OEM Audio Plus delivers car sound in a box upgrade for Scions

CNET tested the audio quality of OEM Audio Plus' upgrade for the Scion tC, finding a system with very clear sound, but a few flaws.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
3 min read
Scion tC
Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Going through lists of amps, speakers, and subwoofers in a quest to upgrade your car's audio can be baffling. OEM Audio Plus removes the confusion, at least for Scion owners, by providing a complete package.

CNET tested the company's audio upgrade in the Scion tC. OEM Audio Plus also offers sound system upgrades for the xB and iQ, and is working on a package for the FR-S and xD.

The upgrade consists of replacements for all the existing speakers, and the addition of an eight-channel 360-watt amp and an 8-inch subwoofer with a 130-watt amp to power it. In the tC, that means new tweeters, mids, and woofers in the front doors, and two new 6.5-inch two-way speakers facing the rear seats. The subwoofer mounts in the side of the cargo area.

OEM Audio Plus speaker
The only additional speaker OEM Audio Plus adds is this 8-inch subwoofer. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Because OEM Audio Plus matches the speaker sizes with the originals, the door grills remain stock. The subwoofer enclosure is nicely done, sitting unobtrusively in the cargo area looking like a piece of stock equipment.

For each of the Scion models, OEM Audio Plus tuned the amp's digital signal processing to fit the components and the car.

Listening to the system, we heard a definite improvement over the stock Scion tC audio. The soundfield showed good depth, and the instruments came through with clarity. With the tone controls zeroed, the sound was well-balanced.

However, this well-balanced sound also came across as flat, like a very clean reference speaker system. The subwoofer provided a good base for the sound without making itself known. Editor Antuan Goodwin sarcastically noted, "Well-balanced sound is just what Scion owners are looking for."

OEM Audio Plus speaker
The replacement speakers fit in the same positions as the originals. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

The system staged sound reproduction in front of the passengers, giving it that front row at a concert effect. But the staging was a little low, building a sweet spot at torso level instead of over the dashboard, probably because of the speaker placement in the doors and the lack of a center channel.

Playing Safri Duo's very drum-oriented "Played A Live," the system did not deliver much presence. The multiple overlapping snare and tom drum beats did not come through with the intensity they deserved. But on tracks by The XX, where a single bass drum beats, the effect was much stronger. The system produced bass that could be felt, but it never rattled door panels or caused other distortion.

The OEM Audio Plus system really excelled at horns. On both Dusty Springfield's "The Look of Love" and Stan Getz's "Desifinado," the breath of the musicians playing horns could be heard distinctly. The whole range of sound coming through the horns was reproduced distinctly.

Likewise, the jazz electric guitar on "Desifinado" came through with very clear tones, although the guitar sound was a little too localized at the right side speakers. Elton John's voice on "Your Song" sounded very rich, with a lot of presence.

In doing these listening tests, I used both a CD and MP3s compressed to 320Kbps. There was little difference between the two formats in the system's reproduction.

One area where the OEM Audio Plus system failed was playing music at high volume. Turning the volume to maximum resulted in nasty distortion.

The OEM Audio Plus upgrade can be ordered through Scion dealers or on the company's Web site. The system for the Scion tC costs $1,399, with installation extra.