Time for a New Lifestyle

The amazing Bose Lifestyle 650

Car and Home Stereo have been supplying exceptional Bose music and home theatre systems for over 20 years. I still remember the first time the original Acoustimass speaker cubes were demonstrated to me. Tiny speakers that twisted with a sound that seemed to fill the room, very impressive.

From that day we have stayed with Bose as the ‘Home’ in Car and Home Stereo. Some of the most exciting products have been the Lifestyle range of home cinema systems and over the years we have seen continuous and dramatic advances in technology and performance.

The core design feature of the Lifestyle systems has always been amazing, immersive sound from almost invisible speakers. The latest version, the Sound Touch Lifestyle 650 takes this to another level. Let’s take a tour of the technology and features of this incredible home cinema system.

 

The speaker system is revolutionary. The diminutive OmniJewel speaker houses two drivers positioned at the top and bottom with the sound radiating from the central grille.

 

This allows for complete 360-degree dispersal and creates a huge image stage all around the speaker. If the speaker is wall mounted then the reflected sound adds to the widened soundstage. The result when all five speakers are connected is a truly immersive sound with exceptional image separation, perfect for movies. To make installation easier the rear speakers have a wireless connection to the control unit meaning no more wires to chase around the room.

Of course no cinema system is complete without the woofer. This is what creates the power and excitement in the soundtrack.

 

 

The Acoustimass 300 bass unit

From the cutaway, you can see how the driver is positioned under the sleek glass top for maximum dispersion without rattling the floorboards. The tuned port below the speaker enhances the truly deep tones perfect for when the star destroyer thunders across the sky! Again the woofer connection is wireless meaning it can be positioned anywhere and just needs a power point.

But what if your room is an odd shape making it difficult to install the speakers in the ideal positions? Maybe you have high ceilings and wood floors which can produce odd reflections and ruin the sound. Well, Bose has the answer in their AdaptIQ system. This learns the layout of your room and listening positions and automatically adjusts the sound to compensate for anomalies. This means that every system will sound as good as the showroom and you will not need to carefully position your speakers to optimise performance.

Finally, we come to the gorgeous console.

The sleek Sound Touch 650 console

Available in black or white this sleek, glass topped unit is the brain of the whole system and packs an amazing suite of features and technology. It is designed to be the hub of your entire audiovisual system. There are multiple HDMI ports to accept all your devices such as Sky, Virgin, Blu-Ray player and others. There is a single ARC equipped HDMI port for connection to your television but if your TV does not have ARC then there is a dedicated optical port for the TV sound. The smart Bose remote control can be programmed to operate all your other devices which means a lot less clutter on the coffee table!

That takes care of all your video needs but what about your music? Well, the Lifestyle 650 is equipped with Bluetooth for direct streaming of music from your phone or tablet but more importantly, it has the Bose Sound Touch wireless music system on board. This simple system links the Lifestyle to your wifi network and any connected devices. This means it can see your iTunes or My Music library on your computer or network drive giving you instant access to all your music. If you have a Spotify or Deezer account you can access that from the Bose control app on your smart device and play it through the Lifestyle system. There is also internet radio access giving you just about every radio station in the world in digital clarity.

All this technology is incredibly easy to control either via the Bose Sound Touch app or the system remote control which I think is important as we shouldn’t feel intimidated by an overly complex control system. You barely need to look at the instructions as it is so intuitive to use, the system even talks you through the installation making sure no mistakes are made during setup all thanks to the Unify installation process. System updates are automatic via your wifi connection meaning your system will always be up to date and upgraded as necessary.

And there is so much more to the Lifestyle system that makes it one of the best home cinema systems available today, far too much to talk about here. I would urge you to call in for a demonstration so that you can experience the full power of this magnificent range.

 

Gain An Advantage: Amplifier

Anyone who has dabbled in car audio will have come across an amplifier at some point. They come in many shapes, sizes, and outputs but from the cheapest eBay special to eye wateringly expensive European exotica they all have one purpose, to get the musical signal to the speakers. The amplifier is, therefore, sat between the CD player and the speakers accepting the low-level input signal and converting it to a high power speaker output. I don’t want to get too bogged down in technicalities but let’s discuss the different types available and the controls we are given.

