Beautiful truck with a sub par stock stereo

This week in the shop we performed a complete stereo upgrade in a client’s 2021 Ford F-150. This client’s truck came equipped with the factory “premium” stereo which features a gorgeous 12″ infotainment screen and Bang & Olufsen stereo system.

2021 Ford F-150 stereo upgrade - 12" Infotainment with B & O stereo
2021 Ford F-150 stereo upgrade – 12″ Infotainment with B&O stereo

Nearly everything about this truck is absolutely stunning. Ford did a phenomenal job with the overall design and functionality. The detailed cabin touches manage to exude luxury and practicality at the same time which is not an easy feat to pull off.

2021 F-150 Stereo Upgrade – Tailgate illumination

One of my favorite features about the truck is the bed. From the super bright light by the reverse camera, to the built-in phone holder, convenient inlaid ruler and discreet bottle opener – the back of this truck is like a swiss army knife on steroids. Yet, despite all of it’s luxuries, the B&O stereo still leaves much to be desired.

How to upgrade the stereo in your 2021 F-150 without looking like you upgraded the stereo

When our client reached out to us about upgrading the sound, I immediately thought of using a pre-amp adapter – either from PAC Audio, NAV-TV, Maestro or Mobridge. Pre-amp adapters are a growing category of parts that enable us to install complete aftermarket audio systems that are integrated with factory infotainment systems. We can install aftermarket amps, speakers and subs, without sacrificing sound quality through a line output converter.

Most newer vehicles are equipped with the kind of radio that you realy can’t just replace even if you wanted to. But look at that screen, why would you want to change that? The radio is essentially part of the computer network in the vehicle.

Digital Pre-amp adapter

This is how it works – there is a digital signal coming from the factory radio. You plug in your smart phone. It reads the data and sends all that data as one’s and zero’s to the stock amp. At that stock amp is where the sound is actually converted from digital to analog. It’s then fed to the stock speakers.

Ford F-150 stereo upgrade - B&O has got to go
Ford F-150 stereo upgrade – B&O has got to go

And that stock amp is unlike any typical aftermarket amplifier. It has numerous channels on it to power each individual speaker. Each channel has a very specific frequency range designated for its corresponding speaker. If you wanted to tack on an amp after it, you’d first have to sum all of the frequencies and then use a DSP to clean up the signal. Even still, you’d be double processing at that point which is far from ideal.

What’s the weak link?

That stock amp is the weak link in the chain. So how do you bypass it? A pre-amp adapter can interrupt that signal from the factory radio while it’s still digital, before it’s been processed by the stock amp. By interrupting it before it’s been processed, it takes that digital signal and converts it into a clean RCA pre-amp output that can then be fed to aftermarket amps and speakers. The end result is an aftermarket stereo that integrates with the OEM operating system and by all appearances retains the stock esthetics. All warning chimes, vehicle information and audio controls are retained seamlessly. In this application the stock amp is removed completely and the pre-amp adapter and aftermarket amps take its place.

NAV TV – NTV-KIT889 ZEN A2B

Quality components

Initially, I wanted to use the Mobridge Pro A2B because it offers some additional fine tune control. Unfortunately we experienced a few compatibility issues with that module in this car. For this particular install we used the Nav-TV NTV-KIT889 which worked flawlessly.

2021 F-150 stereo upgrade - JL Audio amps
2021 F-150 stereo upgrade – JL Audio amps

With a clean pre-amp level signal to work with, we installed higher quality aftermarket Focal Flax series speakers, two JL Audio amplifiers and two JL Audio 10″ subwoofers. In order to maximize the clients usable space, we installed the amps behind the existing under seat storage tray area. Behind the rear seats, we installed an MTI double 10″ subwoofer enclosure.

2021 F-150 stereo upgrade - MTI double 10" enclosure behind the rear seats
2021 F-150 stereo upgrade – MTI double 10″ enclosure behind the rear seats

It’s definitely a tight fit for the two JL Audio 10″ TW3 subwoofers. It did require some modification to the existing carpet behind the rear seat. In fact, it’s such a tight fit, we couldn’t even use speaker grilles with this enclosure. Yet, as you can see, it’s fully functional. With the rear seats in their upright position, you’d never know there were two amps and two 10″ subs in there – that is until you cranked up the stereo of course.

