Car audio equalizers are great, if you know what they’re for and how to use them to your advantage.

Estimated read time: 7 minutes 39 seconds.  Want to read later?

Car stereo manufacturers often brag about their equalizer.  Plastered in bold lettering on the outside of the box you will see phrases like, “3 band parametric EQ” or “7 band pro audio equalizer” “advanced 13 band EQ”.

Are you wondering what difference an EQ can make?

Kenwood Excelon DNX9990HD Equalizer Menu
The 13 bands of equalization in the Kenwood DNX9990HD can turn your listening experience into a dream if you know how to use it or a nightmare if you haven’t a clue about what it can do.

I want to equalize the misbehaving sine (wave).

A lot of people assume if a stereo has an EQ than it must sound really good.  Not necessarily.  High quality sound reproduction still requires a high quality digital to analog convertor.  If you can start out with a good quality head unit that sounds good while listening with the EQ flat, then it can only sound better after correcting for imperfections in your listening environment.  If it sounds unpleasant without any EQ adjustments, consider checking things like phase on your speakers, crossover adjustments on any aftermarket components speakers (tweeter level), crossover settings on any aftermarket amplifiers or maybe even just the quality of the audio components you’re using.

I got a lot of flack from readers for comparing the Pioneer DEH-80PRS to Kenwood’s KDC-X996 while listening at flat.  I did this for a very good reason.  An equalizer is not there to improve the inherent sound quality, detail or ability of a stereo’s DAC to reproduce lively, natural sound (For those that don’t know, DAC stands for digital to analog convertor or what I like to refer to as “what takes the data on your CD or iPod and converts it to the audio that you hear”).

I’ll say that again because I’m sure I may have surprised or confused many readers out there.  An equalizer is not able to improve or enhance a receiver’s ability to reproduce audio in a more detailed or lively manner.  When properly adjusted, it can appear to sound as though it added more life and vibrancy, but in reality, you’ve simply corrected and accounted for imperfections created by the overall acoustic environment.  Basically the closer you can start to perfection, the easier it will be to get there.  So make sure you start with a head unit that sounds pretty darn good without tweaking anything.

Get your tools ready.  No tools?  An iPhone will work too.

Now that I got that out of the way, let’s talk about how you can properly use an EQ to improve and correct the sound in your car audio system.  Before you can begin tuning the audio system in your car, you will need a tool to measure the sound in your vehicle.  How can you correct or improve the sound it if you don’t know where the imperfections lie?  Although my husband John and I both have an excellent ear for music and can generally tune by ear much of the time (interestingly, we’re also both able to pick up and play instruments by ear as well), for perfection, you really have to measure what you’re attempting to correct.  And to measure and analyze sound, we use a few different tools.

One of which is a real time analyzer, also known as an RTA.  Years ago, an RTA was this big, bulky analyzer that we had to set up in a car with a mic stand positioned in the drivers seat.  Thanks to awesome technology, these tools are now easily accessible to anyone.  These days we can accomplish the same thing using an app on our iPhone.  I like to use one of two apps on my iPhone.  Both are made by Studio Six Digital.

JL Audio Tools is a free app which includes an RTA

JL Audio Tools is a free app which includes an RTA (Real Time Analyzer), SPL meter and speaker polarity testing (phase).  The more advanced Audio Tools app provides additional features such as signal generators, audio scope, delay finder and many more acoustical analysis tools.  Either app can be downloaded from iTunes.  Besides the app, you will need some pink noise.  I find the Audio Tools app to be more convenient because it comes with a built in pink noise generator.

Pink noise is equal output of a large range of frequencies, typically from around 20 hertz (slightly below human hearing) to 20,000 hertz (slightly above human hearing) and everything in between.  The equalizer on a car stereo represents a division of bands of these frequencies.  For example, a 3 band EQ may be referred to as representing Bass, Mid and Treble.  Bass may represent frequencies of 60 – 200 hertz, Mid may represent 400-2,500 hertz and treble may represent 8,000 – 15,000 hertz.  The more bands, the finer the division of frequency groups, meaning the greater control you have over correcting and tweaking imperfections.

Analyze this.

So let’s do a little analyzing.  Here is a screen shot of a real time analyzation of pink noise played through my iPhone.

RTA screenshot using JL Audio Tools for EQ tuning
RTA screenshot using JL Audio Tools for EQ tuning

Here is an ideal curve drawn by my lovely husband John who also used to be a judge for IASCA (International Auto Sound Competition Association).  Notice his rules, No more than 3 DB change in adjacent frequencies.  I’ll address that shortly.