The JL Audio RD900.5 is a perfect example. This 5 channel, D class amplifier is capable of running a complete car audio system with front speakers, rear speakers, and a subwoofer. Alternatively, it could run a pair of front speakers bridged for enormous power plus a subwoofer once again. So, the RD900.5 is a very high performance, a flexible amplifier with a pretty small footprint making it easy to install.

The input stage is on the far left of this amplifier and comprises the usual red and white RCA connectors. There are 3 pairs that equate to the front, rear and sub input. Above these are three switches that allow for hi or low-level input, auto turn on mode and input channel selection (2, 4 or 6). Not all amplifiers are equipped with these selectors but these add to the RD900.5 flexibility.

The next stage is what interests us here, the frequency filter and the gain controls. The RD 900.5 is nonsymmetrical meaning that all channels are not identical. Channels 1 to 4 are for main speakers while 5 and 6 are for subwoofers. Therefore there is a variable high pass filter for 1 to 4 and a low pass filter for 5 and 6.

What is the filter for you ask? It is used to remove frequencies that are not required by the speaker on that channel. If we know we have a subwoofer fitted then it makes no sense to send the very low frequencies to the door speakers. Sub frequencies require a speaker cone to move a great distance and most door speakers simply cannot achieve this without distortion, I’m sure you have all heard a speaker trying too hard causing the classic ‘burping’ sound. In extreme cases, the speaker coil can be heard crashing into the back plate creating a clapping noise. Either situation is undesirable so to prevent these from occurring the frequency filter is applied to restrict the low tones.

The cutoff frequency is variable to suit different speakers and installations and setting it correctly requires the use of a signal generator. If you do not have access to one of these then it is possible to do roughly by ear, simply play music and slowly raise the filter frequency until there are no very low sounds in the speaker. The result will be a much clearer sound with no distortion. The mid definition should be greatly improved meaning vocals will cut through better. Typically the filter control is graduated and a very rough initial setting for a typical door speaker would be around 80Hz but you should experiment either side of this to find the best setting.

The subwoofer (low-pass) filter is the opposite of the high pass filter as it removes the higher frequencies sent to the sub. This ensures it only gets useful frequencies and we do not waste amplifier energy trying to make it play the higher tones.

Again the cutoff frequency is variable but what we want is to blend the sub with the main speakers so it is important to find a filter point that complements the high pass filter for the speakers.

So now we come to the input sensitivity, perhaps one of the most misunderstood controls. First and foremost it is not a volume control. Sure, it does increase the volume as you turn it but that does not mean it is increasing the amplifier power. Let’s consider what an amplifier is doing, it is taking a small signal and making it bigger. That signal is very dynamic meaning it is made up of loud and quiet parts, an extreme example could be Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Not something we listen to every day but it serves our example very well. If you are not familiar with the piece it starts very quietly and builds to a crescendo of orchestra and cannons. A more modern piece would be Warriors Dance by Prodigy but with fewer cannons!

The most important thing to consider when setting the sensitivity is that the amplifier only has a finite amount of power, let’s say 100Watts. That is represented by the upper dotted line on the graphs above. Our goal is to get the maximum, undistorted output.

If we look at a typical input sound wave it is obvious that there are loud and quiet parts. As we stated the amplifier is there to make this signal louder. Now let’s add the maximum amplifier power to the input signal graph.

As we increase the sensitivity we increase the size of the input signal at the input stage to the amplifier and remember there is a finite amount of power available. So what happens if we go too far?

As can be seen the nice smooth curves at the top and bottom of the loud spikes have been flattened which is clipped distortion. So yes we have a loud sound but it will be fuzzy and unpleasant. It will also damage speakers as the flat tops of the wave are a DC signal that will only induce heat into the voice coils. So if we take our example, the 1812 Overture, with the sensitivity set as above the quiet passages will sound good but the loud sections will be badly distorted and this will get worse the louder we play it.