2021 F-150 stereo upgrade - stealth install - hidden amps and 10" subs.
2021 F-150 stereo upgrade – stealth install – hidden amps and 10″ subs.

Hear your music like you’ve never heard it before

The end result is the client is now experiencing their music in an entirely new way – as if hearing it for the first time. Details and nuances previously unnoticed are now present in songs they’ve listened to countless times before. Great sound doesn’t have to be complicated. The key is to use the right parts for the application, execute the installation properly followed by a professional tuning. If you’re interested in upgrading the stereo in your truck, call/text, email or visit our showroom today.

Attempting yourself? Here are the components used in this build.

Remote Bass Knob - 2021 Ford F-150 stereo upgrade
Remote Bass Knob – 2021 Ford F-150 stereo upgrade

For the do-it-yourselfers out there, here’s a handy list of components used in this build:

As technology on the OEM side progresses, our industry is staying on top of it with state of the art components designed to integrate with a vehicles advanced electronic system. The end result is clear, vibrant, detailed and punchy aftermarket sound all while retaining the OEM appearance and functionality. Have you upgraded the stereo in your Ford F-150? What components did you use?

2021 Ford F-150 Stereo Upgrade
2021 Ford F-150 Stereo Upgrade

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10 Comments

  1. Where can I get this work done. I am trying to replace all speakers on my 2021 F150 Platinum. I have 4 10″ subs under the rear seat and now I want that clean sound as you explained in you 2021 F-150 Stereo upgrade story on August 24th. Needing help on this matter.

    • Our shop is in Brookfield, CT – Sounds incredible Mobile. If we’re way outside of your area, consider reaching out to Nav TV the maker of the pre-amp adapter that you’ll need. They should be able to direct you to a dealer in your area.

  2. Hi Annie,

    Would upgrading the stock amplifier with my B&O unleashed system help me out? I’m happy with the sound quality but just not happy with the volume output.

    • Hi Ryan, great question, but not so easily accomplished based on the products available today. Maybe we’ll see a nice plug and play solution in the future? The stock amplifier basically has individual channels for all of those speakers as well as unique crossover settings for each speaker. Aftermarket amps are designed to work with speakers that have an external crossover network. Meaning the left door speaker and tweeter would operate as one channel and there would be an external crossover network between the two speakers to divide up the audio for that channel to the appropriate speaker. So in your truck, there aren’t external crossovers, just a lot of individual channels with the crossover filtering built into the individual channel on the factory amp.

      So, to do that, and we’ve done similar upgrades in other vehicles with these types of digital amps, you’d have to do one of two things. Technically you could create external crossover networks to the existing speakers, like a 3-way in front, 2-way in rear and some additional networks for remaining smaller speakers. External crossover components are available from suppliers like parts-express.com. Once you figure out the crossover network and determine how many channels you’ll have, you could use a large multi-channel amp or a couple of amps along with the NAV TV pre-amp adapter.

      We did that for a client with a Mercedes that sounded good, but just wasn’t loud enough. It had the stock Harman Kardon fiber optic amp, but not quite as many channels as the B&O unleashed. I think we had a 3-way in front, 2-way in rear, a center channel and the stock subs in the rear deck. In that car we kept it simple and did a 3-way crossover for the front door speakers, I think we wired the center channel in series with the front tweeters, I can’t recall, a 2-way crossover for the rear components and then crossed over the rear subs using the crossover on the amp. In that example, all we needed was a 5-channel amp, but you have more speakers than that.

      The other approach is theoretically, you could get something like a 12 channel DSP and a couple amps to cover all the channels, possibly wiring a few channels in parallel or series and use the DSP to set the crossovers. But either way, it’s not a quick easy/upgrade. You’d need to anaylize the output from each speaker so you could figure out what the factory crossover point is for each speaker and make sure you re-create that with the new amp/DSP. If you don’t get those settings exactly right, you can add harshness and degrade sound quality. For example, we recently installed a Helix V Eight DSP MK2 amp in our 2019 Wrangler and used the 8 channels for the 8 individual speakers. We previously had external crossovers and a 4 channel amp, so we removed the crossovers and used the DSP to set crossovers for each of the tweeters and the mids. First go round (late night, after working on other cars all day) sounded extremely harsh. Upon further examination, John realized he didn’t emulate the EXACT crossover settings that our Morel speakers had in the external crossover network. He had to plug in those parameters into the DSP EXACTLY as if we were physically using the external Morel crossover. So it’s tricky, but with the right parts and tools to test the output, it can be done.

