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SiriusXM & Car Audio: What NOT To Do

Read Time: Approx. 10 min.

Here's Why your SiriusXM Subscription isn't the Ultimate Car Audio Solution

If you've purchased a car within the last decade, chances are you received an offer for a one-year free subscription to the satellite radio service, SiriusXM. I know when I purchased my latest car I felt like I hit the jackpot with free access to hundreds of stations and talk shows. It's incredibly convenient when I'm heading up the road and I don't want to mess with taking out my phone and opening up a playlist.

SiriusXM had the car industry in a chokehold for much of the 2010s. Up to that point, everyone listened to AM/FM radio and thought nothing of it. Now, with the perks of CarPlay, Bluetooth Audio, and auxiliary inputs, satellite, and AM/FM radio have become obsolete and forgotten. The latest cars are designed to seamlessly integrate with your smartphone, automatically connecting when you enter the car, providing on-screen text message notifications, speak-to-chat functionality, and access to your playlists at your fingertips. It's hard to beat convenience, but as an audiophile the one thing we never compromise on is sound— and the sound quality of SiriusXM and car audio systems could be better.

The audiophile community has been waiting years for consumer economy car manufacturers to integrate HiFi gear into their car audio systems— in a somewhat affordable fashion. Audiophile-grade gear can be expensive, but I know I can't afford the Bentley with Naim speakers and amplifiers. So, we audiophiles have to find workarounds to enjoy our music in high fidelity on the go. So whether you're an audiophile, music enthusiast, or just someone who wants better sound quality in their car, here are four ways to upgrade the audio in your car so you can live HiFi wherever you go.

The Problem: Poor Connections & Compressed Signals

For there to be a solution we must first address the problem of poor connections and compressed audio signals deteriorating our car's audio quality. These two issues can manifest in many ways, leading to a less enjoyable and lower-quality audio experience. The degradation in sound quality might not even be noticeable to you, but once you address these problems, you'll notice a difference in your car's audio— for the better.

A poor connection between your audio source and your car's audio system can cause various problems. If you're using an aux or USB cable that's damaged or has a loose termination, you can experience audio dropouts, static noise, and a complete loss of signal. Similarly, a weak or unstable Bluetooth connection can lead to audio stuttering, skips, or disconnections. By nature, Bluetooth transmits a compressed audio signal, and depending on your audio source and car's audio system, the signal can be compressed even more. When an audio file is compressed, some of the original audio data is removed, resulting in a loss of detail, dynamics, and overall fidelity. The effects of compression can be more noticeable in a car environment, where road noise, engine sounds, and other external factors can further mask the details in the music.

While poor connections and compressed audio signals can significantly impact your listening experience, different audio sources and transmission methods contribute to these issues too. Most notable, are AM/FM radio, satellite radio, and Bluetooth audio.

Bluetooth vs. Satellite & AM/FM Radio

The introduction of Bluetooth audio in cars forever changed how we enjoyed our music on the go. Before Bluetooth connections, endlessly scanning the AM/FM radio was the standard as soon as you started the car—that and your beloved CD and tape collection. We've gotten so spoiled by the convenience of Bluetooth audio that AM/FM radio, for some, is the last possible resort. Today's AM and FM radio stations just can't compete with the likes of Bluetooth and satellite radio and it's sad because FM radio doesn't sound that bad. Radio stations are broadcasting an extremely strong signal that's stable enough to withstand unexpected dropouts—unlike SiriusXM. Now it's not foolproof, you can certainly experience dropouts, but AM/FM radio can deliver a strong, consistent signal compared to newer technologies like satellite radio.

AM/FM Radio in a car

Satellite radio uses satellites to cast a broadcasting signal. Where are Satellites located? In the sky! So as long as you can see the sky you'll have a strong signal right? Not exactly. While it's true that driving through a tunnel or into a parking garage will drop your signal, you can just as easily lose a signal when you enter a valley or drive through the mountains. It happens to me every day on my ride to work, at the same spot on the road, which happens to be at a dip in a hill—where I can still see the sky. Despite its promise of crystal-clear audio, satellite radio isn't immune to signal interruptions. Likewise, Bluetooth audio, which has become increasingly popular in recent years, offers convenience at the cost of audio quality due to its inherent signal compression.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to achieving the best car audio. By understanding how poor connections and compressed audio signals can impact our sound quality across different platforms, we can explore solutions to help optimize our listening experience on the road.

4 Solutions for Better Car Audio Quality

To get the most out of your car's audio system you'll need to do more than adjusting the EQ settings, but it won't require you to drop thousands on an entirely new sound system. Now you can purchase new speakers and a subwoofer— that'll certainly amp up your audio—but the intention here is to provide you with more affordable, less intensive options. Some of these solutions won't work for everyone, but regardless of whether you try one or try them all, you'll be one step closer to a better-sounding car audio system.

