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Aug 17, 2021
We can’t argue, G20s with their A-1 blend of performance and comfort, impressive handling, sharp steering and top-drawer chassis might be one of those pie-in-the-sky BMWs.
But, when your 3 Series soundtrack doesn’t match the inline-six rev during hasty overtaking, well... you know it’s high time to step up your audio game.
Depending on your car stereo for BMW 3 Series, your audio may already have plenty of power on tap and be quite enjoyable, or be a low-tier option delivering hardly bearable, cardboardish sound. As befits a polished ride, you surely want it to likewise stake its claim to the title of standout audio machine, don’t you?
Even if you’re already feeling the thrill of a mighty Harman Kardon, we’ll show you how to inject an extra dose of audio adrenaline into your accomplished sedan with our BMW G20 sound system upgrades. It will be worth it ;)
NOTE: The following knowledge is dedicated for more advanced and curious G20 drivers. If you’re here to simply do a speakers and amplifier upgrade in your BMW check out our website and decode your VIN there. We’ll choose the right type and number of speakers for your car, and configure the DSP specifically for your chassis as well as musical taste.
When entering the spotlight in 2019, the BMW G20 had its work cut out to keep you in awe of its tech, economy and power… But slightly relegated the audio subject to the background.
That's not to say the sound quality was treated offhandedly in every G20, however as many owners can tell, putting the basic Stereo option in the latest 3 Series was a real slipup for someone who wants to be perceived as a premium car brand.
Fortunately, there’s always room for improvement no matter which BMW sound system your 3 Series has!
Don’t know what audio system is in your G20? Decode your VIN here and we’ll send you your car specifications.
So, what are the standard BMW G20 audio options? Successively, they are Base, Hi-Fi (S676A) and Harman Kardon (S688A) – with the latter having the most powerful BMW amplifier and a plentiful speaker package, and the first being far more sparse in its offering. However! That’s not all to this story.
Before we delve into the details of each of these sound systems and how to upgrade them, we have to cover the fundamental fact that G20 BMWs right from the get go could have been delivered with either iDrive 6 or iDrive 7. Even though you could have the same audio options ordered for either of the two possible iDrive 6 or 7 systems, the audio-related electronics installed inside these cars, which power the speakers, vary significantly. The only commonality between the two systems is the fact that both use speakers to generate sound - everything before them couldn’t be more dissimilar.
Why do we mention this? You wouldn’t be reading a BimmerTech blog if it wasn’t filled with more information than you asked for, and dumbing things down in this case would eventually lead to us getting called out on the facts ;) But in all seriousness, the differences between sound systems installed in iDrive 6 vehicles vs iDrive 7 are extensive and it’s crucial for you to understand them when preparing for an upgrade.
Here we’ll cover the most important differences for you and what they imply.
Lets try explaining it in reasonably understandable terms.
As you can already tell by the name, the Base (Stereo) kit is the most basic sound system you can find in your BMW G20 – usually on the European and Asian markets. Canada or US citizens won’t find it in their 2012+ BMWs, which feature the HiFi system as the standard option instead.
Base with iDrive System 6.0
Base in iDrive System 6.0 is composed of a handful of BMW speakers (4 midrange speakers and 2 underseat woofers) and no tweeters or amplifier whatsoever, thus to the misfortune of its owners, tunes coming out of it will inevitably be quite dull.
Covering the amplification instead is the head unit with 4 audio output channels, which significantly reduces audio quality and maximum audio output. It powers two woofers and 4 midrange speakers, while also splitting its front door midrange channel power to the under seat woofers.
Once you hear the Base play, you feel the lack of sufficient volume and wish you could turn it up just a tad... we’d advise you to refrain from going all the way up though, otherwise you’ll start experiencing distortion towards the end of the volume scale. Sometimes it’s better to drive in silence, you know ;)
Base with iDrive System 7.0
In Base with iDrive System 7.0 the quality of sound gets slightly better, as here all 6 BMW speakers are powered by the Receiver Audio Module (RAM) – a module with the function of both a receiver and an amplifier.
How does it look technically?
Since the head unit doesn’t output any analog audio, the audio signal is sent from the HU to the Receiver Audio Module (RAM) in digital form via ethernet cable. The RAM applies Digital Signal Processing (DSP), then converts the digital signal to analog, and outputs 6-channels worth of analog speaker level signal to each of the 6 speakers – 4 midranges in each of the doors and 2 underseat woofers. Having DSP and dedicated speaker channels, Base in iDrive 7 has more power to it as well as available tone adjustments, making the music more bearable than its iDrive 6 counterpart ;)
A step above the Base option you’ll find the BMW HiFi (S676A) system, which is considered to be a significant improvement over the basic stereo kit – predominantly due to the presence of additional tweeters and a dedicated BMW G20 amplifier in cars with iDrive 6.0. iDrive 7.0 cars pretty much utilize the same RAM module in both Base and HiFi (S676A) cars.
