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!

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.

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.
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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.
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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.
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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!

landrover defender stock

Upgrading the Defender

The Land Rover Defender is a true British classic design. Although, now sadly out of production, the longevity of the Defender means that they will be on (and off) our roads for a great many years to come.

landrover defender stock

It’s design hasn’t changed much in its 70 years and, despite continuous improvements to comfort the audio, performance has always been poor. A relatively noisy environment coupled with small speakers has always meant the sound in the Defender has a lot left to be desired!

As Macclesfield in Cheshire is a fairly rural community there are a lot of these vehicles about as you can imagine and over the years I have developed an audio upgrade package which is powerful and discreet.

The first challenge is the speaker size. Being only 10 cm without modification means that the bass performance is limited. Step forward JL Audio! As the undisputed leaders in subwoofer design, JL Audio are perfectly placed to design speakers that have a much better bass response. This is not to say that a 4 inch speaker can replace a subwoofer but JL Audio’s expertise means that you will get a massive improvement over the stock speaker.

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To bring the bass response up to the required standard we need to fit in a subwoofer. The irony is that although the Defender is a large utility vehicle, there is almost nowhere to discreetly install a sub box without compromising useful space. JL Audio is here to the rescue, again, with their amazing sub, the 6w3.

jl subwoofer

This astonishing unit is a true 6 inch subwoofer. It is optimized for a tiny enclosure of just 0.125 cu ft. I have developed a carpet trimmed speaker box that will fit just under the roll cage bar behind the front seat. One can be used but for best results we recommend one either side to create an effective 12 inch sub. This allows for a much smoother performance and really blends with the music.

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So now we have a sub we are going to need an amplifier. Again, space is limited but fortunately there is room under the driver’s seat for a compact unit. It makes no sense to just amplify the sub so we always install a multi-channel unit to power sub and speakers.

Here we must address the acoustic issues in the vehicle because of the speaker layout and the rather boxy interior of the Defender the sound staging is challenging to say the least. It is essential to install some sort of signal processor or regardless of the quality of the installed equipment, the sound stage will be poor.

I now always use the Audison Prima AP9Bit amplifier. This amazing unit has a full digital signal processor coupled to a powerful 8 channel amplifier in a very compact chassis.

Audison

This amplifier can be configured in any way I need depending on the complexity of the installed system. In the Defender it can be a 5 or 6 way for one or two subs. I can then configure the signal processor for the car acoustics and the personal musical tastes of the owner. The software is very powerful, providing  full spectrum equalization on every channel with very fine time alignment available to place the sound stage where it needs to be.

audison speaker amplifier

As a musician I can appreciate the subtleties of sound and this software allows me to bring out the finer details of the music even in a challenging environment like the Land Rover Defender. I am often challenged by owners who say you can’t get a good sound in a Defender but I guarantee that I can. I have installed many of these systems now, both for private individuals and for local dealerships, the feedback is always the same, that they just can’t believe how good this sounds. One customer even came back to tell me that the sound was better than in his Bentley GT!

It is true that the kit described above is extremely good but without the ability to carefully tune it the results would be arable at best. That is where I can make the biggest difference, my experience and exacting standards mean that this great equipment can be enjoyed to its true potential and I feel that this is true value.

 

Whatever you own, Land Rover, Lamborghini, Lotus or any other car with a challenging audio performance I can make it better, give Tim a call on 01625 432707 or email sales@carhomestereo.co.uk to start your journey to better sound.

 

Simon Says? Speakers Please!

For this instalment let’s look at speaker installation. The speaker is the last piece of hardware between your music and your ears and as such has an awful lot to do with the sound you hear.

The science behind the speaker is extremely simple; pass an electric current through a wire that sits inside a magnetic field and the wire experiences a force, vary that current and you vary the force. Of course this demonstration produces no sound but if we attach the wire (or coil) to a diaphragm (or cone) we have the nucleus of a working speaker. The electronics in the amplifier produce the varying electrical current and the speaker responds, creating the highly complex vibrations in the air that we hear as music.

The above description is of course highly simplified and in reality there are many more aspects to speaker design. We have to consider the weight of the moving parts, the resistance to movement within the materials themselves, the linearity of the magnetic field, the quality of the coil wire, the damping to prevent uncontrolled excursion, stability of the frame and so on and so on! Fortunately all of these considerations are engineering problems and this means that better engineering will lead to a better product.

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When Mr. Ford or Mr. Audi or even Mr. Porsche are told that they have to put speakers in their cars their first consideration is not about quality even when they enlist the help of respected Hi-Fi companies. Their overriding concern is one of reliability. A blown speaker is a warrantee issue and that costs money. The trouble is that a speaker that can survive heavy metal hard core country rap at full volume has to be made super resilient. This speaker is not going to be able to respond to the subtle nuances of any quality musical performance.

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At Car and Home Stereo we are always going to install a high quality speaker, carefully selected to match the vehicle and musical tastes of the customer. This is where our installation skills are needed. The average car door is a challenging place for a speaker. It is a steel box that is often wet inside, can be freezing one day and very hot the next. There are moving parts within it and it is subject to a large amount of vibration and noise. Let’s look at a typical installation addressing each point.