Plotted ideal RTA Curve
Plotted ideal RTA Curve

So if I were to try and overlap a proper curve over our RTA analysis, it would look something like this:

Ideal curve overlapped over RTA
Ideal curve overlapped over RTA

Excuse the poor drawing.  I’m using Paint here, not the easiest thing to draw with.  Notice the dB increments on the RTA are in increments of 10 vs on John’s drawing he had increments of 3  .John pointed out that you don’t want more than a 3 dB difference between frequencies.  The larger the gap, the more displeasing the sound.  Listener’s fatigue occurs when there are large gaps between frequencies.  Your brain is actually trying to correct for any gaps or overages it’s hearing and it gets tired and irritated doing so.  To correct these gaps and overages, we can use our equalizer.

Okay, so how do we fix this?

So in this example, it’s safe to say we need to bring the bass down or almost equal to the mid range band.  If we have a 3 band EQ, that will adjust a range of frequencies equally (remember we said roughly 60-200 hertz?).  That won’t help with the large gap between 63 and 50 hertz or the even larger gap between 40 and 50 hertz.  So how do you correct this?  You need a larger range of individual frequency bands to adjust.  If you had a 31 band EQ, that would be no problem.  You could go to the exact frequency that is unbalanced and correct it.  A 13 band gives you a nice range of control as well.  A 3 band EQ is extremely limited.

If there are any external factors that can be adjusted to correct the problem, try tweaking those first.  Examples would be adjustments you could make on your aftermarket amplifier like gain, crossover or bass boost.  Other possible tweaking areas would be subwoofer placement or installing a sound deadening material like Dynamat.  After you’ve addressed any controllable external factors, see if the large gap still exists.  If it does, the only thing you can really do is this.  Adjust the center frequency of your bass, mid or treble that needs balancing, then make your bandwidth narrow, then make your level adjustment (Huh?).

If I lost you there, check out this example:

Suppose we were able to bring  the gap between 32 and 63 hertz to a reasonable level through adjusting gain and/or bass boost settings on our subwoofer amplifier.  Now we can lower our bass level and thus reduce the level of frequencies ranging from 32 to 200 hertz to about where they should be, slightly sloping down towards 200k.  Remember these level adjustments are done equally among the range of frequencies in that band.

Next we can adjust our mid range frequencies on our basic 3 band EQ.  Notice that 250k is at a much higher level than the other mid range frequencies in that mid range band.  How do we narrow in on the small gap that exists in such a wide band?  In the mid adjustment menu on our basic head unit there should be the option (hopefully, if you didn’t cheap out too much) to select the center frequency.  This is the frequency your adjustment range is centered on.

Our choices for center mid frequency usually range from 400 – 2500 on head units that have this option.  We can then select 400 hertz as that is the option closest to the frequency that needs adjusting.  Next we can select a narrower bandwidth.  This adjustment narrows the band of frequencies we’re adjusting when we actually boost or lower the mid level.  That means rather than boosting or lowering a wide range of mid frequencies equally (like a range of 400 – 2500 hertz) we’re centering our adjustment closer to the imperfection located at 250 hertz.  It’s far from perfect as it will also adjust 400 hz, but if we lower that narrowed mid adjustment slightly, we will be able to bring 250 hertz down to a slightly closer level of the other mid range frequencies.

Once we’ve brought that mid range frequency a little more into balance with the other mid range frequencies, we would want to lower the treble slightly to try to get as close as possible to the ideal curve.

That’s how you can tune with a very basic EQ and you can see how limited your control is for true correction.  When you actually have 13 or more bands to work with, you have much better control over correcting imperfections in the given acoustical environment.  EQ’s can allow you to remove large peaks and valleys between frequencies which can create harsh and unpleasant sound reproduction.  When used properly, they can correct and smooth out the overall tonal qualities of your car audio system.  When used improperly, they can make your hi fidelity components sound harsh, hollow, tinny or too bright.  So use your RTA and pink noise and set your EQ properly.  You will be rewarded with the sweet sound of perfection.

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  1. I know this is older post but I just now found it and have a question. I tried to find the answer in the article but didn’t see it so…

    What weighting did you use on the RTA?

    Excellent article by the way.

    • Great question and thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment. At the time I made this post, we were using the Audio Control SA-3050A RTA with the CM-10 microphone which I thought was an A-weighted microphone. The old Audio Control manual recommends using only the CM-10 mic or an AKG C460B/CK62-ULS condenser microphone. Nowadays we usually use our DM-RTA Pro kit from Audio Control which displays on a laptop. That comes with their CM-20 mic. I tried calling Audio Control to verify, but ever since AAMP took over I can never get in touch with anyone directly at Audio Control. I did get a response back to my email a day later and found out that all the Audio Control mics are Z-weighted so no filter! Thanks for the great question, I learned something new today.

  2. Annie,

    I am so pumped i found your website. I have a fleet of 15 vehicles that have never been audio engineered. I am so excited to use the tools, instructions, and knowledge you provided to see what I can do!

