By on March 8, 2019

1989 Lincoln Continental - iPad, Image: Sajeev MehtaTed writes:

In your suggested fixes to a 200,000-mile BMW, you mentioned better aftermarket radios. That got me interested! I’m buying a 1989 Porsche 944 turbo with about 10 problems and the radio ain’t one. (The price? 6,500 Canuckian pesos!)

As I fix it up for my own long-term use, however, I want to understand the options and the pros and cons of replacing the “meh” Kenwood unit that one of the nine (!) previous owners put in there.

Can you do a kind of buyer’s guide for aftermarket radios with Bluetooth capabilities and/or smartphone integration? Currently I use Waze on my phone, which is clipped to the air vents with a small Kenu phone mount, and an aux cable. It works fine; I’d like to have fewer cables and better power to the phone, but this is a frivolous and fun upgrade for me. Maybe a low-cost option and an “all the features” option would be two options for most.

Thanks as ever for the fun column, it’s one of my preferred ways to decompress.

Sajeev answers:

I don’t do buyer’s guides in the expected SEO style, instead doling out thoughts with non-affiliate linked URLs when needed.

Hopefully the photo of my 1989 Continental proves my editorial independence regarding classic car smartphone integration: the outdated, 1st gen iPad Mini and Kenwood Excelon came together swimmingly in the glorified Taurus Continental’s snazzy, plastic-fantastic interior. So here’s what I recommend for a Porsche 944*, or any older vehicle with a 1-DIN receiver and a budget (design aesthetic?) intolerant of flip-out touchscreen stereos.

The brand doesn’t matter, until it does: I adore most Alpine, Kenwood and Pioneer receivers, and own an example of each. Most brands have several models possessing Android Open Accessory attributes and Apple iPod/iPhone integration, so you’ll have several options. (Apple Carplay or Android Auto requires upgrading to a 1-DIN with a motorized screen or cutting your dash for a 2-DIN receiver, sorry!)

So get the cheapest one on eBay?

Or the cheapest offering from a big-name manufacturer?

Consider both as Option #1 in this “buyers guide.”

Consider buying the highest quality receiver in your budget: Assuming that phone is also streaming audio, Option #2 is a receiver built to compensate for compressed audio. Shop around and you’ll get lucky: I bought that Excelon, manufacturer refurbished, for $30 over the base model’s retail price. It meets the need with two “hideable” USB ports (one in the glove box, one in the ashtray), and most importantly a blizzard of signal processing and equalization options. Those last two bits ensure you get the most from your phone.

And while my Continental is stupid quiet (rubber insulation is even glued to the roof and all trunk sheetmetal!) with a rattle-free chassis, most older vehicles lack modern NVH engineering (even new) so get the audio processing bits in a nicer receiver to compensate. I could go down the wormhole of tuning for maximum sound quality via your preferred app, but let’s keep it high level.

RTFM: read the owner’s manual online before buying! Once a stereo catches your eye, ensure you’ll use the damn thing. If you question the interface with you and/or your phone, look elsewhere. 

Get Creative with the Install: the perk of pricer options are those extra USB ports, allowing phone integration via glovebox, ashtray, console, etc. instead of an unsightly cable shooting out of the receiver. In your case, run the USB cable (and phone charging cable) down the console, drill a hole in the storage nook so it rests inside the armrest.

Even if the armrest storage is too shallow for your phone, this ensures the cable is out of the way. The phone can live by your forearm when needed. My proposal nets you:

  • Fewer (visible) cables for a cleaner interior
  • Console-mounted USB charging like a new car (no AUX cable)
  • Receiver control of phone applications (more for Android?)
  • Better sound quality for any music, especially streaming audio

Replace the Speakers: you bought the best 1-DIN receiver for your phone, but now the speakers shall suck. Even when not sunbeaten, original speakers are usually outclassed by the junkiest options available online. No need to cut holes in door cards, replace the factory speakers with same-size aftermarkets. I am kinda hooked on the quality and value in Polk Audio’s DB+ Series, but that level of modest upgrade is available elsewhere. Just read the spec sheets (frequency response, etc) online.

