For many years, Dodge's pickup line was considered Number Three in a two-horse race. That all ended with the introduction of the trendsetting '94 models, with their in-your-face, mini-freighter styling. In the '02 model year, Dodge introduced the Ram, with fresh styling that was clearly trendsetting, and for '03, it introduced a 1500-series version, with the 5.7L Hemi putting it at the forefront of the category, encouraging more aftermarket manufacturers to provide new go-fast parts and a wide range of appearance upgrades.

All this increased popularity (Dodge sells about 400,000 Rams annually) means that by the time you read this, some early '02 Rams will be coming off lease and will start flooding the used vehicle market at attractive prices, making them attractive platforms for all sorts of aftermarket modifications.

Up front, the styling of the second-generation Ram's dash is clean yet traditional and is home to the rounded-edge, Chrysler-style 1.5-DIN radio that it shares with the Jeep Grand Cherokee and several other late-model DaimlerChrysler products. While many Rams come equipped with a versatile AM/FM/CD/cassette receiver, often paired with an Infinity premium audio system, early versions of this head unit will lack MP3 capability, which are increasingly important; the '04 model head units add this capability. Since most Rams will come equipped with a full-featured receiver, for an OEM head unit, we're going to take a closer look at components at the mid- to high-end part of the marketplace.

When it comes to 2004's most comprehensive head unit, Pioneer's AVIC-N1($2,200 MSRP) now stands at the pinnacle. It is what many observers are calling a paradigm shift in head unit design, fitting in a single-DIN in-dash component, a retractable 6.5-inch screen, a DVD transport, an AM/FM tuner, and a Memory GPS navigation system using onboard flash memory. What this means is that with just a single component, you can put complete system control at your fingertips, eliminating the need to purchase a separate navigation system, all at last year's price of a comparable stand-alone navigation system. After navigation data is loaded from the navigation DVD to the onboard flash memory, the disc can be removed and the unit can then be used to play entertainment CDs or DVDs, including DVD-Audio discs, eliminating the need for a second costly DVD transport. Ingenious! In addition, Pioneer has included in the AVIC-N1 the ability to monitor several vehicle performance parameters (speed, acceleration, lateral g-force, angular velocity, slope, angle), making this the Swiss Army Knife of head units.

If you want navigation capability but don't require DVD playback, MOPAR has the solution with its RB1 AM/FM/CD/GPS navigation receiver ($1,500 MSRP). This unit, available at your local Dodge dealer, is configured in the Ram's factory-fit 1.5-DIN face and provides voice navigation along with a large display that provides visual cues to direct you to your destination. If you want to keep your Ram's dash looking stock, this is the unit to select, and it's compatible with the factory Infinity premium amplifier/speaker package.

As so many of the current-generation Rams come factory-equipped with the optional Infinity premium amplifier/speaker package, we thought it a good idea to look into ways to improve this package. While its "sound" may appeal to the Ram's mainstream, non-audiophile owner who appreciates a strong presence in the 60-80Hz region, those of us with more sophisticated tastes will prefer a system that is smoother and flatter throughout the lower frequencies. To address this requirement, we suggest looking at units with extensive onboard signal processing capabilities. One such unit would be Blaupunkt's Orlando CD72 AM/FM/CD receiver ($530 MSRP), which has a built-in five-band parametric equalizer with Dynamic Sound Adjustment (DSA). This automatically adjusts the stereo's output at different frequencies to compensate for the acoustic characteristics of an individual car. Using a calibrated microphone and a programmed set of test signals, the radio "listens" to the way the car's acoustic characteristics distort the frequency response of sound in the cockpit, then automatically corrects the levels of different frequencies using the built-in five-band parametric equalizer. A skilled installer will be able to fine-tune its parameters, eliminating the bass bump while extending the low bass response effectively at least another 1/2 octave, resulting in a more realistic sound, even while retaining the Infinity factory amplifier and companion speakers.

If you're going to replace the Ram's factory amplifier/speaker package, then you can take a more dedicated approach to this issue by selecting the head unit that has the exact feature set you want and adding a separate multiband signal processor. While it's been around for years and is now considered a classic, AudioControl's EQX 6-Band, 1/2 Octave Bass EQ, 7-Band, Octave Equalizer ($340 MSRP), is still found in hundreds of competition-level systems. The reason is simple: maximum flexibility combined with ultra-low distortion, giving installers the ability to tune almost any system to address acoustic problems found in any truck's interior. Given the wide variety of Ram cab configurations along with cloth, vinyl, and leather seating surfaces that all affect sound quality in different ways, absorbing and reflecting sound in the cabin, a multiband equalizer is the only way to fully address these issues.

