Best Car Speakers
You’re driving down the highway with the windows down (and if you’re lucky, with the top down too). Your favorite tunes are blaring, you’re singing along – and life is great.
That is, until the car speakers start crackling, popping or dropping out completely.
It’s easy to shrug and turn down the volume, thinking “Well, that’s what I get for buying a car with a cheap factory-installed stereo.” It’s a lot more satisfying to fix the problem for good by purchasing and installing a great pair of aftermarket speakers.
It’s not your imagination if you think that all factory-installed speakers are of extremely low quality; almost all of them are. Automakers need to maximize profit and don’t have much to gain by installing premium speakers in their cars, so most buy speakers from foreign manufacturers who use components like paper cones and foam surrounds. It’s no wonder they sound so bad the first time you crank the volume.
The best car speakers you can buy on the aftermarket are known as component speakers, preferred by audiophiles who want the finest car sound money can buy. They aren’t the type you’re probably familiar with, though. Instead of using single full-range speakers, these systems have individual woofers, tweeters and sometimes mid-range speakers installed in each door. They also require separate crossovers to properly balance frequencies between the drivers. The setup allows you to adjust each driver to create an amazing soundscape in your car, but it also requires professional installation and is considerably more expensive than the more common alternative. The best component speakers can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars; for example, the terrific Morel Supremo 602 component system sells for a cool $4800 on Amazon.
The more common alternative we mentioned is a set of coaxial speakers, the ones we’re all familiar with. The woofer and tweeter (and occasionally other drivers) are contained within a single, easy-to-install unit that usually only requires a one-to-one swap with the existing speakers. They’re much less expensive, and the best coaxial car speakers deliver audio with startlingly good quality. (Yes, factory-installed speakers are also coaxials, but very poorly-manufactured ones.)
In our rankings of the best car speakers we focus on coaxial models because the huge majority of consumers prefer them for their ease of installation and much lower prices; to be honest, if you want a component system you’ll probably be consulting a high-end car stereo installer rather than our reviews. We considered factors like driver construction, frequency response, power handling, sensitivity – and of course, asked the totally-subjective question “how good do these speakers sound?” – when rating our choices.
1. Hertz HCX 165 2-Way Hi-Energy Coaxial Speakers
Construction, construction, construction. That’s the bottom line for the Italian-manufactured Hertz Hi-Energy speaker line, and these speakers are impeccably built to create audio performance you would never expect from coaxial car speakers. It’s not just the 6.5 inch damped mesh fiber cone and ¾ inch neodymium soft metal dome rotatable tweeter that are fully adjustable. It’s also all of the little details that go into building these babies: an oversized magnet with anti-vibration rubber cover and soft iron plates for heat dissipation, a virtually loss-free polymer rubber surround for maximum damping, an aerodynamically-designed die-cast aluminum basket to cut reflected sound, a pure copper voice coil – the list goes on and on.
All of these features add up to solid and crisp but not overpowering lows, sharp and clear highs, mids with terrific frequency response, and a soundstage that might not seem possible inside a car. We don’t own a motorcycle so we can’t vouch for this, but perhaps the best testimony for the 165s is the huge number of bikers who purchase and install them because of their power and performance even in the open air.
You’ll be paying more for the Hertz Hi-Energy speakers than for any of the others in our rankings, a bit over $200 for the pair. You won’t be sorry if you decide to take the plunge.
Facts and figures for the Hertz HCX 165 2-Way Hi-Energy Coaxial Speakers:
- Type: Two-way
- Power handling (each speaker): 100 watts RMS, 200 watts peak
- Woofer: 6.5 inch damped mesh fiber cone
- Tweeter: 0.75 inch neodymium soft metal dome
- Frequency response: 50 Hz to 22 kHz
- Sensitivity: 92dB
- Size (each speaker): 6½ inches round, 2½ inches mounting depth
- Warranty: 1 year
Infinity has been making car speakers for a long time and has a well-deserved reputation for high-quality products. The Kappas are the company’s performance models and rank among the very best that Infinity has ever produced.
Mention the brand name to a car audio aficionado and the first thing they’ll probably say is “bass.” Infinity uses its own Plus One technology to build woofers and one element is to extend the carbon-injected glass fiber cone all the way out to the edge of the speaker. It makes a huge difference, producing clean, booming lows at any volume. The highs are just as outstanding, thanks to one-inch soft dome, edge-driven fabric tweeters that reproduce highs and mids with perfect clarity and no distortion anywhere. The tweeters can be pivoted to target your listening position, and have a 3dB attenuation switch for even finer tuning. The speakers also have attached but separated crossovers which don’t require extra installation work and unquestionably add to the listening experience.
The Kappas are a good-looking set of speakers with a modern appearance and no mounting screws visible. They install easily and perform like a champ, and their high sensitivity means you can get great audio even without using a separate amplifier, although you’ll get the most out of them with an amp that can drive more power. But there’s one quirk to be aware of: the impedance of these speakers is only two ohms so they may not play well with some factory-installed radios – be sure to check, or purchase a compatible amp, before buying these Infinity models.
