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Book Review - How to Design and Install High-Performance Car Stereo

Interested in a high quality car audio upgrade? Here's the book for you!

By Michael Knowling

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At a glance...

  • Easy to understand
  • Lots of photos
  • Gives you the knowledge to create a killer system
  • Needs more information on MP3 and piecing together systems to suit specific budgets
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When you wander into a store for a car audio upgrade it’s all too easy to get sucked into buying a system that doesn’t fulfil your expectations. If you don’t have some background knowledge, it’s quite likely you’ll cough up a substantial amount of money and come away very disappointed.

Joe Pettitt’s revised and updated How to Design and Install High-Performance Car Stereo is aimed at educating the entry-level enthusiast.

Published by CarTech in 2003, this US-based 128-page soft cover book contains a generous number of photos and diagrams, is logically arranged and easy to follow. All illustrations are black and white rather than colour.

Each chapter in the book is sequenced to follow the signal path - that is, starting with the head unit, graphic equaliser (EQ), amps and, finally, speakers. Joe Pettitt has a strong background in automotive writing background and many sections use fairly loose language – almost magazine style. However, where the topics are more in-depth, the writing is succinct and accurate. There’s a wide range of detail and, in some instances, the author refers to other books and technical papers as further resources.

The chapter on head units is well detailed, discussing chassis sizes, theft deterrents, RCA outputs, auxiliary inputs and important specs (such as signal-to-noise ratio, power output and distortion). Unfortunately, many of the head units used as examples are US-market only and there’s no discussion of MP3 or dedicated music hard-drives – this is where the book shows its age (despite being updated).

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Cross-overs and EQs are comprehensively explained along with differentiation between passive and active cross-overs and parametric EQs. The book also covers using a Real Time Analyser (RTA) to adjust audio settings for the optimal frequency spread. Similarly, there’s a detailed explanation of the operation of amplifiers, discussion on the difference between Class A to D amps and how to wire amplifiers to achieve different outputs. Like each other chapter in the book, there’s also a useful glossary covering terms such as RMS, clipping, regulated and unregulated power supply.

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The chapters on speakers, speaker enclosures and speaker mounting are excellent. You’ll learn everything about choosing the right speakers (looking at sensitivity and other speaker specs) all the way through to angling the speaker to achieve the optimal sound stage and imaging. There are a lot of pages dedicated to selecting and designing sub-woofer enclosures (using computer programs) and you’ll find a simple one-page guide to building a sub enclosure. There’s also detailed step-by-step coverage how the professionals make a fibreglass kick panel speaker pod. Some more of these step-by-step guides would improve the book immensely.

Wiring, terminals and cables are covered in a dedicated chapter that provides useful advice and approaches to avoid interference and noise, matching cable gauge to power demand and suitable wire connections. The final chapter encapsulates everything learnt in previous chapters and follows the professional installation of two different types of sound systems – one ‘high dollar’ and one ‘best bang for your buck’. This is a photos-and-captions style chapter where the photos tell the story.

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How to Design and Install High-Performance Car Stereo is a well-written and detailed book for anyone new to the audio scene. Everything in the book is relevant and there are no sections where you’ll feel the need to skip pages. It shows its age in some areas and it falls short in giving you an overall direction for your system but, as intended, you will be suitably educated when you walk into your local car audio store.

How to Design and Install High-Performance Car Stereo can be purchased for AUD$44.95 (plus delivery) from Beven D. Young Automotive Books and Software.


Beven D. Young Automotive Books and Software +61 8 8298 5548

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