The stages of Car Audio upgrades

When a customer comes in for advice about an upgrade to their audio system we go to great lengths to ensure we get a good understanding of what they want. What sort of music they listen to, how they like to listen to it, what sort of staging they like and so on. Once we feel we have enough information then we will start to design a system for that particular customer and vehicle. We will probably suggest two or three options of varying performance levels but almost all will contain the same fundamental setup of processor, amplifiers, speakers and subwoofer.

Of course we have to make sure that everything will fit and be as discreet as the customer wants but that is something where our experience and knowledge of different vehicles comes to play. Depending upon the level of performance required we will design the appropriate interconnect system and recommend the amounts of sound deadening and acoustic treatment to make sure we achieve the best possible sound.

What about costs?

Only after all the system has been designed will we start to discuss costs as we will have a very good idea of how long the install will take and exactly what components are needed. In my opinion it would be very bad to start a system only to find out we need to add something and inform the customer of the extra cost during the installation, much better to know from the start.

The final figure can be quite high as you can imagine and sometimes the ideal system for our customer may be too much to afford all at once. So now there are two choices, either compromise the desired performance and settle for a simpler system or split the ideal installation into manageable stages. We would almost always advocate the latter. It might take a little longer to achieve the final result but the when you do it will be exactly what you want.

So how do we split it up?

To a certain extent this will depend on the system and the car but what we want to aim for is a huge leap in performance with every stage. We like to see a big smile after every upgrade!

Let’s take a recent customer who has just had the last piece of his design installed. His car is a 1 series BMW which came with the basic audio system installed. He is a younger customer who likes a wide range of music but particularly enjoys dance music and to play it at a fair volume. He is critical in his tastes and really appreciates good sound. When he first came to us nearly a year ago he had just got the car and hated the sound system but wanted to retain the looks of the dash. After the initial discussions we recommended the following upgrades; Audison Bit 10 processor, Hertz HDP5 amplifier, Rainbow BMW specific speakers and Audison slimline sub enclosure. Total installed cost was a little over £2000.

Unfortunately the owner was not in a position to upgrade the whole car audio system in one go so we suggested the split route. The obvious first step would be the speakers and even here we can break it down into two separate parts, the doors and the under seat bass speakers. We suggested the doors should be first which was what he did which improved the front sound stage immensely.

As I recall it was only a month or two before he came back to have the under seat bass speakers replaced as he could hear that they were letting the sound down. Once again the improvement was marked with tighter bass response.

So what next?

Well the customer really wanted more bass and since that would need the amplifier we recommended that he add the sub and amp at the same time, quite a large investment. The additional benefit though was that the amplifier would be driving the speakers as well as the sub so there would be a massive improvement for all the sound. This must have been about 8 months ago so the initial expense of the car had been forgotten and our customer went ahead. You should have seen the smile on his face when he turned it on for the first time! The sound had been completely transformed now that it wasn’t dependant on the BMW head unit.

Added Extras:

For many people this would be enough but we knew it could be even better so last week we fitted the last part of the plan, the Audison Bit 10. This required tuning and we could really set this up properly as all the speakers were well run in. Adding the processor and tuning really lifted the sound stage and brought the bass response right into the cabin by careful use of the time alignment function. Again there was a huge smile from the customer, he could hardly believe it was the same equipment the change was so pronounced.

So it took nearly a year to achieve but by sticking to the original plan this BMW sounds absolutely amazing. It would be so easy to compromise the performance by getting cheaper equipment installed all in one go but with a little patience you can have the car audio system of your dreams.

If you would like to know more about how we can improve the audio in your car please call me on 01625 432707 or better still pop into the shop on Sunderland Street in Macclesfield. I hope to see you soon.

Digital Audio – BMW 1 Series

It used to be so easy if we wanted a better sound in our car. Change the factory fitted radio, upgrade the speakers and maybe add an amplifier and sub.

I can’t remember how many of these Audi A3s I’ve done over the years, it must be hundreds.
But what about the modern version?

This car infotainment system has satellite navigation and integration with the vehicle systems; not to mention a full fibre optic audio path with multi-channel amplification and 11 speakers. The specification is very impressive but unfortunately the audio performance is less than satisfactory. The Bose and B&O ‘upgrades’ are particularly poor with weak bass and a flat sounding front end.

The same applies to BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, Mini, Jaguar and others. It is just not possible to change the front end systems and all these manufacturers use a sophisticated fibre optic system or MOST ring for audio. This system is not compatible with aftermarket amplifiers so what do we do to improve the audio in these cars?

Let’s take the BMW 1 Series with Harman Kardon audio as an example.

The BMW 1 Series is a great car, but in my opinion has one of the worst sounding audio systems out there. Naturally we can replace the speakers with the likes of Eton or Rainbow; that will make it sound better but we haven’t addressed the real problem of the HK amplifier. This amplifier has been designed for a specific purpose; to make the stock BMW speakers sound OK while protecting them from overzealous use of the bass control. You may have noticed that when you try to turn up the bass the sound gets muddy sounding. This is because the amplifier is not turning up the bass, but instead is turning down the treble.

No, if we want a great sounding audio system this amplifier has to go. But what about the MOST ring and all the chimes, tones and announcements generated by the car, won’t we lose them? What we need is a device that can read the signals on the MOST ring and interpret the different information streams separating out the audio from the vehicle data. This device must be able to play the different vehicle announcements exactly as the makers intended while providing a clean digital audio signal. Ideally it should be programmable so that updates and even different vehicle configurations can be accommodated without the need to change the interface. It should also be capable of being invisible to diagnostic tools to prevent device errors.

So all in all we need a pretty sophisticated device; step forward the Audison Bit DMI.

This unassuming little box is our saviour as it converts the MOST signal to standard digital optical. The really clever part is that it can be reprogrammed indefinitely. The clever engineers at Audison have cracked the code for different car manufacturers which means that we can connect this and be confident that all the original systems will be played perfectly.

Now we have a digital optical signal that contains the audio signal as well as all the chimes and announcements from the vehicle park assist, satellite navigation and bluetooth modules. Now we can start adding the amplifiers that will complement the upgraded speakers confident that they can perform as intended.

In fact this is one of my most common system packages for the BMW 1 and 3 series. The Bit DMI replaces the factory amplifier and converts the MOST signal. The optical stream is then fed to the Audison AP8.9 Bit amplifier. This amp features up to 8 channels of high power output as well as a full spectrum digital audio processor allowing total control over every speaker. I configure it as a 6 channel to drive the door and under seat speakers as a fully active component set. My favourite choice of speaker is the Eton Upgrade system. These German built speakers are fabulous and offer a performance level well above anything else on the market currently. The AP 1D slave amplifier is to run the Audison APBX8 slim sub enclosure in the boot.

The Result?

The difference between the BMW ‘upgrade’ audio and the Audison/Eton one is incredible. The bass has far better definition while the front sound stage is clear and totally immersive. Gone are the harsh high frequencies of the Harman Kardon speakers to be replaced with a smooth and sensitive full range sound. Of course a lot of it is down to how I tune the car but that just means that every customer can get exactly what they want.

The same or similar systems can be applied to Porsche, Audi, Aston Martin, Mercedes and others; with just a change of speakers to suit the car. That is not to say that we have a ‘one size fits all’ approach. On the contrary, we look at each installation individually to make sure that each customer gets a bespoke solution. After all, everyone is different; that is where my tuning skills come into play to make sure every car is optimised for the biggest smile!

If you would like to know more about how we can upgrade your car audio system then please give us a call on 01625 432707. Better still, pop into the shop on Sunderland Street in Macclesfield for a chat, you’ll be glad you did.