At a few notches above $100 you’ll pay a little more for the Kappa 62.11i speakers than the remaining choices on our list, but you’ll get a lot, lot more. They’re the best car speakers for the money, hands down.
Details for the Infinity Kappa 62.11i 2-Way Coaxial Speakers:
- Type: Two-way
- Power handling (each speaker): 75 watts RMS, 225 watts peak
- Woofer: 6.5 inch carbon-injected glass fiber cone
- Tweeter: 1 inch fabric dome
- Frequency response: 45 Hz to 25 kHz
- Sensitivity: 95dB
- Size (each speaker): 6¾ inches round, 2 1/8 inches mounting depth
- Warranty: 3 years
3. Pioneer TS-A6996R A-Series 5-Way Speakers
We’re now moving down a notch in quality and price (under $100 for the pair) but the Pioneer A-Series still delivers great audio, particularly if you like your sound loud and booming. The reinforced mica matrix cone woofer pumps out powerful bass at frequencies lower than the other entries on our rankings, aided by a large magnet and a midrange driver cone that’s unusual in car speakers in this price range. There’s a 0.75-inch PET dome tweeter and two similar, 3/8-inch dome supertweeters (all adjustable) to make sure the highs aren’t overpowered by the strong bass and to accommodate the generous high frequencies they can deliver (the response range on these Pioneers is an impressive 28 Hz to 38 kHz).
While you’re paying less, you’re not sacrificing power. The A-Series speakers are rated at 325 watts peak per channel; 650 watts is going to be more than enough to attract the attention of other drivers in addition to keeping you jamming hard, particularly with the great sensitivity of these units.
Unlike the first two entries on our list of best car speakers these are oval in shape, measuring 6 x 9 inches. They’re easy to install as replacement for most factory-installed speakers, though, and as long as you’re firmly belted in their sound will only seem to blow you away.
More info on the Pioneer TS-A6996R A-Series 5-Way Speakers:
- Type: Five-way
- Power handling (each speaker): 162 watts RMS, 325 watts peak
- Woofer: Multilayer mica matrix cone, plus midrange paper cone
- Tweeter: ¾ inch PET dome, plus two 3/8 inch PET dome super tweeters
- Frequency response: 28 Hz to 38 kHz
- Sensitivity: 93dB
- Size (each speaker): 6 x 9 inches oval, 3 3/8 inches mounting depth
- Warranty: 1 year
If you’ve been around for a while, the chances are excellent that you’ve owned a pair of JBL speakers. JBL has long been viewed as one of the premier speaker manufacturers in America and the JTOs don’t disappoint at the sub-$100 price level.
This model of GTOs is another 6 x 9 inch oval speaker that excels at delivering very loud yet accurate sound, not quite up to the level of the Pioneers (which is why they rank a bit lower on our list) but they still are able to do a number on your eardrums. Less-expensive speakers often compensate for lower quality sound with more of it; that may be true to a certain extent here, but the JBLs still do a strong job of delivering mostly-accurate and definitely pleasing sound from low to high. A carbon-injected woofer cone and an adjustable, edge-driven silk dome tweeter and matching supertweeter do the job quite nicely.
Like the Infinitys the JBLs have lower impedance, three ohms instead of the standard four. So be sure to check whether your car stereo will work with them or if you’ll need an amp, before pulling out the credit card.
Digging deeper on the JBL GTO939 Premium Coaxial Speakers:
- Type: Three-way
- Power handling (each speaker): 150 watts RMS, 300 watts peak
- Woofer: Carbon-injected cone
- Tweeter: ¾ inch silk dome, plus silk dome supertweeter
- Frequency response: 46 Hz to 21 kHz
- Sensitivity: 94dB
- Size (each speaker): 6 x 9 inches oval, 2 13/16 inches mounting depth
- Warranty: 1 year
5. Alpine SPS-619 3-Way Coaxial Car Speakers
A lot of people looking for replacement car speakers want something that will sound noticeably better than the ones that came with their auto, but don’t want to spend a lot of money – and these Alpine speakers are our budget choice.
There are tuned poly-mica cone woofers on the SPS-619s along with a pair of adjustable one-inch silk-dome tweeters. Once again, they’re loud with pretty good sound reproduction; the highs are definitely more accurate than the lows which can be a little iffy at times. You’ll definitely get better performance if you install an amp to work with them, and they’re fifth on our list of the best car speakers for a reason – but for the price there’s no question they’ll sound infinitely better than the standard speakers that came with your car.
Specifications for the Alpine SPS-619 3-Way Coaxial Car Speakers:
- Type: Three-way
- Power handling (each speaker): 85 watts RMS, 260 watts peak
- Woofer: Poly-mica cone
- Tweeter: 1 inch silk domes
- Frequency response: 65 Hz to 23 kHz
- Sensitivity: 90dB
- Size (each speaker): 6 x 9 inches oval, 3 inches mounting depth
- Warranty: 1 year