by Clint Burgess

There may be more boom for your buck in a stock stereo system these days, and new vehicles are getting a bit more generous with accessories like alloy wheels and the ever-popular spoiler. But nothing can compare to the hallowed walls of a car audio specialty shop that has more to offer than just big woofers. As the possibilities for more outrageous additions to vehicles become a reality, it's necessary to see what's out there, and whether it will make your friends say, "Wow."

The car audio market is a veritable labyrinth of gadgets and doodads that requires some careful navigating. With some assistance from Jay Falcone, manager of locally owned Aspen Sound in the Spokane Valley, here are a few of the goodies.

It's a fact that the favorite pastime of Americans is watching TV, and it was only a matter of time until we could watch it in our cars. "People are becoming more familiar with the fact that they have the option to put a DVD system in their car," says Falcone. These systems have really gained popularity and are becoming more competitively priced. Falcone says in the next five years, LCD screens will become standard options on most vehicles regardless of whether consumers are watching TV or movies on them. The auto industry is making a push toward the inclusion of DVD systems in certain makes and models as a result of consumer demand. The advantage is this makes the systems more accessible, the costs are more affordable and you get to watch movies in your car. Prices for these flip- screens of fun run between $1,000 and $5,000, but you can get a nice package for around $1,200 installed - a small price to pay for improving those monotonous road trips with road-weary back-seat passengers.

Another popular item on the radar is satellite radio.. You buy your hardware (the two big sellers right now are XM Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio), pay a nominal monthly access fee and -- bam! -- you're cruising with 100 digital, commercial-free stations. In an age of repetitive playlists on free radio and even more repetitive commercials, satellite radio offers tailor-made stations in all genres.

"Variety is what people are getting here," says Falcone. If your car isn't equipped with a satellite radio receiver, it can easily be fitted with one. And it's a decent bargain. A one-month Sirius subscription weighs in at $13, while XM Radio comes in at $10 per month.

In the same vein as the satellite radio decks are the MP3-ready systems. These stereos allow users to connect their favorite MP3 player to the decks and play all the music stored on the device. All of Aspen Sound's major brands, including Alpine, Kenwood and Eclipse, have auxiliary inputs outfitted on mid- to upper-level stereo decks. Aspen also builds custom dash pieces to accommodate some wicked configurations of stereo equipment as well as construction of custom speaker boxes that enhance sound while maximizing space.

Now that your ride is fully loaded, you'll need something to protect it all. "Viper Security Systems are the most popular system we offer," says Falcone. "They are well-known in the industry for their product, and people trust their name."

I can hear the faux police sirens now.

Publication date: 08/26/04

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