There are two main reasons to install custom high-end car audio into your ride, either you want to improve your listening/driving experience or are attempting to increase the value for potential resale in the future.
Whatever the case may be, getting better audio into your car is always a good thing. Audiophiles testify that having a great audio system in a car makes every mile you drive a more pleasurable experience. That being said, having a botched audio system installed in a car is bound to be equally as upsetting.
You might be the kind of person who thinks, “No problem, I’m good at these types of things; I’ll just do the install myself.” If, however, you are like most of us, you will need to seek some professional help to get the job done properly.
The next question…
…you are bound to be asking yourself is, how much does it cost to install car audio to ensure you get a decent result?
This is important because just buying a good product won’t get you what you want. The speakers and amplifiers, and other peripherals will only perform as well as they’ve been installed.
Another big factor in the price…
That is to say, the quality of the components and how many you decide to install. Not everyone will be going for a full house of speakers and amp plus every level of control and aesthetic personalization.
That’s why I decided to create this general guide to help you decide on your budget or, at the very least, get you started. I’ll be taking an in-depth look at the average costs and the different factors that could potentially affect how much you’ll end up spending.
Let’s start by looking at the minimum and maximum of what people usually spend on car audio…
The Cost of Car Audio
As a very flexible rule of thumb, the average cost of professional car audio system installation is around $400. That said, the amount of money someone could potentially spend on car audio can total anywhere up to $20,000 or even more.
What are the Components of a Good Audio System?
The price you end up paying for your car audio system will depend greatly on the setup itself. To better calculate how much money you need to install a car audio system, take a moment to consider what you’ll definitely be installing. And what you might want to install if it’s within your budget.
Understanding the possible components that could be in a car audio system should help you narrow down your options. The majority of entry and high-end audio systems will consist of the following three components…
Head Unit/Car Radio
The head unit of any car audio system serves as the audio source and/or interfaces with a media device, like a smartphone. This could be playback from an external device (ex. smartphone), routed to the head unit via a cable, or wirelessly via Bluetooth.
It can also be from within the head unit itself, accessing media on a storage medium and playing it back. For example, inserting a USB flash stick, SD card, or CD into the head unit.
Of course, the type of head unit you are planning to install will determine its capability. As will the vehicle itself. Many vehicles come with head units that have all these capabilities and more as standard. In these cases, users will often opt not to customize or replace the stock head unit/car radio.
As far as capabilities are concerned…
There is an astonishing amount of features and components that can be built into a custom head unit for a car. The ability to playback video, use a touchscreen to access online streaming sites, play games, customize the sound signature of your audio, and more, are all within reach depending on your budget.
If you do decide to install an aftermarket head unit in a car, some of the brands to consider are:
From the source, the audio needs to be amplified before it can be sent to the output components (speakers and subwoofers). This can either be internally via the head unit, or you can have a custom amplifier added to the system to give it more output power, extra features, and add character to the sound.
Amplifiers usually function passively. That is to say; they are installed, set to a specific combination of parameters, and then left alone. Very rarely are the values of the parameters adjusted. Unless different speakers are installed, or more components are added to the system.
Selecting an amplifier for your vehicle…
First of all, when choosing the best car amplifier, picking one with too much power will be a waste of money, and an expensive way to blow your speakers.
Alternatively, an amplifier that is too weak or cheaply made will not have enough power to make the audio sound as good as it should. Furthermore, it could negatively affect the audio quality before being sent to the speakers.
Consult a professional to make sure you know what kind of power you’ll need to meet your needs. Some of the best amplifiers in the business are made by:
- JL Audio
- Rockford Fostgate
Speakers are the components you can find the largest number of in most systems. At a minimum, a car audio system will have at least two speakers to ensure all the stereo information is present in the output.
Picking not only good-quality speakers but finding the right size speaker for your vehicle will have a drastic impact on the final result.
Remember that a good speaker is only as good as its enclosure. Fitting a speaker into an enclosure that it is not suited for is as good as throwing it away since the power of the speaker will be lost.
