Preface: If you started reading this to find out what wiring harnesses you need and which adaptors will let you keep your factory USB and steering wheel controls working and so forth… you’re in the wrong place. This series of guides will not cover any specific installation steps, parts lists, or harness guides. This is more about why all Nissan Frontier owners who enjoy listening to music in their truck should seriously consider upgrading their OEM audio components. A lot of this guide will be based on my own experiences with my Frontier, as well as leaning on everything I’ve learned and experienced over roughly 25 years of tinkering with all kinds of car audio as one of my hobbies. That also means a lot of this guide is MY OPINION ONLY so keep that in mind; this audio upgrade guide will only reflect my thoughts, explanation, and advice. In the end car audio is as subjective or objective as you want it to be =)
Intro: Your OEM Nissan stereo sucks.
a.k.a. Prepare to be disappointed.
So... you have a nice Nissan Frontier that you bought brand new (unless you bought it used, or “new to me” whatever you want to call it) and it has a working stereo system. Maybe you have the cool one with the big touch screen. Or better yet, maybe you have the Rockford Fosgate “premium” system with the powered subwoofer under the rear seats. Some of you might even have the newest and final 2nd-gen model years 2018-2019 fresh off the Nissan dealer lot, which came with their latest and greatest Nissan “Connect” infotainment system with factory navigation. So high tech, right? Well when it comes to actual sound quality, guess what?
Your OEM Nissan factory audio system sucks.
Now before some people get mad about what I just said, let’s start with this: if you really, really, really are satisfied with the “audio quality’ of the OEM Nissan Frontier sound system, then you know what? That’s just fine. Stop reading here, and do something else. Just understand that ignorance is bliss, and again - if you believe that the OEM Nissan Frontier sound system has “audio quality” then that’s where your standard is. Stop reading the rest of this, and enjoy your OEM stereo =)
However… if you wondered if you could improve it, or if you tell yourself “it’s good enough” (meaning you’re already trying to convince yourself that it’s fine but deep down inside you know it isn't), or if you want to upgrade to a nice sounding audio system that plays music the way it’s supposed to then guess what? The first thing you have to accept is that:
Your OEM Nissan factory audio system sucks.
This is because not only is the OEM Nissan head unit a really poor performing device when it comes to audio quality, but the way Nissan chose to configure the rest of the stereo system components themselves is annoyingly sub-optimal. To illustrate this point, take a look at the following… illustration:
Shown above is the OEM stereo system + how it is wired for most Nissan Frontiers since 2005. The only exception is that if you have the “premium” Rockford Fosgate system, you may have a wired subwoofer as well. But that doesn’t matter right now – what does matter is how the front speakers on each side are configured.
Ideally, a good sound system setup will have speakers at the height of the listener's ears, at equal distances from the listener on each side, balanced to “project” a listening experience where you feel like you’re listening to a live band on a stage in front of you.
Now take that description and apply it to the OEM Nissan factory stereo setup. If you’ve ever looked at how these components are in your actual truck, you already know 3 easily visible problems:
- There are small 2.75” speakers in the dashboard up high near ear level… but they are farther than your front door speakers… and they are pointed up to the windshield.
- There are 6x9” speakers in the front doors… down low… aiming sideways at your ankles.
- There are a pair of 6.5” speakers behind me in the rear doors… that are actually closer to your ears than the front speakers… and they are aimed directly at each other.
- The factory head unit limits high and low frequencies the higher the volume is set… in other words, the more you turn it up, the fewer frequencies you’ll be hearing from the speakers.
- The front dash and front door speakers are wired in series, somewhere behind the dashboard where you can’t reach the connections.
- The factory speakers run at a lower resistance than the industry standard to artificially make them sound louder.
And just to make it a complete mess, let’s mention 3 more problems that affect most vehicle sound systems, not just specific to the Nissan Frontier itself:
- You (the driver) are not listening from dead center – instead, your seating position is all the way forward and over to the left (in relation to the speaker placement).
- The Frontier isn’t the quietest and most aerodynamic vehicle ever made (it’s a truck), so road noise and wind noise easily enter the cabin and drown out audio frequencies (engine noise too).
- The cab itself is relatively small (even the Crew Cab version) which means sound can bounce all over the place.
Your OEM Nissan factory audio system (obviously) sucks.
So how then, can we make it better? Yes, you can. It’s not a lost cause at all. In fact, there’s a lot of things that can be done to improve the audio quality of the Nissan Frontier… it all depends on how picky you are and how far you’re willing to go:
Just as an example, if you look at the current audio system setup I have in my Frontier (shown above), I went way, way down that rabbit hole! However, this is just me and how I do things. It took a while to build my system into what it is now, and I can confidently say that I am very, very happy with how my audio system is equipped, and (more importantly) how it sounds. Also, everyone I've demoed the audio system to compliments the audio quality, the defined sound stage, and the distinct separation of instruments. The voices sound real, the music is crisp, and yet at the same time, I can also shake the people in the car next to me if I crank the subwoofer control knob up.
Now then, to be completely honest - you don’t necessarily need to go as far as I did to get sound that you can truly enjoy, but the process of improving sound is best done when plans are made and steps are taken in the correct and logical order. If this is something intriguing to you, stay tuned
In the next part of this series (which is actually Part 1), I’ll explain what the most critical component in any car (truck) audio system is. Hint: where is your brain located?
If you have any questions or comments about this guide, please feel free to post them in this thread. I will try to answer all of the questions that I can to help you out.
Guide Posts Listed Below
Intro: This post, you just read it.
Part 1: It All Starts with the Source.
Part 2: Speak(er) the Right Way
Part 3: You Don't Drive From the Back Seat.
Part 4: Dogs Underwater
Part 5: TBA
(The full guide can also be read on project:KEIRA.)