top of all of that, they feature inputs for drivers to plug in their smartphones for expanded access to even more content source options.


In addition to the seemingly endless connectivity and content source options, car audio systems have gone beyond being an accessory to an incredibly important component that gets designed into the vehicle’s cabin during the very early stages of vehicle development. The end result is the incorporation of  extremely efficient audio systems in our cars today with a mix of full-range drivers, tweeters and subwoofers optimally placed and precision tuned for perfect reproduction of every frequency audible to the human ear, and capable of mind-blowing sound pressure levels with minimal harmonic distortion. More advanced systems are even capable of accurately placing sound in 3D space within the cabin to recreate the sound stage of the studio master mix exactly as it was intended to sound.


On top of studio-quality audio reproduction, the audio system for many modern vehicles also serve as an enhancement for luxury by cancelling out road noise through advanced ANC technology, or as a performance enhancer by filling the cab with engine sounds through the speakers to enhance the aural sensation of having a high-performance vehicle.


Much like the visual difference between a CRT televisions and 4K OLED TV, the difference in audio quality between an audio system comprised of low-quality components vs one that was systematically engineered into a vehicle using quality parts is vastly noticeable. Today, while many might question the theoretic probability of car audio systems getting better sounding or more efficient than they already are today, companies like Clarion are hard at work on creating the next generation of in-car audio systems, with ultra-efficient, lightweight digital media processors and digital speakers that provide audiophile-grade music playback capabilities while operating free of any traditional amplification.


While many automotive technologies have worked their way into the standard features list over the years, none have made an impact in our enjoyment of motoring quite like car audio systems.

Alyson Yarberry