Listening to music in your car can be a different experience than listening at home. You may think that music sounds a lot better coming from your car’s speakers than your home audio setup, and there can actually be a few reasons why that is.
Your car speakers may sound so good because of the speakers’ design, psychological factors, and because your car sound system sounds better than the setup you have at home.
In this article, I will discuss these reasons in more detail. Furthermore, I will explain why your car speakers might not produce a sound quality that’s as great as you think!
Reasons Why Music in Cars Can Sound So Great
So, how do a car’s speakers manage to sound so good? What is it about their design? And how might emotions play into the experience?
Car Speakers Are Designed With the (Enclosed) Space in Mind
Designers of car speaker systems have an advantage over those designing systems for at-home listening.
Namely, car audio designers know the exact dimensions of the space they will work with.
Knowing the size and shape of the internal space within an automobile allows designers to craft their speakers to enhance the acoustics based on the car’s dimensions.
Acoustics are affected by the size and shape of the space in which they are heard.
Other objects in the area can also create distortion, echoes, and white noise. For example, concert halls, theaters, and auditoriums have a structural design specifically for enhancing acoustics.
On the other hand, home audio systems can be placed anywhere (inside or even outside). That means that the designers cannot tailor the product to suit a carefully measured space.
Manufacturers of home audio system don’t know where you will set up your audio system, what else will be in the same room, etc.
How sound waves interact with and bounce off materials in your home can alter the quality of what ends up in your ears. Thus, depending on where and how you’ve set up your home audio, it may not sound as good as it could.
Additionally, the car is a small, enclosed space so your music can attain loud volumes. A trunk or boot (with speakers in it) can act as a type of resonant chamber, allowing the bass to sound full, vibrant, and deep.
Although there is variability between different stereos, most car audio speakers resemble a boom box. However, loud and boomy does not necessarily equate to Hi-Fi (high fidelity).
Related article: Why Do Car Speakers Have So Much Bass?
Psychology Can Affect How You Focus on Your Car’s Music
One could argue that a large part of why you perceive your car speakers as sounding so great is down to psychological factors.
In some cases, it can be entirely psychological. The feeling of driving (casually cruising, winding around hilly roads, speeding, etc.) and viewing lovely scenery while listening to well-suited music can cause you to think your car audio sounds better.
There is an emotional element to the experience. The music in your car can help transport you to another place (pun intended). Essentially, the music enhances the experience for you, so you perceive it as sounding great in your car.
In this Pitchfork article, the neuroscientist Dean Burnett speculates about why music sounds so good in your car, especially when you’re driving fast.
According to Burnett, your brain enjoys music that enhances its auditory centers.
When that happens, your memory gets stronger, and you are likely to develop more powerful emotions.
In addition, a lot is going on in a car. It’s exciting to listen to music in new places– just like it’s exciting when your favorite song comes on over the loudspeakers at a dancing venue, bar, or store. You could have heard the same song a thousand times before– it just sounds different when you are out in the “wild.”
When you recognize something familiar in an unfamiliar place, that’s when new memories are made, making it highly pleasurable to listen to music while you’re on the road seeing new things, people, and places.
Why else might music sound great in the car? Some other theories suggested by music experts are:
- Excitation displacement. Excitation displacement occurs because you are moving swiftly in your car, which is exciting in itself. When you pair music to your speed, it’s easy to feel like you’re driving to the music, much like when you are dancing.
- Sensory integration. Alertness is crucial when driving. Your eyes, ears, and hands are all engaged, and your brain is focused on what will happen next as you travel at high speeds. Adding more sound to the mix can give you more focus on the music than you’ve ever had before, making it sound new and different.
All these emotional and psychological factors may significantly enhance your perception of how good your car’s speakers sound.
Car Stereos Can Sound Great Compared to Your Home Audio System
If your car stereo sounds great in your opinion, what are you comparing it with?
As mentioned above, there are specific reasons why a car stereo can sound better than your home setup. The designers can craft an audio system to suit the attributes of an enclosed car. Furthermore, setting up a home system to sound optimal can take time and effort.
For example, to get the most out of your home audio setup, you need to take into consideration the following:
- What is the best location for your home audio system? You need to figure out where, how, and why this is the best location for acoustics.
- What speakers will be best for the space you are in?
- How will you power your speakers?
- Can you fine-tune your home audio system, or is it all pre-set?
Many people do not have the time to do these things. And the emotional factors mentioned earlier also need to be factored in. If you took away the psychological aspects of driving with music, would your car stereo be more comparable to your home stereo?
If you have a relatively poor audio setup at home but a great audio system in your car, you will naturally think the car stereo sounds more appealing.
However, if someone purchases a higher-end sound system for their home and the listening room gets an acoustic treatment, this could result in the car audio not sounding as great.
Reasons Car Speakers May Not Sound as Good as You Think
It could be true that your car speakers may not be as excellent as you imagine!
Here are some reasons:
- The music’s timing may be affected by the positioning of the speakers. Some speakers are in front of you, some are behind, some are down near your feet, etc.
- You are never (or rarely) positioned in the center of the speakers. Your driving position makes it challenging to get the sound stage to sound right.
- The windows reflect sound while the cloth covering absorbs sound.
- The dashboard creates dips and peaks.
- The seats cause a change in frequency.
- The carpets suppress mid-frequencies.
- The environment creates auditory masking (ambient background noise, like white noise).
- You likely have other passengers in the car.
All these factors influence the quality of your car’s audio.
Music can sound amazing in cars. Designers can factor in optimizing sound quality in the small, enclosed space of an automobile. They can tailor sound systems to enhance, as much as possible, the experience of listening to music within the limitations of the vehicle’s space.
Depending on how your home audio sounds, you may think that your car’s stereo sounds great in comparison.
But it is probably true that much of why music sounds great in the car boils down to emotional factors. Music enhances our experience while driving and vice versa.
At the end of the day, if you love listening to music, it doesn’t matter if it’s in the car or at home as long as it sounds good to you.
Still, whether your car’s speakers are high-quality or your brain loves to hear music while you’re cruising, car speakers can sound fantastic.