There’s plenty more but the right receiver, a thoughtful installation, and new speakers are the majority of the problem. Off to you, Best and Brightest!


*The irony is that 944’s are a somewhat simple conversion to 2-DIN stereos, but the same rules apply: buy the unit with upgraded audio processing, the most intuitive interface and the most timeless look: you will get what you pay for. And you will pay much more than a 1-DIN upgrade.

[Images: © 2019 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars]

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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51 Comments on “Piston Slap: Single DIN + Multiple Options = Serious Improvement for Cheap?...”

  • avatar

    Porsche also has an answer for roughly 1400 freedom dollars.

  • avatar

    Your willingness to pay actual money for a 9-owner Porsche aside, do you all have Best Buy up there? Factory radio crapped out in my new daily driver, which is 22 years old. I went Best Buy and bought a $100 Kenwood CD/Receiver and a $17 wiring harness. Anything over $100 included installation and I was super impressed with their installation team. It works far better than the factory radio ever did for what I use it for, which is mostly listening to the radio.

    Speakers are also a nice upgrade, but I think you ask yourself, how likely are you to be owner #9, caretaker for owner #10?

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah Best buy is often the cheapest way to go to get a aftermarket head unit put in. And yes most of their staff is actually decent.
      Mt Father did find a local shop here in CT that was actually a bit cheaper on a complete install with speakers, and he has been using them ever since mostly to just do things like replace blown out speakers etc on his semi large fleet of cars.

  • avatar

    While this may sound like an advertisement, one of the best catalogs of aftermarket radio heads has always been the Crutchfield catalog, even if you don’t choose to buy from there.

    Most brands now have bluetooth smartphone connectivity and some even have Apple Car Play/Android Auto capability. Since you panned the Kenwood existing in that Porsche, I’ll assume you want something better and that catalog pretty well lists all but the most extreme high-end brands.

    That’s the best suggestion I can offer.

  • avatar

    I’m not a serious audiophile, but one bit of advice I’ve always taken to heart: Speakers are the core of the system, not the head unit. There’s very little difference between sound quality on the vast majority of head units. But a good set of speakers can make or break the whole setup. If your budget limits you to spending more on one vs the other, get the good speakers.

    The biggest problem with aftermarket single-DIN units these days is the size of the buttons. They try to cram so much crap into such a small space, the buttons become super tiny and/or so multifunction that they become very user-unfriendly. Not to mention the printing on those buttons requires a magnifying glass. Very hard to see while driving sometimes. Finding one that is sans CD player helps, since it frees up a lot of space. The flip-up screen also works here, as long as it doesn’t end up blocking other stuff on your dashboard.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ll second the button complaint. I recently borrowed a friend’s truck with an aftermarket Pioneer to make a long tow. It took me a while to figure out how to change stations, and I never figured out the seek mode. Worse, I couldn’t turn the stupid thing off. I just resorted to turning volume all the way down. The stereo in my Mustang is a double-DIN, and the buttons are very intuitive. If you can squeeze a double-DIN, do it.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree with both of you.

      I often don’t even change the factory head unit when upgrading a stereo. Speakers – along with their mounting panels and enclosures – are typically far more important.

      And Pioneer is the one brand I wouldn’t even consider. The last two Pioneer head units I’ve experienced had terrible interfaces controlled primarily by a single multi-function button that was difficult to use. The last pair of Pioneer speakers I installed sounded worse than the cheap factory ones, and were returned.

      I’ll add that if you have audible compression in your music, or through your Bluetooth or auxiliary output, you either need better music files, a better stream, or a better phone. You can’t fix that sort of thing digitally. Altering the sound electronically is a desperate way to deal with inadequacies in either the source or the system, and never holds up across a variety of music.

      • 0 avatar

        90% of OEM speakers are crap.

        90% of aftermarket speakers are crap too, they just have sparkly cones and useless stuff like cast iron frames.

