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Best Bang for the Buck Aftermarket Car Speakers

A speaker in a car door.
Alexandru Nika/Shutterstock.com

You might be happy (or stuck) with the stereo head unit in your vehicle, but you can still improve your sound. These inexpensive car speaker replacements can transform your car audio without destroying your bank account!

What to Look For When Buying Aftermarket Car Speakers

Most of us aren’t on a mission to win performance audio competitions. The good news is that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a great sound from your car stereo speakers. If you are looking to dump those pitiful factory speakers or just want cabin-filling sound in a complete aftermarket stereo rig, you will want to keep an eye on these crucial car speaker concepts:

  • Dimensions: Unfortunately, you can’t just drop in any speaker you want into those factory mounts. You need to start by picking a speaker of the same dimensions. Most speakers are defined in height and width (for oval speakers) or diameter (for round speakers). Depth is also extremely important. Not all speakers of the same “size” will fit your car. Car audio retailers such as Crutchfield and Sonic Electronix can help you identify what speakers will fit in your specific vehicle.
  • Power Handling: You can’t have your signal source overpowering your new speakers. Overpowering can result in horrible sounding distortion at best, or even destruction of your speakers at worst. If an aftermarket amplifier or head unit power your speakers, you should be able to identify the (RMS) and (PEAK) power outputs. From there, just ensure that your speaker (RMS) and (PEAK) power handling capabilities are higher. If you are replacing factory speakers connected to a factory head unit, you generally don’t need to worry about overpowering them. Most factory head units and factory amplifiers generate relatively low power output.
  • Sensitivity: If you will not be using an aftermarket amplifier or head unit, then speaker sensitivity becomes very important. The higher the sensitivity, the less power the speaker needs to generate a given volume level. You are looking for a speaker sensitivity of 90 dB or higher if you will be powering the new speakers with a factory head unit.
  • Frequency Response: What type of sound are you trying to get from the speaker? Small speakers generally do well with mid-range and higher frequencies. Larger speakers usually do well with low to mid-range frequencies. This can get very technical if you are looking for a complete factory replacement system. Ideally, you want a subwoofer that handles frequencies up to 50-80Hz and front and rear car speakers that can handle 50Hz to 22,000Hz or higher. The vehicle itself will usually dictate the speaker size in various locations, which then influences the overall sound. It is also helpful to have a head unit that can manage crossover frequencies so that all vehicle speakers are operating only in their optimal frequency range.

Best 6×9 Inch Speakers

Focal ISC 690 - 6x9

If you’re not interested in adding a subwoofer to your car stereo, your best bet for low-end sound (bass) is to have a good set of 6×9 speakers in the back. Most front doors won’t support a speaker of this size, so you will often have just the two rear 6×9 speakers. You should focus on speakers that deliver a rich sound in the lower frequencies of 30Hz (or lower) to 120Hz.

  • Kicker 43DSC69304: In addition to sounding great, there is a very good chance that these Kicker 6x9s will fit as a drop-in replacement in most vehicles. The shallow mounting depth is key here. Kicker engineered these speakers to produce excellent overall sound quality with strong power handling of 6 to 90watts (RMS) and frequency response of 30Hz to 20kHz. More importantly, at 92dB, these speakers are sensitive enough to operate without additional amplification.
  • Pioneer TS-G690: While the low price is most attractive on these speakers, don’t overlook the good sound quality or their appeal as direct factory speaker replacements without amplification. These Pioneer 6x9s can handle up to 45 watts (RMS) and support a wide frequency range of 32Hz to 32kHz. They can also get by without additional amplification thanks to a sensitivity rating of 90dB.
  • Infinity Reference REF-9632ix: Infinity Reference speakers have been setting sound quality standards for a very long time. These 6x9s do not disappoint as they are going to be strong in the low-mid, mid, and upper ranges. With a higher bottom-end frequency response of 46Hz, they might serve better with a subwoofer companion, but they will do just fine if you don’t have one. While they are highly sensitive at 90dB, they come into their own with an aftermarket amplifier as they can handle up to 100 watts (RMS).
  • Focal Integration ISC 690: Focal speakers have been mainstays in high-performance audio for decades. With audiophile-level sound reproduction, strong power handling of 5 to 80 watts (RMS), and excellent sensitivity at 93.6dB, these speakers can handle just about any condition you throw at them, and they will still sound great. However, with a 55Hz bottom end, you will probably want to pair these speakers with a subwoofer.

Best 5×7/6×8 Inch Speakers

Polk Audio DB 472 - 5x7
Polk Audio

Back in the day, 6×9 speakers were common on the rear deck of many cars. While you can still find them occasionally, 5×7 and 6×8 speakers in the rear doors are becoming more common in our SUV-preferring lifestyles. Speaker manufacturers have recognized this trend and are now providing great aftermarket options to make your rear audio sound better in a smaller package.