  3. Disclaimer: I’m french canadian, so excuse the poor english.

    Hi Annie, I just discovered this site tonight in my quest to find a good, simple solution to RTA tuning my car. Great infos. BTW, you’re the only woman I ever known that seems to get interests in car audio tuning! Well, my girlfriend really appréciated my old system in his car but she’s easily overwelmed by tuning.

    Anyway. I have a Pioneer DEX-99RS in active configuration to a set of Focal Utopia 165RC-W and JL Audio single 12W6v2 powered by two Alpine PDX amps. No rear fill. I tweaked my system for the last 5 months or so. Starting by time alignment, and the crucial network adjustements (crossovers and slopes). I tried numerous configuration and I now think I’m really close to the sweet spot (to my ears). But For peace of mind and definitely the fun of it (I love to tweak sound – and try different things like cables of different material in my home setup), I would now like to use a RTA because the Pioneer doesn’t show the curve after the auto-EQ. Please note that I adjusted TA and crossover/slopes manually). The Pionner have the ability to use my iPhone 6 plus as a transport. So I will get the Audiotools app and try to send pink noise to the system this way. My questions are: The Pioneer have a 31 bands EQ for left and right channels. You suggested to use them simultaneously in previous post (KISS). You don’t think it would be better do so separatly? Or is it better to simply match the level of the spakers with a SPL and do the RTA with both channels playing? I never played with a RTA before. Thanks for your help Annie.



    • Hi Steve,
      I would keep it simple and adjust them simultaneously and see where that gets you. If you feel it’s still not quite polished and perfec than you could try and EQ separately – to be quite honest, I have never tried that myself personally. Most of the audio processors we sell these days have that ability, but rarely do we find the need to use it. I hope that helps! Sounds like a nice set up by the way.

  4. Hi Annie
    My God Woman your a Sound Guru! I hope I came to the right place for help.:)

    Questions I have for you, lol. I have a Kenwood Exceleon with the 13 band EQ, Hertz speakers with crossovers a 5 channel amp and a JL Sub. I Cheaped out and did the install myself thinking that my old days of stereo install would come in handy, they did, but Now, HA HA, All the new software these HU’s have its mind boggling to try and get a decent sound. How the heck does a guy set up his gains on his amp and crossovers for the components and set the EQ and Sub Slope and REAR HF and….?, there’s been many a nights that I have searched the net trying to find one site that explains it all. Is there a certain order that things should be done? Totally lost and seeking the Guru’s light. :p

    • Hi Vaughan, I’m a fan of keeping things simple. Hopefully this gives you a good idea.

      1. If you’re going to use the crossover settings on the head unit (HPF and LPF) leave the crossover on your amp off. Not every amp has that feature, but just remember to use one or the other, not both. Typically we have our interiors set at 80 Hz HPF and sub at 80 Hz LPF. If you’re concerned about the tweeter level on the physical crossover between the mid range and tweeter, I would leave it at the lowest setting which is usually default and see how it sounds. Rarely do we ever need to boost the tweeter level on the physical crossover network between mid range and tweeter.

      2. Start with EQ set to flat as suggested in the article. Bass boost off. Loudness off.

      3. Settings gains – if doing it by ear, remember that the head unit’s pre-amp output usually will distort at about 75% – 80% of peak volume. So start with the gains on your amp all the way down and head unit at 75% of total volume, then slowly bring the gains up. If you hear distortion, back the gains back down. Then do the same thing for the sub channel until it’s nice and blended in sound and there is no distortion. JL Audio has a nice tutorial on how to properly set amp gains in all of their amplifier owner’s manuals.

  5. Great write up Annie

    Have 1 question – pink noise

    I downloaded the Audio Tools app but a bit confused (im a noob to this) how do you get the pink noise from the app to play through head unit? I currently have an iphone 6. Do i need to connect it to head unit via cable & play noise that way or can it be done via blue tooth?

    • Hi Nathan,
      I’m pretty sure you can Bluetooth it or use USB to connect to the stereo. I’m trying to remember, the last time I used it (also with an iPhone 6) was with a Sony head unit and I was either connected to USB using my Apple cable or I was connected using Bluetooth. I’m sorry I can’t remember!

  6. I need help. I have an ear for quality sound but can not seem to find the sweet spot m I have a Pioneer dxt2369ub Wal-Mart official. I have Pioneer 6×9 4 way speakers I’m the back dash and alpine 2 way 5x7s. 3 band eq. It’s my first car lol i I’m a beginner audiophile lol. I know about music production and my losses from my phone do to clutter ect. If you could hook a new guy up, that’s be great. And just out of curiosity, would upgrading my wire enhance sound?

    • Hi Harley – I would buy better speakers and a better head unit. Every manufacturer excels in one area or another. Pioneer makes great touch screen stereos, but they don’t make great speakers. Alpine makes great amplifiers, but not the best speakers. Cherry pick. I’d get a Sony head unit, something like the MEXGS610BT – Morel or JBL speakers and go from there. When you’re ready for an amp and sub consider an Alpine amp and JL Audio subwoofer. I hope that helps!

