Best car sound systems

Want the best possible speakers in your next car without spending mega-money? We've rounded up affordable models with standout sound systems

James Wilson
Jan 4, 2022

It’s easy to underestimate the improvement a great sound system can make to any car journey. A high quality speaker system makes karaoke sessions behind the wheel irresistible, whether you’re stuck in traffic or eating up the miles on the motorway. The best car sound systems allow you to make the most of your favourite tunes, ensuring they’re not tainted by tinny speakers.

When it comes to measuring the performance of a car’s audio system, there are two criteria that are commonly referred to. The first is the number of speakers - what qualifies as the ideal number really depends on the type of car. A small car will typically have five or fewer speakers, with better systems offering seven or eight. High-end luxury cars, such as the Bentley Bentayga, can even sport as many as 20 speakers.

The second criteria considered important for car sound systems is wattage (commonly shortened to ‘watts’ or simply W.) In simple terms, the most powerful systems are those with higher wattage, meaning they are usually louder.

There are also different types of speakers. Subwoofers pump out the lowest frequencies to produce the bass, mid-range speakers focus on mid-level sounds and the tweeters on the high-pitched tones. A system composed of a combination of these speakers results in balanced, full-bodied sound.

With the basics of car sound systems covered, the following is a list of eight of the best cars for buyers wanting a great sound system. We have covered a wide range of car types, including affordable small cars, high-performance hatchbacks, sophisticated saloons and chunky SUVs, with each of our chosen models offering a sound system better than most rivals.

Do bear in mind that the best sound systems are often optional extras or reserved solely for range-topping models or the highest specification levels. So be sure whether any potential purchase comes with the speakers you want before signing on the dotted line.

Which car stereo is best?

1. Volkswagen Up

Our pick Volkswagen Up Beats
Used deals from £9,203
Monthly finance from £0*

The Volkswagen Up is the kind of car that appeals to those looking for an affordable small car - as it should be both cheap to purchase and offers low running costs. Thanks to ‘Beats’ trim it should also appeal to motorists hunting for a more powerful sound system in their city car.

The Beats system comes with seven speakers - including a subwoofer - dotted about the cabin and the maximum system output is 300W. While these numbers are modest compared to the rest of those listed below, the Up is by far the smallest car here and this is a potent system for a car of this size.

Away from audio systems, the Volkswagen Up is a very competent small car regardless of trim. It is more refined than rivals such as the Citroen C1 and while not as stylish as a Fiat 500, it is more practical. For example, the Up is available as a five-door while the Fiat is solely offered with three doors. Aside from electric e-Up models, all versions use 1.0-litre petrol engines, with lower power versions for cheap insurance and more powerful ones for quicker acceleration, and you can choose between manual and automatic gearboxes.

VOLKSWAGEN UP BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Ford Fiesta

Our pick Ford Fiesta 'B&O Play' models
Used deals from £12,999
Monthly finance from £0*

Ford has long offered upmarket Fiestas but it wasn’t until the latest-generation model launched in 2018 that a high-end sound system became available. The system in question is made in partnership with audio company B&O and is rated at a maximum of 675W. Things are slightly more confusing for potential buyers when it comes to the number of speakers included, with some versions quoted as having eight and others 10. Either way, these are good numbers for a small car.

When shopping for Fiestas with a B&O system, there are plenty of options. Some older models sold up to 2018 had ‘B&O Play’ in their name, so are easy to spot, but newer versions don’t. In general Titanium X trim and other high-level Fiestas (ST-Line X, Active X, Vignale and ST-3) come with the B&O system as standard. The Fiesta is also great to drive, well made, affordable and in all but entry-level Style trim (which is no longer available for new models) standard equipment is plentiful.

FORD FIESTA BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Mercedes A-Class

Our pick Mercedes-AMG A35 Premium Plus
Used deals from £28,200
Monthly finance from £0*

The latest A-Class arrived in 2018 and is available with a 590W 12-speaker Burmester sound system. The subwoofer alone is rated at 120W, which is more than the entire sound system can muster in many cars. Another appealing high-tech feature is Mercedes’ impressive 'MBUX' option, which includes two 10.3-inch displays which take up much of the dashboard, with one serving as a media system and the other a digital driver display in place of traditional dials.

Mercedes only offers the powerful Burmester setup on A35 Premium Plus and A45 S Plus models. Both of these are seriously quick, although this does come at the expense of running costs and firmer suspension than other versions. A35 Premium Plus and A45 S Plus do both come with suspension that features a comfort setting, though, which helps things somewhat.

MERCEDES A-CLASS BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Lexus UX

Our pick Lexus UX Takumi
Used deals Limited stock

Many current Lexus models offer striking styling both inside and out, modern petrol-electric hybrid setups and plenty of the latest in-car technology. The UX is no exception. Lexus also regularly tops the charts for owner satisfaction - it finished first out of 30 car manufacturers in the 2020 Auto Express Driver Power survey, which sees motorists rate their cars.

