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How do I boost the audio quality of my convertible's OEM stereo? (Roadside Assistance)

This week on CNET Roadside Assistance, I show how to optimize a convertible's audio quality for both top up and top down motoring with one purchase.


Today marks the summer solstice; it's the longest day of the year and the midpoint of the summer. No doubt many of you are planning to enjoy those extra hours of sunshine by dropping the top on a convertible (or maybe just opening the windows or a sunroof). However, with open air motoring comes increased wind and road noise, which can all but drown out the sound from some low-powered OEM audio systems.

That's why this week I'm helping a CNET reader to boost the audio quality and quantity of his drop top's stereo system with one easy mod.

How can I improve my convertible's stereo without junking up the dashboard?

Hi Antuan,
I'm looking to upgrade the audio system in my car, a two-seat convertible. The stock system sounds pretty good with the top up, or with the top down and windows up. But it really needs way more power with the top and windows down. I'd also like to ditch the CD player and have an interface to my iPhone or iPod or whatever music device that I can run from the controls on the steering wheel.

My car is a 2003 Thunderbird. I've looked at some aftermarket devices, and just don't see how they won't look ugly replacing the standard head unit in the dash. Can any or all of this be done "behind the scenes"? Or can aftermarket equipment actually be installed that doesn't look ugly? I'd hate to spend one or two thousand dollars hoping to get a killer system, then have to stare at a crappy looking dashboard installation.

Thanks for any info,
Peter Bradley

A few weeks ago, I helped another reader upgrade an entire car stereo system and subwoofer. The same basic steps apply for improving your Thunderbird's audio rig. However, because you're more concerned with maintaining a close to stock appearance and setup, I'm going to suggest a few modifications to the blueprint.


Instead of starting with an amplifier, speakers, and a subwoofer, I'm going to suggest that you take a look at the JBL MS-8 Digital Signal Processor (DSP). This system plugs in between your stock stereo system and its speakers. Its Logic 7 audio processor then cleans up the audio quality and recalibrates the output based on your car's measured acoustics. An internal 240-watt amplifier means that the total system power will no doubt be greater than whatever the stock receiver is pushing.

Here's the part that excites me: the MS-8 features five memory positions for different calibrations, allowing you to save an audio profile for top up driving and recalibrate and save a second profile that's optimized for top-down motoring.

At $799, there's may be a bit of sticker shock when considering the JBL MS-8, but it's an all-in-one solution for improving car audio, but the MS-8 is also a good springboard for further upgrades and will continually adjust should you decide to continue upgrading with better full-range speakers or a powered subwoofer. Just remember to recalibrate after each new addition.

CNET Roadside Assistance is a reader Q&A column where I, Car Tech editor Antuan Goodwin, answer your automotive and car technology-related questions. If you have a burning car technology question or just need something explained, send me an e-mail at cartech at cnet dot com. Put "Roadside Assistance" in the subject header and you might just see your question answered right here on CNET! You can also find me on Twitter and send me your questions there. Just follow @antgoo.