  7. Thanks for the very informative and detailed article, but I have some questions just to confirm my understanding.
    I am running a 2-way setup in my car. According to your article, what I have to do is to do that for every single channel and tweak the EQ settings individually?

    1. Play pink noise thru each channel
    2. Get the RTA curve
    3. Tweak the EQ settings to get the RTA curve close to the “ideal curve”
    4. Repeat individually for L/R tweeter, L/R mid bass

    Is that correct?
    By the way, I am using Audison Bit One in my set up.

    • Hi Roy – actually I’m sorry, we usually play the pink noise through all channels when we get the RTA curve! I know the Bit One does give you control over each individual channel, but it’s always better to err on the side of simplicity and fine tune the channels thereafter if one in particular needs level adjustments. I believe you can select all channels when tuning with that software. I hope that helps!

  8. Hi Annie,
    This is such great info thanks for taking the time and effort to share with everyone. I have one question about the app. Looks like the JL Audio Tools App is not available anymore? Can you recommend another great app that has everything the JL Audio Tool had… Pink noise etc…

    • Hi Todd,
      Sorry to hear that app is longer available. Yeah, check out AudioTools by Studio Six Digital. I believe that was the company that helped JL with their app in the first place.

      • Thanks Annie for the quick response! These app designers deserve to get paid but I have a feeling the app that is 20 bucks might be over my head? Or not, and might be totally worth it. Do you have any recommendations for a free app that works well like the JL Audio Tool you first mentioned? Thanks!!!

  9. Hey this was an awesome post and very helpful. I’m very particular when it comes to precise sound quality and it was frustrating trying to do it by ear without a graphic EQ especially. Having a reference guide for what the ideal curve should look like was tremendously helpful. Thank you!

  10. Hi can you suggest eq settings for sony car radio with 7 band settings?

    BAND1: 63 Hz

    BAND2: 160 Hz

    BAND3: 400 Hz

    BAND4: 1 kHz

    BAND5: 2.5 kHz

    BAND6: 6.3 kHz

    BAND7: 16.0 kHz

    Thanks 🙂

    • Wish I could, but without sitting in your car and listening to how it sounds I can’t recommend anything. Maybe try using an RTA app and pink noise so you can see where there is too much of one frequency and too little of another so you can properly adjust the EQ for your specific car and equipment.

  11. Annie,

    Great article. One thing that is paramount when using a phone or tablet as an RTA is using a calibrated microphone. A phone’s built-in mic is rarely anywhere close to being calibrated. With calibrated mics as inexpensive as $14 there’s no reason to not use one.

  12. Very informative and useful article. Bookmarked your site for further reading.
    Since myself still a newcomer in car audio, this site could gives me a lot of learning materials.
    Keep it up !

  13. Thank you so much, first time to find information on the internet that is accurate (as accurate as i remember from college) The winning piece is that i did not know about the apps (and they are available for android). I have a Sound Stream SE20 equalizer that has auto room correction built in, I used a car converter to power it in my car and run the analysis part and then plotted the graph. The only issue is the equalizer’s base curve is more balance for home auto with less ambient noise levels, still comes close but I would not be here if it was close enough. Now with my cell phone and my tablet I was able to spec each speaker, its placement value to include time delays errors, coloration’s, refraction and dead zones. I have a trunk load 31 band EQ and it is now perfectly dialed in…..Thank you so much, I was tried of lugging that EQ and all my tool to the car for another round of disappointment, now my SE20 is back in my audio rack where it belongs and I am now jamming to my MP3’s with less fatigue on my hearing, and more on enjoying….. Thank you…..

    • Thanks for the comment Robert, I’m so happy this article helped you!

  14. annie,

    I’d love to hear your opinion of the pre-set eq that head units come with (rock, jazz, country, etc, etc). are they all pretty much worthless? it seems to me that they all increase db of certain frequencies instead of decrease? can you clarify please, what volume should you play the pink noise through your system? is there a certain db level? also, once you set your custom eq based on the pink noise trying to get the rta to look like your husband’s drawing, is that always the best eq settings, or should you tweak slightly by ear from there for personal taste?

    • Hi Chad,
      I never use pre-set EQ’s or recommend customers use them, I think they’re pretty gimmicky. We typically have the volume pretty loud when we do the pink noise, basically at the level of volume you normally like to listen to your stereo. Once you get to that ideal RTA curve it’s not a bad idea at all to tweak slightly by ear based on personal taste. Everyone’s ears are different!

  15. Hi Annie,

    Thanks for The lessons in sound. I have just learned that I a sound junkie. I’m installing a new sound system in my car. I have a 7 band EQ but but my sound guy says a 3 way crossover is way better. I was of the opinion that you can achieve more with the 7EQ, if i’m reading well.

