I don’t know about y’all, but I like the cars that go boom. And I’ve been feeling the need for a big-bad, ground-pounding stereo again. It used to be a staple of import car culture. Seems like a third of us worked at a car audio shop. Literally… it was like that. And goals weren’t met unless we were shaking dead bugs out of street lights at night. Then it just… frickin died. Why? Here’s my 2-cents.
1) JDM styling came around hard in the mid-2000s…
And all the tuner boys started removing the unnecessary weight from lightweight Hondas & such. Minimalistic, stripped interiors became the in-thing on the forums. Miracle X bars, painted interiors, & JDM door panels replaced the heavier boxes & magnets of subwoofers. JDM was only one piece of the puzzle though, and from where I’m standing… I see 5 pieces.
So 2) The second piece is drifting…
Drifting exploded onto the US import scene at the same time all the JDM trends hit… in that early-mid 2000s time period. And drifting caused all the emo/screamo kids to sell whatever FWD car they had previously, and get an S13 with the dream of an SR-swap. It was the dawn of the drift missile… and big stereos lost priority.
Third… and this is a big piece of the puzzle: Complications.
By the early-mid 2000s, the new cars were just getting too damn complicated. The automotive industry started turning to electronic integration. And new car stereos became integrated with other vehicle functions like AC, navigation, steering wheel controls, etc. No longer was it just the standard rectangular single/double-din size that you could rip out of a brand new car & replace with something better. Plus – a lot of OEM stereos started coming factory amplified. And then it just got more complicated from there.
The result was – consumers’ birthday/Christmas money couldn’t just go straight to the fun, exciting, impulsive things anymore… like motorized head units with dolphin graphics (if you know, you know). Nah – a list of boring & expensive parts had to be purchased… just to end up using the same damn factory unit that was already in there in the first place. Car audio lost the fun factor, became more of a headache. (See photo below)
Fourth piece of the puzzle… the internet.
As I see it, the internet killed car stereo in two ways actually. 1) Online shopping. Sites like eBay began running down the profitability of walk-in stereo shops like Circuit City, Best Buy, Tweeter, and especially local independent stores.
2) Online condemnation. This is less tangible than sales numbers, but no less real. Hell – the mid-2000s was the dawn of cancel culture… even back then. Of course we didn’t have a word/phrase for it yet. But ignored & overshadowed people started finding each other online. Then – they began banding together, taking things that were fun & awesome in real life… and shunning them online in sarcastic & spiteful ways. Sound familiar?
Last piece of the puzzle… music.
The way people listen to music changed. Today, it’s become more focused around streaming & singles, and less focused around sound quality… and volume. Plus music just got really BAD in my opinion lol. But somehow – none of that changes the fact that I all-the-sudden wanna put a monster stereo in my Fiesta ST. And really FEEL music again.
This all spawned off the other day, when I was playing Beastie Boys for my 8-year-old little girl. When the beat… mmm dropped… I tried to explain to her how during college, I worked at a stereo shop with my buddies. And we all used to have systems so loud your eyes vibrated when the bass hit. And as such – we were absolutely the coolest people on the planet rolling through UGA with blow-off valves, white wheels, body kits, and booming stereos in our 2G Eclipses, GTIs, Integras, & Preludes. Back when offending people was like… the main motive. Yeah yeah… I was getting nostalgic. But even my wife reluctantly nodded in agreement lol. And my daughter… she just looked at me like I was a totally odd duck. So now I want to show her.