In your 3 Series, you’ll be able to recognize the Hi-Fi system by 9 BMW speakers – including 2 tweeters and an extra midrange in the dashboard – plus, an 8-channel (or 7-channel) BMW amplifier set in the trunk. The HiFi BMW amp is a considerable cut above the Base, since it has a little more power to boot than the head unit’s one, and can provide a dedicated amplifier channel for each G20 speaker or speaker pair.
Hi-Fi (S676A) with iDrive System 6.0
In the case of iDrive 6.0, the Hi-Fi system has a 4-channel analog audio output from the head unit, which feeds an 8-channel amplifier located in the trunk. Only 7 audio channels are used here and they power the respective midrange + tweeter pairs, midranges and underseat woofers.
Hi-Fi (S676A) with iDrive System 7.0
Just like in Base with iDrive 7.0, Hi-Fis with the 7th generation iDrive don’t output any analog audio from the head unit. The audio signal is again sent to the Receiver Audio Module digitally (via ethernet), which then applies Digital Signal Processing and converts the digital signal to analog. At that point the RAM can finally send 7-channels worth of analog speaker level signal to each of the 7 speaker channels individually – 3 midrange + tweeters sets, 2 midranges in the rear doors and 2 underseat woofers.
Whether your G20 has the 6th or 7th version of iDrive, its Hi-Fi system will let you reap the benefits of louder, crisper tracks and lower bass from capable 2 Ohm woofers. Plus, thanks to the presence of the DSP, enable bass and treble equalizing in your head unit’s menu.
Overall – decent quality speakers and performance that should be a minimum standard on any new 3 Series… However, it's still far from what you’d call a household sound system. It could largely benefit from some low end thump, driven by a custom tuned BMW G20 amplifier upgrade and precisely engineered speakers for cleaner, deeper tones.
Coming to the top of the pile of the native BMW G20 audio systems, we bump into the Harman Kardon surround sound system (S688A) – ONLY available in BMW G20s with iDrive 7.0.
Harman Kardon with iDrive System 7.0
The majority of BMWs produced since 2020 were equipped with neither Harman Kardon nor Bowers & Wilkins due to a semiconductor and chip shortage. They could only choose a standard HiFi (S676A) version instead.
However, if your 3 Series was one of the few that came with HK from the factory, you will surely notice that out of all 3 systems, it can boast the most fruitful number of speakers – 16 – including 2 8 Ohm woofers, and 7 mid-ranges along with 7 tweeters mounted all over your car. Quantity doesn’t equal quality though – for a standard audio set up, yeah, it’s pretty alright, but missing recognized materials, it doesn’t produce as precise and natural a sound as it could. Just like we said, there’s always room for improvement ;)
As for the power, unlike Harman Kardon (S688A) known from older BMWs, the BMW G20 Harman Kardon also misses the renowned fiber optic based amplifier well known for its robust capabilities. Instead, it’s equipped with a less heavy-hitting RAM and Booster that combined have 9 channels to power the speakers.
Both the RAM and Booster first receive audio signal from the head unit in digital form via ethernet, then apply DSP and convert the digital signal to analog, which they can finally send to each of the 9 speaker channels separately – 7 midrange + tweeters sets and 2 underseat woofers.
Again, thanks to the presence of the Digital Signal Processing it’s possible to equalize your sound in the head unit’s menu – this time more than just the bass and treble. Here you can adjust your surround sound settings, balance and fader as well.
Think a fine Harman Kardon option is the best you can go for in your 3 Series?
What if we told you your audio could be even more up to scratch than that... and finally meet the peerless performance of your G20? ;)
Whether you’re already enjoying a beefy HK or a modest Base, you can always level-up your BMW G20 audio experience! With BimmerTech’s high-end BMW speaker upgrades, we can replace the full BMW 3 Series speaker set from whatever factory audio option you have. The speaker quantity will obviously vary here, depending on the number of factory speakers in your BMW and additional speaker slots – but still, that won’t detract from the knock-out effect of a premium upgrade.
We engineered our Alpha Ones fusing recognized audio technology with a premium build, but also kept in mind to match the acoustics and mounting locations of the native equivalent. Covering these, our audio experts tailored the BMW G20 speaker upgrades to deliver the most pure, vibrant and well-balanced sound, while also being a spot on fit for any G20.