    Please educate me further.

    • Hey Eddie,
      I’m not sure what he’s referring to – those are two separate things. A 3 way crossover would imply you are using 3 way speakers. Like a 6.5″ mid bass, 3.5″ mid range and 1″ tweeter and the 3-way crossover would basic divide the full frequency range spectrum to the drivers best suited to play a specific range. Additionally that term sometimes refers to the options of running a front only system where you run your tweeters off the front RCA channels, mids off the rear RCA channels and subwoofer off the subwoofer RCA channels. Some heads units have an option for this and they refer to that as a 3 way crossover network. But either way they’re two separate things and you still need to make adjustments with the EQ after setting up your crossover network.

  16. WoW, love what you’re saying about the core sound of a stereo has to be good before considering the sound adjusting features. Some audio equipment can sound dull but be really enjoyable and musical, some can be crystal clear but slow and off beat and not fun to listen to at all.
    Once you’ve picked an enjoyable sounding head unit, then you can play with the x-over, filters, loudness and EQ.
    I try not to use the EQ, in a car stereo it’s so basic and electronic sounding. Great EQ cost big money. I’d rather have a slight EQ unbalance and enjoy the raw sound if it’s grooving.
    I’ve enjoyed a Kenwood BT61 for a few years now. I did try a Pioneer double din at one point but it was so lazy sounding. But you say they’re totally different now, that’s cool, i must look then at a Pioneer Apple Play model i guess.
    Big audio hugs from the UK

  17. I am not at all sure I know what all this means but I did add the following apps RTA Analyzer Audio scope and SPL meter. My question is as I sit in the car and play music with lets say the RTA Analyzer on I should try to match my car stereo EQ to what the RTA Analyzer is reading. Am I even in the ball park ? My Deck is a Pioneer AVH-X3600BHS with 4 door speaker Hertz DSK 1653,and the sub is a rockford fosgate P3 8″ hooked to a Alpine MRV-M250 amp only the sub is hooked to the amp I by passed the Tahoe’s amp for the door speakers to bring out more low’s and highs.

    • Hi Rachel – not quite, but close. When using the RTA you want to be playing pink noise through the stereo system. Then look at the RTA and see which frequencies are out of whack in comparison to the drawing I posted showing the ideal RTA curve. I hope that helps!

  18. Hi Annie

    Thank you for creating this site! I have learned more on here than I have from any other website

    My question to you is: I just purchased a 2015 Subaru Legacy. I thought I had checked out everything on the car until I turned on my music. I basically listen to everything and was shocked to see the new equalizer that Subaru has come up with. I cannot figure out a way to turn the bass down. No matter how I change the equalizer, the bass still vibrates my side mirrors like I have a subwoofer in the trunk of the car. PLEASE HELP! If I cannot get this figured out, I may get rid of the car because trying to jam out in the car is impossible unless I want my ear drums to blow.

    Thank you

    • Hi Brian,
      Thanks, I’m glad you enjoy the website! Which trim and stereo do you have? Is it a 4 speaker system, 6 speaker or one of the premium 7+ speaker systems? Do you have navigation? That’s bizarre. I have not run into that, but technically speaking you could put some bass blockers (crossover filters) in line to the speakers to really cut it out. Maybe take a picture of the head unit and email it to me, I haven’t messed around with one yet so might have to do some research.

  19. hi!

    thanks for your help for tuning my equalizer! one question! my kenwood hu has 13 band eq like in your photo but it has FRONT and BACK channels..i have to tune both separately by settings the fader all the way back and reverse?


    • Hi,
      Yeah, that’s how I would do that if it has the separate EQ for front and rear. It’s definitely more important to get right in the Front since that’s where you sit, but yeah, fade to the front EQ, then fade to the rear EQ, fade to the middle and judge the results and tweak as needed. Glad you enjoyed the article!

  20. hey there thankyou for all of your great knowledge it realy helped. I am new to all of this and im having and issue. i have a Kenwood KDC-MP205 head an Alpine V-power Mono MRP-M350 amp and my sub is a Pioneer TS-W302R 800w max_150W nom 4Q. i have no idea what any of that means lol. was working great could turn it up all the way and sounded great one day whie playing for a while my head went into protect mode ever since then i cant go above 25 volume ive tried messing with the gain and knobs on the back which hellped a ittle bit i even got a new batterie didnt help, ive checked my ground and i just cant figure it out help please

    • Hi Aaron
      Probably doesn’t have anything to do with the amp and sub, sounds like you’re causing the internal amp in the head unit to go into protect mode. Kenwood’s typically reach distortion right around 25 – 27 so if you’re playing it with distortion and causing the head unit to heat up, it can go into protect mode. Also if you have one bad interior speaker being powered off that head unit, that causes the head unit to see too little resistance and also go into protect mode. Check your speakers and check your ground for the stereo, the sub at that point is just receiving signal from the head unit through RCA and there’s really nothing it can do to cause the internal amp in the head unit to shut off. Good luck!

