Would you trade your home's double-paned windows for a hole in the wall just so you could feel more of a breeze? Of course not. Similarly, no in-car audio system, regardless of how much awesome bass it cranks out, is worth losing the clean look, ease of use and focused functionality of a well-designed factory-installed head unit. Today's audio systems are so neatly integrated into the vehicle's ergonomic philosophy that adding aftermarket equipment sometimes comes with a hefty aesthetic penalty. Plus, even a fairly mundane sedan looks cheap and sullied with a blinking, glowing aftermarket head unit slapped in.
Do It Yourself — or Not
The simple solution is to install upgraded speakers and a signal processor like the Rockford Fosgate 3Sixty or Memphis Car Audio 16-EQ50. But that presumes you have the skills, time and inclination to install the stuff yourself or know a top-notch shop that's not going to butcher your car and void what's left of the warranty.
Another option? Hook up with Rick Reus (pronounced "Royce") of Reus Systems in Southern California. That's what Edmunds CEO Jeremy Anwyl did when looking for an upgrade to his car's audio system. Reus specializes in upgrading factory audio systems while retaining all original features such as navigation, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and voice-recognition features. Reus can outfit your car with a custom sound system tailored specifically to your listening habits — and it comes to you no matter where you live. The company has gone as far as Europe and Hong Kong to install an audio system. It currently has a request from a customer in Kuwait.
Reus has been installing automotive audio systems since 1971. Even then it was mobile, something that was unheard of at the time. Its first car was a 1972 Pontiac Bonneville.
High-End Meets Mainstream
Thankfully, our CEO drives a much more modern car: a Bentley Continental GT Speed. Granted, it may seem a little silly to focus on money-is-no-object audio upgrades for an already expensive car, but Reus specializes in high-end cars that sell well enough to justify the cost of developing a kit. Since it designs, engineers and builds all its systems in-house using almost no aftermarket parts or off-the-shelf pieces, it has to be sure development dollars are not wasted. While high-end vehicles like Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Mercedes-Benz frequent the Reus roster, it also has kits for more mainstream cars like Infiniti, Lexus, Nissan and Toyota, plus Chevy, Dodge and Ford trucks.
In fact, Reus Systems has had a more-than-casual relationship with mainstream cars. At one point, the company hooked up with Mopar to provide audio kits for the Jeep Wrangler and PT Cruiser. The kits were sold through Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep dealers. The deal eventually ended, but the upside is, if you have a PT Cruiser, Reus can sell you an upgrade kit for the stereo for about $300.
Mainstream flirting aside, a Reus system is not a one-size-fits-all solution but rather a tailored system developed for specific cars and then tweaked to each owner's personal preferences. The result is stunning car audio for those sitting in the driver seat. If you're not the tweakee, it may sound odd. For example, the Bentley system was custom built to make listening via iPod sound great using many of the factory components.
Truly Customized Sound
To do this, almost all the EQ levels are jacked up. Reus also added a rear-firing subwoofer, a discrete signal processor and an extra center channel, and replaced the existing A-pillar-mounted tweeters. The Reus treatment adds 260 watts RMS yet still uses the original Bentley head unit and two Bentley door-mounted speakers. Pop in a well-recorded standard CD and everything sounds a little overboosted and very bassy. However, crank up The Corrs Unplugged via iPod and it sounds just right and about 20 times better than the stock Bentley system. There is one odd side effect to the new sound system — the sound quality is so much better now that all the factory-set DSP features sound gimmicky and hollow. Now, if Bentley could just figure out how to truly integrate that iPod, we'd have the perfect sound system.
To get such a highly customized sound, Reus interviews each customer, asking what kind of music they listen to, how they listen and what media they most frequently use. You don't have to Google long to find satisfied customers. 6Speed Online and M5board.com are just two places you'll find feedback.
David Gala, director of sales for Monex in Orange County, California, is convinced. While shopping for a Mercedes-Benz for his wife, he heard a Reus system at the dealership — the company has kiosks at select Benz dealerships. He didn't buy a car but made a beeline for Reus' nondescript shop just off I-5 in Orange, California, and ordered a system for his 2000 Porsche 911 Cabriolet. Once Reus finds a place in the schedule, Gala's car will be out of commission for just a few hours.
Customers for Life
There's something even more remarkable about Reus sound systems. Although you'll find them in many pricey cars, buying an audio upgrade from Reus is somewhat of a bargain. It's not so much the price — the range is between $2,000 and $18,000 — it's the fact that once you buy a Reus audio system, you keep it. The system is warranted for life, and the company will move it from your old car to the new one, charging only for labor.
Reus doesn't discourage new car buyers from checking the "premium sound" box on the options sheet. Since Reus uses much of a car's factory-installed pieces, "premium" makes a better starting point. As in-car features like navigation and voice recognition become more complex and make their way into lower-priced cars, the options for a truly outstanding sound system are resting in the hands of the automakers. Do-it-yourselfers will certainly see outfits like Reus as unnecessary, but for those who value great sound from a seamlessly integrated package, it may be worth a call.
To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit Edmunds.com's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.