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What are factory sound processors?

Upgrade your sound and keep your factory stereo

Kicker Front Row

Kicker's Front Row puts your music where it should be — right up in front of you

Factory car stereos are getting more and more complicated, as car manufacturers move away from standard-sized receivers to complicated, integrated designs. Often they are tied into a navigation system, climate controls, or other electronic functions, which make swapping them out for aftermarket stereos difficult or even impossible. The problem is, its sound might not be up to your lofty standards.

Replacing the factory speakers is a great way to start. You might also choose to add an amplifier or subwoofer — or both. All of these things, done together or on their own, will improve your factory stereo's sound. But there will always be something holding you back, and it's built right into the stereo.

Factory stereos have built-in sound shaping

Your factory stereo uses preset equalization designed to make cheap factory speakers sound better, meaning that it automatically adjusts the different frequencies, creating audio "peaks and valleys" which can degrade sound quality. It is particularly noticeable when you add amplifiers, speakers and subwoofers to your setup, as any deficits in the sound are literally amplified.

Most factory stereos also limit the bass output as volume increases in an attempt to protect the speakers. The trouble is, even if you upgrade your speakers and install an amp and subwoofer, the bass output is still limited by your factory stereo. This throws your system out of balance and makes the bass sound muddy and weak.

How can I overcome the factory processing?

Fortunately, there's an easy cure. You can install a sound processor, which strips away the sound-shaping limitations enforced by your factory stereo and sends a clean signal to your external amplifiers. The amps send the signal to your speakers and subs. Your reward will be resonant lows, sparkling highs, and a realistic sense of space and depth.

Are these sound processors complicated to install?

Installation generally isn't too difficult — these processors connect to your stereo using your vehicle's speaker wires, and then to your amps and subs. You'll be able to keep the look and controls of your factory stereo, but expand your system for serious sound.

Sound processor system diagram
  • A sound processor connects to your factory stereo through the stereo's speaker wires.
  • The processor removes the factory sound-shaping, so the signal is clean.
  • The signal is sent to your external amplifier(s). The amps power your front and rear speakers, and subwoofers.

Choosing the right sound processor

We carry a handfull of different factory sound processors, each with slightly different capabilities. Generally speaking, they range from "easy to use" to "seriously intense". Here are some examples:

JL Audio FiX 82 sound processor

JL Audio FiX 82 sound processor

Processors like the JL Audio FiX™ only require you to connect them to your factory stereo and aftermarket amplifier, then they do all the sound shaping for you. No hassles or tweaking needed — easy in, easy out.

Audio Control LC6i

Audio Control LC6i sound processor

For a more traditional approach, check out AudioControl's line of factory sound processors. They clean up the sound and give you manual control of the output for your amps. They're a particularly good choice if you have a premium factory stereo system. They can convert the amplified signal from premium factory systems so you can add your own amps and subs. AudioControl's line drivers can send a clean, 9.5-volt signal to an aftermarket amp, giving you clean sound. All their processors have highly customizable configurations.

Rockford Fosgate 3Sixty.3 signal processor

Rockford Fosgate 3Sixty.3 signal processor

At the other end of the spectrum are processors like the Rockford Fosgate 3Sixty.3. Once you've installed it in your system, run a USB cable to your laptop and and you can not only flatten the factory stereo's processing, but you can also use a 31-band equalizer to adjust the sound to your heart's content. The 3Sixty.3 is a hardcore sound-shaping toolbox for the serious sound tweaker.

Rockford Fosgate 3Sixty.3 control screen

From your laptop, the 3Sixty.3 lets you control every aspect of your sound system.

Keep the look, love the sound

For some car owners, radio replacement isn't a thing they can't do; it's a thing they don't want to do. And that's okay. With a sound processor, you don't have to put up with a lousy stereo just because you genuinely like the look of your car's interior or some of the infotainment functions. If you've tired of settling, give us a call and let us help you find a sound processor that's right for you and your car.

  • John W. from Kent

    Posted on 2/24/2022

    I have an 2021 Kia K5 GT-Line and replaced all door speakers (4) and Installed 2 12in KIcker. I dont have Bose and sound is cutting out at higher volume from radio protecting speakers. Which sound processor do you recommend to stop the radio from protecting speakers and keep sound constant.

    Commenter image

    Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    on 2/25/2022

    John, I'm not sure how your radio cuts out to protect speakers, but if you can't get enough volume out of your system, an amplifier upgrade will do the most good. Give us a call so an Advisor can help you get what you need.
  • charles Jason Coale from Ocean City

    Posted on 9/13/2021

    So, just like the friend of the last post author, I too have an Altima Coupe with Bose w/o navigation. I've got an AC LC2i to drive bass then a front stage amp in the near future, utilizing both outputs of the LOC. With one input on the LC2i I need to feed it a full range signal before the factory Bose amp to allow it to do its thing and put out both signals.. Question is, where can I get the full range signal for the LC2i ? Behind the radio, before the Bose amp the door? All signals at the 4 corners are factory components.

    Commenter image

    Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    on 9/15/2021

    Charles, Without knowing what model year your vehicle is, we can't tell you where to get full-range signals for your aftermarket system. You could use an RTA to visualize the frequency response of each channel to identify the right signal sources to use for your amps.
  • Ray from Denver, CO.

