You bought this brand new, awesome, loaded Ram truck, with every bell and whistle, and even got the Premium Alpine Sound System. You’re the king of the world! On your drive home, you turn on your favorite tunes, and now you realize how much the stock system is lacking. It’s not terrible, but it’s just not as good as what you have had in the past, so you decide to upgrade it.
We hear this all the time. It’s close, but just not quite there. What makes it hard is the way that the stock system splits everything up, so it’s just not as simple as swapping out speakers and getting huge improvements. There are some tricks to helping it out, but for the real enthusiast, replacing it all is the best way to go.
This is the geeky part about how the system works if you are interested.
The way these systems are designed is way different from your base audio systems. Your regular radio has 8 speaker wires, 4 pairs; Front Left, Front Right, Rear Left, Rear Right. These wires vary in volume as you turn the volume knob, adjust fade/balance, EQ, everything. Normal type of radio. With the Alpine System, there are only 4 wire, Left and Right. They are also a fixed volume, meaning if you hooked a speaker up to them they would just play loud, no matter what you did to the volume knob. That fixed level audio signal then goes to the amplifier and the amp is told to do volume, fade/balance, EQ, everything, through a data signal from your radio.
Then, the amp does it’s thing. Instead of just power, the amplifier heavily processes the signals going to the speakers. It limits the audio range of each speaker, through crossovers, so the tweeters only play the highs, the woofers play the mids, and the sub just plays the deep bass. There are no full range signals going to or coming out of the amplifier that you can tap into for an amplifier.
So, in the past, the best way to do this was to use a signal summing device, we like the ones from AudioControl, ARC Audio and DD Audio, but there are many other good ones on the market. The signal summing combines the signals and creates a full range signal that you can send an amp. But, if the wires aren’t correct or on pair is out of phase, then it can create a whole new mess for you.
Then, the next problem is that once you cut the speaker wires from the factory amp or disconnect a speaker, the amp stops putting out audio. So if you have it all wires up but the factory amplifier does not see a load, or thinks that it sees a speaker, it will turn off that channel. Well now you have to install load resistors to keep the audio signal working, and there is no real way to install load resistors and have them look good, or factory.
Why does all this matter? If It’s this complicated, why does it not sound good?
Premium sound systems in cars, whether Alpine, Bose, Infinity, JBL, Harmon Kardon, Sony, they are all designed to be an upgrade over the basic stock audio system for that car. They are still basic, cheap speakers, until you get into a few of the higher end premium cars. The complications come from what they have to do to make them sound decent using cheap components, and that is what makes replacing all the equipment more difficult. They are super processing out the sound system to make their cheap components sound their best, even though that still may not be that good. Building a sound system is fun and easy, but reverse engineering what someone else has done just complicates things.
“So what do I DO!?”
With the Ram and Jeep Alpine sound systems, PAC Audio has some out with an awesome new interface that takes care of all these issues, the PAC AmpPRO AP4-CH41. It takes the fixed level audio signal from the back of the radio, and uses the data signal from the radio to give us usable Front, Rear and Subwoofer RCA outputs. It even has a subwoofer knob and creates a remote turn-on signal for you. Wiring wise, it is a plug-n-play T-harness. You pull the radio, unplug the factory harness, plug this in between the two, and put it all back together. Easier than installing an aftermarket radio. No more fighting to get to the factory amp, no more having to find the correct wires. Just plug it in and it works!
Even if you are just wanting to add a subwoofer, this part may be for you. If you just tie into the stock subwoofer, as soon as you unplug it, the amp will turn it’s output off. So now you need load resistors. Once you get that handled, you still have to consider the signal. The factory subwoofer only plays from around 60-80hz down. For listening to nothing but low bass this works. But if you’ve had aftermarket systems before, you may not be happy with this. If you listen to Rock, R & B, EDM, Country, anything where there is a lot of higher frequency bass, normally 100hz down, you may be used to it playing out of the subwoofers. So if you use the stock sub signal and feed it to an amp, you won’t get the sound you are after.
And if you are REALLY going high end with a Digital Signal Processor (DSP), then you can take advantage of the Toslink adapter for the AP4-CH41 and feed optical signal into your processor and completely change the way it sounds.
Now you know how it works, so no more feeling like you are stuck with the system you have. There are solutions everywhere now to get your system to sound the way that you want it to.