  21. Annie,

    I will be using the Alpine TuneIt app to to set the EQ on my iLX-007. I noticed there is a setting for Q (characteristic curve) at each adjustment point. The settings are 3, 4, or 5. Can you explain what this actually does?


    • Hi Terry,
      Haven’t had a chance to talk to Alpine tech, but after looking at the app and the adjustment you mentioned, that surely looks like it’s referring to Q factor which often refers to the width or overlap of the frequency you’re adjusting. In the app it says Q Characteristic Curve allows you to make adjustments to a narrow frequency range without affecting the adjacent frequencies. I assume 5 is the most narrow, 3 being normal.

      So for example, if you were adjusting 50 Hz – The next frequency up from that you can adjust is 160 Hz. So with a Q factor of 3, when you adjust 50 Hz, that also effects 60 Hz, 70 Hz, 80 Hz etc say up to 100 Hz. I think this is because in general, you don’t want to have a large gap between frequencies. So if you boost one, you want to slightly adjust the ones next to it so as not to cause a large gap. The next band you can adjust after 50 Hz is 160 Hz. The center frequency you are adjusting is 160 Hz, but likewise you are also adjusting the frequencies in between. Probably from 100 hZ to 200 Hz.

      The more narrow you make the Q factor, the more you are honing in on that center frequency. I think this is helpful if you can see a particular frequency on your RTA (while playing pink noise) that is just totally out of whack from the other frequencies. This way you can really narrow in on the frequency you need to adjust, rather than the range of frequencies that surround that center point.

      I hope that makes sense!

  22. Wow! I just found this site and it’s awesome. I recently purchased a used Pioneer Premier DEH-P960MP with all the bells and whistles. The sound is 10x’s better than the non-premier 5000UB I replaced. Initially I had some trouble adjusting the 13 band EQ, so I did do some research online and I am getting a better understanding of what an EQ and a parametric EQ can do.
    I was so satisfied with my Pioneer, I read online a few people liked the Kenwood Excelon series receivers, so I found one for <$75 on Ebay and took the plunge. Why not compare the two? The X990 is now in my gf's daughter's vehicle. At 16 she may not really embrace quality sound reproduction over sheer volume like I do, at least not yet. 🙂 The X990 also sounds awesome but did not have the 13 Band EQ. Instead this unit has the 4 Band Parametric EQ. She misses her Pioneer 3200DVD, but there really is no comparison. lol.
    Just wanted to say, Annie, you are on the money with your description between the two. Tonight, I messed with the Pioneer's BBE feature while playing Pearl Jam 's "LIVE On two legs" CD, Track 12. WOW!!!!!
    I will tell people about this site for sure!
    I'm going to run into the garage now and try tweaking the 250,2.5k, and 8K as you suggested and see what happens!

    • Thanks so much for the enthusiastic comments Frank 🙂 I’m so happy to hear you’re enjoying the website and having fun comparing decks and learning about EQ adjustments. I’m happy I could be a part of it. Rock on!

  23. It’s probably just the limitations of the factory speakers in this case. Aftermarket speakers and amplifiers would have more vibrancy and warmth to them. It’s okay to tune by ear as well, everybody’s ears are different. For example, I have difficulty hearing top end due to years of playing in bands so in my car I’ve boosted those frequency ranges I just can’t hear when tuned “properly”.

  24. You played the pink sound through your iphone? Im a lil confused. Shouldnt the steps be:
    1. Play the pink noise through your speakers at flat EQ
    2. Watch for extreme frequency gaps in the RTA
    3. Adjust EQ accordingly

    Sorry just a newbie here and im trying to understand what you wrote. Great and insightful post btw 🙂

    • Sorry for the super delayed response, but yes, didn’t mean for it to be confusing. I use the iPhone or iPod to play pink noise connected to the stereo, but you could use a CD as well.

  25. Hello Annie,

    I’m enjoying your blog, and appreciate your emphasis on genuine sound quality. I’m a home audiophile and audio system retailer, looking at putting together a fine sounding system in my new Subaru Outback. Because I’m finicky, I do my own install work, and the last install back in 1992 sounded excellent. MB Quarts were hot at the time, and I ran them with a clear-sounding Nakamichi amp I still have and will likely use again. An expert installer who once placed 5th nationally hear my system and told me it was the best application of MB Quart speakers he’d ever heard.

    I have a question about setting gain controls properly. In the past, I’d hooked up an oscilloscope to the head unit output, while playing a 0 bit level signal (can’t recall if it was full range or something like 1000Hz) speaker leads, and set the volume control to just under clipping. Then I’d connect the amplified speakers leads, and turned up the gain controls just before clipping was indicated.

