Ready-made subwoofer enclosures, specifically molded for many popular European cars, are just the ticket for kicking bass-without losing your trunk space

We've all been to car shows and seen it, cars with their trunks filled to capacity with huge enclosures housing mega-subwoofers. And while these systems are visually impressive, many sound no better than an OEM setup, nonexistent factory bass replaced by a sloppy, boomy, indistinct thumping that's just loud. It's almost as if someone installed some low-tech, iron lump pushrod V8 under the hood of your favorite ber-German luxury sedan.

Big, tight, accurate bass is part of any truly high performance aftermarket audio install, but all too often loud is equated with accurate, and this is where these boom systems fall short, way short. There's an absolute art to mating the right subwoofer to the best enclosure; there are several variables, the most important of which is enclosure volume and enclosure type. Some woofers are designed to work in tiny enclosures with less than 0.5 cubic feet of enclosure volume. Other subwoofers work best in sealed, air suspension enclosures that require more amplifier power, while others work best in highly efficient ported or vented enclosures. Matching up all these variables, then building an enclosure that fits in your car while taking of a minimum of trunk space, requires advanced planning as well as a degree in advanced mathematics.

If you visit most high-end specialty shops, as soon as you mention you want bass they start extolling the virtues of building you a custom (read expensive) enclosure and stuffing it with the biggest woofer possible. Often this results in a great product but many times the solution fails to live up to the hype. Is there a simpler way? Yes there is, and it's surprisingly affordable while minimizing the loss of valuable trunk space.

In the area of application-specific subwoofers, two brands lead the pack: JL Audio and MTX Audio. These are two top-flight aftermarket brands with strong reputations in the automotive audiophile community for offering great sound, literally right out of the box. We've assembled systems for five different European car applications that illustrate getting great bass in your car is easier than you think, with the added attraction of requiring no structural modifications to your vehicle, especially attractive if you're leasing your car.

Obviously, not every car driven by european car readers has an application-specific box available. Sometimes a custom box is the only alternative. Fiberglass, as used in the JL Audio Stealthboxes, is used every day by custom installers from coast to coast. If going the custom route, avoid the misconception that you need a 12- or 15-inch subwoofer to get great bass. I work under the old adage that an 8-inch sub mounted in an optimum-sized enclosure will outperform a 10- or 12-inch subwoofer mounted in the wrong sized enclosure. Resist the push on the part of the salesman to buy more subwoofer and a bigger enclosure than you really need.

One reason why application-specific subwoofers work as well as they do, and take up as little space, is that the manufacturer knows how its subwoofers perform in a variety of enclosures and naturally use this knowledge to optimize performance. In the case of the powered MTX enclosures, some feature a built-in, 200-watt digital amplifier which means that they are truly plug-and-play, even when used to augment a factory installed system, including those that fall into the so-called premium category.

When contemplating adding a subwoofer system to your car, consult a local specialist, who will be far better equipped than any Internet retailer to truly match your car, tastes and budget. You'll end up with the best possible performance, no matter how much or how little you're willing to spend.

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