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Best DSP Car Audio

Today’s factory car stereo are getting more and more complicated, as more cars are fitted with non-standard “1.5-DIN” or “2 DIN” sizes. Oftentimes, factory receivers are tied into a navigation system, climate controls, or other electronic functions, which make swapping them out for aftermarket stereos a nightmare or even impossible in some cases.

Sure, you can survive with just a regular factory or aftermarket receiver. You don’t, strictly speaking, need a sound processor. But these receivers, especially factory ones have serious limitations in the sound department and leave a lot to be desired especially if you fancy yourself as something of an audiophile, enthusiastic about pure sound quality.

Best Digital Sound Processor — Reviews

1. JL Audio FiX™ 86

JL Audio is a pretty big name in the car audio industry. It’s been around for a very long time and has a long tradition of making top-notch products, and their line of OEM Integration DSPs is no exception.

The FiX™ 86 is one of the best DSP car audio that JL Audio has to offer. It’s featured with a bunch of sound shaping tools including a powerful audio analyzer, line output converter, digital delay, signal-summing pre-amplifier and 10-band graphic equalizer, which chalk up together to automatically strip away the factory system’s equalization, crossover filtering, and time alignment, providing you with a completely clean, flat audio signals you can build your dream system around.

With a powerful 24-bit DSP processor and quad 1/3 octave equalizers onboard, the FiX™ 86 takes your factory radio’s 2-way, 3-way, or 4-way outputs, combines and automatically matches them into six, full-range stereo signals: Front (fader-controlled), Rear (fader-controlled) and Subwoofer (non-fading, front+rear summed) outputs.

This digital sound processor has 8 speaker-level inputs, so you can hook it up to your factory stereo. It also has 6 preamp outputs for connection to external processors and amplifiers.

If you’re a serious sound tweaker, you can pair this sound processor to a PC running JL Audio’s TüN™ software to visualize and correct the system’s frequency response. The software displays a nice graphical depiction of the response curve before and after the FiX 86’s corrections.

Additionally, its adjustable 10-band graphic equalizers on the front and rear channels let you fine-tune the sound to match your car’s acoustics and your personal musical preferences.

The TüN software helps confirm and troubleshoot the integration process. It gives you direct control over the unit factory calibration process and allows you to correct the polarity of any of the inputs.

2. Alpine PXA-H800

Last update on 2023-03-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

A name that pioneers in the car entertainment industry is worth the trust you’d put in a product that carries its logo. Alpine is another well-reputed brand within the car audio space. The company was founded in 1967 and has been churning out quality products ever since.

The PXA-H800 is one of Alpine’s best car DSP. It’s fitted with four Wolfson 24-bit digital-to-analog converters (normally found only in professional recording systems) to ensure audiophile sound quality.

To achieve optimum sound staging, this digital sound processor is featured with digital time correction which ensures that the sounds from all speakers reach your ears at the same time. The time correction feature delays the audio signal to the speakers closer to the driver’s seat, thereby creating a perception of increased distance for those speakers.

No vehicle is acoustically accurate. That’s the reason why this Alpine digital sound processor is featured with clever features to compensate for some challenges in the sound department.

  • RoadEQ: Automatically applies frequency-level adjustments to help compensate for road noise.
  • MediaXpander+: Helps digital files (like those on your iPod) sound better by restoring and enhancing sound quality lost in the recording or compression processes.
  • 5.1-channel surround sound: Decodes the Dolby® Digital and DTS® Surround formats when you set up a mobile movie theater in your ride. The PX-H800 can also decode Dolby Pro Logic II recordings, so you can enjoy multi-channel surround sound.
  • Bi-Phantom: Uses your front left and right speakers to create a virtual or a phantom center channel, enhancing vocal quality.
  • Euphony: It creates natural surround sound from CD or iPod with wider soundscapes and harmonics, and allows you to enjoy 5.1-channel sound from 2-channel sources.

To hone your sound to razor-sharp perfection, this DSP is featured with ImprintEQ feature which uses an included microphone to overcome the acoustic challenges present in every vehicle interior. The ImprintEQ will automatically optimize the sound stage, tonal balance, and definition. It also allows you to tweak the settings manually if you wish.

