Naughty or Nice: Car Sound Systems


As our 12 days of highs and lows from the past year continue, we look at the oft-forgotten car stereo. We've seen high-end makers like Bowers & Wilkins and Bang & Olufsen invade the nicest of vehicles, but one name stood out among all others for making an impressive splash, while the naughtiest name is one we've long wanted to send some coal.


Naughty: Mark Levinson (Lexus GS, IS)

A subpar stereo is OK if you're not paying extra for it. But when the option can run into the thousands of dollars, like Lexus' Mark Levinson-branded systems, we start to cry foul. In many Lexus models we've tested, the Levinson system sounds weak. It may be dynamic when listening to acoustic tunes, but if you like Led Zeppelin, you won't like Mark Levinson. Don't even bother if you enjoy R&B or rap.


Nice: Fender (Volkswagen Passat, Jetta GLI)

The optional Fender system isn't inexpensive, either, especially considering the starting prices of the cars it can be found in, but Executive Editor Joe Wiesenfelder found the stereo worthy enough to get a full review of its own. "The stereo plays loudly with minimal distortion, and the dynamics are excellent," he wrote. It's set up to play in stereo, not surround sound, and that might be the way to go in our iPod-loving world.

By David Thomas | December 8, 2011 | Comments (10)


Jamie Capsani

Haven't heard the Lexus system, but I just brought a Passat with Fender, and it is amazing to my hears.


I agree with Dave on this. I've owned 3 Lexus models dating back to 97 (one with an early 90's Pioneer, Nakamichi, and Mark Levinson). By far the best was the Nakamichi, then Pioneer, and currently Mark Levinson (shocked it didn't sound any better than the standard system). As for Fender, was at the auto show last year and VW rep asked if I would like to hear the system in the redesigned Jetta for a T-shirt. I was completely blown away how great this system was and especially from a non-luxury brand. May be the best out there...


Im sorry but every stock manufacterer sound system is crappy. You need to invest thousands of dollars in aftermarket sound systems to get a true quality system. You need an aftermarket head unit, speakers, tweeters, amps, and subwoofers because each component is important. Skimping out on something will be heard.

I'm not sure what you're listening to but I would take the Fender system or the B&O system Audi has over anything aftermarket. But I like rock/guitars not bass. If you want extreme bass it's not going to be found in a stock system no.



Your right. Some automakers offer plenty of premium systems that offer crystal clear music, but none of the offerings provide deep bass. You need to hear the words and the bass to have a complimentary pair. Its like sticking a loud exhaust on a slow car. Its all talk, no go. Or in this case, BOOM.

I listen to Country, Rock, and Rap. Unfortunately, only Rap has the deep low bass notes. Country and rock have the higher pitch. I prefer the lower pitch which will make you want to clamp your ears in agony when I pull up next to you.


"Im sorry but every stock manufacterer sound system is crappy."

I would guess that the systems like Fender would sound really good to 99% of car drivers. So because it may not satisfy 1% it is crappy? I think you need a soundstage....not a car.


The Rockford Fosgate system in the Suzuki Kizashi should definately get an honorable mention. It sounds great with any kind of music.

Mike Rhyner

I have two vehicles a 2007 Tahoo with the Bose system; very so-so. I also have a 2007 Mustang with the Shaker system; very good.


I agree with Allistar's comment on the need to spend a lot of money to make a stock system sound nice. I have a 2007 Lexus RX 350 with Mark Levinson system, and to be honest, I was really disappointed with the performance, especially since I knew what Mark Levinson was capable of delivering with Home Component Systems. It was more of a marketing tool than the sound quality. I'm sure they asked Mark Levinson to provide budget systems just to sell the brand. That being said, after adding a Focal Utopia Subwoofer, a Soundstream amp and Focal KRX3 3-way component speakers to the ML system, the final result became flawless. A $5000+ investment though.

I like Bowers & Wilkins better.

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