Installing a car stereo

I love my new 2005 Ford Mustang coupe, but stock radio’s flat, bass-less sound and distortion at high volumes left the audio enthusiast in me wanting more. Sure, I could have opted for the dealer upgrade when I bought the vehicle, but I wanted to choose my own components instead of leaving the decision up to Ford.I wanted my dashboard to look like a console from the Starship Enterprise.I wanted to be enveloped in crystal clear sound with crisp highs and full mid-tones.I wanted a rich, ground-trembling bass that shook the sidewalk as I cruised with the volume cranked.What I didn’t want was a $500 invoice from the car audio professional who’d install my sophisticated new system (and then another $500 invoice to extract my components if I sell the car). So, against the better judgment of the audio experts I consulted, I took up the challenge to install a sophisticated car audio system–complete with GPS navigation, a DVD player, an iPod connection and a Blue Tooth hands-free mobile phone kit, all controlled by a 7-inch touch screen–on my own.It looked like a daunting job, but I learned that upgrading your car stereo is not as complicated as it seems. If you follow my advice–which is based on my mistakes–you can avoid ending up like I did, frustrated, sweaty, out of speaker wire and almost out of patience. News source: MAKE A PLANBefore you start turning the screwdriver and ripping into your dashboard, set aside time to plan out the entire installation process. It wasn’t until I was looking at a colorful fistful of stock radio wires–with no wiring diagram for reference–that I realized my confidence–er, haste–wasn’t going to get me anywhere (it turns out that the 50 feet of speaker wire I assumed would be more than enough for a tiny Mustang, is about three feet short when you finish all the splicing, meaning I had to rerun all the wiring.I’m not kidding about this. If there’s one piece of advice you have to follow it is this: Read through each component’s instructions to create a master installation plan. Know what you have, where each piece is going to go, and what extra tools it will take to connect everything. Make sure that you’re confident that once you pull apart your dashboard you’ll be able to fit it back together. Check literature about your car to make sure you don’t need extra adapters such as a custom radio faceplate, or, especially with older or imported vehicles, to make sure there are no non-standard components behind the radio (such as a separate amplifier buried deep within the console) that might greatly complicate the process. Finally, get a big piece of paper and draw a diagram that details where every wire will run. This will organize your thoughts and uncover any potential problems.In addition to all your new equipment you’re going to need wire cutters, black tape, crimpers, pliers, screwdrivers, a rubber mallet, a drill, a Dremmel, a ratchet set, flashlight, wire tubing, double sided tape and wire tires to get the job done.STEP 1: Replacing the Head UnitWhen purchasing a head unit (the in-dash radio that controls your system), make sure you chose the appropriate size for your car. Head units are sized as single-din (a 180 x 50 mm panel) or double-din (180 x 100 mm panel) and you can often purchase an adaptor plate to fit a single-din unit in your double-din vehicle. The opposite was true for my car: I installed a double-din 7inch touch screen head unit, the Kenwood DDX-6019 available at [url”> Keep in mind that depths, although largely standard, could vary, so pay attention to how much space you have.To make the installation much easier, you should also purchase a wire harness designed specifically for your vehicle’s make and model. This will save you from having to cut any wires inside your dash, and, trust me, that’s well worth the $20 you should expect to pay for a harness. Before you begin to disassemble your dash, you can splice the new wiring harness to your new radio by matching wire colors and descriptions. Also attach Kenwood’s add-on Ipod control interface (KCA-iP500) and navigation system (KNA-G510) following the product’s simple instructions. Once the harness is connected, the rest of the job is plug-and-play. You can find the correct harness and instructions at [url”> with your master plan, carefully remove the dashboard components surrounding your radio by removing any set screws or hex bolts securing the fairing and carefully pulling the component away from the vehicle. You should see a couple of set screws holding in the stock radio. Remove these, and slide out the old head unit.A confusing collection of colorful wires should follow the stock radio. Disconnect these by carefully prying apart the wiring harness connection