Are you ready to compete in a car audio competition?

Image Gallery: Audio Tech Car audio competitions pit vehicles' stereos and speakers against one another to determine whose setup produces the best sound of all. See more pictures of audio technology.
© Martínez Banús

When you picture cars duking it out to prove their superiority, pitted against each other by hardcore auto enthusiasts, what do you see in your mind's eye? High speed races between Ferraris and Lamborghinis? Drifting contests and insanely fast Indy car races? Rough-and-tumble NASCAR? While we often associate car competitions with pure speed, the engines aren't the only parts of cars enthusiasts push to the limits. There are classic car shows that highlight pristine restorations of decades-old cars and celebrate the glamour of design. And there are car audio competitions -- contests that pit the might of various vehicles' stereos and speakers against one another to determine whose setup produces the best sound of all.

What is a car audio competition? Several organizations in the United States hold competitive gatherings that encourage participants to show just how loud their systems can be. These competitions are often broken down into at least two categories: sound pressure and sound quality. The first focuses on pure, supreme volume, while the other puts more emphasis on the accurate projection of sound waves.

But here's the real question: Is your car audio system up to the task? If you're interested in breaking into the competitive audio scene, preparation won't come easy; a stock stereo system from a dealer sure isn't going to cut it. Unless you have a powerful amp, booming subwoofer and high-performance speaker system in your car, you've got a long way to go before you can compete in a car audio competition. Read on to find out how to get there.

Upgrading Your Audio

Putting together a winning car audio system won't be an easy (or cheap) endeavor.
Putting together a winning car audio system won't be an easy (or cheap) endeavor.
© risteski

Constructing your car audio system won't be an easy (or cheap) endeavor. First, you'll need to understand each element of the audio system and know why it's important. Check out our guide to the Top 10 Car Audio Components to get a head start. Having a competitive audio system is all about the quality of the components. Factory-installed coaxial speakers, which mount the high-range tweeters right onto the mid-range woofer, aren't going to cut it -- you'll want a component speaker setup, which separates out the different audio frequencies to produce superior sound quality. Because a component system is expandable, you can -- and should -- add a subwoofer to the mix, as well as an amplifier to give the entire system power. You'll also need a device called an active (or electronic) crossover, which separates the audio signals and delivers them to the proper speakers. Next, seek out some expert guidance on building high-end audio gear into your car. DBD Drag Racing, one organization that holds car audio contests in the United States, has a page dedicated to articles on understanding and building car audio systems.

There are several qualifiers to keep in mind while looking around for high-quality gear. For speakers, you should pay attention to sensitivity and power-handling to make sure the speakers can handle the power being put out by your amplifier [source: Nail]. With subwoofers, pay attention to the RMS power -- a higher RMS rating will guarantee consistent quality.

Now that you have some kind of idea of what parts you'll need, you're one step closer to being ready to upgrade. At this point, you should seek out product reviews for speakers and other components within your price range -- if you want to be truly competitive, they won't come cheap. Thankfully, there are several highly respected brands you can look to for reliable, quality audio. Alpine, Infinity, JL Audio and Eclipse receive high recommendations and positive reviews from many car audio fans. Keep in mind the type of competition you're interested in: If sound pressure is your thing, you'll probably want the most powerful, ear-blasting equipment you can afford. For sound quality, you'll want to read up on reviews and find the highest-rated gear you can, even if it isn't the loudest.

Finding a Competition

Car audio competitions are relatively popular, so you shouldn't have any trouble finding one. Several organizations hold contests across the United States multiple times per year, so you probably won't even have to go too far out of your way to track down a sound-blasting arena of amazing audio setups. These groups include the International Auto Sound Challenge Association (IASCA), the Mobile Electronics Competition Association (MECA), TermPro and the United States Autosound Competition International (USACI).

Each group holds its own competitions, and most of them require membership to take part in sound quality and sound pressure contests. For example, registered IASCA competitors can take part in a range of challenges beginning with the SQC, or Sound Quality Challenge. The SQC is broken up into seven classes, ranging from rookie to expert solo. The SQC challenge is designed to gauge the quality of your sound system under real-world conditions and judges audio based on tonal accuracy, sound stage, imaging, sound linearity and absence of noise [source: IASCA]. Another example, the IASCA Bass Boxing contest, lets competitors play music in their cars and earn ratings based on the average decibel level produced by the subwoofers [source: IASCA]. Each group has its own rules for competing and different challenges for its members. Check them out and see which ones interest you -- then find out who holds events in your area.

Wondering who's going to be competing against you and judging you in these events? Basically, people who love car audio. IASCA trains its judges with the rules written by and for its members. The IASCA rules even suggest certified judges aren't there to evaluate your car and score it; they're there to help you improve your sound system. During a competition, they can't say much to you, but when the show is over, don't be afraid to ask them for their input regarding your sound system. If you're lucky enough (and backed up by a beastly sound system) you may even be able to win a cash prize at a car audio event. Even if you don't win, though, you can solicit advice from other audio fans and rest assured that all those audio upgrades will be put to good use -- your music will sound absolutely amazing coming through your top-of-the-line system.

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