        • 0 avatar

          You seem to have some background in this area (?).

          What are the 10% of OEM and aftermarket speakers that you think are decent?

          • 0 avatar

            Not that you asked me specifically, but I’ll volunteer:

            Very few car manufacturers have a great-sounding base-model stereo. Volvo traditionally does…and usually they even have one or two levels of upgrade available beyond that, e.g. a Dimension system.

            The whole upgrade-speakers-first cliche makes no sense to me unless you’re also adding amplification. Most efficient speakers don’t sound good; they’ll be so harsh in the upper midrange that you’ll start wanting an EQ to slap them down. Most speakers that sound good aren’t efficient; you need moah powah to run them.

            It’s hard to keep track of which aftermarket speaker brands are still good, since they change hands frequently and yesterday’s premium Euro brand is today’s Chinese crap. But Focal / Hertz was well regarded last time I was in the market.

            Also keep in mind that if you have a newer car you may want or need to keep its head unit to keep its features, which may be deeply integrated with other functions…but in such modern cars manufacturers sometimes include an audio processing module that compensates for crappy stock speakers with equalization. Put in different speakers, and you have to also spend a fat wad of cash on a sound processor to remove that equalization, or your pricey new speakers will sound awful.

            Finally, good aftermarket speakers sometimes have worse bass than stock, not better, since they may be designed with the expectation that your system has a subwoofer. So, plan on adding another amp and a sub.

            In short: with a newer car, a real upgrade means 2-3 amps, a sound processor, great speakers, and professional installation and tuning time. With an older car, you can delete the sound processor and tuning time but add a head unit, wiring harness and steering wheel control interface box. Either way, truly good sound can effortlessly cost you thousands.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I replaced the stereo in my mom’s IS300 when I was replacing the dashboard. It was set up for double din and was therefore really easy. I went with an upper mid-range Kenwood non-nav unit. I believe at the time it was a 1 year old model – they seem to change model numbers and make minor changes nearly every year. I have been disappointed with a couple things, mostly related to the Bluetooth. The microphone is not as sensitive as I would like. But the biggest issue for me is how long it takes to connect once you turn the car on. In my Buick, it connects in about 10 seconds. With the Kenwood it’s nearly a minute.

    I stuck with all stock speakers as they are really good and there’s a built in subwoofer in the hatch.

    Since installing it (in 2015) I have been chasing an alternator whine. It seems to be related to the connection from the main power to the subwoofer power, but I disconnected them and it always comes back. If I touch the connection area, it will either start whining if it wasn’t, or stop whining if it was. It’ll go away for days or weeks, but it always eventually comes back. I have tried re-grounding it multiple times, I re-soldered all the wires for the whole system. It drives my mom and her passengers crazy. I’m at a total loss of what to do.

    • 0 avatar

      Alternator whine comes from a potential difference in the ground connections. I went nuts back in the day when I installed a Nakamichi head unit with two separate amps and an outboard crossover. Four different grounded devices created havoc. Ultimately I grounded the two amps and the crossover (bummed me out to put it in the trunk) to an isolated copper ground bar in the trunk, mounted on insulators, and then bonded the bar to the car’s chassis with some #1 copper wire. I then ran a length of #1 copper from the head unit back to the ground bar. Whine was then virtually eliminated. Interesting to note was that of the tiny amount of whine entering, it went away with the crossover removed. It was so minor that I had to listen for it with no program material playing so I considered it a win.

  • avatar

    I’ll add “Buy from Crutchfield”. Their prices are fair, (way cheaper than your local audio specialty store) and they cater to people DIY-ing things. If you have questions, they have actual knowledgeable people on the phone that can answer them.

    I had trouble installing a kit to let me use the steering wheel controls in my wife’s Solara with the new Stereo. The tech spent nearly an hour on the phone with me puzzling through the issue, (a mid-year change apparently removed the CAN line from the OBD connector necessary for the reverse/park detection), and he eventually sent me the picture of a Camry fuse panel pointing to which wires I needed to tap instead.