Not everyone has to be ready to go all in on their audio yet, and for these folks we also have a reasonable, budget friendly solution ;)
If you’re a fan of rap, late 80’s funk, dub techno and any other bass-heavy music, our BMW G20 subwoofer upgrade will already make your music come alive by eliminating the muddiness of your stock speakers (even the HK ones). After a one hour swap, you’ll hear more accurate reproduction of bass, no rattling when given more power and a wider range of frequencies coming from your subs.
You can learn more on the topic of woofers and why they’re important for your audio experience in this blog post.
The Alpha One Woofer upgrades are available on our webshop as a separate kit, as well as a part of a whole speaker set.
IKEA projects are no stranger to you? This one should be just about the same ;)
Since we made the BMW 3 Series speaker upgrades to match every bolt and screw of the factory kit, the install is as straightforward as disconnecting and removing the old set and popping the new one in. No cable cutting or installing additional parts will be required – just an easy plug & play process taking 4 hours of your free time. And should you feel like going back to your previous setup, you’re also free to do so, as everything is entirely reversible!
If you’re not an avid DIY-er, no worries – we’ll not leave you alone with this project. Just reach out to our certified installers and let them handle the job for you.
Anyone who’s ever experienced both the Base and the Harman Kardon system can tell – amps really do make a difference. And even something as decent as a BMW G20 HiFi amp won’t always be up to the task of cranking out tunes at volumes loud enough to reproduce your songs' true spirit.
Changing up your factory speaker kit for an Alpha One may already make your music sound crisp and clean, but without a hefty BMW amplifier in your G20, you’ll never achieve that spot on, powerful and most importantly distortion free sound you’re hoping for.
Fortunately, our BMW G20 amplifier upgrade (now compatible with both iDrive 6 and 7 systems) with its fully tuned 64-bit DSP, 1420W max output, 30-band graphic EQ, and numerous sound-shaping filters, will surely give your speakers a knock-out punch. Thanks to the DSP tuning, the Alpha One amplifier will be preset for your 3 Series chassis, as well as to your preferred genres and the way you like to put on your music.
How do we do it? Before sending out our amp, we ask you to answer a couple of questions about the music you listen to on a regular basis and whether you like to turn the volume level all the way up or listen to it at moderate levels. That knowledge can already bring us closer to your audio desires.
And if you feel the music is not quite there yet after the install, our sound engineers will tweak your audio system even further, to make sure it hits all the right notes and tones just the way you want it to.
To keep it an entirely plug & play project, we’ve made our Alpha One amplifier one of the most painless, cutting-free upgrades supported by step-by-step installation instructions. The exact installation procedure will vary however, depending on the iDrive version you have.
What you gotta do for systems with iDrive 6.0 is just unplug a couple of trims and clips in the wheel arch of your G20 trunk, remove your stock amp and pop the new one in.
In case of an upgrade of a system with iDrive 7.0 the installation will slightly differ due to the presence of the RAM. Because of its receiver function, it can not be taken out of the BMW like a standard amp can. So what needs to be done here is find a room inside the chassis where our amplifier can be properly installed alongside the RAM. In the G20 we opted to relocate the measly RAM to a nearby location using a custom designed laser cut bracket allowing us to install our beefy amplifier in its place for a plug&play upgrade solution.
Similarly to the speaker upgrades, this one is also 100% reversible and in case you’d want to hand it over to a professional, you’re welcome to do so.
As of now BimmerTech offers BMW G20 amplifier upgrades for Base and Hi-Fi systems with iDrive 6.0 and iDrive 7.0. If you have a base system - we always recommend upgrading the amplifier along with Alpha One speakers.
Answering the title question – having supplied our BMW amp and speaker upgrades for thousands of car owners and hearing their surprised reactions, we can confidently say it’s worth it...
… especially if you have the basic audio kit. Popping in both the new BMW G20 speaker upgrades and a BMW amplifier will make your audio unrecognizable. From flat highs and thin sounding bass, your G20 audio will finally get deeper, richer and roll off at a proper 20kHz.
If you have a BMW G20 HiFi sound system, doing solely an amp upgrade will already make a powerful difference, since the amplifier will reap the benefits of your good quality speakers. What you'll gain is powerful sound, optimized stereo imaging, smoother frequency response and more customization possibilities.
For G20 with Harman Kardon setups, we recommend pushing that extra bit of punch and clarity by adding our BMW G20 speaker replacements. Combined with HK’s RAM and Booster, your audio will be as powerful and crisp as ever… and your neighbors will hate you for it ;) Our friends at Kies Motorsports made a comparison between Harman Kardon and Alpha One Speakers. Hear the difference:
Want to hear some other takes on our BMW Harman Kardon audio upgrades? Check out our customers’ reviews.
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