Make us your home page

Always give new car's stereo a try before you buy

When it comes to test-driving a new car or truck, there's one component that few drivers consider: the audio system. If it's considered at all, it's to pull it out and replace it with an aftermarket unit. But the modern factory-installed sound systems offered on cars and trucks are integrated into the navigation unit and DVD player (if so equipped), and performance is tailored for a specific vehicle's interior. Most have redundant controls on the steering wheel so that you can adjust the volume or change a radio station without taking your hands off the wheel. That's why many buyers make do with whatever radio is installed.

The quality of a sound system is not a make-or-break item for car shoppers. But for those who find it hard to spend a moment without music, the quality of an audio system can be one of the major factors in a purchasing decision.

And while you may not be a connoisseur of sound, it helps to know if the audio system in that new car or truck is worthy. With that in mind, here are a few quick pointers.

First, remember that modern music is made up of compressed digital files. The more they're compressed, the lower the sound quality. Exhibit A: SiriusXM satellite radio once boasted impressive sound quality, but as the company has compressed the signal in the past few years, its sound has deteriorated markedly. A bit better than satellite radio is iTunes, although it's still not on par with a compact disc. Another good choice is HD Radio, which can be found in an increasing number of vehicles. HD Radio is free, like ordinary broadcast radio, except that its broadcast signal is digital and a special receiver is needed. HD Radio sound quality is close to that of a CD and is offered by many area radio stations. (A complete list can be found online at )

Regardless of which medium you prefer, when test-driving a car, bring along a CD with different genres of music so that you can get a clear appreciation of an audio system's quality.

Once you decide to put an audio system to the test, make sure to set the bass, treble, balance and fade to zero or normal to ensure accurate sound. Next, take your sampler and play each track for 20 or 30 seconds to get a quick feel for the system's quality.

If it's a good system, vocals and instruments will have a deep, rich nuance with a defined separation. It shouldn't sound muddy, hollow or dull. There should be spaciousness to its sound. If a track sounds flat, like an old AM transistor radio, the system is of lower quality.

Next, listen to the tracks at various volumes. At high volume, the system should be crisp, clear and powerful, but not boomy. The bass should be heard, but not felt. The music should envelop you. During quiet passages, there should be tranquility without static, hissing, buzzing or whirring sounds. There should be uniformity to the bass, mid-range and treble. Each should be balanced and maintain their quality no matter what the volume.

The instruments should be distinct and have a spatial quality, as if you're actually listening to the music live and the musicians are riding shotgun. Instruments should seem as if they're spread around the cabin, with the vocalist naturally centered.

Finally, if you're not sure how good the stereo truly is, try this. Boost the bass all the way and decrease the treble all of the way. This will reveal the quality of the low end. Next, do the inverse to hear if the high end is any good. By sampling different systems using this method you should be able to detect a difference.

Keep in mind that a good audio system makes the many hours spent in a car or truck more enjoyable. Given that many audio systems are custom-engineered to that vehicle's interior, it's worth taking the time during a new car test drive to consider the various audio choices offered.

Always give new car's stereo a try before you buy 05/03/14 [Last modified: Monday, May 5, 2014 1:59pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Tribune News Service.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. In your 20s and living with mom and dad? In Florida, you're not alone.

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — After graduating from the University of Florida in 2015, Gabrielle Piloto jumped on the highway and headed south to Tampa.

    Gabrielle Piloto, 22, moved home to live with her grandparents in West Tampa after graduating from the University of Florida in 2015. [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]

  2. Senate leaders unveil bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act


    WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans, who have promised a repeal of the Affordable Care Act for seven years, took a major step on Thursday toward that goal, unveiling a bill to cut Medicaid deeply and end the health law's mandate that most Americans have health insurance.

    U.S. Senate Republicans on Thursday unveiled a proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The bill's chief author, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has said "Obamacare is collapsing around us, and the American people are desperately searching for relief." [AP]
  3. Southwest Airlines to offer flights from Tampa to San Diego


    TAMPA — Southwest Airlines will offer new nonstop service from Tampa International Airport to San Diego International Airport beginning Jan. 8, 2018.

    Southwest Airlines is planning to launch service from Tampa to San Diego.
[Times file photo]
  4. Tampa Bay homes values continue to rise along with sales prices

    Real Estate

    For the second month in a row, Tampa Bay had one of the highest year -over-year increases in home values in May, Zillow reported today.

    For the second month in a row, Tampa Bay had one of the highest year -over-year increases in home values in May, Zillow reported Thursday.
[Times file photo]
  5. Busy start has Florida Hospital Center Ice dreaming big


    WESLEY CHAPEL — Opening day brought 600 doctors, administrators and their families from Florida Hospital. Soon after that, the facility hosted its first junior league game and a collegiate showdown. A few weeks later, 200 kids, ages 4 to 9, participated in national Learn to Play Hockey Day.

    Alex Senushkin and his grandson, Styopa Kulshyn, 3, of Lakeland, skate at the Florida Hospital Center Ice rink in Wesley Chapel.
[CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times]