  • avatar

    My first 6 or so cars all had aftermarket stereos I put in the last 3 I haven’t bothered. But My current rides lack of a good place for a smart phone (300M) has me thinking android auto would be nice. Most androis auto head sets are double din or single din motorized but I found this new hybrid one from Alpine
    It has a fixed screen mounted on a single din chassis and slides up and down to fit your dash. On my car if I slid it down I would just block the separate disc changer which is fine.

    • 0 avatar

      Android Auto *is* nice… Once my wife experienced it in my ’17 CR-V, she had me yank the factory CD-changer out of her Solara to put in an AA-capable unit.

      The only “catch” was that even though it was a ’16 unit, it wasn’t until this past August that the AA was made stable through a S/W update. (CarPlay worked fine the whole time.)

      I imagine things are a bit better with current units.

  • avatar

    I could also use some advice. Want to replace double din unit in 1995 avalon. The problem I keep running into is that most of the new units don’t have plug and play harnesses made to handle the motorized antenna. I don’t feel comfortable splicing the new/old harness.
    Has anyone else run into this problem?
    Should I just go to an installer?

    • 0 avatar

      This shouldn’t be a problem at all, I think it’s the “blue” wire on the aftermarket harness. A stereo shop should have zero issue with this, or you can find plenty of diagrams online.

      Not sure if you’ve ever installed an aftermarket stereo, but the “plug and play” harness only requires joining the wires from the new stereo to the aftermarket harness you buy with it that’s made for your car. Then it just plugs into the car’s harness from the factory. So it shouldn’t require any splicing into the factory wiring.

      Of course, not all work this way, but I would say 9 times out of 10, it’s plug and play. Especially on cars from that era. It’s the “new” stuff like factory touchscreens where it gets really complicated,

    • 0 avatar

      An installer would probably be a good choice, especially since you have an electric antenna. Now, some third-party brands do have that capability but the styles may not meet your needs. However, the motor should be on the car’s power so the only thing needed is a switch or relay to manually trigger extension/retraction. Talk to your installer or if you email Crutchfield they, too, may be able to offer advice.

    • 0 avatar

      get one of these:

      then solder/crimp it to the wires on the harness provided with the aftermarket radio, matching color to color. Plug it into your car. Done. if your car has the factory power antenna then the adapter harness should already accommodate that (solid blue wire.) That is, if the antenna is meant to be controlled by the radio. if the antenna extends with key-on power, then you don’t need to use the wire from the radio.

      DON’T go to an installer. this is simple enough where you can either do it yourself or do it with a little help. You never know what kind of jackanape at a shop is going to work on your car and hack up the factory wiring all to heck.

      • 0 avatar

        Thank you for the information however the link only goes to sales to registered wholesalers. Sold on Amazon however. My plan is to use the double din head unit from my 2009 Rav4 (basic no nav etc) to replace the failing CD/Tape unit in the 1995 Avalon. Should be pretty easy except that the RAV4 unit may not have power for the Avalon power antenna. I will figure that out when I get the avalon unit out. I am in no rush but just have the fully functional RAV4 unit (Has MP3 changer/USB/Aux in) laying around. Those functions missing on the original Avalon Unit.

  • avatar

    Around 2013 I decided to make modest upgrades to my 2000 Protege ES to ease my new commute, and to force my brain into a deliberate “sunk cost fallacy” scenario to delay my acquisition of a new car. Commute was now long, but easy highway, and the car was great but buzzy and kind of fatiguing at highway speeds.

    Car had OEM double-din with 1 AM/FM/CD head and 1 cassette. 1 OEM speaker was out, and another quit which accelerated my decision. The head unit I got was a single-din Pioneer for slighly over 100 dollars, with bluetooth connectivity, 2 USBs, CD, RDS, changeable display colors, and a dedicated volume knob (very important). Also had a hardwired microphone which I cleverly and discreetly mounted at the top of the A-pillar trim. Empty DIN space got filled with a lidded storage box from a junkyard Taurus. I then jerry rigged a solution so that the lid in the down position became a decent prop for my phone to use google maps. As for speakers, I told Crutchfield what I wanted to pay (not a lot, but not the cheapest), and that I wanted the easiest installation so they recommended some Kicker units for front and rear. While I was at it, I put in an additional 12V plug in the side of the console facing the passenger and hardwired it to an empty fuse circuit.

