With technology improving every year, it seems that the only way to keep up with things is to attend trade shows and conventions. After attending the SEMA and CES events, we were able to see some of the newest products and latest trends in the 12-volt market. The most recent shows were no different as the current audio industry technology is surpassing some OEM applications. In some cases, the A/V aftermarket world is getting together with the OEM manufacturers to produce decent-sounding systems that can be easily upgraded by the owner.

Technology is ever-changing and the “cool factor” is ever-increasing. The one thing that will remain constant is our “gotta have it” mentality. Like a moth to the flame, we’re attracted to the latest pocket gadget. Car manufacturers know this and are starting to offer things like integrated solutions for your cell phone and MP3 player. The aftermarket is following suit with integration options for the new OEM radios-from Bluetooth technology to iPod integration.

The aftermarket is constantly providing solutions for our “gotta have it” needs. CES (Consumer Electronic Show) 2007 in Las Vegas, Nevada, showed us quite a few technology leaders with menu-based transmitters, spread spectrum technology, Bluetooth integration and modular applications just to name a few. The original equipment manufacturers are working hard to offer the creature comforts that we desire, like remote start, auto window closure solutions and navigation and video options. To stay ahead of the game, the aftermarket has to stay cutting edge and keep the factory advancements at bay.

Cutting edge is the name of the game, and leading the way in full control is the new Rockford Fosgate 3SIXTY. The technology of the unit keeps getting better as it goes into it second generation of production. The unit offers 153 bands of equalization and signal manipulation, and is capable of summing and overcoming the OE inadequacies in order to provide a clean and precise audio output from a factory head unit to aftermarket amplification. As for control, a Bluetooth wireless control option for the PALM OS offers full control with visual feedback.

Also along the OE integration line, JL Audio made headlines a few years ago with its revolutionary CleanSweep, the solution for upgrading aftermarket-unfriendly factory supplied sound systems. The CleanSweep CL441dsp that is in its third generation of production addresses this problem and is easily connected to the existing head unit to correct the factory system’s frequency response, permitting almost any integrated OEM audio system to serve as the source for a high-performance aftermarket sound system.

This year, the CleanSweep line was expanded with the industry’s first product specifically engineered for signal summing, which is easily configured to merge two-way or three-way OEM signals before sending them to this CL441dsp for correction. This makes it the perfect choice for integrating with “premium” OEM sound systems that do not present full-range audio signals.

Manufacturers are bringing the high end to the people with moderately priced, but exceptional-sounding offerings in speakers and amplifiers. While the high end is still available for those who desire the best, the entry level is no longer a swap meet joke. Serious sound and reliable power are in, and the prices are right where you want them. For the power-hungry and bass-thirsty, many manufacturers are returning to the hey-day of monster power and offering subs that only the serious can appreciate and amplifiers that occupy just as much space. With both ends of the spectrum receiving ample attention, it just leads us to wonder what next year has in store.

The manufacturers listened to the consumers as most car owners are tired of losing their trunk space. Manufacturers have developed shallow-mount speakers that are perfect for small spaces. When these speakers were developed they were very pricey, but have now been produced by a few manufacturers and made more economical for the average consumer. These shallow-mounts are packing some big power in a small package. Other manufacturers like Alpine have developed woofers that are compact and use several magnets to put out some impressive bass for your classic ride.

On the subject of satellites, it’s a good time to talk about XM Radio and Sirius technology. Now you can listen to your favorite type of music from coast to coast without having to hear commercials or change the station. If your radio is not equipped with a built-in receiver, you can add a receiver as they’re coming out with several types of universal adapters.

Another fad that’s here to stay is the Apple iPod that allows you to download music and hear it anywhere you go. The latest iPods are available with 30 and 80 GB of memory space for music and video, which has become very popular. The integration of iPod technology can come from the small Shuffle or the more economical Nanos, which are good if you have a small music library that you want to bring with you. Microsoft launched their version of the mobile audio/video player named the Zune, which is trying to regain market share. Only time will tell how this product works as its competition is in its sixth generation of production. XM satellite radio has also developed a portable system that allows you to take your music anywhere, from your home to the car to the office.

To sum up all of the latest technology in a few pages is difficult to do as the technology coming from today’s audio/video manufacturers surpasses yesterday’s technology by a wide margin. With so much new product out there, we hope that we can guide you with some information for your audio needs, from entry level car stereo to the more serious earth-shattering sound systems. Hopefully, our 2007 Audio/Video Buyer’s Guide can help you make the right choice for your custom vehicle.