Cherokee XJ Speaker Upgrade
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By: Berkeley Johnston - 5/2001

Cherokee XJ Speaker Upgrade



The door latch threaded through the panel for better access.
The door latch assembly can be threaded through the panel opening for better access to the speakers.
Be careful to not damage the plastic door panel clips.
Be careful to not damage the plastic door panel clips.
The factory paper cone speakers simply can't produce good sound.
The factory paper cone speakers simply can't produce good sound.
The new speakers are a snap to install.
Once you've gained access, the new speakers are a snap to install.
A moly nut on the rear hatch cover.
A moly nut on the rear hatch cover. You can see where the factory clips attach... the upper left is broken.
Four of the new hatch bolts are visible.
Four of the new hatch bolts are visible. They screw into hidden moly nuts.

I'm the last person who would spend money on car stereo equipment, but when the family can't even hear the sound at freeway speeds, I needed to do something. My goal was to spend as little money as possible, but still get a better sounding system so that the family could hear the speaking-audio books on tape.

Research

I spoke to a couple of local car stereo shops, to some of the guys at work, and to the people at Crutchfield. The local shops were very anxious to sell me a complete upgrade, including a CD changer and larger speakers. My wallet was locked up tight and these sharks couldn't smell any blood, so they quickly lost interest in me. The general consensus among my knowledgeable friends and the Crutchfield experts was, however, that the speakers are really the weak link in the equation. Yes, the head unit (factory AM/FM Cassette deck) is poor, but the speakers are worse. There's just no way to get decent sound out of the cheap paper cones.

Furthermore, though the sharks were convinced that only a 6 1/2" speaker upgrade would be satisfactory, good quality 5 1/4" speakers were really what I needed. The full reality of this good news didn't strike me until I removed the front door and rear hatch panels. Installing larger speakers -- like the bigger 6 1/2" -- units involves removing large chunks of fiberglass and steel. The upgrade to same-sized speakers takes just minutes with a screwdriver.

What to Buy

What you're looking for is a speaker with a quality cone and surround, typically a polypropylene cone and rubber surround (the outside part of the speaker that flexes, allowing the cone to travel in and out). The factory speakers are made of paper (this is less true of later-model vehicles with optional factory stereo upgrades), so buying less-expensive replacement paper speakers won't help. The list price for 2-Way speakers range from about $60 for Pioneer to $200 for the top-of-the-line Kenwood, priced per pair... you'll need two pair. Street prices are less. 3-Way speakers are more.

After a little more research, I bought some Kenwood model KFC-1376 speakers from Crutchfield. This Kenwood, now sold as the KFC-1377, was considered to be better than average (list price $100/pair), but was also on sale ($50/pair), making it the best deal at the time.

Installation

Installation is simple. Perhaps the most troublesome step is removing the front door panels. The panels are held in place with the door handle screws and around the edge with plastic barbed clips. There's probably a specific fork-like tool that the professionals use to pop the clips, but any thin tool can work, too. Try a screwdriver, a putty knife, or similar tool. Gently pry (Words like "gently" and "pry" don't really go together, but do your best.) the door panel until you find each clip. Using your tool, pop each clip. On my Cherokee, a clip or two was torn from the panel, but that's because a previous owner hadn't been careful. You don't need to completely remove the panel, just loosen it enough to access the speaker.

Removing the rear hatch is different. Most of the pitiful plastic clips on my hatch were broken, so I adapted an idea I saw and came up with a new system for securing the cover. I finished "breaking" the few intact mounting points (so they all looked like the one in the upper left). Then I drilled through each of the mounting points to make room for a bolt. On the fiberglass hatch, I inserted moly nuts. Once the hatch cover was in place, I secured the cover by screwing the bolts through each of the holes into the moly nuts.

Once you've gained access to the speakers, front or rear, unscrew the old speaker. If you've got the Crutchfield or a similar adapter, you're done. If not, use crimp-on connectors. For the best connection, adapter or no, solder the wires. Screw in the new speakers and reattach the door and hatch panels.

Performance

The consensus among knowledgeable Industry Figures -- I excluded myself from the subjective sound tests -- was that the upgrade made a noticeable difference for the better. Thank you Bill and Peter for loaning you expert ears.

Weeks later... the true test. I've spent yet another Franklin on a seemingly worthless upgrade and I'm under the gun. The family is on another backcountry 4x4 camping adventure, but this time we can actually hear the audio drama! The danger passes. The crowd cheers, and Dad humbly accepts the Genius Award, presented by his adoring wife. Hours later, as we begin cooking dinner, my ego is abruptly deflated because I forgot the spatula.


Shameless Crutchfield Promotion

Crutchfield may not have the best prices, but their prices are good, their web site is great, and their customer service is excellent. Alex was really helpful and extremely knowledgeable about how to choose a speaker in general and about the specific speakers I was looking for. He even owns a Cherokee... what are the chances of that?

One of the reasons Crutchfield is so cool: you can configure the web site to show only the equipment that will fit your car. My 1990 Cherokee uses round 5 1/4" speakers in both the front doors and in the rear hatch. Another reason? Crutchfield ships a free wire-loom adapter... no cutting of wires, etc. The icing on the Crutchfield cake is their slick web-based order tracking. Enter your order number and they give you a direct link to the FedEx shipping status.


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