  1. Switch to Bluetooth Sync or CarPlay
  2. Opt for a Wired Connection
  3. Try a New Music Streaming Service
  4. Invest in a DAP or DAC

1. Switch to Bluetooth Sync or CarPlay

Almost every new car on the market has some CarPlay functionality, be it Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. If you're like me with an older car you might not be as lucky to get the perks of CarPlay—but you probably have at least an auxiliary input or Bluetooth Audio connection. The easiest, most attainable way to achieve higher-quality sound is to use your car's built-in Bluetooth or CarPlay functionality. There are two ways to use CarPlay: via Bluetooth or a wired connection.

Bluetooth is interesting in that the audio quality you receive depends on the Bluetooth codecs of your devices. Two devices must have the same Bluetooth codec otherwise the signal will be compressed to match the codec of the receiving device. So if you have the newest smartphone with the latest Bluetooth codec, but your car is an older model with an old codec in the audio system, you'll receive a compressed signal. As with anything, Bluetooth has its drawbacks, but it provides a more stable connection than Satellite radio with some improvements in sound quality too.

How do I connect my smartphone to my car stereo for music streaming?

Use Bluetooth for wireless streaming if your car stereo supports it. Alternatively, connect via USB cable or aux input for wired playback. Some newer car models may support wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto for enhanced integration with your smartphone.

2. Opt for a Wired Connection

Fact: A wired connection provides the most stable connection for data transmission. Fiction: Wireless sounds better than wired. If you ask any dedicated audiophile which is better, without hesitation they'll say a wired connection. As a society, we got sold on the convenience and novelty of Bluetooth audio but the big tech players neglected to mention the poor quality of a Bluetooth connection. A wired connection is a foolproof way to ensure you receive the best possible transmission between your source and playback device. No compressed signals or dropouts.

Now, your music only sounds as good as the devices you use, and a poorly constructed digital audio cable will reflect that. If you already use a wired connection and you're ready to dispute this claim, let me see your cable. If it's the same aux cord you've had since '09 or that USB cable you found in a junk drawer, that could be the problem. The materials and construction of your audio cable matters!! You would never tightrope across the Grand Canyon with a withered old rope because there's a chance it might break. So why would you use a poorly constructed cable and expect great results?

Moon Audio Dragon USB Cables

If a wired connection is the best solution for high-quality audio it's worth investing in a high-quality digital cable constructed with intentional materials. Depending on the inputs in your car you may need a USB-C Cable or USB-A to USB-C Cable. We make just about every USB Cable configuration possible, so jump down to our Dragon Audio Cables section for more information on our cables.

3. Try a New Music Streaming Service

The list of music streaming services available is vast making it easier than ever to enjoy high-resolution music without breaking the bank. You no longer have to compromise on sound quality to save your wallet, and services like TIDAL, Qobuz, Deezer, and Apple Music give you access to hi-res music at an incredible value. Currently, SiriusXM uses a modified AAC+ format that's about twice the quality of MP3, but not up there with FLAC lossless audio. The bitrate of stations varies and users only have the option to enhance the audio and video quality of SiriusXM in the service's dedicated app.

I like SiriusXM because it's convenient, but it doesn't offer the same level of sound quality that other music streaming services have. Qobuz is a fan favorite among audiophiles because of its vast collection of music and new artists to explore, and it offers FLAC lossless audio—something SiriusXM and Spotify do not. If you're serious about enhancing your car's audio quality, reassess the streaming service you're currently using. Does it offer hi-res lossless audio files? Apple Music subscribers have access to lossless audio, but Spotify users aren't as lucky with the streaming giant dragging its feet to add hi-res audio file formats.

Here at Moon Audio, we're all huge fans of Qobuz and it's our go-to streaming service for everyday listening. The user experience is unmatched allowing users to select the file format they wish to stream and even download music in multiple formats for offline listening. Check out our recent blog comparing and analyzing all the big players in hi-res music streaming.

What are the best audio file formats for car music playback?

Lossless formats like FLAC or WAV offer the best audio quality, but they consume more storage space. High-bitrate MP3 or AAC files are suitable for most listeners and offer a good balance between quality and file size. Avoid low-quality formats like low-bitrate MP3s, as they can result in noticeable audio degradation.

4. Invest in a DAP or DAC

One surefire way to enhance your car audio is by integrating an external DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter) or DAP (Digital Audio Player) into your system. Your car's audio system has its own DAC and depending on the year of your car, the technology making up that DAC can be pretty dated, further contributing to your degrading sound quality. Adding a high-quality DAC can more accurately convert digital audio signals into analog signals, resulting in a clear, more detailed sound reproduction. Your car would no longer default to using its internal DAC, lending you more control over the sound quality and opening the doors to a slew of possible upgrades. Likewise, a DAP has its own internal DAC which would increase your audio transmission quality and provide some pretty neat features. DAPs are similar to iPods with almost all the same functionality, except they operate on an Android interface.

DACs and DAPs have their own flavor, if you will, with unique sound signatures attributed to the internal chipset. Burr-Brown DAC chipsets, commonly used in iFi Audio DACs, have a neutral and accurate sound signature, and the iFi xDSD Gryphon Headphone Amp DAC is the perfect example of a device you can use to upgrade your car audio. Equipped with a Burr-Brown DAC, you'll experience ultra-resolution sound that's detailed and accurate. This DAC combines the functionality of an external DAC and headphone amplifier so you can use it outside the car with your favorite pair of headphones. Something even as simple and inexpensive as the iFi GO Blu Headphone Amp DAC is another great option too!