    For about $250 max, (less than a car payment) the overall result was amazing. My car was now a commuting machine. Good rich sound that partially overcame the noise of the car, nice looking head unit, extra storage in the dash, podcasts. Enough power and USBs to charge my phone, the rare passenger phone, plus keep my heated coffee mug going. Hands-free phone calls to burn away the time and boredom, with excellent voice quality. It honestly made the car seem different. I kept it about another 16 months, so I consider the expense actually a savings.

    I’m in a similar boat again- feeling the new car itch although there is nothing wrong with my Focus. The Alpine Halo9 is intriguing.

  • avatar

    I love designing car stereo systems, and this article actually has some good advice. Some other random thoughts… I disagree about getting the fanciest the head unit, just find one that has the features you need. For me, this would be one with 4 or 6 pre-outs to add amplification, all at a minimum of 4 volts output (frankly if it has those features which only people who know what they’re looking for care about, its likely already a quality unit). Almost all head units these days have bluetooth, Apple Carplay units are at least $200, and like pointed out, need a double din head, so they’re not really worth it. There are a ton of very good small 4-channel amps available these days… even going from the ~18 RMS watts of a headunit to something like 50 RMS makes a big difference. With a small amp, installation is much easier. Alpine even makes a “powerpack” the size of a chalkboard eraser, which doesn’t even need a lead to the battery (powers off the headunit power).

    Oh, and for the head unit, think about usability, too. For whatever reason, the buttons and look of most aftermarket head units is terrible, so pay attention to what works for you.

    On the topic of speakers, efficiency is more important than frequency range (frequency range is next consideration). Get something that’s above 90 dB sensitivity (those Polk DBs are a great low-cost suggestion), unless you’re adding serious amplification at which point it won’t matter. Next point on speakers is to get components if you can (these have a small tweeter which is separate from the bigger main). The drawback here is you’ll need a mounting point for the tweeter, which can mean drilling a hole in your a-pillar or door card or surface mounting with screws, you’ll also need to put the crossover (small box that sends highs to tweeter and mids to mid) somewhere, but they’ll usually fit between the doorcard and the door. Totally worth it though, otherwise your speakers are giving their best sound to your feet. Finally you can consider frequency. A good rule of thumb is to get front speakers that hit the lowest frequency (the highs these speakers hit are typically equal on most models), but if you’re adding bigger rear speakers, that might not matter as much.

    That was all for front speakers. For rears, it doesn’t matter as much, ideally you’d get something that rounds out the sound with the lower frequency range. Usually the rears can be bigger, which lets them hit those low frequencies. You don’t need components here, but should still pay attention to sensitivity (again, above 90 dB).

    Once you have the head unit, amplifier (optional), front speakers, and rear speakers, you can think about adding a sub. For simple systems, I like powered subwoofers that fit under the seat.

    With the parameters above, a simple system could include 1) head unit with 6 4 volt preamp outs (~$120); 2) Alpine powerpack amp (~$120); 3) Polk dB components (whatever fits the front, something like 6.5″; ~$100); and some full range 6x9s (or whatever fits) for the back (~$50). That would be a kick as system for ~$400. If you need it, add an under the seat powered subwoofer for ~$200 plus the amp kit at ~$30.

    • 0 avatar

      Good advice, but I disagree on efficiency. It’s typically measured at a single frequency (1 khz). The last thing I want is a speaker that focuses on being particularly loud at a single mid-range frequency (cough, Klipsch, cough). Not that an efficient speaker can’t be good.

      It was nice when stereo shops had big sound boards to compare speakers before buying. If a speaker sounds bad on an MDF sound board, it’s going to sound terrible attached to metal and surrounded by glass and hard plastic.