For the best sound and maximum output, it is imperative that the loudest sounds are not clipped. Normally this would be set up with an oscilloscope but it can also be done with a voltmeter by measuring the output for maximum unclipped voltage as long as you know the true output power.

Fortunately, the JL Audio RD amplifiers have a brilliant feature, a clip indicator. This will light up if the signal is distorted by over ambitious sensitivity meaning setting up is made much easier.

At Car and Home Stereo, we want all our installations to give the best possible sound and that is why we carefully set up each and every one.

If you would like to have your system checked for any problems and to find solutions to these we would love to measure your car using our state of the art test equipment. These can highlight deficiencies in the sound stage that are difficult to locate just by listening.

As usual, I have run out of space so I’ll leave amplifier types and their best application for another time. But please don’t hesitate to call on 01625 432707 if you have any questions.

Say Hello To The Future!

JL Audio are a renowned American manufacturer of the highest quality subwoofers, amplifiers and speakers. Some of our best sounding installs have been based around JL Audio products and it is true to say that there is something for everyone within the range.

I was lucky enough to attend a training day with JL Audio’s head of training, Steve Turrisi in March 2017 where, without exaggeration, I was shown the future of car audio. This year JL are launching a fabulous new range of products so let me describe what I was shown.

In June we will see a new entry level speaker range designated C1. These look set to clean up on the simple speaker upgrade market. They are robust, great sounding and very easy to fit as they come with installation collars to cater for different vehicle apertures.

 

 

I am sure I will be fitting a lot of these in the near future.

As mentioned there will also be a new ultra high-end speaker set, the C7. This speaker has been designed from the ground up to be the absolute best. Drawing from JL Audio’s many years of experience this will be a milestone in audio performance. It will not be cheap but the best never is.

Expect a price tag in excess of £2000 for these magnificent drivers but I am sure we will not be short of takers when these launch in summer 2017.

Already available are the new RD series of amplifiers which fill the gap between JX and XD. Boasting huge power output from a small chassis I have installed quite a few now and they are extremely impressive.

The RD amps are extremely well priced for the level of performance they deliver, the build quality is amazing and of course, they have the legendary JL sound. Available in mono, 2 channel, 4 channel and the incredible 5 channel every application is catered for.

As if this wasn’t enough I’ve saved the best till last. Available now are the stars of the show. JL Audio’s new line of digital processors the FiX and TwK.

With these products, we will no longer have to endure the sound supplied by factory head units that cannot be swapped out. The BMW, Ford, Audi and VW factory radios can be made to sound amazing. Couple this output to a great amp and speakers and there are no limits to how good your car could sound. This is thanks to the amazing TuN software developed by JL and an installers dream come true.

As can be seen, the software gives me complete control over every aspect of the audio system. There is nowhere near enough room here to describe all the features but trust me, this is a game changer. Car audio will now take the next great performance leap.

For details of all these great new products call me on 01625 432707 or better still call into our shop on Sunderland Street in Macclesfield.

Perfect Timing

Let’s talk about sound and specifically how we perceive a sound’s location, (we’ll come back to the elephant in the room). To do this we need to understand what sound is and how it travels.

In its basic form sound is a compression wave propagating through a medium. Think of ripples in water travelling away from where the stone hit. The sound is exactly the same but travelling through air. Travelling very quickly by the way at over 700 miles an hour.

The defining characteristic of a wave is the fact that it has high and low points.

 

Points along this wave are known as the phase and describe whether the wave is positive or negative and by how much. Now for the clever bit. Consider a listener sat in a chair with their eyes shut, someone off to their left claps. Of course, he can tell it was to his left but how? We all have two ears so it might be true that we can detect the time difference between the sound reaching our left and right ears. But at 700 miles an hour this is a VERY short difference and if true it would mean that all frequencies could be located but as we know the lower the sound the harder it is for us to locate the source.

What we are predominantly detecting is the difference in the phase of the wave between our ears. By measuring the difference between the high and low points on the wave our brains can very accurately calculate sound location and create our spatial awareness. That is why we cannot locate very low (very long wave) sounds as the difference in the phase between our close set ears is minimal (think about thunder).

