6 Ways to Test a Car’s Audio and See If It’s Right For You

Harman Kardon Car Audio Choices

Your music should sound awesome in your car, right?

It’s one of those details that often gets overlooked when purchasing a new vehicle. We may even consider it a “take what you get” type of value. However, under-performance in this area can quickly cause tension, frustration, and can end up costing more money to upgrade later on down the road.

Car Audio: It’s Not All The Same

Car audio is one of those things that most of us use every day – some of us for long periods of time through a daily commute or over the span of concurrent days while taking a road trip. A little squeak or rattle in the sound can really start to pick away at you. Then it can become a game we probably all hate to play in which we see who can find the right spot to press on the interior to make it stop.

However, great sounding audio is more than just the lack of an annoying vehicle rattle. Choosing a vehicle with a great sound is about learning to pay attention to the frequency, performance, staging, integrity, and the mode of delivery of the audio within the vehicle.

On a recent trip to visit Harman Kardon’s Northridge facility in Los Angeles, California, I was able to go behind the scenes to see what it takes to produce a great sound in car audio. Let me tell you, it is definitely not a “take what you get” feature. You have choices.

What’s on your playlist? Here are our ultimate playlists, inspired by the cars we drive

Harmon Kardon Behind The Scenes Tour.

Headed into the Harman Kardon Northridge Facility. Photo Mary Moore

6 Ways to Test a Car’s Audio to See If It’s a Right Fit For You

It is important to not only learn how to test a car’s audio system but then to also decide what it is we value individually in a vehicle’s audio experience. In this article, I am going to give you the six easy tricks you can use to test the sound in any vehicle you are looking to purchase.

1. Listen carefully to the audio frequency

The very first thing to do when turning on a car’s audio is to listen to the audio frequency. This includes the bass, midrange, and treble quality. Things to consider here are if the bass sounds full or not, if there good clarity in the sound, and if the audio provides good detail.

Try listening to something instrumental first and then something with vocals.

2. Slightly adjust the sound levels

If the sound frequency is to your liking, next try adjusting the volume and listen again. Does it sound just as good at low levels? How about at higher levels within your normal listening range?

Harmon Kardon Sound In The 2018 Kia Stinger

Harman Kardon Speaker inside the 2018 Kia Stinger. Photo by Harmon Kardon.

3. Listen for vehicle interference

This is where that pesky rattling noise comes into play. While adjusting the sound between different levels, listen for rattles in the vehicle. Does the door or center console buzz or vibrate with the sound? Are there any noticeable interferences with the quality of the sound?

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4. Pay attention to audio staging, or speaker placement

The audio’s staging is the location where we perceive the sound comes from within a car. Listen and try to notice if it is spread out appropriately so everyone in the car hears it clearly and evenly. Is there a difference in listening from the front seat to the back seat? Does the vehicle provide a surround sound experience?

One of the ways Harman Kardon works to achieve a good listening balance is through its QuantumLogic Premium Surround Sound technology. This system provides a 5.1 channel surround sound experience in any mono, stereo, or multi-channel signal source.

Harman Quantumlogic™ Premium Surround Sound

Experiencing surround sound music from the rear seat in the 2018 Kia Stinger. Photo by Mary Moore for AGirlsGuidetoCars.

5. Hear the difference

Before deciding on the best sound in car audio for your personal lifestyle, be sure to listen to more than one audio system. Visit a car dealership or a local auto show where you can test out a few different vehicles all in one day. Listening back to back will allow you to form the best comparison.

6. Consider the mode of audio delivery

Spotify, SiriusXM, HD radio or an old fashioned mixed tape can all deliver different types of audio files. Understanding this can also be key to making an educated decision on which system is best for you.

For instance, did you know that compressed audio files such as those heard on satellite radio can discard as much as 90% of the audio detail originally captured in the studio?

Harman Kardon’s Clari-Fi technology can restore many of those details, enriching the listening experience by automatically analyzing and improving the sound of digital music sources.

Insider Look At Harman Kardon.

Inside Harman Kardon. Photo Mary Moore

The Harman Kardon Experience: An Insider Tour

While at Harman Kardon Northridge facility, we learned that a lot more goes into creating a quality sound experience than one might think.

In the Harman labs, we had a chance to meet with the principal engineer who showed us how technology is used to scientifically test products before they hit the market. We also met with their acoustic engineer who taught us how we can choose good audio using side by side comparisons. Finally, we learned how Harman Kardon uses trained listeners to make sure their car audio is hitting the mark in each of the steps used above.

Testing Sound Quality At Harman Kardon Labs

Learning about sound from inside a “speaker” room at the Harman Kardon Labs. Photo by Harman Kardon.

Where to Find Harman Kardon Sound

If you’re in the market for a new vehicle and you find audio to be a key factor in your decision, you might be happy to learn that Harmon Kardon is available in select vehicles from Kia, BMW, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Mercedes-Benz, Mini, Subaru, and Volvo. And if a new car isn’t in your budget, you can still get that concert-hall sound with aftermarket upgrades.

And so we could get a real-world test of Harman/Kardon’s QuantumLogic Premium Surround Sound with  Clari-Fi, we took a spin in the 2018 Kia Stinger, which features the system as standard equipment in the Premium, GT1, and GT2 models. It was quite impressive.

Meet the 2018 Kia Stinger, Kia’s first luxury performance sedan

2018 Kia Stinger

The 2018 Kia Stinger at The Garland hotel in LA. Photo Mary Moore

What Sounded Good in the Kia Stinger? 

While the answer ‘everything’ is true, we found that the car inspired us to listen to a more refined playlist. This is what we thought sounded really great in the Stinger.

Which Car Audio Is Best For Your Personality? Here Are 6 Easy Tricks To Finding Out!

Disclosure: This information was created from a sponsored media trip with Harman Kardon and Kia. You can find more of the Harman experience by following the hashtag #HKInsider

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Mary Moore is a frequent road tripper, vintage car collector, and quirky travel enthusiast. One might say that her... More about Mary Moore