Say you have an older car with an auxiliary input. Although it may seem 'outdated', don't stray away from using the aux input to connect an Astell&Kern DAP like the A&norma SR35 DAP Music Player. You'll be surprised at just how much better your car's audio sounds with the addition of a DAP.

The best part about investing in a DAP or DAC is that its use isn't limited to the car. While the intention is to enhance your car's audio quality, once you reach your destination simply unplug the DAP or DAC, grab your headphones, and enjoy high-fidelity sound anywhere. DAPs are effortlessly portable and the DAC you'll be connecting in your car will be portable and pocket-sized too.

Using a DAP or DAC will require a wired connection, and if you've read this far you know that a wired connection is THE BEST solution to great car audio quality. And just as it was mentioned above, your wired connection is only as good as the cable you use so it's crucial to use a cable that can handle the audio data transmission with ease. There would be no point in buying a high-quality DAP or DAC and using an expensive, poorly-made audio cable. Luckily, we know a thing or two about producing quality cables.

Dragon Audio Cables

Your gear is only as good as its weakest link, and in most cases, it's the stock USB and audio cables. Manufacturers don't always put the same level of quality into their cables as they do for their devices. With that being said, our Silver Dragon USB Cable is a higher-quality cable than your OEM option and is built to spec with premium materials and components. It's our top-selling Dragon Cable designed to transfer digital audio from your source device to a USB-capable device. We also have a Black Dragon USB Cable made with UP-OCC copper conductors that will not only excel in digital audio transfers but also add a more musical presentation to your sound.

Moon Audio builds USB cables for home, office, and portable audio solutions. From USB-A, B, C, and Lightning connectors, we make your cable-to-order, handcrafted in-house by our expert cable technicians.

Moon Audio Dragon Cables

Our HiFi Audio Dragon Cables bring out more of what you love in your music and audio gear. If you love your headphones but wish they had a bit more top-end sparkle - a Silver Dragon Headphone Cable would be a great option. If your USB cables keep dying - as many stock cables do - then check out our quality USB Audio Cables. We say time and time again that materials matter, and our audio cables and custom geometries actually help to bring out those desired properties in your gear and music. We make tons of custom options for our customers so that you can get the right HiFi Audio cable for your exact needs. If you have any questions feel free to Contact Us and we'll be more than happy to help.

Generally, stock audio cables are manufactured with subpar materials, metals with impurities, poor geometries, and an overabundance of layers to make them look and feel like a fire hose. Inconsistency and lack of quality control in stock cables can lead to poor sound quality and a veiled sound vs. what the musician intended for you to hear and feel from the music. Dragon Audio Cables are handcrafted with the highest standards and made to order according to your specific needs. At Moon Audio, we create a custom cable for you using the highest quality UP-OCC silver or copper conductors that can be manufactured. UP-OCC metals are void of impurities and are optimized for signal transfer and sound quality. We have one of the largest collections of audio and headphone connection options available online and we create limitless audio cable options depending on your specific gear and needs.

Why Dragon Cables?
You’ve heard the saying that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, right? Well, the same applies to your brand new audiophile-grade headphone or other audio components. The weakest link, in this case, is your stock audio cable or the cheap interconnects the manufacturer threw in the box just to get you up and running. Why is the audio cable always an afterthought, when it’s just as important as the rest of your system? At Moon Audio, we use the purest and best raw materials in our cables to unveil your music. We believe that materials matter and your audio cables should have the same care and craftsmanship that manufacturers put into their audio components and headphones. Audio cables are ultimately the connection to your music. The fact remains that cabling is often considered the last priority to that of the main product and a means to cut down the overall production costs. It’s as simple as that. Dragon Cables elevate every note - as if you were hearing your favorite music for the very time. 

It's Time to Amp Up your Car's Audio Setup

It's time to say goodbye to the days of subpar car audio and invest in some upgrades to amp up your sound quality. If you're looking to enhance your car audio experience and break free from the limitations of SiriusXM and satellite radio, there are several compelling options to consider. By simply switching to Bluetooth audio or CarPlay (depending on your car's model) you'll get a stronger, more reliable connection than satellite or AM/FM radio.

For those seeking the best possible sound quality, opting for a wired connection, such as an aux or USB input, will help you avoid the signal compression and potential dropouts associated with wireless technologies. Once you've switched to a wired connection, consider trying a music streaming service offering hi-res audio. Services like Tidal, Qobuz, and Apple Music are all great options with hi-res audio that will deliver you a more immersive and detailed listening experience. Finally, investing in a dedicated DAP (Digital Audio Player) or DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter) can take your car audio system to the next level, providing superior digital-to-analog conversion, reduced noise and distortion, and support for high-resolution audio formats. A DAP like the Astell&Kern SR35 Music Player or the Sony NW-A306 Sony Walkman Music Player are great affordable upgrades that can be enjoyed in the car and on the go.

By embracing all of these solutions, or just one, you'll make a difference in your car's audio for the better. Don't let compressed audio signals and poor connections be what stands between you and your music.

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