Upgrading the factory audio system is one of the first projects new owners often tackle. Many manufacturers install adequate equipment, but some leave plenty of room for an upgrade. Unlike most cars, Teslas are more computer than car, and all-electric power produces unintended consequences when owners try to stuff in high-end, high-power audio components.
Tesla Factory Equipment
Before deciding to upgrade the factory sound system, it is important to know the available equipment. The Tesla Model S hit the market in 2012 and is one of the most popular all-electric vehicles in the world. Buyers could choose between a base audio system – a seven speaker arrangement with no subwoofer, or the optional 12 channel Ultra High Fidelity System (UHFS). Both systems get power from the 17-inch central touchscreen. The Model S was face-lifted in 2018 and the UHFS became standard equipment.
Both systems are more challenging to upgrade than most cars. Connections for power are not easy to find and many aftermarket speakers simply won’t fit. But, where there is a will, there is a way, as the old saying goes.
DIY vs. Professional Installation
Tearing into a car as sophisticated as a Tesla is intimidating. The good news is that the technology used in the Model S is no different than most conventional vehicles. Professional installers that regularly upgrade stereos in Tesla vehicles will get the job done quickly and with excellent results, but labor rates for qualified installers are steep. Shops like Orange County, Calif.-based Reus Systems custom builds components specifically to upgrade Tesla vehicles. A full stereo upgrade from Reus quickly exceeds $4,500.
DIY installations are no more challenging than any other luxury vehicle though once you dig into it. A high-quality repair manual is helpful for identifying the order in which components are removed and replaced. S wiring diagram is also vital for this project. Try and find one in color, they are much easier to use than black and white diagrams.
Tesla Model S Stereo Upgrades
The base stereo system features seven speakers, one in each door and three on the dash. The system does not include a subwoofer, but does have amplifiers integrated into the system. Door speakers are 6”, 2 ohm, with 40 watt amplifiers for each speaker. Dash speakers include two 1-inch tweeters and a three-inch mid-range speaker that also has a 40 watt amplifier. UHFS systems get three dash speakers and a subwoofer in the trunk. Peak and RMS power are not differentiated, but likely work out to about 20 watts RMS per channel for the base and about 32 watts for the UHFS.
Door Speaker Upgrades
The door speakers in the Tesla Model S are not the typical design most audiophiles are accustomed to seeing. The mounting point is to the rear of the speaker, rather than at the face. This can make mounting aftermarket speakers a challenge. The door panel clips Tesla uses are single-use items, so be sure to buy replacements before beginning.
Properly sound-proofing the inner doors results in significantly improved audio quality and adds the bonus of reducing road noise, vibration, and rattles.
Door Solution #1: Light Harmonics ~$999.99
Light Harmonics designs and builds upgrade speakers intended to fit in factory locations for high-end vehicles, including Tesla. The package isn’t cheap, but everyone who installs these speakers in their Model S raves about the improved mid-range and fuller, richer sound. They feature a really low 1.2 ohm resistance and are capable of handling significantly more power than the factory speakers. The package includes speakers for both front and rear doors. These speakers are a plug-and-play solution to resolve weak factory speakers.
Door Solution #2: Custom-Mounted Aftermarket Speakers
This solution takes a bit of work and requires some fabricating skills. What will need to be done is to use a plate to accommodate for the angle and difference in depth. Aftermarket speakers must be carefully chosen. Only speakers with a depth of less than 2 ⅝” will fit. Numerous Youtube videos online are helpful for designing custom mounts for aftermarket speakers. Installers have found that using speakers from Focal and cutting the original mounting brackets off the speaker allows custom installation.
Dash Speaker Upgrade
The dash speaker provides a significant amount of sound to front-seat passengers. These suckers are tough to get at, so beware before getting started. Installers need to remove numerous parts of the dash to get access. While at it, installers might want to consider upgrading the small, 1” tweeters in the windshield pillars.
The base stereo system offered before 2018 features only a single three-inch mid-range speaker. The UHFS that was optional until becoming standard in MY2018 uses 3, three-inch mids. These speakers are conventional shape and size, so options abound for upgrading. Each speaker has an integrated amplifier that provides 40 watts of power. Tesla owners who upgrade the dash speakers to Hertz Mille-series MP70.3 dash speakers rave about the improvement in sound clarity.
For such a small speaker, tweeters add tremendous definition and balance to a system. The factory one-inch tweeters in the Tesla Model S are okay, but an easy upgrade really improves the overall dynamic of the experience. Most 1” tweeters will work. Polk Audio offers a liquid-cooled, silk-dome tweeter that is an instant improvement over the factory tweeters. Tesla only provides tweeters in the front pillars. Adding flush-mount or surface-mount tweeters in the rear will build an even better musical experience.
Base model Tesla Model S vehicles do not have a subwoofer. The cars featuring the UHFS audio system have a subwoofer mounted in a custom, 25 liter enclosure on the drivers side of the rear trunk. Upgrading or adding a subwoofer is an excellent and straight-forward process.
Upgrading the UHFS Subwoofer
Several companies, including Light Harmonics Labs and SoundQubed build really nice subwoofer upgrades for Tesla owners. These high-end components readily replace the inadequate factory sub. Installers are not stuck with limited options, here. Subwoofers from brands like Kicker produce high-quality subwoofers that are affordable and will instantly provide massive bass with low distortion.
Upgrading the Base System
The lack of a subwoofer in the base audio system is a real let-down. Subwoofers do more than rattle the car and annoy the neighbors, they fill in the low frequency notes that add depth and clarity to a song. Adding one of our recommended subwoofers to a Tesla Model S is actually pretty easy.
For a factory fit and finish with way more bass, look to NVX. The B.O.O.S.T. system is specifically designed to mount in the factory location and features a 10” subwoofer. Note a monoblock subwoofer amplifier is necessary for a subwoofer.
The factory audio system in a Tesla Model S uses individual amplifier units for each speaker, all controlled by an amplifier integrated into the Master Control Unit on the back of the touchscreen. Replacing these is simply not practical. However, installers are able to use numerous types of amplifiers to increase the quality of sound production.
Some people use several, small amplifiers, while others use traditional, multi-channel amps to get results. It is important for owners to consider the power available from the batteries. Too much amplifier will impact range. Upgrading to a Class D amplifier over the factory A/B amp will use less power and provide higher wattage to the speakers. Class D amplifiers also produce less heat and are more compact than A/B type amps.
Upgrading the factory stereo system in a Tesla is no easy chore. Proper selection of components is essential. Even though the Tesla Model S is one of the most sophisticated automobiles on the road today, most owners can upgrade factory equipment fairly easily.
Early Model S vehicles do not use as much factory sound insulation as the later cars, and significant improvements can be felt and heard by owners who add extra soundproofing when upgrading speakers.
It is worth contacting some of the professional installers to discuss the types of components they use to get an idea of what aftermarket options are available. The products included on this page are proven, high-quality components, but they are by no means the entirety of available options. Custom installations can be done to increase door speaker size up to eight inches, and dual subwoofers in a custom, trunk-filling box can certainly be put together. The only limits to the upgradability of a Tesla is money and imagination.