that connects the stock radio to the vehicle. The harnesses can be tough to pull apart, but with some wiggling it will eventually separate. Disconnect the radio’s antenna connection and set the old head unit aside (don’t throw it out–if you want to keep your new system when you sell your car, you’ll eventually need to re-install the old radio).I decided to install a Parrot 3200 LS-COLOR hands free kit, which is best done when you’re reinstalling the radio head unit. This connects my bluetooth cell phone to the sound system. I can hear calls through the speakers and talk using the supplied microphone. It auto-mutes the music when a call comes in, and it interfaces with the head unit via another wiring harness, making installation very easy.Next, connect the antenna cable, and slide in your new head unit. But before you start screwing the radio into place, turn on the car and test your connections. If you don’t get any sound, or the radio refuses to turn on, or the sound is reversed (right speakers play the left track, or the front speakers play the rear track, etc.) the culprit is likely a faulty splice in the wiring harness. Pull out the radio and recheck your connections.If all you’re doing is swapping out you radio, follow your system’s instructions to fully secure the head unit and put your dashboard back together. You’re done. Enjoy your new system.Don’t let the mess of wires scare you. If you plan out your installation you wont have to cut a single wire in the car! It’s simple–just Plug-and-Play.When installing a new radio, use a wiring harness.Here is a close up of the after market harness (left) and the radios harness (right).To connect the aftermarket wiring harness to the new radio, match the clearly marked wires to the ones on the harness, then twist and crimp. On the right is what your connections should look like when all the wires are properly crimped.STEP 2: Powering Your SystemThe easy part is over–things are about to get tougher. This is where your install diagram is crucial. Your entire audio system is going to be powered through your amp, so make sure to choose one that has enough juice and supports as many channels as your system needs. The Mean-Machine MM 8000.5 amp is where I will be making all manual connections–no harness or plug and play quick-fixes here. Pick a spot to install the amp that you can reach with both hands easily. The amp needs to breathe, so while it can be mounted almost anywhere, the best location is the trunk–and never mount an amp upside down. To make things a little easier, purchase an amp-install kit–it’s an all inclusive package to get your amp powered up.Let’s get started. The amp’s main power lead needs to be connected directly to the battery. For safety reasons disconnect the battery’s negative wire from its post. Then using the supplied ring terminal, connect the power wire (usually blue if using an aftermarket kit) with the fuse holder directly to the battery positive post. Leave out the fuse until the install is complete and ready for testing. Run the power wire through the fire wall (look for pre-existing holes or routed wires that you can run it along). The power must be run on the opposite side of the signal (RCA) cables to prevent signal noise, which would sound like a dentist-drill in the background of the music. If there is no hole in your fire wall and you have to drill, make sure to avoid any of your car’s vital components.Next connect the amp to the head unit’s preouts (RCA inputs) located on the back. On the Kenwood’s deck there were three preouts: front, rear and sub. Connect, following standard color codes (red for left and white for right). While you’re connecting the preouts, also connect the amps turn-on lead. The turn on lead does exactly what the name implies–it’s the amps on/off switch, turning the amp on every time the receiver in use.To get the wires to the amp, bundle and tuck them under the doors sill and back seats, all the way to the trunk. Use wire ties and electrical tape to fasten your bundle to any preexisting wires along the way.On to connecting the amp’s ground. The ground wire is short and the same gauge as the power. It must be connected to the bare metal of the chasses or frame. Find a near by bolt and sand or scrape away any paint. Secure the ground wire using the ring terminal supplied in your amp kit. If you have to use a screw, watch where you’re going and use a short screw–you don’t want to hit your gas tank.For safety, disconnect the negative battery terminal before connecting the amp’s power lead.Look for pre-existing holes through which you can route the amps power wire through the firewall.Clearly marked preouts on the back of the radio connect to the amp (in the trunk).Tucking your