If you’re a serious sound tweaker and you’d rather take control from the start, you’ll be happy to know that this DSP provides either graphic or parametric equalization. It has 31 bands for each of the five speaker channels, plus 10 bands for the subwoofer. You’ll also find a 10-band parametric EQ for each of the five channels, plus a 5-band parametric EQ for the subwoofer. It can also store different signal settings for later recall — a handy feature if you plan to move the processor to another vehicle now and then.

As far as connections are concerned, the Alpine PXA-H800 has 6-channel speaker-level and RCA inputs, two digital optical inputs, and configurable 4-volt 8-channel high-power preamp outputs. It can also be hooked up to an in-dash controller (sold separately), so you can tweak your sound on the fly.

3. AudioControl DQDX

Last update on 2023-03-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

From a name well-known to serious sound tweakers, and deserving of their stellar reputation, AudioControl offers the DQDX, a 6-channel digital sound processor with built-in signal delay circuitry, equalizer, and electronic crossover. It’s designed to let you get well-tuned, perfectly aligned sound even in the most acoustically challenged vehicles.

This digital signal processor is featured with time alignment feature which corrects for the varying speaker locations in your vehicle, allowing the sound from all speakers to reach the driver at the same time, thereby creating a clear stereo image.

Additionally, the AudioControl DQDX DSP has six input and output channels, arranged in pairs for front, rear, and sub. Each of the RCA line level inputs feature a seven-band graphic EQ to help solve tonal problems. The outputs on the other hand use a built-in line driver with a maximum output of 7.5Vrms to drive your amplifier to full power without having to turn its gain up more. This results in more volume with less noise and distortion.

This DSP comes with a ACR3 control knob which lets you tweak the unit’s settings without accessing it directly. This dash remote control offers two modes: Program mode allows you to adjust the speaker delay, while Music mode lets you adjust the subwoofer level.

4. AudioControl DM-608

Last update on 2023-03-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

If you’re looking to scale up from the DQDX (mentioned above) and you don’t mind shelling out some more dough, AudioControl has plenty of other choices available. One of the more popular options available is the DM-608.

AudioControl DM-608 was designed to make your music sound exactly the way you want, regardless of whether you are using a factory or aftermarket receiver.

The AudioControl DM-608 is one of the best car audio sound processors you can buy. It comes equipped with key features including active speaker level inputs, line-level and digital audio inputs, providing up to 8 output channels.

The DM-608 has a micro USB (Type-B) port to pair it up to a laptop, allowing you to use the AudioControl’s DM Smart DSP software. The AudioControl’s “smart user” software was designed to give you control over every aspect of the processor including gain adjustment, time delay/alignment, Linkwitz-Riley crossovers, polarity, 30-band graphic equalizers, parametric filters, phase correction, AccuBass™ bass correction, and real-time analyzers (RTA) for the inputs and outputs so you can visually confirm the improvements in the sound.

The biggest thing with the AudioControl DM-608 is the fact that it’s “matrix-able”. What this means is that it gives you the ability to combine and route any input to any output.

This digital signal processor has equipped with onboard LEDs which indicate signal flow for inputs and outputs. These LEDs also give you a warning when a source is too loud and causing distortion.

5. Kicker Front Row ZXDSP1

Last update on 2023-03-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Kicker is a serious contender in the car audio industry. The company has been around for quite a long time and has mastered the art of providing quality products.

The Front Row ZXDSP1 is one of the best DSP car audio that Kicker has to offer. It’s built to put your music where it should be — right up in front of you, instead of down around your knees.

Unlike most digital sound processor out there, this Kicker Front Row comes with a wired remote control to let you center the music to your listening position, boos the bass, and engage a simulated 5.1 Surround Sound for a concert-like audio quality.

This DSP can be hooked up to almost any car stereo, even a factory system. It can take speaker-level input signals as well as regular RCA inputs. It can also take a single stereo input and create front, rear, and subwoofer channels, allowing you to rock out your whole ride.

Each channel (front, rear, and subwoofer) features its own gain level control with clip indicator LEDs. It also comes with variable high- and low-pass filters to maximize the performance of your speakers and subs, and choose from three different crossover slopes to fine tune speaker output.

To deliver perfectly matched signals to your full-range and subwoofer amps, the Kicker Front Row features output level controls for both its inputs and outputs.

Why Do I Need a Digital Sound Processor?

Upgrading the factory speakers is a great first step on the road to better sound. You might also want to consider adding an amplifier or subwoofer — or both. All of these components chalk up together to improve your factory stereo’s sound. But there will always be something holding you back, and it’s built right into the stereo.