When cost is no object, you can consider a component to address these issues in the digital domain, and if that's the case, a more modern alternative is the AudioControl DQX ($600 MSRP), which combines 24-bit 1/3-octave equalizers with a three-way active crossover, giving maximum control over your system's tonal quality. A trained installer, setting the DQX with an RTA, can address almost any acoustic issue typically present in a vehicle interior, resulting in octave-to-octave balance that will rival the best home systems.

One of the things that makes the current-generation Ram unique among standard cab pickups is the space behind the seats for storage. On the new '04 500hp Viper-powered version of the SRT-10, the space even includes a factory-installed 10-inch subwoofer (more about that later). What that means for standard cab owners is that there is plenty of space available to install aftermarket components, be they signal processors or even amplifiers, all without compromising seat travel. No longer is it necessary when owning a standard cab pickup to choose between legroom or great sound. The trays behind the seats provide ample room to install a multichannel system amplifier, such as the Phoenix Gold Octane R 5.1 MT ($500 MSRP). This is a complete amplifier solution, combining five separate full-range 50-watt amplifier channels with a dedicated 100-watt channel to drive a dedicated subwoofer, all controlled by its own Graphic User Interface. Its relatively small footprint allows it to not only be mounted under the seat, but also installed in a variety of ways in the Ram's behind-the-seat storage trays, making it the obvious choice in any space-challenged application.

If you have a Ram Quad Cab four-door pickup, in some ways you have less space available to mount components, especially if you plan to use the space under the rear seat for any sort of subwoofer enclosure. This means that a low-profile amplifier is essential. Consider Bazooka's RSA150.2HC ($500 MSRP), part of the company's P. Miller (Percy Miller, aka Master P) Signature Series of amplifiers and subwoofers. The RSA150.2HC is an amplifier that, within its low-profile chassis, fits two 150-watt channels capable of exceptional low-impedance performance, especially driving inefficient speakers and subwoofers.

If you look behind the circular grille in each front door, you may think that Dodge installed a traditional 6.5-inch-round speaker, but that, in fact, isn't the case. Behind the door trim panel you'll find an oval 6x9-inch speaker. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, except that the output of the speaker is playing into the back of the trim panel rather than exiting through a proper-sized opening. The result is some nasty panel vibrations at high volumes. If you're going to add a subwoofer, consider replacing the factory-style 6x9-inch with a 6.5-inch-round speaker. What you give up in piston area, you'll more than gain in reduced distortion from the larger cone radiating into the back of the door trim panel. A great choice would be Cerwin Vega's V-Mag 6502 6.5-inch ($200 MSRP), which combines Cerwin Vega's traditional high sensitivity and its ability to play loud without a lot of power, with extended frequency response at both ends of the sonic spectrum.

While the standard door-mounted positioning of the front speakers will suffice for most Ram owners, some will opt for a more audiophile approach. When it comes to the best possible imaging and staging, which requires moving the speakers an equal distance from the listener, kick panel-mounted speakers will be the best choice. By moving the speakers out of the doors, where much of their output is blocked by the driver and front-seat passenger, and by more closely equalizing the speaker-to-ear distance, sonic accuracy is improved dramatically

In the past, getting this level of improvement has required custom (and costly) kick panel enclosures. Now it can be accomplished for as little as $200 with Q-Logic's custom-molded replacement kick panels offered for the '02-'04 Rams. These panels, which can accommodate either an integrated 6.5-inch speaker or a two-way component set, angle up the drivers for the best possible imaging and staging

A great companion to the Q-Logic kick panels might be a set of 6.5-inch component separates from Lightning Audio, the company's Bolt B1.65C separates ($130 MSRP). Their reasonable price belies their high performance, and the included separate crossover is optimized to separate the signal to the 6.5-inch 'woofer and 1-inch tweeter

While few of us will be fortunate enough to own the ultimate Ram, the new-for-'04 SRT-10, we can get some bass ideas from its 10-inch Infinity subwoofer mounted between the front seats at the rear of the standard cab. While a similar setup is not yet available as a dealer-installed accessory, you can add a self-contained bass module, the Infinity BassLink ($350 MSRP in black, $400 MSRP in clear), which accomplishes the same objective. Combining a 10-inch subwoofer, a matched 10-inch passive radiator, a 200-watt Class-D amplifier, and a wired remote, the BassLink is small enough to fit behind the seats in a standard cab and under the seats on the four-door Quad Cab models.