wires under the door trim hides the wires nicely.The rca cables from the radio connect to the left side of the amp.The ground wire connects to a bolt in the trunk via a nut a lock washer. Remember to sand around the hole–the ground needs to touch bare metal.STEP 3: Install Your Speakers And SubThe speakers (and subwoofer) make the system. A great set can make even a stock radio sound great yet selecting a good set requires more than just comparing specs. Get out into show rooms and find a set that matches your acoustic preferences–this is not the time to settle.After many hours of in-store testing, I selected the MB Quart line by Maxxonics. MB Quart has been developing and manufacturing speaker systems for more than 30 years and they’ve learned a thing or two about audio production in that time–they turned my car into a sound experience. Here are the specs:SPECS* Front/Back speakers model #QSD 213* Woofers with die-cast aluminum chassis* and WPC-coated polypropylene cone with neodymium magnet* 1″ tweeters with two-piece titanium dome in metal housing with neodymium magnet* Q crossover with selected high-quality* components and variable four-level tweeter output* Bi-wiring and bi-amping enabledWhen selecting speakers consider this: are you just replacing the stock system or do you want to do a custom job? I went with a 4×1 custom system because I didn’t want to rip apart my doors to replace the factory speakers. To solve this, I used Q-Logic’s Q-Forms Kick Panel speaker enclosures that discreetly and unobtrusively hold the MB Quart’s QSD 213 front 5-1/4 inch speakers at the drivers and passenger’s feet while directing their sound in the right direction. Q-Forms are available for over 500 different model cars, come in multiple colors to match your interior and are indistinguishable from the factory finish. Q-Logic also made a custom subwoofer enclosure that fits the 12 inch MB Quart’s DWG 304 perfectly. It tucks the bass-box neatly into the passenger’s side rear-well, saving cargo space, which, in a sports car, is particularly valuable.When the speakers and subwoofer are in place, route the wires back to the amp. For the front speakers, run the wires on the same side as the signal cables and turn-on lead that you ran earlier. Make sure to hide the wires for the rear speakers somewhere in the trunk as they’re the only components that are wired by themselves.For better sound, the MB Quart speakers came with crossovers. A crossover is a device that restricts and separates the range of frequencies sent to the speaker. I mounted four crossovers (one per speaker), in the trunk near the amp for easier connection. Connect each speaker’s woofer and tweeter (+/-) terminals to the corresponding OUTPUT terminals on the crossover. Now connect the amp’s output terminals to the INPUT on each of the crossovers. It might sound complicated, but if you follow the manufactures’ instructions carefully, the improvement in sound is well worth the time, labor and extra speaker wire. After the wires are routed, speakers are mounted and the subwoofer is in place, follow the diagram provided with the amp for the correct hook up.Lastly, hide all wiring as best as possible. Use electrical tape, wire ties and tubing to conceal your work. And don’t get rid of that diagram just yet–put it somewhere safe in the car. In case you have a problem later on it will be easier to pull that out than trying to remember! Now install the fuse, turn on the car and see how she sounds.The original panel was held on by clips. One tug and it was off.The speaker wires are routed under the door sill and through Q-logic kick panel. Note: there are 2 sets–one for the woofer, and the other for the tweeter.The MB QUART sitting pretty. Both sides were done in 20 minutes.Q-logics custom sub box fits in the right side of the rear wheel well of the trunk.The combination of MB Quart’s subwoofer and Q-logics sub box not only looks good, it preserves trunk space.The crossovers have 3 sets of wires: One connects to the woofer, one to the tweeter and the last connects to the amp.Clean up your wiring using electrical tape, wire tubing and zip ties.Don’t install the fuse until you’re ready to test the system.Here is the right side of the amp with the wires connected.The amp, fully connected, is installed on top of the removable floorboard/spare tire cover.STEP 4, FINAL STEP: Hit the Road, Tune in Your Favorite Station and Crank Up the VolumeAfter a few days of sweat, some minor cuts and a little aggravation, I’m finally done. Every time I ride in my Mustang, I’m reminded that the endeavor was worth it, even though I took much longer than I thought it would — if you plan your project properly, it should take about eight to ten hours to complete.