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The right song in the right car on the right road, that’s the ultimate driving experience, no BMW required. Check out our list of the best speaker system upgrades available.

Listening to the Rhythms of the Road

Whether with an AM radio, FM radio, eight-track, cassette, CD, USB, or Bluetooth we’ve been pumping up the jams in our favorite rides since the days of the Motorola 5T71. Music provides the soundtrack to some of the most important moments in our lives, including, and perhaps especially, those moments spent in cars. Whether its seminal road trips, first drives (or first kisses), or cruising with friends on a Saturday night, it’s music that infuses such moments with significance and meaning.

Needless to say, most car manufacturers consider high quality sound to be the province of special upgrades and upper trim levels. But for the audiophiles among us, getting the best sound possible doesn’t mean having to spending thousands for aftermarket speakers. Indeed, some of the audio upgrades available from manufacturers can produce fantastic soundscapes. Check out this list of audio upgrades we feel are well worth the extra scratch.

Bang and Olufsen B&O Sound System – Ford F-150

Bang and Olufsen specially designed this sound system for the F-150 by strategically positioning the speakers to account for the unique acoustics of the vehicle being outfitted. An integrated microphone allows the stereo to adjust sound levels to account for cabin noise. The B&O sound system is comprised of 9 channels and 10 speakers (8-high performance and “2-ultra performance”) operating at 1000-watts.

Bang & Olufsen speaker in Ford F-150
beoplay.com
Diagram of speaker placement in Ford F150
beoplay.com

JBL – Toyota RAV4

Long time audio partner JBL has been producing the soundscapes for Toyota drivers for over two decades. The current RAV4 features an 11-speaker, 800-watt sound system with front horn tweeter and a 224mm subwoofer. JBL equips their systems with Harman’s “Clari-Fi” decompression software which breathes life back into digitally compressed music files, optimizing tunes for the best listening experience regardless of the format.

information sheet about the JBL sound system in Toyotas
fanbolt.com

Harman Kardon – RAM 1500

When a truck is aiming to for the title of “most luxurious” in its class, don’t be surprised when you find it comes with a truly regal sound system. Another system designed with pickup acoustics in mind, Harman Kardon strategically positioned 19 speakers in the RAM 1500 including in the dashboard and the ceiling to maximize an immersive listening experience. And at 900-watts, the RAM’s stereo proves big power isn’t just for the engine compartment.

Bose Panaray – Cadillac CT6

Bose is pretty renowned for their speakers and in the Cadillac CT6 they’ve included a mind-boggling 34 of them. The CT6’s Bose Panaray stereo has an auto-volume adjust to compensate for road noise, an impressive sound stage (accurate reproduction of the positioning of musicians), and it converts two-channel stereo signals into multi-channel signals. But the stand-out feature of the Panaray is the “SurroundStage” feature designed to optimize the listening experience for each seating position, ensuring your passengers don’t miss a beat.

Bose Panaray speaker
automotive.bose.com
Bose headrest speakers
automotive.bose.com

Meridian Signature – Land Rover Range Rover Sport

As an exclusive partner with Land Rover/Jaguar, the pairing of luxury autos with the luxury sound of Meridian speakers produces a premium listening experience. Their Trifield and Trifield 3D technologies push the reproduction of a recording’s soundstage to a new level. The Meridian Signature system’s subwoofer offers fantastic bass reproduction as part of the 23-speaker, 1700-watt system. Reviewers found that the Meridian Signature system dealt with road noise better than any other, maintaining clarity even at highway speeds.

It may not have occurred to you to crank up the bass in your Lexus, but it’s cool to know you can.Click To Tweet
Land Rover Range Rover Spork Entertainment system
netcarshow.com

Bower & Wilkins – Volvo XC90

Perhaps you’ve noticed Volvos with the funny little speaker poking out of the dashboard. That’s the Bower & Wilkins “Tweeter-on-Top” which is designed to “minimizes acoustic reflection from the windscreen” and project sound more directly into the cabin. They also incorporate their “Nautilus” technology into all their car speakers for some of the best vibration reduction available. Bowers & Wilkins also partners with BMW, Maserati, and McLaren.

Render of Bower & Wilkins audio system in the Volvo XC90
bowerwilkins.com

Burmester High-End 3D Surround Soundsystem – Mercedes-Benz S-Class

High-end indeed, the Burmester system available in the Mercedes-Benz S-class features 27-speakers operating at 1540-watts, including 3-speakers in the roof. But the quality output of this system doesn’t rest solely on these numbers. Those roof speakers are part of Burmester’s 3D surround sound which boasts a specially designed 3D algorithm to offer a unique soundstage display. Burmester audio systems are also available in Porsches (which you might have a chance to hear, like in our office favorite the Panamera) and in Bugatti (which you are less likely to hear, unless you’re close friends with Tracy Morgan).

Mercedes Benz S Class Burmester sound system
netcarshow.com

Mark Levinson Reference – Lexus LS 500

Another of our exclusive partnerships, the Mark Levison Reference sound system in the LS has on tap 2400-watts across 16-channels and 23-speakers including a 250mm subwoofer (the largest ever in a Lexus). Ceiling speakers? Yeah, you get those too. Mark Levinson has their own proprietary 3D sound stage technology they call the “Quantum Logic Immersion”. The Mark Levinson system also features Harman’s “Clari-Fi” technology to mitigate compression loss. It may not have occurred to you to crank up the bass in your Lexus, but it’s cool to know you can.

Krell Premium – Acura RLX

Other car stereo systems offer clarity at high volumes, but the Krell Premium sound system in the Acura RLX promises “extreme volume capability.” That’s not usually something we associate with an OEM stereo, even as an upgrade. Krell uses Zylon in their speaker cones, which cease vibrating much sooner than standard polypropylene cones, meaning less overall vibration. That and the use of metal rather than plastic speaker covers means you hear the music, not the car, resonate. The Krell system gets you both concussive bass and a crisp high-end at the same time. Together these produce a listening experience worthy of the luxury title.

KRELL screen in the Acura RLX
krellonline.com
KRELL speaker in the Acura RLX
krellonline.com

Revel Ultima 3D – Lincoln Aviator

The Revel Ultima 3D system piles on the features in the Lincoln Aviator. It’s got Harman’s “Clari-Fi” decompression, Quantum Logic Surround Sound, and “point source architecture” which closely positions midrange and tweeters so sound reaches listeners evenly. All this is backed up by a 20-channel amp, a staggering 28-speakers, and a thundering 8” subwoofer.

Stand Outs

The Meridian Signature system nudges out some close competition among these fantastic stereo options. Land Rover buyers be advised, you need the Meridian Signature upgrade, even if you’re “not the biggest music fan”. These speakers will convert you. The sheer voluptuousness and immersive sound of the Meridian makes for a transportive driving experience.

How important is the stereo when you’re looking to buy a car? What’s your best cruising song? Let us know in the comments.

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Chris Kaiser
Chris Kaiser

Chris’ greatest passions include topiary, spelunking, and pushing aging compact cars well past 200,000 miles on cross-country road trips. His taste in cars runs from the classic and esoteric to the deeply practical with an abiding affection for VW Things, old Studebakers, and all things hybrid-crossover.

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