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.

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