Upgrading Speakers on a 2013 BMW X1
Why upgrade? The theory
Although automotive stereos are generally better than in years past, they still often seem to use cheaper components, particularly for speakers. For audio, generally the best gains are with better speakers. This comes with some caveats.
Better amplification is only needed if the current amplification is insufficient for the speakers. Replacing efficient speakers with less-efficient, but better-sounding, speakers may cause you to need to upgrade further. Car stereo systems are systems – they are more than a collection of parts. You may find yourself not able to stop at modifying just one part of the system, so careful consideration is needed before making modifications.
While in the past I would often replace head-units or even add more powerful external amplifiers, these days, I resist that urge, particularly with cars that have more amplifier power than was typical before. Also, stock head-units are often integrated with other controls (air conditioning, for example), have steering wheel controls, or connected to the computer’s onboard computer, etc., thus complicating any replacement. While there are ways to work around such problems, it becomes a much bigger install.
My 2013 X1 has the BMW “Hi Fi” system. This has 8 speakers total – a woofer/tweeter pair in each front door, two woofers in the rear, and two subwoofers under the front seats. There is an amplifier in the trunk. (There are potentially other options for the X1: the “base” system is not sold in the US, at least for this model, and the Harmon Kardon system adds improved tweeters and amp.)
There are a couple of ready-made kits for the X1, but the cost of these is over $500. I wanted a more affordable option, but it seems that I would have to figure it out on my own, seeing little information online on alternatives. Often when buying aftermarket speakers, you buy them as a set, with a woofer, tweeter, and crossover, all designed to work together. If you buy the tweeter and woofer separately, it’s up to you to figure out the crossover design.
For a while, I had wanted to make use of AMT tweeters in a car, and now is my chance. The folded ribbon tweeter design is used in some quality home speakers, and I wanted something less harsh than the dome tweeter I had used in my previous car audio mod. I determined that I could simply replace the stock tweeters with these tweeters, and that probably would be a good upgrade for relatively low cost.
What about the woofer? Originally, I thought I might keep the stock woofers and just replace the tweeters, as I think the tweeters are the weakest link, and this would make for a low-cost improvement. However, if you’re going to go through the effort of taking apart the door to replace the tweeter, replacing the woofer isn’t much more effort, provided it has the appropriate 3 bolt pattern and fitment for this car. I found Euro Audio Design speakers which looked good, made as replacements for BMW applications, but without any listed specifications or even specific models in which they may be used. Making use of this speaker was a bit of a risk.
- New speakers
- Plastic interior removal tools
- Screwdriver with Torx 20 and 8mm bolt
- Crimp connectors or other method for joining wiring
- Capacitor for tweeter
- Dynamat (optional)
For a good description of how to remove the interior pieces in order to install speakers on the X1, see Bavsound’s video. They sell a complete kit, including front and rear speakers, and with connectors, making for a simpler and complete install. YouTube link
I’m not going to give instructions on how to work on car audio – there are better sites for that. I’m going to point out some tips, but you’ll still need to know what you are doing before making any modifications. If you have no experience doing car audio, you should find someone who can show you how it’s done or have a professional do it for you.
After removing two trim pieces from each door, there are a total of 6 screws, using a T-20 screw pattern. The door panel and tweeter triangle are further held by clips. All of these pieces should be carefully removed using plastic tools made for this purpose; using metal will just leave permanent marks in the plastic. Even so, it’s easy to break things; I manage to chip one of the trim pieces, which I glued back together.
The design of the AMT tweeter is much different than the stock dome tweeter. Once removed from it’s enclosure, the AMT tweeter turned out to be an almost perfect fit into the stock tweeter location. (The AMT speakers come from the factory in an enclosure for those that want to mount it on the dashboard.)
The tweeters require a capacitor in-line (1st order crossover). Without proper specs (for the woofer), it’s hard to determine the optimal value to blend with the woofer. After some research, I decided upon 6.8 mfd.
The EAD woofers have a much larger magnet, and are overall heavier. They look and feel sturdier, and the cone looks more robust as well.
Installation of the woofer requires the 8mm nut driver. It came with two connectors, but only one matches that of the car’s harness. The other connector, I removed and wired to the tweeter, putting the capacitor in-line with the positive wire.
Before putting the door back together, I cut up some thin Dynamat Extreme, and affixed pieces to a few of the flat areas of the door, but particularly areas around the woofer.
After completing just one door, I was able to directly compare the two sides. The stock side sounded noticeably louder, so my fear was that less-efficient new speakers would mean not having as much volume as before. However, upon further testing, volume was similar between the two sides, with some upper-mid-bass differences perhaps making the newer speakers sound less full. Both old and new woofers have odd peaks and valleys in the frequency response, measured with a test CD and sound level meter. The new woofers are not better in that regard, but they are similar in general; perhaps the effects of the car’s interior is being measured more than the speakers. However, the sound is cleaner with the new speakers, subjectively. Any time you change components like this, you have to wonder, is it better or merely different? Unfortunately, the frequency response measurement is insufficient to answer that question for me. Subjectively, the sound is improved, and it sounds less “strained” at louder volumes.
The new tweeters have greater high frequencies, at and above 8KHz, measured. Subjectively, it’s a bit bright. In a past install, I added an L-pad to tweeters, and it might not be a crazy idea to do the same to these. (If I did, I would probably lower by 2db or so. For now, I’ll try it as it is.)
Total cost was around $200 or less, which is not bad.