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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I've had my '96 Z for about 10+ years and it's time to squeeze a little more sound quality out of my OEM head. The kick panel speakers are 5-1/4" and on the highway with the top down my wife and I need a little more volume without distortion to find complete Nirvana. I've tried two other aftermarket speakers picked up at Best Buy (Kickers) and at the $80 range they failed to exceed the performance of the stock speakers. So I'm looking for suggestions. I don't want to replace the OEM head until I'm totally convinced I can't find a speaker that gives me just enough to satisfy. Here's what I do to test the replacements:

I remove one of the kick panel speakers and prop it up against the footrest next to a replacement sample, then I adjust the radio's settings to full balance on the right, full bass, and 2/3rds treble. This lets me hear only the one speaker at a time. I turn on the radio and find my usual station and crank up the OEM speaker until it starts to break up and flutter; then I quickly switch the wires to the new speaker, and do this back and forth with varying volume levels until I come to a conclusion of better, same or worse. So far I'm at the $80 Kicker range and it sounds the same as the OEM speaker.

So, has anyone found a good speaker to replace the stock OEM speakers? All thoughts and suggestions apprciated.
 

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1996 Z3 roadster with Dinan Cold Air Intake & Stage 1 suspension.
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Back at the dawn of the Z3's release, audiophile owners ranted about the garbage spec numbers in the cassette head unit and amp in the trunk. Yes, the stock speakers were bad (paper cone) but it was only a small part of the equation.

I'd find there was a HUGE discrepancy on audio volume and clarity when playing radio stations (muddy & attenuated) versus playback from the trunk-mounted CD changer (clear & at least 50% louder) Sound quality and to a lesser extent, volume bumped up slightly when ditching the OEM factory paper cones at the footwell and dropping a set of 5.25" MB Quarts (respectable for its time)

To get it any louder and clearer all around would require going for an aftermarket head unit (or at the very minimum swap in one of the upgraded CD Head Units offered in later year Z3s) AND replace the OEM trunk amp. MOST of the system installs I've seen in person back in those days crammed amps to seriously affect trunk space. The a/d/s brochure targeted specifically for the Z3 was quite an affair replacing every speaker, tweeter, crossover and jammed two beefy amps dashing any hopes of using the trunk's floorspace. The $$$$$$ and compromises needed kept me at bay.

Fast forward 25 years, the MB Quarts are still in there, but the sound volume has gone down. First culprit is probably the deteriorating OEM cassette head unit. The trunk changer has dampers that have grown stiff (causing more skipping) so it doesn't get use and will likely get slated for removal. IMO throwing more money for speakers is misguided given other glaring areas of weakness.

It's probably safe to state that ANY aftermarket head unit has specs (distortion, power, etc) that leapfrog that OEM unit. I've also casually browsed some aftermarket amps that are small enough to swap into the space of the OEM factory amp... come to think about it, the void from removing the trunk changer will certainly accommodate a slightly larger candidate amp in that spot. As for a upgraded head unit, it's been covered elsewhere in this forum.

There's another outside-the-box solution that bypasses the Z3's onboard system altogether, but I'm continuing to observe all the pros & cons before posting my findings.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Carter, thanks for your interesting reply. I chatted with the Kicker tech support fellow and asked him which component should I replace/add that would provide a noticeable improvement, the head unit, auxiliary amp, or speakers. He suggested a small 2 channel amp but didn't go into the reason why the amp and why not a new head or new speakers. So I need to learn about how to select components to provide the best results at the lowest cost. I pulled the CD changer out and took the upholstery off covering the trunk amp and thought I would disconnect that and see if the radio and cassette player still worked (I use a cassette adapter to attach to my mobile phone). I was wondering if the CD amp was just that, an amp that was activated only when the CD player was active. For the life of me I couldn't get the amp unplugged! I didn't want to break the connector so quit while I still had some of my wits about me. Do you or does anyone know how to squeeze or manipulate the amp's plugs and whether it exists only for the CD player and not the radio or cassette player? Thanks again.
 

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1996 Z3 roadster with Dinan Cold Air Intake & Stage 1 suspension.
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Just for clarification, the amp in the trunk was in ALL Z3 models whether the optional trunk-mounted CD changer was added or not. IOW, it's there to serve the head unit. It's not there to solely boost sound from the trunk-changer. In 1996, ALL trunk changers were added by the dealership (or owners who turned their own screwdrivers) The factory didn't install them. I'm not certain if the Spartanburg factory EVER installed trunk changers during its production run.
With enough complaints piling in (er, I mean feedback) letters were sent out in '97 by BMW North America extending an offer to "upgrade" the speaker situation in '96 models. This "kit" included two rear speakers and (presumably a 4-channel) amp sized to fit in the same designated trunk space. It involved disassembling a large portion of the rear bulkhead, using a hole saw to drill speaker holes (awfully close to the seat belt retractor mechanism) and retrofitting two fairly dinky (flush mounted) speakers. Kit price for the late 90's was $150 plus whatever labor the dealer was gonna charge. Reports from those who took the bait was lackluster in volume, so I didn't pursue it. Later in '97, BMW offered or renamed the speaker setup as the "HK Audio" option. Almost immediately following that, the bulkhead storage was replaced with the subwoofer.
In that era, BMW loooooooooved to make connectors that integrated a lever of some sort (or slide-lock) to disconnect. I'd expect that to be the case with the factory amp connectors. I'll check & see if my info folder still has a print-out of the wiring coming out of the factory amp if I remember where I filed it. Otherwise, Google might be a friend. Third source might be the Bentley Z3 Manual.
In my previous post, I only meant to imply that the internals of the head unit was so poor that OTA stations was just garbage... and that feeding it a clean signal... at first from one of those cassette adapters (fed by a Discman) and subsequently after installing the trunk changer provided notable clarity.
 
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