There are a number of uses for digital sound processors, but they’re most often used to fix problems that you may have noticed with your OEM head unit.

Your factory stereo uses preset equalization designed to compensate for cheap factory speaker quality and placement. This is accomplished by artificially altering the frequency profile, creating audio “peaks and valleys” which makes sound quality below par.

To add insult to injury, this becomes more noticeable and very easy to pick up on when you add amplifiers, speakers and subwoofers to your setup, as any deficits in the sound are literally amplified.

Additionally, most OEM headunits cap the bass output when the volume is cranked up in an attempt to protect the stock speakers. The problem is, even if your upgrade your speakers and install an amp and subwoofer, the bass output is still limited by your factory headunit. This throws your system out of balance and makes the bass sound muddy and weak.

That’s where a digital sound processor (DSP for short) can come to the rescue. They are designed to interface your factory radio with aftermarket amplifiers and speakers.

In other words, a digital sound processor sits between your headunit and your amp, which allows it to literally undo the factory unit’s monkey business by returning the signal to a clean, flat state (imagine the positions of sliders on a car audio equalizer), and send a clean signal to your external amplifiers.

Stripping away the sound-sculpting limitations imposed by the OEM headunit allows for a better and a more detailed soundstage defined by resonant lows, sparkling highs, and a realistic sense of space and depth.

Some digital sound processors are featured with advanced crossover, time delay and equalization tools. Others allow you to use custom profiles downloaded from the Internet, which will automatically fix the pre-processing issue and improve the overall listening experience by fine-tuning the unit and eliminating the problematic acoustical issues from a specific vehicle’s interior.

How to Install a Sound Processor?

A sound processor sits between the head unit and the amplifier. It allows you to retain the look and controls of your factory stereo, but truly expand your system for serious sound. Adding one to your car audio system is a pretty straightforward process. The wiring is basically just like installing an amplifier or a crossover. But it’s slightly a more involved operation than just dropping in a couple direct-fit full range speakers.

To install a sound processor

  • A sound processor connects to your factory stereo through the stereo’s speaker wires.
  • The processor strips away the factory sound-shaping and limitations enforced by the OEM radio, so the signal is clean.
  • The signal is sent to your external amplifier(s).
  • The amps power your front and rear speakers, and subwoofers.

How to Choose a Sound Processor

It is worth noting that factory sound processors do vary in complexity. Generally speaking, they range from “easy to use” to “seriously intense”. So, whether you are a casual music lover or a seasoned sound audiophile, there is an option best suited for your preference.

The most accessible units will do most of the heavy lifting for you. However, if you’re a serious audiophile and you want more control over your sound system, there are plenty of highly configurable options in the world of aftermarket sound processors. Many of these provide truly in-depth audio control, giving you the ability to highlight and define each aspect of your music much more precisely.

Upgraded sound processors are more likely to offer enhanced performance. They’re most often equipped with cutting-edge features such as advanced bass frequency restoration, equalization, digital time alignment, and multiple selectable input sources. High-end sound processors also offer more EQ bands, or even separate control over multiple bands on each separate channel. Some of them also come with integrated software, allowing you to adjust the sound to your heart’s content via a connected laptop.

Bottom Line

A digital sound processor really come to the rescue any time you have a factory car radio that you want to leave in place for any reason. We know that sometimes replacing an OEM headunit isn’t a thing you can’t do; it’s a thing you don’t want to do. And that’s okay.

However, that doesn’t mean you have to put up with a lousy stereo just because you genuinely like the look of your car’s interior or its factory infotainment system.

Luckily for you, there is no need to tear apart your dashboard to get the most out of your speaker system. With a good digital sound processor, and matching amplifiers and speakers to complement it, you are set to enjoy impressive sound quality – the likes of which you would expect from a high-end home stereo.

With that said, what’s holding you back? Start listening to your music the way it was meant to be heard, wherever you go.

Alex Brown

Hey There, my name is Alex Brown, I'm an LA-based sound engineer with over 10 years experience installing, troubleshooting, and repairing commercial, automotive, and household sound equipment. I've installed highly competitive car audio systems, and everything from navigation systems to full car stereo systems, remote starters, alarms and beyond. I enjoy creating solutions and simplifying everyday needs. I also love helping people get great sounding gear, thereby, saving the world from bad sound one customer at a time.

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