      Alpine is my default for speakers, subs, and amps these days. Has been for a long time now. I’ve never been fond of their head units. They’ve always sounded good and looked good, but reliability was poor in the CD player days, and the one my buddy recently installed has no dimmer for the big, bright screen at night.

      Cue JimZ to tell us that comparing speakers directly isn’t valid because some local stereo shop wouldn’t let him control the volume or sources himself, and that there’s no way to improve on a factory system anyway.

      • 0 avatar

        I concur on the “efficiency”, really sensitivity. Frequency response is more important. As noted above, a Klipsch can belt out an amazing amount of dBs on small power but the sound is compromised. Better to have excellent frequency response and use a bit more amp. And don’t chintz on amp output if you like moderate/loud levels. Small amps are easily overdriven and the output “clips”. That is audible, even with highly limited sources like the dreadful MP3. I was a hardcore car stereo enthusiast back in the day…

      • 0 avatar

        “Cue JimZ to tell us that comparing speakers directly isn’t valid because some local stereo shop wouldn’t let him control the volume or sources himself, and that there’s no way to improve on a factory system anyway.”

        call me when you stop lying about what I said.

  • avatar

    Another vote for Crutchfield.

    I like giving Amazon some competition, and the extra stuff they include with it specific to your car (including diagrams) makes it really easy. You can just buy everything needed in one kit. I found it cheaper through Crutchfield to boot the last time I bought. All those accessories add up.

    Also, I’m just a DIY guy, but I’ve had the best luck with Pioneer products.

  • avatar

    OK, while we’re talking audio. I have a Lexus with the Nakamichi system, which I love. But, these Nakamichi amps all start to randomly drop speakers as you listen, so no use getting a used Nak amp. Do any of the best and brightest know if I can leave everything in place and replace the amp with a Pioneer or other good amp? I have the wiring diagrams for the Nak, so all the connections are easily identified.

    • 0 avatar

      It depends on the speakers and the impedance. Probably have to go to one of the Lexus forums and do a deep dive and see if someone else has done it. Also, look your vehicle up on Crutchfield, they often times will have what accessories are required to go aftermarket. Anything like that is doable, the question is how much modification

      I know on Lexus with the Mark Levinson system (which is hot garbage) it’s not just plug and play. Aftermarket speakers would possibly fry the amp, etc. An aftermarket amp wouldn’t work without a lot of modifications beyond most DIY’s capability, etc.

      I would honestly just match up the factory one if you’re otherwise happy with it. There are resellers on places like Ebay that rebuild this stuff. Or just cross your fingers on a used one.

    • 0 avatar

      @Lightspeed: Based on what you said, those Nakamichi’s may be suffering from cold solder joints, possibly caused by extreme temperature shifts or a too-hot amp.

      • 0 avatar

        Have to admit that while I found the sound quality from the Nakamichi equipment in the 1980s to be the best bar none, the headunit reliability was not Toyota like. Several failures were had…but when working, wow. Nothing in the cassette era sounded better. The head azimuth adjustment made sure you got everything out of that tape. While the tape deck aspect is no longer relevant anymore, every other aspect still is.

  • avatar

    “RTFM: read the owner’s manual online before buying! Once a stereo catches your eye, ensure you’ll use the damn thing. If you question the interface with you and/or your phone, look elsewhere. ” Heartily agree in this case as well as any other purchases being made for any product. Mr. Internet makes it really simple to find the manuals for most everything on a manufacturer’s website, usually in .pdf format. I’ve saved myself some grief perusing online manuals in this manner and helped myself select what I really want and expect.

  • avatar

    Boom-box style of modern car stereos just looks wrong in a 30 year old German classic.

    There are a few retro units out there with hidden USB/ aux and Bluetooth, a much better look IMHO.

  • avatar

    I have always thought it was disappointing that the Parrot Asteroid Tablet form factor never took off. It was a unit that could be wired into a factory stereo, and provided an Android-based multimedia interface in a tablet form factor.