So now we know this how can we use it in the car audio environments?

One of the big problems in the car is that we are always sat closer to one speaker than the other, therefore the stereo effect is foreshortened to one side. A very crude way to combat this is to put the balance off to one side to compensate but that does not enhance the stereo performance. What we really need to do is place the speakers an equal distance from the listener. Difficult if you are not in a McLaren but we can fool our ears into thinking the sound is coming from somewhere else using phase.

By carefully manipulating the phase of the sound from the speakers we can create the effect that the close speaker is actually further away which leads to a much wider stereo field. This manipulation is very delicate as you can imagine but as a member of the FourMasters network, we are equipped with a sophisticated range of tools and software to achieve this.

The difference between a standard setup and a phase aligned one is astonishing. The whole soundstage comes alive with instruments and vocals spread across the car in a very lifelike and live performance. It is possible to compensate for difficult speaker positioning (BMW) or over separated speakers (VW).

Of course, you will need to have the products to permit this tuning and fortunately, there is a range of sophisticated processors from Audison and Hertz that offer these features. Products like the astonishing Bit family from Audison. These devices give me the capacity to completely shape the acoustic performance in your car which means you will have a completely bespoke sound that perfectly complements your car and your personal tastes.

We have a demonstration vehicle always available at our shop on Sunderland Street in Macclesfield. In this we can demonstrate the difference between a standard and phase aligned sound, we would love to show it off if you want to pop in for an audition.

Oh and the elephant? Elephants communicate their location by stamping on the hard ground. This creates a very low-frequency sound which can travel a great distance. You or I could not locate this low sound but elephants can, why? Because their ears are much further apart and can detect the phase differences!

Tim on Driving Sounds Magazine

As the UK’s only specialist car audio magazine, Driving Sounds aims to bring this niche industry to the attention of a wider public by promoting good sound in cars.

Good car audio is not only about equipment but also about the way it is installed which makes the industry unique. In most cases a system is sold complete with installation expertise, which is required to ensure that a vehicle’s standard functions and systems are not adversely affected.

Driving Sounds Magazine presents readers with reviews of vehicles that drivers have had audio installs fitted to. There are product reviews, installer features and also simplified explanations of what bits of a technical specification and features list are important to the final sound and which are simply marketing noise.

Read the full article here!

What To Look Forward To In 2017

It’s good to be back after the festive break and there is a lot to look forward to in 2017.

World renowned audio manufacturer Audison have just announced their new Thesis speaker range. The Thesis amplifier represents the absolute pinnacle of performance without compromise and now there is a speaker set available to match. If you are looking for the absolute best possible sound then this is it.

adison speakers

Staying with Audison, the new slimline Prima subwoofers and enclosures offer stunning bass performance from a very compact form. These will appeal to anyone who does not want to sacrifice much boot space but still demands a Hi-Fi response.

audison prima subwoofers

 

There will also be a new Prima Pack custom installation kit for the BMW 1 series. This car has always had a very disappointing standard audio system and the Prima Pack is a tailored solution comprising the stunning AP amplifier, a custom Prima speaker pack and compact subwoofer. As with all the Prima Pack systems the factory head unit remains unchanged but the audio performance is greatly enhanced by the AP amplifier. The speakers fit perfectly into the factory locations and the sub is designed to blend seamlessly with the factory trim.

bmw1 car

On the other side of the Atlantic, JL Audio have released their amazing new processors, the new Fix and TwK.

jl audio

The FiX range is simplicity itself to use and automatically deals with all the anomalies inherent in vehicle factory head units. Building on the success of the CleanSweep processor, the FiX can automatically de-equalise audio streams and can even remove spurious time alignment errors giving  a flatter, more open sound from which we can build a better audio system.

The new TwK processors take this a huge step further by allowing access to a vast range of processors via the JL Audio software. From input/output configuration to full spectrum equalisation, this product means that every installation can be tuned to perfection.