    What seemed to be happening was that I was not reaching sound levels that I felt a 45 watt/channel amp should put out. I thought perhaps rather than set them not to clip at peak 0 bit levels, I should instead assume most recordings seldom peak at 0 bits, and some additional gain should be added. Do you have any suggestions, tips, thoughts, or simply wish to share your routine for properly setting gain controls to their optimized levels?

    Thank you!

    • Hi Jeff,
      So sorry for the late reply, but to be honest I usually do most of my tuning by ear at this point on the same premise, usually listening to the music that the customer uses and my own music that I am familiar with. Recording quality and distortion will vary depending on the source of music, the recording, the compression rate, etc. So if a customer leaves his iPod in his car, we’ll turn the volume up on the head unit just before distortion (usually 75-80 % of peak volume) and bring the gains on the amp up to a safe and pleasant listening level.

  26. Hello,

    Thank you for this article. To the point and very little jargon. Can you write the same type of article for configuring audio crossovers and setting slopes?


    • Hopefully I’ll have time soon to do so, good subject, thanks for the comment.

  27. So what if you don’t own an iPhone, or iPad? I loath cell/smart phones as I think they have turned people into introverts always looking down. Is there another option in figuring out our proper EQ settings?

    • Yeah, sure there is, get yourself a $1300 Audio Control RTA the SA3052.

  28. Great post. I do have one very important note. The SPL should be set before starting to tune the system. Post production mix stages are set a 85 db and I think 78 is the standard for home theater tuning. I don’t know what the standard is for car audio. I would start with 78db. The first step in the tuning process would be to use the pink noise to set the SPL of each speaker to the correct level using the gain on amps and the head unit before using the RTA to adjust EQ. In an ideal situation you would then be able to tune each individual speaker with it own EQ and gain, but that is probably no possible in most situations. It may not be possible to adjust each individual speaker with most systems, but you can use the fader and balance controls to test each speaker to see if there is any difference between them. If there is a difference of a db or so then you should try to use the balance and fader to adjust. If there is an difference of more than 1db then there may be a technical problem. Adjusting front and rear levels can be done with either the fader setting or the gain adjustments on an external amps. Once that is set up then use the RTA to adjust EQ. One more thing to keep in mind. I would guess that each source input probably has a different EQ curve depending on the converters and data compression, so that could make you crazy. If you are using an iPhone to play pink noise then the pink noise is only as good as the iphone and app. But, if you use the iphone as a music source then that may be a great way to tune your system. Anyway hope some of that is helpful.

  29. Annie,

    Great site! I’m a little shaky on how to the use the JL audio tools app. I yanked out my old head unit which was iPhone capable (I don’t plan on putting that piece of trash with “Imprint” back in) and threw in an old unit from the mid 90’s to do some sound quality comparisons. I can’t hook up my ipod to the old HU, so I’m guessing that as long as I can get the pink noise audio to bounce around in my cabin and get picked up by an iphone mic, then I’m in business. Is this assumption correct? I was planning on hooking the iphone headphone out jack directly to my amps via an 1/8 inch to RCA adapter, that way I can see what my curve in the cabin looks like and plan on purchasing a new HU with enough EQ bands to compensate. If I’m off base on this, please set me straight.


    • Hi Jimi,
      I think you’ve got it right. There are audio cd’s you can buy to test things like phase and frequency levels with pink noise. Pretty sure IASCA has one. You would just play that in the cd player and use your iPhone to RTA either using the internal mic or an external mic. Try to keep the mic around where your head is either way.

      Unless you also plan on playing your iPod through your amp as your source unit all the time, I wouldn’t run it through the RCA jacks of the amp – especially using the 1/8″ stereo headphone jack to RCA adapter which will utilize the iPhone’s internal headphone jack amplifier in the process.

      If you like the idea of using an iPod/iPhone as your source and are disenchanted by the head units/sound quality these days, consider buying an iStreamer and connecting THAT to your iPhone and amplifier. That’s what I have in my Honda Element and it’s sublime. It’s a high quality digital to analog convertor for the ipod and goes straight to RCA for pre-amp level connection.

  30. Hi
    I purchased a Toyota Blade & I really haven’t a clue on how to set the EQ’s on the stereo. A lot of that on your site goes way over my head. It has EQ1 to EQ13, how do I know which is the bass (as I feel that’s what needs to be changed as voices are muffled) or would it be better just to set everything as per your diagram on site.

