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How I Replaced My Car Stereo System

... and why I’ll probably never do it again.


My daily driver is a 2017 Subaru WRX. This is partially because I’m a 13 year old child trapped in the body of a 41 year old man, but also because it’s objectively a very fun car to drive. I went to the local dealership as a well adjusted adult intending on getting a sensible Legacy (or Liberty for those Aussies amongst you) but the sales guy convinced me to drive the Rex and it was exhilarating.


They only had the Sport trim in stock but I was already sold and drove it off the lot an hour later. I love the car, it’s fun as hell. My only regret, learned after the fact, was that it had the stock Subaru Starlink “infotainment” system, not the upgraded Harmon Kardon multimedia system installed. What this meant was no navigation, patchy Bluetooth connections, absolutely no Apple CarPlay and speakers that sounded like two tin cans connected with string. It was awful and I endured it as long as I could. With the expiration of my factory warranty at the end of last year (and the expiration of most of the hearing in my right ear a year before that) I resolved to actually do something about it.


It had been a long time since I’d thought about doing this, outfitting the 1990 Honda Prelude (RIP) I owned in the early 2000’s was the last time I’d looked into this stuff. A bit of research told me that the Starlink head unit itself was the weak link, outputting a measly 7W RMS, with further software limiting in place to protect the cheap Clarion stock speakers. Folks on Reddit were saying you’d see immediate improvements by simply swapping this out for a more powerful option. Needless to say the technology has come a long way since 2007, onboard computer systems are far more complex and here in Canada a decent head unit with all the associated wiring harnesses and interface modules was going to run me close to $1,000 on it’s own. I approached the local install shop for a quote, and was told that a decent Pioneer head unit, speaker replacement and a small powered subwoofer would cost me $4500-$5000 fully installed, which frankly was laughable. I began to wonder how complex it would be to do this on my own. Crutchfield’s wealth of information and vehicle compatibility tools coupled with a handful of instructional YouTube videos led me to think it was possible.


This guy's videos were a goldmine

As a 41st birthday present from me to me I ordered the components shown below. Highlights were a Pioneer AVH1550NEX head unit, Rockford Fosgate R165X3’s for the rear doors and R165-S component system for up front, paired with Crutchfield’s own Sound Ordnance B-8PTD powered subwoofer. The whole lot ran me about $1700. The head unit advertised 22W RMS, a considerable upgrade on the 7W from the Starlink. I went with the powered sub option as I didn’t want to deal with an amp, and I didn’t want to run wiring to the trunk. Some quick measurements convinced me I could put the sub under the front passenger seat, simplifying things considerably.


I approached the install in stages. First was the head unit. Crutchfield and YouTube led me through this part pretty painlessly, but the wiring harnesses and the Maestro module (required to maintain factory options like steering wheel controls and backup camera) didn’t have the best documentation. I ended up on a call with tech support for an hour trying to figure out why the backup camera wasn’t triggering. Turns out that for my particular make and model you needed to connect the yellow and blue harnesses to themselves to make it work, and also disconnect the battery for a while for… reasons?

One of three wiring harness collections I needed to figure out

Anyway, eventually everything came together, including CarPlay which is a literal godsend. I noticed an immediate improvement to the sound quality, even with the stock speakers still in place. The whole process took me parts of about 3 days.

Before and after

Phase 2 was the speakers, which I thought would be the easiest of the 3, but obviously I was wrong. First I thought that the rear brackets Crutchfield sent me wouldn’t fit, so I ended up destroying the stock speakers and trying to jerry rig the brackets to my new ones. Unfortunately the speaker connection tabs hung too close to the car chassis in this setup and resulted in shorting out the whole system so I had to reassess. In a major facepalm moment it turns out I just had the new brackets at the wrong angle and they actually did fit. They also sent me mounts for the tweeters that didn’t actually have a hole for said tweeters, so I had to borrow a hole saw and cut them, which took a good chunk of time. Once everything was connected and mounted I noticed another bump in audio quality, especially from the tweeters up front. Phase 2 cost me parts of another 2 days.


Tweeter mount after much cursing and cutting

Finally was the subwoofer. I’d known all along that the hardest part of this whole install would be running the power cable from the battery through the firewall to get under the front passenger seat. Forums gave me a handful of options for useable grommets for this purpose and I finally settled on one under the front passenger side wheel well protector that comes out under the front passenger kick panel. From there it was easy to route under the passenger seat. There was also some crimping for power, ground and amp turn on cables, as well as attaching an inline fuse, all of which was brand new to me. When installing the head unit I’d forgotten I needed to run the RCA and amp turn on leads under the centre console to the sub, so that meant disassembling a bunch of stuff again to fix that. I of course at one point made the mistake of dropping my father-in-law’s socket wrench into the depths of the engine assembly and spending a couple of hours trying to fish it out. I also had to cut about 1/4 inch off of one of the AC vents under the passenger seat to make the sub physically fit, it ended up being very snug. Once everything was done the moment of truth arrived and when I turned on the car nothing exploded which was nice. I calibrated the sub and everything is working nicely, but I think there's some more fine-tuning to go as I listen to the system a little bit. The sub install actually only took about a day to complete, but I had thought long and hard about the wiring situation already.

Pretty snug fit
This was actually a huge pain to thread the 10 gauge wire through without taking the wheel off

To sum up, I spent a good chunk of a full week on this install and learned a ton in the process. I saved about $3k on what I was quoted for installation of something similar by doing it myself. I had a bunch of frustrating moments but things appear to have come together. The system won’t blow the doors off anything, but it’s solid enough and is an exponential improvement on the garbage-fire factory Starlink setup. And again, Apple CarPlay with Siri integration is a literal godsend. With all the work done here I’m very comfortable driving this car long into the foreseeable future, although I’m considering a minor colour change as the next project…



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