Over the break we have been busy building new demonstration stands to showcase some of our best car audio equipment as well as tweaking our Land Rover Discovery demonstrator. This simple car audio system still astonishes me with its clarity and power showing what can be achieved with just one pair of speakers, a subwoofer and amplifier. If you haven’t heard it and can come down to our shop on Sunderland Street in Macclesfield I would encourage you to do so, it is sure to impress.

Our focus, as ever is on installation of the highest quality whether it is a simple dash cam or a full blown custom audio system. We are proud to be a part of the national FourMasters group offering the highest installation standards and a three year warranty on installations.

Please feel free to pop in or give me a call on 01625 432707 to discuss ideas and start your journey towards better sound!

Wishing you a happy new year!

We hope your 2017 has got off to a good start!

Here, at Car and Home Stereo we already have some exciting, new products coming through the door. Come to our shop on Sunderland Street, Macclesfield, and see what we can do for you.

Keeping It Simple with Bose

For many years Car and Home Stereo has been synonymous with Bose Hi-Fi. Over the years we have installed hundreds of sophisticated and powerful home theatre, multi room systems. It’s true to say that most of them are still providing their owners with daily pleasure, such is the reliability of Bose audio.

While every system was designed to our clients needs they all had one thing in common, cables, and lots of them! We had to spend as much time installing cables as installing the system not to mention the in depth design process to determine where everything needed to be. All this hidden detail could amount to a sizable cost. Now the whole process has become an awful lot simpler thanks to WiFi!

Wireless streaming of your music is not a new idea of course but most solutions have been of average quality often with clunky user interfaces. What is really important, apart from high quality sound of course, is that it is easy to use. The Bose SoundTouch wireless music system is just such a perfect blend of quality and simplicity.

The SoundTouch system can communicate with any WiFi connected device in your home be it Apple or Android, PC or Mac. It will search for any music you have stored and allow you to play it anywhere in your house. If you use a streaming service such as Spotify or Deezer you can seamlessly call up your favourite music directly from the Bose control app. There is even a smart Bluetooth capability to allow direct streaming to multiple devices around your home and of course there is access to the whole world of radio via the Internet.

Now you can have a whole house, high quality solution without all the complex cabling. Whatever your needs there is a SoundTouch wireless system available. From a full 5 speaker surround sound home theatre system for the living room to a simple stand alone music player for the kitchen. There is even a wireless amplifier that can be used for outside or as bathroom speakers. The amazing SoundTouch 300 sound bar is extremely popular as is the Sound Touch 20 free standing unit.

The possibilities are endless and I would urge you to contact me at Car and Home Stereo on 01625 432707 to discuss the ideal system for you.

Christmas ’16: In Retrospect

As we come to the end of another trading year it seems fitting to look back at what has changed for us. Personally I think the development of affordable and powerful Digital Signal Processing by Audison has been a complete game changer. At Car and Home Stereo we have always embraced any new technology that will improve the in car audio experience. I can remember fitting Phoenix Gold analogue graphic equalisers in the 90s and spending ages carefully setting them up for the vehicle acoustics. Then the customer’s ‘expert’ mate would have a go, dial in the ‘smiley face’ EQ curve and ruin the sound.

phoenix gold equaliser

When digital systems started to appear I was delighted as there were no more sliders to get fiddled with. I was one of the first to install the Phoenix Gold TiDEQ and it was brilliant if not tearfully expensive. Inevitably, cheaper systems appeared from other manufacturers but they were short on processing power and were distinctly underwhelming.

Fortunately Audison picked up the baton of digital signal processing and ran with it.
audison bit ten d
With powerful software and a host of automatic and manual signal conditioners on board, the Bit range of products now allow me to take any car and be confident of a stunning audio result, regardless of system installed and at a more than reasonable cost.

Another one of my favourite company is JL Audio. Their range of subwoofers and amplifiers are almost unmatched for performance and fidelity. Ten or more years ago we were installing plenty of subs but they were large and needed large enclosures for the best sound. This meant eating up lots of boot space, many customers just did not want that and so compromised on the bass performance. JL Audio, already masters of subwoofer design, set out to help everyone get the best bass performance regardless of available space. In the last couple of years they have produced some spectacular speakers that will operate in almost ridiculously small enclosures. Their TW range particularly so. At Car and Home Stereo sound quality is our first consideration and adding a subwoofer is to my mind essential, now we have the products to allow this regardless of space.

