How to Wire Component Car Speakers
By David Lipscomb
Component car speakers differ from coaxial speakers in a few significant ways. From the separate tweeter to the upgraded crossover, component speakers mimic high-end home audio bookshelf speakers. Wiring these speakers into your vehicle offers an instant sonic upgrade over existing factory units, offering superior imaging, bass response and longevity.
Component speakers are normally placed at the top of any car audio manufacturer's line. Offering increased placement flexibility over conventional coaxial units, component speakers anchor the front soundstage of any serious car audio system. Larger crossovers that divide the audio signal to the woofer and tweeter have superior internal components, capable of higher resolution sound and aiding in handling high power output from amplifiers. Component speakers sometimes come in three-way designs, offering a separate woofer, midrange and tweeter for true audiophile performance.
Although nearly all component speakers comfortably run off head unit power, they are typically better served powered off a standalone amplifier. The increased power offers more control over the woofer and tweeter, providing clean crisp sound. Additionally, since larger crossovers tend to be parasitic, the more power available, the more gets to the individual drivers in the system. As with any audio system, more power provides better sound at higher volumes, since low power amplifiers such as those found in in-dash stereos quickly become taxed.
Installing component speakers is not completely different from installing any other type. You need wire strippers and crimpers, screwdrivers of various types and a panel popper tool to remove door panels. A good idea is to source a vehicle schematic from the manufacturer's website or one of the many car audio installation-centric websites to determine the location of the various screws and clips holding on the door panel. You also need speaker wire to connect the crossover to the woofer and tweeter as well as female spade connectors to attach to the individual drivers.
Locate the individual screws and clips holding on each door panel. Use your suite of screwdrivers to remove each screw connecting the panel to the sheet metal. Common screwdriver types needed for this task are Phillips, Allen and Torx. Slide the panel popper's opening around the clips or pins retaining the panel and then squeeze the handles to free them. Carefully remove the panel, looking for any connected wire harnesses for curb lights, windows and locks. Unsnap these by hand and lay the panel aside. Unscrew the factory speaker and pull off the wire clip connecting it to the radio.
Cut a length of speaker wire long enough to reach from the amplifier to the crossover mounting location. Good spots include placement under the dash or behind the door panel on top of the weather barrier. Strip 1/2 inch of insulation from both conductors at each end of the wire, screwing one end under the positive and negative speaker wire terminals for the amplifier channel corresponding to the side of the vehicle you're wiring. Note that one conductor of the wire has printing or a molded ridge, while one is plain and smooth. Reference the printed side as your "positive" conductor, with the other side as "negative." Use this pattern throughout the installation to ensure proper polarity. Feed the wire to the door inside the wire channel under the door sill plates in the vehicle to the crossover's mounting location. Loosen the "In" terminals on the crossover and slide the bare wire underneath. Tighten the terminals back down.
Unscrew the "W+" and "W-" terminals on the crossover feeding the woofer outputs. Cut another length of speaker wire long enough to reach from the crossover to the back of the woofer. Slide both conductors of the wire into the two crossover terminals and then tighten them back down. Feed the speaker end of the wire through the boot housing the wires for the door locks and windows, pushing the wire though until you can reach through the speaker opening and retrieve it. Crimp on a set of spade connectors. Slide these onto the back of the matching terminals on the woofer. Screw the woofer into the speaker opening, using the screws that originally held the factory speaker in place. If the factory speaker had a spacer for window clearance, slide that over the back of the speaker first.
Connecting the Tweeter
Loosen the "T+" and "T-" terminals on the crossover. Cut a length of speaker wire long enough to reach to the factory tweeter mounting spot, typically behind the A-pillar. Pull off the A-pillar trim using the panel popper, revealing the factory tweeter and wiring. Carefully disconnect the wire from the tweeter and then unscrew the mount holding the tweeter in place. Snap the new tweeter in place, or secure it using a few dabs of hot glue. Crimp on a set of female crimp spade connectors that fit the tweeter terminals to both conductors at one end of the new speaker wire. Slide these onto the tweeter terminals. Drop the tweeter wire to the crossover's mounting spot and then slip that end of the speaker wire into the tweeter output terminals. Tighten these down and replace all panels. Repeat the process for the other woofer, tweeter and crossover.
Testing and Troubleshooting
After everything is wired up, turn on the system and check for sound. Adjust the balance from left to right, making sure the sound follows your settings. If not, double-check the polarity of the RCAs at the amplifier. Turn the system off and swap their locations on the amp if needed. If the volume is too low, turn the radio up to three-quarter volume and then adjust the gain at the amp until you hear distortion. Gradually turn the gain down until the distortion disappears.
David Lipscomb is a professional writer and public relations practitioner. Lipscomb brings more than a decade of experience in the consumer electronics and advertising industries. Lipscomb holds a degree in public relations from Webster University.