    Posted on 7/14/2021

    I've added a monoblock amplifier and 2 subwoofers in a ported dual woofer enclosure to my 2013 Nissan Rogue with the Bose premium sound system by simply soldering a single RCA jack across the existing factory signal wires that go from the main amp wiring connector to the small secondary amp that's inside the enclosure that's attached to the spare wheel in the rear cargo well. My old amp was a Kicker DX250.1 which had a high/low level input switch. The switch didn't seem to make much of a difference but I think it sounded a bit better when it was set to the high setting. The amp always ran hot and I engaged the thermal protection circuit a few times when driving it hard for extended periods of over an hour or so, but I was driving a pretty serious 2 ohm load with it to a single 4ohm DVC. Now I have upgraded to 2 of those drivers and an Orion 600 watt amp at a 1 ohm load(1.3 actually). It sounds pretty good and has good bass and the amp runs quite a bit less hot and I've driven it pretty hard (max volume on the factory Bose) for extended periods of time without tripping any thermal protection circuits however the Orion amp doesn't have any option for speaker level inputs nor does it have a switch for high/low level input. All it says in the documentation is max input 5volts. But after reading this because a friend wants me to bass out his Altima coupe I'm curious to know if a sound processor would benefit my Rogue. I left the Bose intact and intend to cuz it sounds good.

    Commenter image

    Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    on 7/15/2021

    Ray, If you like the way your speakers sound, there is absolutely no reason for you to add a processor - which basically is used to improve the sound quality of a system.
  • Joel from Moses Lake

    Posted on 6/8/2021

    I have a car with a Harmon Kardon factory system. At this point, I've disconnected the factory "subwoofer" I use parentheses because it's just a 6x9. Anyway, I have a low-end sub connected to that output signal. It helps by adding some low-end bass, but definitely need more power. My question is whether I could connect a 2-channel line converter to that subwoofer output by essentially bridging the connection? Or, would I need to use the rear output signals to have a true left / right connection for the line converter?

    Commenter image

    Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    on 6/9/2021

    Joel, You really don't need a line output converter in your situation. You could install a powered sub or subwoofer amplifier that has speaker-level inputs and use the factory subwoofer wiring for inputs.
  • Jesse Blewer from Summerville

    Posted on 4/16/2021

    I have a 2008 GMC Sierra Crew Cab. I don't have the factory radio installed anymore. I installed a pioneer radio. I'm looking to update my system I don't have Bose (front door speakers, back door speakers, pillar speaker). I already have a 10" Kicker under the passenger back seat that runs off of a Kicker CXA300.1 and a Kicker CX360.4 that runs the door speakers and the pillars tweeters. I want great sound, crisp sound, loud enough to feel it. Would like to install a Digital Sound Processor. Please let me know how to achieve this on my 2008 GMC Sierra. Thanks in advance for all your help in this matter. Thanks, Jesse Blewer [email address removed]

    Commenter image

    Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    on 4/19/2021

    Jesse, With a system like yours, it's best to talk to someone who knows the options. Give us a call, so an Advisor can help you pick the right DSP for you.
  • Jarad Colefield from Bohemia,NY

    Posted on 3/13/2021

    I have an issue with a 2019 Mercedes sprinter with t a 7" MBUX radio i found out im pretty much stuck with, It only uses 3 speakers and sounds disgusting. most of the highs n mids run through a single center channel speaker while part of the mids and low ranges are in 2 speakers in the doors, My question is can any of these modules take the 3 channels i have and reprocess them into 4 speakers and a subwoofer output. I am really lost and disgusted that Mercedes wouldt go back to 1960's era single speaker in the dash setup and would appreciate any help

    Commenter image

    Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    on 4/1/2021

    Jarad, With questions like this, it's always better to have a conversation with a real live human. Give us a call and talk to one of our Advisors. We can help you choose the right gear and give you the right advice on how to install it.
  • Reza from Bushehr

    Posted on 11/21/2020

    Hi i can install dsp without amplifier

    Commenter image

    Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    on 12/6/2020

    Reza, Speakers and subs need some sort of amplifier to work.
  • Jackie Cerich from San Juan PR

    Posted on 7/8/2020

    2010 Honda Accord LX upgrading speakers (Focal), adding subwoofer (Rockford P12D4) and two amplifiers (Rockford Prime) with factory radio. What sound processor is recommended. How many channels?

    Commenter image

    Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    on 7/10/2020

    Jackie, Knowing how many channels you'll need depends on the trim of your car and how many speakers it has. Give us a call so an Advisor can help you choose the gear that'll work best for you and fit in your vehicle.
  • Jeremiah from Ramona

    Posted on 6/15/2020

    I have a 2016 nissan rogue and I'm installing 2 rockford fosgate p2d4 10s with an amplifier. I'm only using the amp for the woofers and I am leaving the factory speakers connected to the factory oem radio. Do I need a sound processor?

    Commenter image

    Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    on 6/15/2020

    Jeremiah, If you're just adding subs, there's no real need for a processor.
  • George Whalen from Cambridge, On

    Posted on 6/1/2020

    Great article with great advise. I have a 2020 Kia Sportage EX teck package. It has a Harman/Kardon premium audio system in it. It still sounds bad. I love my music and want to upgrade. What would you recommend. Thanks George

    Commenter image

    Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    on 6/3/2020

    George, I recommend you call us and talk with an Advisor who can help you get the best sounding equipment that will fit in your vehicle.

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