BMW is a renowned vehicle manufacturer. I’ve owned quite a few in the past and my eldest drives a 330ci E46. I still take every opportunity to drive it and love its connection to the road. That car came with the upgraded Harman Kardon audio pack and while it sounded OK, we have swapped that out for something far better.
The standard, base audio in any new BMW is woeful with very little power, a muddy sound and dreadful staging. This prompts many buyers to opt for the Harman Kardon upgrade which is not great but does at least offer tweeters in the door and a small amplifier to boost the power.
We’re all painfully aware of the dreadful year we have had during the pandemic which has placed huge burdens on the supply chain and slowed the production of many things, what you may not be aware of is the destruction of a major chip factory in Japan in March 2021. This factory accounted for around 30% of the world’s automotive chip production. The list of products these chips are used in is extensive and will lead to many shortages for a considerable time as production is slowly brought back.
One ‘casualty’ is the Harman Kardon upgrade option to BMW. I have had a lot of calls recently from people who have ordered a new BMW with HK sound who have now been told that it will not be installed. Instead, they will get the base audio pack and we all know how bad that sounds!
These are the standard audio speakers! The base audio has no tweeters and the under-seat drivers will be the smaller 6-inch units. Worst of all there will be no amplifier which means that the speakers are driven directly from the low power head unit with no tuning of the output for the low and high frequency. No wonder it sounds so bad.
As I mentioned previously, the Harman Kardon system while better than the base audio is certainly not excellent in my opinion and I commonly swap out many HK systems for better. However, this means bypassing the original amplifier and that adds extra cost. The advantage of the base audio system to me is that there is no amplifier to bypass. This means a simpler system and does not require the use of an expensive fibre optic MOST converter.
To get the BMW sounding excellent I offer a three-stage upgrade.
Stage 1: Add better speakers.
This is an essential change and provides an instant lift to the sound. I favour the Audison BMW specific component set as they are dynamic, lively and handle the lower frequencies better than most other speakers around.
We would also require the BMW tweeter covers and I always recommend getting the OE parts for a perfect fit. These are not unduly expensive and using them means the car looks factory finished.
Some are just the mirror triangle while others are the complete door top trim. The main speakers and crossovers go inside the door of course.
You may note that I have not mentioned the rear speakers. In my opinion, these are not important to the sound at the front of the car and can be left standard initially. Of course, it is appropriate to change them when everything else has been upgraded if you are looking for the best performance.
Stage 2: Amplification.
The standard BMW head unit has very limited power which means there will not be a great deal of volume but more importantly, if you do turn it up it is very likely to distort. So while a stage 1 speaker upgrade will greatly improve the sound it will not solve the head unit’s shortcomings. Therefore, I really advocate adding an amplifier.
There are two main options: a conventional amp that will provide more power and some level of frequency control, or an amplifier that also contains a digital signal processor (DSP) which allows very accurate tuning of the audio performance.
Naturally, there’s a significant difference in cost between the two options. But if you want the best sound then the DSP equipped amplifier is well worth the investment.
When the Harman Kardon ‘upgrade’ is specified the major influence on the sound is not the speakers, but rather it is the amplifier. While this is not excellent, at least it has been tuned to get the best from the stock speakers and that is why it sounds better. By adding a DSP equipped amplifier like the Audison AP4.9Bit to drive the front doors and under-seat drivers the performance difference is astounding.
Stage 3: Improving the bass.
The main speaker set in the BMW comprises front door speakers with a pair of bass drivers under the front seats. There will be speakers in the rear doors or parcel shelf but these are of little importance for the front stage.
To improve the bass performance, we can either replace the under-seat woofers or add a slim subwoofer to the boot. If we replace the under-seat drivers with something like Audison BMW S8, the bass performance is transformed.
This is a superb option where the requirement is for a punchy, natural performance. They are extremely musical and really perform when a DSP amplifier is used to control them.
If however, you prefer a powerful, deep bass then there really is no substitute for a ‘proper’ subwoofer. I have found an excellent solution is the Audison Prima slimline, active sub.
This is available in either an 8 inch or 10-inch version. It’s extremely slim which means it will not take up a great deal of space and the output is astonishing. Using a DSP amp too can take advantage of the tuning capabilities. We also install a discreet bass level controller in the front so you have total control over the output.
The bass enhancement you choose will cater to your musical preferences and we will happily advise the best solution for your choices.
The full upgrade would certainly cost more than ticking the Harman Kardon upgrade box on the options list, but I guarantee that it would sound much better. Another point to note is that all the added equipment can be removed and the original reinstated. That means you do not lose your investment if you sell the car. That certainly isn’t the case with the factory options. Of course, you can select any of the above stages to be done at different times, or just do the stages that you require.
If you have had your BMW Harman Kardon upgrade cancelled and would like to know more about how we can dramatically improve the sound in your car please give Tim a call on 01625 432707 or 07971 928881.
Alternatively, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org .