When it comes to subwoofer enclosure options for the Dodge Ram, no one has more choices than JL Audio. If you want to roll your own, you can select a premolded enclosure for under the rear seat of your Dodge Ram from the company's Vantage series ($150 MSRP), then stuff it with your choice from the almost unlimited number of 10-inch subwoofers available. Quite possibly the best choice comes from JL Audio as well, in the form of the company's well-regarded 10W0 10-inch subwoofer ($110 MSRP), a long excursion design that produces the kind of clean and solid low frequency response for which JL Audio is justifiably famous for.

If you want to go the premium route, JL Audio offers a number of unique models from its Stealthbox line, which combines a molded fiberglass enclosure with a matched JL Audio subwoofer, optimized for the internal volume of the enclosure. While one model is designed to replace the fold-down center console, even on standard cab Rams, the most popular choice is the SB-D-QCRAM10W3 ($500 MSRP), which fits under the rear seat, taking up space that would otherwise go unused. With a 10W3 subwoofer, you'll be amazed at how much bass this box pumps out.

With the growing popularity of in-vehicle video, combined with the fact that the vast majority of Rams are four-door Quad Cabs, it should come as no surprise that they have become popular family vehicles. Knowing this, video manufacturers are addressing this need. While at first glance a drop-down overhead monitor might seem practical, the upright rear seating position makes this a less than viable option. A far better solution comes in the form of headrests with LCD monitors already installed. VizuaLogic is one of the manufacturers who offers replacement headrests with LCD monitors already installed ($500 MSRP). Simply remove the factory headrest (and put them on a shelf in your garage so that when you replace your Ram in a few years, you can replace the LCD headrests) and mount the new headrests, which are available in factory-match cloth and leather trim. It's the quick, easy, and painless way to add rear-seat entertainment to your Ram, making long trips with your kids a pleasure instead of an ordeal.

While everyone wishes they could install an integrated DVD player in-dash with a retractable screen, the reality is that these components remain very expensive and beyond the budget of many enthusiasts. With that in mind, Blaupunkt, by not offering a traditional single-DIN DVD player, offers the DVDME2 ($250 MSRP), the company's second-generation stand-alone player. This versatile unit not only plays DVDs, but also a wide variety of self-recorded music formats, including CD-R and CD-RW MP3 discs.

At a GlanceYears: '02-'04Make: DodgeModel: Ram standard and Quad cabs

In-dash:Chrysler-style 1.5-DIN opening, requires installation kit

Front doors:6x9-inch oval speakers (6.5-inch speakers work as well)

Rear doors (Quad Cab):6x9-inch oval speakers (6.5-inch speakers work as well)

Amplifiers:Under the front seats, under rear seats, on back wall of cab (standard cab applications)

SOURCE
JL Audio
10369 N. Commerce Pkwy.
Miramar
FL  33025
954-443-1100
www.jlaudio.com
Lightning Audio
2055 E. 5th St.
Tempe
AZ  85281
888-881-8186
www.lightningaudio.com
Blaupunkt
2800 S. 25th Ave.
Broadview
IL  60153
800-262-2528
www.blaupunktusa.com
VizuaLogic
1493 Bentley Dr.
Corona
CA  92879
800-624-7960
www.vizualogic.com
AudioControl
22410 70th Ave. W.
Mountlake Terrace
WA  98043
www.audiocontrol.com
Cerwin Vega
555 E. Easy St.
Simi Valley
CA  93065
805-584-5300
www.cerwinvega.com
Mopar
www.mopar.com
Infinity Systems
250 Crossways Pkwy. W.
Woodbury
NY  11797
800-645-7484
www.infinitysystems.com
Pioneer Electronics Phoenix Gold International
9300 N. Decatur St.
Portland
OR  97203
800-950-1449
www.phoenixgold.com
Q-Logic
955 N. Fiesta Blvd., Ste. 4
Gilbert
AZ  85233
800-762-0351
www.qlogic.ws/2003/home/
Bazooka
15049 Florida Blvd.
Baton Rouge
LA  70819
N/A
www.bazooka.com
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