No vehicle is acoustically accurate.
What this means is that your car audio system might not sound as great as it did when you heard it in the car stereo shop.
Well, because in your vehicle there are many things that can affect your system's performance including road and engine noise, size and shape of the interior, the rushing wind, the reflectivness of glass, as well as the absorbent nature of seats.
This can make some frequencies sound muffled while others hit your eardrums like a Mack truck.
To remedy this problem, first use some deadening materials like Dynamat to cut down that unwanted, extraneous noise. Second, you can use an equalizer to keep the sound well-balanced and natural by boosting the frequencies you're missing and attenuating the ones your vehicle exaggerates.
A car audio equalizer (also referred to as EQ) is a device that allows you to tune the sound of your car's audio system by giving you various tone adjustment you wouldn't find in factory and aftermarket head units.
Indeed, some head units are fitted with simple bass, treble, and mid-range adjustments, but car equalizers take it a step further than that. For example, you can increase both bass and treble while keeping the middle part of the tone spectrum as it is.
So what are the best car equalizers out there? The interactive chart of car equalizers below and the analysis that follows will help you decide what the best car equalizer is for you.
Types of Car Equalizers
Car equalizers are meant to be mounted in-line between the head units and the amplifier. They come in various types, each of which has its own benefits:
- A graphic equalizer is a device that allows you to see graphically and adjust precisely and individually a number of different frequency bands in your audio system. Graphic equalizers come with several audio filters, each centered at a very specific frequency bandwidth in the audio spectrum.
Most graphic equalizers are equipped with sliders (slide potentiometers) that allows you to adjust the sound by moving a control button up or down. Gain (volume) is increased by sliding the button upwards.
- The slide potentiometers are placed side-by-side, with the highest frequency unit at the right and the lowest frequency unit at the left.
- In this way, the positions of the frequency control units (slide potentiometers or knobs) appear to follow a graphical curve that represents the gain as a function of frequency for each channel.
- Parametric equalizers allow for even greater control than conventional equalizers. They're designed to allow you to not only control the level of the boost, but also to adjust the center frequency and the bandwidth of the boost (the range of frequencies affected). So, whether you need a bright/focused boost or a broad one, at 35, 45, 65 or 80 Hz (or any frequency in between), the parametric EQ gives you the ability to make it happen.
- EQ Boosters: an EQ Booster consists of a combination of an equalizer and an amplifier. EQ Boosters aren't typically as powerful as external amplifiers, however, they're a good compromise if you want to have precise control over your sound but don't want to invest in a separate amplifier and a conventional equalizer.
- The built-in amp usually has about the same amount of power as a good aftermarket receiver, but you get the added benefits of an equalizer. To put it simply, EQ boosters are a cost-effective way to get the basic results of both (the amp and the equalizer).
- Digital equalizer: unlike analog equalizers which use knobs or slide potentiometers, digital equalizers as their name implies use a menu screen that gives you much more adjustment flexibility and precision.
- Digital equalizers can store several EQ settings which makes them way more convenient to use than conventional equalizers especially if you listen to a wide variety of music.
- Analog Equalizers: they use physical dials or sliders to provide precise control over frequency settings.
Equalizer VS Digital Sound Processor
Before we dive into how to choose the best car equalizer, let's first shed some light on what makes the difference between an equalizer and a digital sound processor.
Digital signal processors are a bit different from equalizers. They often combine features of EQs and active crossovers.
So, aside from allowing you to tune the sound (frequencies) and tweak the EQ curves, they also act like an audio traffic cop, directing the appropriate frequencies to your speakers, tweeters, and subwoofers.
There are a number of situations in which you'll need a sound processor. For example, digital signal processors are very effective at fixing problems with OEM headunits.
Most OEM stereos are designed to compensate for low quality speakers, which is done by manipulating the frequency profile. These manipulations are quite easy to pick up on when you replace your factory-installed speakers with any decent set of aftermarket speakers.
Since a digital signal processor sits between the head unit and the amp, it can undo the factory unit’s monkey business by removing any factory preset EQ curves, and possibly adding time delay or time alignment. Some high-end equalizers have built-in digital signal processors.
Equalizer VS Crossover
Because both the equalizer and the crossover tweak your system's frequency response, they're often confused. The difference between them isn't that complicated.
A crossover is a device that limits the range of frequencies sent to a speaker or amplifier - it sends the mids to the midranges, the highs to the tweeters and the lows to the subwoofers.
An equalizer on the other hand, lets you precisely control (boost or cut) certain frequencies across a broad spectrum. You can think of an equalizer as giving you a high hands-on control over the overall sound of your system.
How to Choose the Best Car Equalizer
To help you make an informed buying decision, there are a few things you need to take into consideration. Besides giving you a high level control over your music playback, most equalizers on the market also offer various useful features.
Here are some of the features to consider when buying an equalizer:
- Front-to-rear faders for dual-amp balancing.
- Subwoofer output & High-pass filters.
- Graphic vs. parametric
- Graphic EQ: Graphic equalizers use fixed points of adjustment that you can boost or cut
- Parametric EQs: parametric EQs allow you to adjust the center frequency and the bandwidth of the boost (the range of frequencies affected).
- Digital vs. analog
- Digital: digital EQs use a menu screen that gives you much more adjustment flexibility and precision. They can store several EQ settings.
- Analog : use physical dials or sliders to adjust the frequency settings.
- Line drivers that boost voltage from receiver to amp
How to Install a Car Equalizer
Since there are various car audio equalizers on the market, the installation varies quite a bit from on situation to another.
Some equalizers are designed to be mounted next to your amplifier (in the trunk or cargo area) while others are designed to be Dash-mounted - usually above or below the receiver in the factory radio location, or below the dash with a mounting bracket or special kit.
Car audio equalizers are typically installed between the head unit and amp. The wiring process involved in adding an equalizer to your car audio system isn't that complex.
If you've already installed an amplifier yourself, then installing an EQ isn't much of difference.