Another product that has really impressed me this year is the SoundTouch 300 soundbar from Bose.
bose sound bar
This very stylish soundbar not only looks fantastic with its black glass top and minimal design but it has a sound that will quite simply amaze. As one of the undisputed leaders in sound reproduction technology Bose have delivered a product that defies reality. Although it is only a single bar it manages to create sound from places far beyond its size. Close your eyes and you will be convinced that there are speakers all round you! If that is not enough then you can also add the optional powerful subwoofer and even wireless rear speakers for a true surround sound experience. Of course it also contains the Bose SoundTouch technology which is just about the best music streaming system available today as the icing on the cake!

And if you are stuck for a last minute Christmas gift, the Bose SoundLink Mini is perfect.
bose mini speaker
Don’t be fooled by the diminutive size of this little Bluetooth player, the sound is amazing. Full portability thanks to its long life rechargeable battery and a rich, full sound whether on its charging cradle or taken on an outing.

All that remains is for us to wish you a happy Christmas and New Year. Here’s looking forward to 2017 and all the exciting developments that are on their way for car and home audio.

Please note that we will be shut for the Christmas holiday from December 25th until January 3rd. Have a happy and musical Christmas!

The Unsung Heroes of Radio

Aerials, the unsung heroes of radio!

They may not be glamorous or sexy but your aerial is arguably the most important part of any radio system. It is the link between the station transmitter and your car radio and without it the best radio receiver in the world is going to be silent.

This is particularly true for modern DAB receivers. Digital radio is still broadcast on the FM waveband but the signal is now just a string of 1s and 0s instead of a modulated analogue signal. This transmission method means more stations, more data, better sound and clarity. There has been an explosion of content providers keen to use this digital media rather like we saw when digital TV started.

Despite the many advantages of digital transmission, there is one major drawback, the fact that it is either fully available or not at all. That is to say that if reception quality falls then the signal completely disappears. With an analogue FM signal if the signal strength dipped then all that happened was a slight interference or a drop to mono, DAB on the other hand will ‘bubble’ and disappear, usually just when things are interesting!

So let’s concentrate on DAB aerials as they are crucial to good reception. Most DAB radios are sold with an in windscreen aerial.

screen-aerial

Let me say now that these are the least desirable type. They work but at a very low gain which means that in weaker signal conditions they will fail. Of course, a lot of modern cars have no external aerial and you may not wish to install one so these stick on aerials are your only option. Some are better than others and at Car and Home Stereo I have tested as many as I can find. The one I use is the most successful one to date offering reasonable reception under most conditions. This is not to say it is faultless and it still suffers from directional issues which are to say a station can be clear when travelling to work but poor in the opposite direction.

For best reception there is nothing better than an external aerial. Since DAB radio is broadcast on the FM waveband it is perfectly possible to use a standard aerial as fitted to the roof of some Fords and wing mount on Land Rover Defenders. All that is needed is a modulator to separate the two signals.

plastic-bag

These can offer up to 10 dB of gain for both FM and DAB which means a great reception for both.

Unfortunately the modulator cannot be used with existing amplified aerials as fitted to many cars.

silver-aerial-car

These vehicle aerials strip off the higher frequency signals before sending to the radio so no DAB. In these cases I always prefer to fit a replacement combined FM/DAB aerial.

white-car-aerial

These can again offer up to 10dB of gain and of course suffer no directional issues. If your car has navigation then there is a version of this aerial that also contains a GPS receiver. The mast is removable and the look of the car is unchanged. I have often fitted this aerial to cars with no external mast like the Volkswagen T5 and the reception is dramatically improved.

As I said at the start, aerials are not glamorous but getting it right will mean trouble free reception and less annoying drop outs.

 

Call Tim on 01625 432707 if you wish to discuss options to improve your radio enjoyment.