    A lot of old single-DIN cars have plenty of room for a small 6-7″ tablet to be mounted somewhere, and a device that added CarPlay/Android Auto (along with steering wheel and voice control integration) without requiring a hacksaw would be a welcome option.

  • avatar

    Get a decent head unit. Get nice speakers, but definitely save room in your speaker budget for a modest compact subwoofer.

    Sajeev speaks much wisdom regarding sound insulation – you can buy sound deadening mats/etc from any number of places online.

    Crutchfield is excellent – they have kits available for many vehicles which will include a ‘plug and play’ harness (if you don’t enjoy soldering). [Rule #1 of used car buying: pick a vehicle that sold in enough volumes that you’re not the first person on the planet to solve its audio puzzle; also parts in general will be more widely available and cheaper.]

    Controversial old guy opinion: Audio is audio, Navigation is navigation – don’t cross the streams.

    Once you install a mid-range aftermarket audio system, you will give a little amused snort every time you are reminded what OEM’s are charging for what they offer.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s the problem I have with the fancy modern branded factory systems. It’s not that they can’t be enjoyed. They’re far better than factory stereos were when I was growing up. But they typically don’t sound any better than a simple system with four full range speakers and two tweeters – nevermind adding a real sub – yet they charge money that would easily pay for a serious system that never sounds harsh and can play real bass. And the obsession with adding a bunch of little speakers in poor locations is mind-boggling. Bouncing a limited spectrum of mid-range sound off the windshield only gets harsher the louder it is.

      One example of a too-many-crappy-speakers situation occurred in my buddy’s Dodge 1500 with the Alpine system. We were cranking the music one night and our other buddy in the back seat complained that his arm was getting tired. We looked back and he was holding his hand over the little ceiling speaker to block it out and make the sound tolerable. This is a guy with an Alpine R12 in his trunk. He does not dislike loud music. We got home, disabled the shamefully cheap speaker, and it then sounded decent back there.

      It can leave a guy a bit jaded when they add speakers like that just so the marketing department can advertise how many speakers it has, instead of spending the money to improve the important parts of the system.

      Seriously; in a home audio system, who would rather have a bunch of cheap little speakers in plastic and metal enclosures right in their face and by their ears instead of sitting back in front of a big pair of full range towers? So why do it in a vehicle?

      Okay, enough ranting for today. Now let’s welcome JimZ to insult me without bothering to share any of his apparently endless knowledge on the subject.

      • 0 avatar

        …Seriously; in a home audio system, who would rather have a bunch of cheap little speakers in plastic and metal enclosures right in their face and by their ears instead of sitting back in front of a big pair of full range towers?…

        Sadly, this is just the market that BOSE taps…

        • 0 avatar


          When I see mass-market ‘speakers’ sitting in the aisle, I lift the box – if it ain’t heavy, I keep walking.

          I’ve got a pair of Infinity SM-122’s (circa 1990) still going strong after refoaming the woofers several years back.. yeah I’m a dinosaur. And no I don’t have an audiophile system – but what passes for ‘good sound’ for most people these days? Ick….

        • 0 avatar

          Believe it or not, husky, I agree. My home entertainment center is a Denon AV receiver powering a pair of 35-year-old Realistic speakers with 12″ bass drivers for REAL bass sound, along with separate mid-range and tweeter drivers in each. Granted, I had to replace the original bass cones about 25 years ago but the newer ones are still going strong as they use a different suspension than the originals. And yes, even with “digital” music they still sound good because they simply can’t react quickly enough to ‘buzz’ at the typical sampling rate due to their analog design. These speakers have been in pretty much daily use for the last 25 years, as well.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    2 things. It is an 89 Porsche. This means a single DIN radio slot. Android Auto will require a motorized fold out screen type unit. Maybe this works or maybe the screen blocks your climate control when out. Consider carefully and measure before you buy. This brings me to point 2. Modern stereos are shiny, rainbow lit, and look totally out of place in a late 80s early 90s aesthetic. Go with a period correct Blaupunkt, Alpine, or Nakamichi deck. Have it modded with an auxiliary port (the units that supported CD changers make this easier), and route the cables for your phone to connect behind the dash. The decks from that period are a high water mark for car audio.