But, you are in luck…
Most speaker manufacturers will sell their speakers with enclosures that are well suited to their speakers. So, if you take these along to the professional doing the installation, they’ll be able to install the speakers as needed. If not, enclosures will have to be made, and this will impact the cost.
If you are unsure about any of the dynamics regarding speakers and output, seek help from a professional. They can help you make the right choice for your vehicle size and needs. The last thing you want to do is go too loud or too quiet.
Some top-end car speaker manufacturers include:
- JL Audio
- Boss Audio Systems
How Much Does It Cost to Install Car Audio?
Once you’ve got a better idea of what it is you want to install in your car, you can begin to make estimates on the rough cost.
Before I get into these figures, it is important to note that even for a very extensive and varied system that has a lot of components, there will be a budget option available. Don’t take large figures given by installers as the norm.
It is also important to factor car audio installation costs in from the start. That’s because they will make up a significant part of the total amount you spend.
Budget-range Car Audio…
As mentioned, we’re working with a minimum of around $400 for a system with a head unit, amplifier, and speakers. For this price, you won’t be getting anything close to the top of the line. But, what you’ll be getting will be decent enough to blast in any company.
Mid-range Car Audio…
For around $600 to $1000, you’ll be getting a top-of-the-line system. Similar to the one described above but with much higher quality components. Meaning better sound quality overall, as well as a system that is likely to last longer than one that costs around $400.
High-end Car Audio…
Moving up to around $1200 to $1400. You’ll be looking at a head unit with all the connectivity and added features for entertainment and sound customization you could hope for.
On top of this, you’ll be spoiled with speakers. You could easily acquire four to six excellent sounding speakers and still have more than enough power to make them sing, thanks to a high-end amplifier. Finally, all that power will be riding on a solid foundation thanks to a good quality subwoofer.
Depending on the size and nature of the system you want for your vehicle, the installation might be simple enough to be taught in a short YouTube video. Then again, some components can be very complicated to install and program. As a result, the installation will end up costing you more than any other part of the process.
Where you are located in the world will also have a dramatic effect on the costs of sourcing and having your parts installed in the car. In the United States, for instance, New York has higher labor costs than any other state.
I’ve calculated that the bare minimum to install a full system consisting of a head unit, speakers, and an amplifier is around $295. However, if you are merely upgrading your car audio system, you could get away with $130 to $200.
When installing a high-end system that has specialized requirements, like a head unit with a difficult programming and setup process, the costs are likely to increase dramatically. This is because the installation requires special knowledge and more time.
What Kind of Ride?
The type of vehicle you have will also make a substantial difference in how hard the installation will be. As well as the time required.
For instance, fitting a system to a BMW with its own onboard computer will be much more complicated than an old muscle car that was fitted with a tape player when it came out of the factory.
Taking into account all these factors, installing a high-end system can cost you anything from around $600 to $950.
These factors have an impact. Not only the price of the components but also the costs of labor due to location. In the end, I’ve come to an average of $695 to $780 to install a decent car audio system.
Looking at high-spec systems that require more knowledge, time, and specialized equipment in some cases, the total cost of having a system fitted to a car can range from $1750 to $2450 all in.
Want Your Ride Sounding Sweet?
We can help. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Top Best Car Amplifiers, the Best 3000 Watt Amps, the Best 2000 Watt RMS Amps, the Best Monoblock Car Amplifiers, the Best 6×8 Speakers, and the Best 6.5 Speakers you can buy in 2023.
Also, take a look at our detailed reviews of the Best Car Subwoofers, the Best Under Seat Subwoofers, the Best Competition Subwoofer, the Best Subwoofers for Single Cab Truck, the Best 12-Inch Subwoofers, and the Best 15-inch Subwoofers currently on the market.
How Much Does It Cost to Install Car Audio? – Conclusion
If you’re trying to increase the quality of your driving/listening experience or even make your ride a bit more valuable, the good news is that getting your car’s audio system upgraded is possible no matter your budget.
But make sure you consult a professional about the size and power of the system that would work well for you. And, be sure to check the reputation of the people you employ. That way, for less than $700, you could have a fantastic sounding ride, and for around $2000, you won’t believe your ears!
Until next time, happy listening and enjoy your ride.