Wondering what the difference is between all the audio options for your next BMW?  We’ve explained everything you need to know here. Bear in mind that there may be minor differences to the information you’ll find in this post.


Base (stereo)
The base system as the name suggests is the basic audio option. In some countries, it is replaced by the HiFi system as the standard option.  Equalizer settings here are very limited with minimal adjustments.  It’s usually composed of 4 mid-range speakers and 2 underseat woofers. Tweeters are nowhere to be found here (which can be observed by the missing mesh tweeter grilles inboard of the side mirrors).  The head unit is responsible for the amplification, reducing audio quality and maximum audio output. This may result in a lack of sufficient volume, and wishing you could turn it up more. Towards the end of the volume scale you may start experiencing distortion.

In the US and Canada, it’s not even available and is replaced by the HiFi system as the standard option.

The HiFi system is a noticeable upgrade with tweeters and an amplifier.  The graphic equalizer option is missing and leaves the listener with the same tuning options as the previous sound system – bass/treble, front/back, and left/right.  Some HiFi options will also include an additional midrange speaker for the center-channel dash.  This system has more volume due to the amplifier and cleaner audio signal as a result of a higher quality head unit.  Speakers for this audio option are considerably better than for the base (stereo) option.

Some Harman Kardon setup’s specifications are similar to the regular Hi-Fi systems, but usually have more speakers.

Top-Hifi (Harman Kardon)
Top-HiFi is the best audio option out of all standard three and is branded as Harman Kardon in all the newer models. For older BMWs, naming will vary. However, all of these setups share a similar layout.  You’ll find a surprising amount of speakers – usually about 16. Two underseat woofers, and 7 mid-ranges along with 7 tweeters. One pair is installed in the front deck, while the remaining can be found in the rear deck and four doors.  The amplifier in the Harman Kardon system has 10 channels and is connected to the head unit by a fiber optic cable. You’ll find a graphic equalizer, as well as a surround sound option in the radio menu.

Harman Kardon is a significant improvement with more amplifier power, equalization, and additional speakers that are better quality and have higher power handling.


Bang & Olufsen Audio 

Bang & Olufsen offer a premium audio system for high-end BMW models, including the 5, 6 and 7 series, as well as the X5 and X6. It features improved amplification and speakers.  The B&O system packs a punch with 16 channels and 1200 watts of power.  Speakers are located in the same way as in the Harman Kardon system. To add to its premium appearance, the side tweeters are illuminated, and the center channel speaker extends out from the dashboard.