  3. for those on a limited budget, would doing a simple speaker swap with the doors, tweets, and center speaker create any meaningful difference? I understand the B&O system does all the signal processing, so garbage in/garbage out. However, I feel like speaker quality in ether ohms, sensitivity, freq. response(?), or materials should make some kind of improvement? I don’t see the possibility of installing any new amps in this system, but I’d like to get better sounding “garbage” some way. Thoughts? And thanks!

    • Hi Rodney, you have a great handle on the situation, you’re exactly right about garbage in/garbage out. I tell clients when upgrading speakers alone in a vehicle it’s always like taking 2 steps forward and 1 step back. You’ll always be limited to the sound quality and output, crossover points and processing of the stock amplifier. It’s truly limiting. But you can still upgrade and get a marginal improvement if you select speakers that are extremely efficient, that don’t need a ton of power to perform and at the same time I recommend adding sound dampening to the doors. This will create a better cabinet for the speakers, allow you to hear more of the music as less will be lost to road noise. Maybe consider the Focal IS series which are their vehicle specific options. Full disclosure, I don’t recall what the impedance of the stock speakers were. I’m assuming they’re 4 ohms, you’ll want to verify that before buying any new speakers. If the stock speakers are 4 ohm look for something that is 3 or 4 ohm and sensitivity ratings around 90 or higher. And Dynamat – Xtreme plus Dynaliner. I hope that helps!

  4. Is it possible to add a Kicker hideaway powered sub to the factory B&O sub or replace the B&O sub completely with the Kicker Hideaway in an easy manner behind the rear seat? Using the existing wiring (Except maybe the power and ground, which I can run from the battery) I like the B&O sound, except I’d like to be able to feel the bass a little, which I don’t with the factory sub.

    Thanks.

    • Hi Steve,
      Unfortunately if you want to add the Kicker Hideaway, you can’t really re-use the wiring that’s there. You’ll want to run a fused power line from the battery and ground it to the chassis. You would need to grab audio signal from the stock sub to add it. Truthfully though, I don’t know if the Kicker hideaway is really going to give you that much more kick that the stock sub. We use those types of subs when I have clients looking to add little bump, but nothing too crazy to a basic stock non amplified system. The Kicker will probably be little louder/cleaner than the stock sub, but I don’t think it would be a substantial difference. I could be wrong though. Are you considering the 8-inch or 10-inch? I would go for the 10-inch if you go that route. For most clients we’re doing something a lot beefier with some serious kick. If you want a more budget friendly option than a JL Audio Stealthbox or the MTI enclosures, check out Ground Shaker enclosures. I’m doing one in another F-150 in a couple weeks with a JL 10″ TW3. That will really fill out what’s missing and add that kind of kick you can feel.

  5. Thank you for posting this F150 install! I’m curious how many of the existing speakers you changed out? I have the Unleashed version of the B & O speakers, and I have added a JL Audio Stealth Box with dual 12″ subs powered by the XD600 amp you mentioned above. It helped the low end, but I feel that I am still not getting the sound I should. I’m in Nebraska, so coming to your shop is probably out of the question.

    Appreciate your input.

    Thanks,
    Steve in Omaha

    • Hi Steve – actually I’m pretty sure that’s what this one had, something like 18 speakers? This truck had speakers in the headrest. We eliminated all that. They’re physically still there in case we ever need to revert to stock, but not being used. All warning chimes, GPS, Bluetooth etc are routed through the new speakers. I’m always a fan of the KISS rule and using high quality equipment, in the right locations, properly installed and tuned. One of the best sounding car audio systems we’ve ever built was in a 2009 Subaru Legacy Outback with just one set of components in the front and one sub in the rear (Focal Utopia series and Mosconi amps, Kenwood head unit and Audison Bit One HD DSP). This client had just 6 aftermarket speakers: the Focal Flax components in front 6.5″ and a matching set of coaxial in the rear. This client was totally extremely happy with the final result. Yeah, Nebraska is a bit far, although I have had clients come from as far as Michigan which is wild.


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