How to hack car so everyone can hear each other?
July 7, 2010 7:04 PM   Subscribe

How can we set up our car so people in the back can take part in conversations happening up front?

I find that on long highway car trips, conversation gets segmented horizontally, with the front seats talking together and the back seats talking together. This is mostly because people in the front can hear everyone pretty well (since the people behind them are facing forward), but the people in the back of the car can't hear the people in front unless those people yell or twist around in their seats (neither conducive to long conversations). This is compounded with three-row cars like minivans.

Any ideas on hacks to increase everyone's audibility? How do other people deal with this? I'm wondering if there is a cheap way to attach a mike to the sound system so people in front are more audible throughout the car.
posted by ollyolly to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know what kind of car you have, but you might be plagued with a set of tires that are unusually noisy or getting worn down. I can attest to this firsthand. If you're coming up on replacement time, look for tires that have a reputation for low noise (such as at's ratings). Google around too; it's easy to find threads, for example here.

I am guessing you have this problem in most cars you drive, since you mentioned the minivan issue, but I figured I'd throw it out there anyway.
posted by crapmatic at 7:18 PM on July 7, 2010

What kind of radio do you have? On mine there's a line in jack that's designed for MP3 players and the like, but I can't imagine why it wouldn't work for a microphone.

Normally I'll just turn the radio off and make sure the windows are up. Between that and making sure I talk loud enough for people to hear me in the back things seem to work.
posted by theichibun at 7:34 PM on July 7, 2010

For a more social ride, low riders sometimes replace the front passenger set with a rotating captain's chair. The driver is still facing forward, of course, but with the other seat angled backwards, and no bench separating back and front, it's easier for everyone to hear.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:45 PM on July 7, 2010

I find that I can hear/participate a LOT better if I can see the front-talker in the rearview mirror. Maybe setting up some small dashboard mirrors could help?
posted by iamkimiam at 7:46 PM on July 7, 2010

Most modern car stereos allow seperate volume control of front and rear speakers. Perhaps playing some music and turning the front speakers up would subtly make people in the front raise their voices when speaking, while turning the rear speakers down would enable those in the rear to hear.
Effectiveness unknown, but it works with what's already installed in the car (probably).

FM voice transmitters are cheap (and trivial to build from parts or a kit too), these could work with the car radio, but again, you'd want front/rear volume control, so the front speakers could be turned down (to avoid feedback) and the rear turned up.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:53 PM on July 7, 2010

1. Just be cognizant of the people in the backseat and speak up! Pretend that you're addressing everything to the back seat so you're always loud enough to hear. I assume that if you're expecting lots of talk on a road trip, these are good enough friends that you can come right out and tell the front passenger to do the same "because my tires are noisy and no one can hear over them."

2. Turn the radio way down. Or better yet, adjust the fade (balance?) so most of the sound is in the front. I've heard that most stereos are adjusted to provide an optimal experience in the driver's seat, which usually results in too much sound in the back seat. Level the playing field permanently by adjusting your fade.

3. Make a habit of turning 180 degrees in your seat and occasionally steal glances at the road. Okay, maybe not.
posted by Tehhund at 7:56 PM on July 7, 2010

Put the loud/talkative person/people in the back.
posted by asuprenant at 8:10 PM on July 7, 2010

When I read this I immediately thought of a tin can and string network setup in the car.

Do you have free mobile to mobile? Is everyone on the same network?

Talk like Billy Mays on Jupiter jack
posted by zephyr_words at 9:22 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you have reclining seats, you can move the front seats forward a bit and lean them back more than usual to compensate. That way you don't have a vertical barrier (front seats) to the sound. It's not perfect but it does help the person in the back be able to hear what's going on.
You can also put the radio only on the front speakers. Since the back speakers tend to be right by the ears of whoever is sitting back there they can really drown out whoever's in front. We sometimes put the back speakers on low and the front higher if everyone wants to listen to the radio but still wants to talk. It's a little harder to hear than front speaker only but workable.
posted by stray thoughts at 9:51 PM on July 7, 2010

Try putting your hand a foot or so in front of your mouth. Whenever I've been in the back seat, this has helped me hear the speaker tremendously. However, it does make you look a bit silly.
posted by paulus andronicus at 11:54 PM on July 7, 2010

It's all about who is riding shotgun. They're the bridge between the front and back. Make it their job to bridge the conversation. Anyone could do this but in my experience it always works best if the shotgun person takes on this role. The driver has some of his or her attention taken up by driving. The backseat people have a natural tendency to talk to each other as do the people up front, but the right person at shotgun can help link the two.

Naturally, someone talkative often works great, but depending on who's on the trip, also consider who normally talks to whom. Someone that's only close with one person in the group might not be the best choice. Someone that's talks easily with everyone or at least the driver and one person in the back is a good choice.

Also, allow conversations to get divided sometimes. It's normal and natural. Just bring them back together at points and make sure people aren't feeling left out.
posted by bubonicpeg at 6:56 AM on July 8, 2010

Have everyone wear phone headsets, and use a free conference call service. Not that I think this is an actually good, functional idea, but it might be fun in some sort of ridiculous dysfunctional Arrested Development sort of way. You could all dress up like you're going to a board meeting and have some venn diagrams and important looking pie charts printed out. Maybe put a "quiet please: meeting in progress" sign in a window.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 7:32 AM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

No need for phone calls -- pilots use intercoms because airplanes are way too noisy for normal conversation. The only drawback is that everyone has to wear a headset.
posted by phliar at 6:55 PM on July 8, 2010

What phliar said, only substitute firefighters for pilots and fire trucks for airplanes.
posted by skyl1n3 at 5:43 AM on July 9, 2010

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