Since the UX’s launch in 2018, top-spec Takumi models have boasted the best sound system. It is a Mark Levinson setup - with Mark Levinson being a subsidiary of Samsung Electronics - and it features 13 speakers with a total maximum output of 668W.

The Mark Levinson system is also included in a number of optional extra equipment packs, such as the Tech and Sound Pack. Lexus only offers its UX with one hybrid engine and gearbox combination - a 2.0-litre petrol engine paired with an electric motor and automatic gearbox. There is a fully electric version, too.

5. Volvo XC60

Our pick Volvo XC60 R-Design
Used deals from £20,790
Monthly finance from £879*

The XC60 is Volvo's mid-range SUV - sitting above the XC40 and below the seven-seat XC90. There is nothing mid-range about the Bowers and Wilkins audio system that is available in the XC60, though. It includes 15 speakers and is rated to a massive 1,100W. There are also a number of ‘room modes’ which Volvo claims recreate the acoustics of spaces such as a concert hall or jazz club.

While impressive, the system doesn’t come cheap, adding around £1,650 to the list price of new models. Thankfully, second-hand values for models that feature this kit are far more reasonable - with less of a premium to get yourself into a Bowers and Wilkins-equipped XC60 - but as the system is an optional extra that is part of Volvo’s ‘Tech’ pack, be sure to check whether this is fitted to any car you're considering. Moving away from the sound system, the XC60 is comfortable to drive, well equipped and features a very stylish interior.

VOLVO XC60 BUYERS' GUIDE

6. Jaguar XF

Our pick Jaguar XF S
Used deals from £19,290
Monthly finance from £0*

Jaguar’s high-end audio partner is Meridian. There is more than one Meridian system available but it is the ‘Surround Sound System’ that is most impressive. In the current XF, this translates to a whopping 17 speakers and a maximum output of 825W. Meridian’s Surround Sound System also comes with something it calls ‘Trifield’ which is supposed to be capable of recreating the original space where the audio was recorded.

The range-topping Meridian system is optional on all XFs, so if you are looking for a second-hand model, it's wise to double-check that the upgraded system is installed to any versions you're looking at to be sure you're getting the best audio.

The current XF was launched in 2015 and quickly established itself as one of the most appealing upmarket saloon and estate cars to drive. It also won many hearts in the looks department, both outside and in. As of October 2020, Jaguar updated its XF by adding tweaked styling, a more modern media system and mild hybrid technology.

JAGUAR XF BUYERS' GUIDE

7. Audi TT

Our pick Audi TT Black Edition
Used deals from £15,480
Monthly finance from £0*

Audi is currently on its third generation of TT. Overall the German carmaker’s latest attempt is the best yet - largely thanks to it being more enjoyable to drive than its predecessors. The cabin is one of the best available in a small coupe or two-seat convertible. Audi’s 'Virtual Cockpit' digital dials are a particular highlight, as these replace traditional dials with a crisp digital display.

There is also an optional Bang and Olufsen sound system which comes with 12 speakers and is rated at 680W. When hunting for a TT with the Bang and Olufsen setup, it isn’t as straightforward as you might hope, as most trims don’t include it as standard. In all but range-topping Vorsprung specification Audi bundles the uprated sound system into its ‘Comfort and Sound’ pack, so don’t assume Sport, Sport Edition, S-Line or Black Edition models automatically have these speakers fitted.

AUDI TT BUYERS' GUIDE

8. Range Rover Velar

Our pick Range Rover Velar HSE
Used deals from £39,480
Monthly finance from £0*

The Velar’s sleek body shape and beautiful interior help make it very desirable. In truth, the Velar is a Range Rover for those that like an SUV to focus more on style than being able to drive up muddy hillsides. This is no bad thing as most people don’t do much heavy-duty off-roading.

SE and HSE variants feature Meridian’s 17-speaker 3D Surround System which is rated at 825W. When looking at new and used models, there is plenty of choice when it comes to both petrol and diesel engines. There is no choice in gearbox, though, as an automatic is the only option.

Driving a Velar is a refined and comfortable experience, but models with air suspension are the most comfortable, so keep an eye out for these if comfort is one of your top priorities. Air suspension comes standard on new HSE and R-Dynamic HSE versions.

RANGE ROVER VELAR BUYERS' GUIDE

*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta:

48 monthly payments of £192
Deposit: £0
Mileage limit: 8,000 per year
Optional final payment to buy car: £2,923
Total amount payable to buy car: £11,926
Total cost of credit: £2,426
Amount borrowed: £9,500
APR: 9.9%

BuyaCar is a credit broker, not a lender. Our rates start from 6.9% APR. The rate you are offered will depend on your individual circumstances.

 

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