    • Hi Lois,
      Great question, but it would not be a good idea to match your equalizer settings to an RTA curve. Usually the factory tunes it speakers and electronics to be bass heavy and also safe as to not blow the cheaper factory speakers. If you are experiencing muffled voices, that tells me that is exactly what Toyota did in your case. The 13 bands of your equalizer represent bass, mid range and treble broken into 13 basic frequencies with bass being represented in the 50hz to 500hz range. The midrange is the 500hz-5000hz range and the treble is 5000hz all the way to 20000hz. The usual problem areas in the car are 250hz 2500hz and 8000hz. Just think of your 13 band E.Q. as bass midrange and treble with 4 sliders of each. The lower sliders are bass the middle sliders are mid range and the upper 4 effect treble. Try lowering 250hz or close to by a couple of notches also try lowering 2500hz and 8000hz a couple of notches as well. Remember to adjust just a little at a time and listen to different types of music. I hope this helps you a little. One more thing, it is always better to lower then it is to raise the levels.

  31. Hi Annie,

    I ended up going with the Kenwood KDC-BT952HD. I got Hybrid Technologies components up front, ARC Audio 10″ in the trunk, and a Kenwood Excelon 5 channel amp. Right now the bass sounds amazing and is actually too overpowering. The components sound flat and lack life. I’m going to really try to learn how to adjust the eq and hopefully I can get the sound good.

    • Good luck Stephen! Also be sure to adjust the gains on your amp to achieve a blended sound (if so desired).

  32. Great post Annie, I really love what you are doing with your blog. A lot of tuning can be done prior to EQ adjustments by adjusting crossover points and slopes too.

    • Thanks Tony! I appreciate the compliments and the tips. Let me know if you’d be interested in writing a guest post!

  33. Totally. I couldn’t believe how much some frequencies had to be turned down. Some all the way. I thought I had the unit dialed in pretty well, but it was always a bit boomy and muddy. Not anymore. I do find using the RTA with the mic on an iPad more accurate than on an iPhone. Very cool and thanks again. The apps were there all along. Who knew?!

  34. Great post! It sounds like the more eq bands the better. I have been looking for a radio and they range from a Sony with 7 bands for $170, JVC with 5 bands for $250, and Kenwood with 7 bands for $280. How do I know which has a better DAC? How do I define the balance between eq bands and DAC?


    • Hi Stephen,
      To really compare the quality of the DAC you gotta listen to them. You’d want to find a shop willing to spend the time with you that carries the 3 decks (or at least two and compare what you can). Have them demo them with their EQ’s flat (bass boost off, etc) and just compare them listening to the same track on each deck (same speakers, etc). Whatever sounds more natural and accurate without manipulation has the better DAC.

      The more bands, the better equipped you’ll be to deal with and correct inaccuracies created by the cabin environment, but you still want to start with the cleanest sounding DAC either way. Personally, I’ve found the Kenwood Excelon’s to have the best DAC and GREAT equalization controls. Sony was awesome about 10 years ago when they used to have their Sony Mobile ES line, but I haven’t seen/heard them come out with anything close to that. And JVC is actually partnered with Kenwood. I don’t carry their products, but I imagine their Arsenal line is similar to Kenwood’s Excelon line, but I have not heard them side by side. If you get a chance to, let me know what you think!

  35. Epic Post!

    Annie, thanks for that. I have my Kenwood dialed in just about perfectly now. The RTA’s and the curve are great tools. To be honest, I was getting a little disappointed with the sound of my unit and new speakers, but now the sound is stunning. Thanks a bunch. Love the site and the wealth of great info.

    • Thanks Steve! I’m so happy the post and site have been helpful to you. Isn’t using the RTA and pink noise cool? It shows how little we can really tell when trying to tune by ear. Sometimes I use it after tuning by ear and I’ll go through it saying to myself, “for real? I really need to turn that frequency down that much???” and I just go through and do it and I’m also usually pretty impressed by the outcome. Spread the knowledge 🙂

      • Annie, I have a Jeep JK with a roll cage, so I had to sacrifice the stock 6,5 components and swap to a 4.5 to allow the cage to go through the dash to the floor.

        I am running morel 402 Components in the front stock locations, a set of morel 602 components in the sound bar. And a set of DSL 6.5 coax’ sin a can fix to the roll cage just behind the rear passengers ears, I am also running the JL 13.5 mono in the back which was made for the JKU.

        I am running the Pioneer 400 Nex, with 2 Alpine PDX-V9’s and a Alpine PXA H800.

        Any advice on how to set up this system as far as wiring the RCA’s and tuning would be grately appreciated.

        Thanks in advance.jose

    • I second that Steve!!! Great post Annie!!! I haven’t had a car audio system in almost 10 years and am now currently building a whopper. The head unit I purchased has a 9 band parametric EQ and I was completely lost, the head units I’ve owned in the past didn’t come close to the complexity of the Alpine I purchased. It has time control also. I now can’t wait for morning so I can start tinkering with it. I’m also going to download both apps to my iPhone. Thank you so much Annie. Keep up the great work!!!

      • Thanks Sean, glad I could help!

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