Q My son drives a 1998 Honda Accord EX, which has an AM/FM CD player with six factory-installed speakers. The EX was a nicer Accord, and it might have had an upgraded stereo compared with other models.

Upgraded or not, he'd like a nicer-sounding system, but he also recognizes that it doesn't make much sense to put more than a few hundred dollars into a car that old.

There are lots of car stereos available in the $100 range that have about 50 watts per channel of maximum power and about 22 watts continuous. They also make it easy to play an iPod through the stereo, and many of them have HD radio. Installation and mounting equipment on a stereo like that would add $80 to $100 to the cost.

Do you think if he replaced the existing stereo with a new one that he would hear the difference?

A Getting better sound for a few hundred dollars won't be hard. But just like a home audio system, a car audio system's speakers have a bigger impact on the sound quality than the head unit driving them.

If you want to improve the sound, you should start with the speakers. They are by far the weakest link in most car systems, especially non-luxury Japanese cars from the 1990s.

I own a 1997 Mazda Miata that I have had since new. I drive it only a few thousand miles a year in the spring and summer. Keeping the appearance 100 percent original is important to me, and I have not modified the car or changed the radio.

But I was unhappy with the sound quality from the audio system, so I installed Boston Acoustics speakers that fit behind the stock grills in the door panels. The result: drastically improved sound from the original head unit.

Not only did the system sound much better, but it also played louder, because the Boston Acoustics speakers were more efficient than the stock speakers, producing more volume per watt. This extra volume pays large dividends in a windy convertible.

Changing the speakers showed me how weak a link the factory speakers can be. When I pulled out the original speakers, I was amazed at how cheap they were. They did not have tweeters, and the metal and paper in them looked cheap.

For your son's Accord, start by replacing at least four of the six speakers (front and rear), then the head unit, then replace the final two speakers (kick panel.)

Crutchfield (www.crutchfield. com) is a great place to buy car audio gear. You can put in year, make and model of your vehicle, and it will recommend what will fit and if any modification is necessary.

You should be able to get four better speakers cheaply. A complete set of front and rear speakers is only $99 for all four if you get the Pioneer TS-G series.

Whatever you do, make sure the model series and manufacturer match for all the speakers you buy.

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