  • Kicker 46CSC6894: Once again, Kicker strikes a balance of form and function with these speakers as they will fit into most vehicles and still generate great sound. With power handling of up to 75 watts (RMS) and 90dB sensitivity, these speakers can be driven by your existing head unit or with an aftermarket amplifier. Since frequency response goes down to 45Hz, you can get by without a subwoofer, but you might want to add one anyway.
  • Polk Audio DB 572: Polk has a reputation for producing excellent low-cost options that are usually marine rated (waterproof). This makes them a great choice for your boat or convertible. With solid power handling at 75 watts RMS, excellent sensitivity at 92dB, and a frequency range that goes all the way down to 35Hz, these Polk units are the ultimate utility speakers.
  • Rockford Fosgate P1683: Rockford Fosgate is also known for creating a great sound. In this case, they engineered a speaker that can handle from 6 to 65 watts RMS with a 90dB sensitivity. You get a decent frequency response from 65Hz to 24kHz that will provide a powerful, balanced sound across the full range. But you will probably want to add a subwoofer for a bit more punch at the low end.
  • Infinity Reference REF-8632CFX: These speakers won’t fit in every vehicle, but if they will fit in yours, you can’t go wrong with the excellent Infinity Reference sound. Power handling is solid at 60 watts (RMS) with a frequency response of 49Hz to 21kHz. The 93dB sensitivity will work well enough with a factory head unit, but they will sound much better with an aftermarket amplifier.

Best 6 1/2 and 6 3/4 Inch Speakers

Infinity Reference REF-6532ex 6.5
Infinity Harmon

For smaller vehicles or vehicles with limited door space, there is a good chance that you will find 6 1/2 or 6 3/4 round speakers in your existing system. These are actually pretty decent form factors with a woofer cone that can produce more bass than you would think. The options below are the best choices for factory replacements.

  • Rockford Fosgate R165X3: You can expect plenty of volume out of these speakers with a 2 to 45 watts (RMS) handling power and 91dB sensitivity. The frequency response is excellent for 6 1/2 in speakers at 52Hz to 20kHz. But the best part about these speakers is the great sound for a minimal price.
  • Kicker 43DSC6704: Kicker delivers yet another great factory speaker replacement option in a sub-2-inches, shallow mount form factor. Frequency response is above average for 6 3/4 in speakers with a range of 40Hz to 20kHz. Sensitivity is excellent at 90dB, so you can plan on either using the factory head unit for power, or you can crank up the juice with an aftermarket amplifier.
  • Infinity Reference REF-6532ex: Similar to the Kicker options, Infinity produces excellent sound from a shallow mount option likely to fit in most vehicles. You get Infinity Reference sound quality in a package that handles up to 55 watts (RMS) with a frequency response of 57Hz to 21kHz and good sensitivity of 93dB. These speakers will sound good with a factory stereo, but these speakers will come into their own with an aftermarket amplifier and, ideally, complimented by a subwoofer.
  • Polk Audio DB 652: These speakers are practically begging to be the speaker of choice for Jeeps Wranglers everywhere as they are fully marine certified (waterproof) and sound great. They provide an excellent frequency response of 40Hz to 22kHz and power handling of up to 100 watts (RMS). Boasting a 92dB sensitivity, these speakers are ready to rock with just a head unit, or you can push them with an aftermarket amplifier to take advantage of the power that these speakers can handle! Also, the sub-2-inch mounting depth means that these speakers will plug and play in most vehicles.

Best 5 1/4 Inch Speakers

Rockford Fosgate R152-S Component 5.25
Rockford Fosgate

It’s a simple fact that woofer cone size has a lot to do with the ability of the speaker to generate low frequencies. Most 5 1/4 inch speakers simply don’t have enough surface area to give you any low bass. If a 5 1/4 speaker is all that you can put into your front doors, these speakers offer the best audio quality.

  • Polk Audio DB 522: Once again, these speakers are a solid choice for marine or otherwise “wet” applications. The shallow mount design means they are basically pop-in replacements for just about any vehicle. They provide excellent power handling at 100 watts RMS, and frequency response is decent, going down to 55Hz. Just don’t expect a big low end from any 5 1/4 speaker.
  • Kicker 43DSC504: Once again, the shallow mount design means that these speakers will install easily in most vehicles. Power handling is decent at 50 watts (RMS), and the frequency range is above average for 5 1/4 inch speakers at 45Hz to 20kHz. But the real story here is quality sound for a low price.
  • Rockford Fosgate R152-S: These Rockford Fosgate speakers are the choice for a component speaker system with external tweeters. If you are looking to replace both the factory door speaker and the tweeter in the windshield pillar at the same time, this matched set is what you are looking for. Power handling is on the low end at 2 to 40 watts (RMS). But with a sensitivity of 95dB, these speakers are designed to run well on your factory stereo.

You may think that you need to spend a lot of money on your car stereo to get a great sound. It’s simply not true. You often don’t even have to buy a new stereo head unit or amplifier to achieve dramatic improvements. If you don’t need head-banging volume and you really just want better quality sound, these speakers can upgrade your car audio for a very reasonable investment.

Russ Houberg Russ Houberg
Russ is a 20+ year veteran of the Information Technology industry and has been that "techie" for a multitude of people and organizations over the years. He holds several professional certifications including Microsoft Certified SharePoint Master and Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert. As a published author, he enjoys freelance writing when he has the opportunity.   Read Full Bio »