    • 0 avatar

      Considering the age and probable condition of this Porsche (9 owners!) I doubt he is too concerned with being “period correct.” I know I wouldn’t be. This is probably intended to be his ‘toy’ car, at least as long as he can keep it out of the garage.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        It isn’t about being “correct” because he’s building a Concours car…it’s because he has to look at the dash. That new lightship of a stereo is just going to look terrible in there. The decks I mentioned are high quality, easily adaptable with an auxiliary port, but most importantly have matte black faces with white lettering. The match the aesthetic of the interior. If it’s a toy all the more reason to not install a modern lightshow deck. They look terrible in those minimalist late 80s and 90s black interiors.

        Its preference though. In my toys from that period I want to turn off my phone, shut the door, and imagine I’m in a time when the phrase “New from Nirvana” may come out of the speakers. To each there own though, but a high end early to mid 90s deck with an auxiliary cable for streaming and nav would be great in such a car.

        • 0 avatar

          Honestly, I found plain white displays on car radios very hard to see in the daylight and sometimes glaringly bright at night. I’ve had two different Kenwood head units in two different pickup trucks and to be quite honest, I liked having the ability to set a color I liked and that wouldn’t blind me on a dark road while still being readily visible in daylight. If you read the owner’s manual you learn how to set it and yes, you can even set it to ‘white’ if you wish. Or you could set it to match or contrast with your car’s body or interior colors–whatever you want. That would certainly be cheaper than trying to find a “period correct” model and “modify it for external inputs.” If you’re not buying it for a show car, who cares what the radio looks like? You use what works for your purposes.

          That’s also why I didn’t recommend any specific brand or model of head unit to the questioner–let him find one he likes and go from there.

    • 0 avatar

      ..The decks from that period are a high water mark for car audio..


  • avatar

    Ladies & Germs of the B&B,

    Original questioner here to say thank you Sajeev for the great response and thank you the contributors for the excellent and illuminating discussion. Some notes:

    * correct that this was a fun-only purchase, I owned a TDI golf for 8 years and Mrs TDI has a Prius so, it was time for a hopefully good Very Poor Decision. You may know how that works.
    * not mentioned above is that at about 100k km this car was converted by a shop owner from a 944 2.7litre to a chipped turbo (2.5l with about 290hp); I’m dialing this back to closer to reliable fun weekend car that can last and respects a bit more of what Porsche intended when they made these tremendous little cars. Putting air conditioning back in, already replaced the four corners (wheel bearings, control arms) and rear coilovers with a stock turbo rear suspension. I’m probably removing the tune, then looking at the interior.
    * why pay money? The parts are worth more than the price I paid actually. And, fun. And still a lot cheaper than almost anything.
    * the dash, as is usual in a busted up 944, needs recovering or replacement. Therefore some big changes on the interior are coming. The cubby on the centre console is for example stuffed with a boy-racer air-fuel gauge, which i’ll be taking out.
    * excellent catch on the aesthetics of the interior – I like simple German and functional and the blinky-flashy-beepy thing of a 1990s kenwood unit was justification enough to take the thing out, to me.

    That’s it I think. Thanks again for the discussion, I will definitely follow a bunch of the recommendations here.

  • avatar

    If you want a modern touch screen without a motorized display in a single DIN, there is the Alpine ILX-F309 and ILX-F259. They use a single-DIN mounting chassis with an external floating display. Won’t work with every car depending on your radio mounting point, though it does have a good degree of adjustability to not block things like HVAC controls.

  • avatar

    I didn’t see anyone mention anything like the iSimple Tranzit Blu HF. This allows a device to connect into any head unit with a standard antenna jack, so you can use any head unit you like, even a stock factory unit, but still listen to audio through a bluetooth device. You have to pay attention to the type of transmitter though – the HF model works with 5th generation iPods, and the universal one does not!

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