Because I regularly test cars, I spend a huge amount of time listening to music in them — probably more time than I do at home.
The days of the good-old AM/FM radio, or the era when a stack of cassette tapes was all you had to satisfy your listening needs, are long gone.
Powerful, multispeaker audio systems are now custom-designed and perfectly integrated with a vehicle’s infotainment setup. You can literally listen to anything except cassettes and and vinyl records in your car (CD players, however, are beginning to vanish).
And in luxury cars and SUVs, premium audio offerings are a common option.
That option can cost thousands of dollars. And for the most part, it’s worth it. Because most premium systems make use of careful audio design to position speakers, include subwoofers, and combine excellent amps with superior speaker build quality, listening to music in your car can be better than listening at home.
Over the past two years, I’ve experienced just about every automotive audio system out there in the marketplace. Here we’re comparing four of the best.
Obviously, when listening to music in a vehicle, you will be using a variety of media: terrestrial radio, satellite radio, CDs, MP3s, Bluetooth streaming, and streaming audio services such as Pandora, Spotify, and Tidal. You may also be using USB inputs or an AUX jack, so the quality of your source audio will vary.
Rather than getting into dicing and slicing that, I’ve tried to describe these systems more generally, in terms of their overall sounds quality. But for the most part, I’ve found that plugging into the AUX jack gives me the best modern audio (although some experts maintain that the USB port is better), and that using CD-player input still offers the best sound.
Also, with the exception of a single more downmarket system that I discuss, these audio offerings are all well-engineered have speakers galore. The individual components are of a high baseline quality.
So let’s zero in on what’s important. How do these systems sound?