First of all we carefully remove the inner trim making sure that all clips and seals are retained. After this the next job is to treat the metal skin with sound deadening material which will absorb road noise and any vibrations within the door.

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Particular attention is paid to directly behind the speaker as this will absorb the sound generated by the back of the cone and prevent reflection back into the door panel.

Once the outer skin has been treated we apply a foam barrier to the inner skin. This forms a watertight seal and acts as a thermal and acoustic barrier. This keeps the car warmer in winter, cooler in summer and again reduces road noise. The difference these treatments make to a car is astonishing.

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Now we come to installing the speaker. The factory units are often built to fit so we must make panels and collars to allow a perfect fit to the door.

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It is very important that no moisture gaps are left as it may come as a surprise to know that doors are designed to let rain flow through them. Any gaps could lead to a wet floor so we make sure everything is sealed with high quality silicone, both the collar and the speaker, this also ensures no air gaps to compromise the speaker performance.

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Quite a lot of work but absolutely worth it. These Audison APK speakers sound great anyway but by treating the door they are at least 30% better.

If you would like to know more about how we can improve the sound in your car please call Tim on 01625 432707.

Audio Installation with Full Instrumentation!

Over the 40 years that Car and Home Stereo has been installing audio systems to cars we have seen enormous changes. Changes to the source units available (who else remembers 8 track cartridges?!), changes to the playback systems and of course changes to the vehicles themselves. While a 1970’s Ford Escort shares a common purpose with a 2016 Audi TT, they share very little under the skin.

Most vehicle systems now are completely controlled by the on-board computers, true Drive by Wire. These systems have meant much greater reliability, higher efficiency and flexibility. However it has also led to a much lower tolerance of interference with respect to changes. Even the slightest change to a vehicle system can generate fault codes and even lead to vehicle malfunction.

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This, coupled with fully integrated entertainment systems would appear to spell the end of audio upgrades, leaving you stuck with the dull factory installed system but help is at hand!

Fortunately our industry has risen to the challenge and developed systems that can be seamlessly integrated with any factory system regardless of complexity.

If you have a Bose or Infinity audio system in your car then the speakers may well be of a lower impedance than standard. This would mean a blown speaker could not be replaced with an alternative to the factory part but we now have speakers that are specifically designed to be added to factory systems meaning perfect fit and far better sound.

landrover-speakers-side-by-side

You may want to change the basic radio in your VW Golf to something with DAB radio or satellite navigation. The standard VW radio also displays parking information and climate control settings, there are controls on the steering wheel for volume and track search. These are features you would not want to lose and we can supply units that have all the facilities you may want as well as supporting all the standard vehicle displays.

With the advent of computer controlled systems there are also hazards to changing the head unit to one that is not compatible with the vehicle wiring. The results can be from your new unit not working to damage to the electrical system. At Car and Home Stereo we take safety very seriously and have a wide range of specialist interfaces to ensure that any new system integrates perfectly with your car.

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Of course you may want a complete upgrade to your system but do not want to alter the look of your dashboard. This is an area in which we excel. Whichever car you drive with whatever audio system we can improve and add to it. Regardless of complexity we have the tools and skills to seamlessly upgrade your listening experience. With the products from Audison, Hertz, JL Audio, Pioneer, Alpine and many others we can create your perfect sound system.

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From Beetles to Bentlys we have worked on just about every vehicle out there and every one gets the same level of care and attention. Our goal is to give you a powerful audio experience whatever your budget and we will work very hard to make sure you get exactly what you want.

So remember, whatever the car, we can help. Contact us now to start your journey to better audio.

Instrumental Interlude

This week, an instrumental interlude to our weekly blogs on the world of car & home audio engineering, as we pause for breath and take a look our passion for making music.

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Tim is a keen musician and plays guitar for a local band in his spare time. Being active on the creative side of music allows Tim to better appreciate the aims and results of sound engineering. There’s nothing quite like hearing your own sound back in crystal clear quality!

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Here at Car Home Stereo Macclesfield, in the Heart of Cheshire, we take pride in our passion for all sides of music and sound. If you get excited for all things music & sound, make sure to get in touch – we love a good natter!

We look forward to seeing you.

The Art Of Tuning

We go to great lengths at Car and Home Stereo to find, test and install the best audio equipment available. Leading brands such as JL Audio, Audison, Rainbow and Hertz are all companies at the top of their game and are producing world beating equipment. An example of which is the new Profi range from German manufacturer Rainbow. Their T28 tweeter is one of the best speakers in the world right now.

 

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Car interiors have never been better, but unfortunately they are not the ideal acoustic environment. There are steps that can be taken to improve this and this should always be done before embarking on a serious upgrade. However, the (small) vehicle space still contains lots of soft and hard surfaces creating absorptions and reflections not to mention the fact that the speakers  and the listening position may not be in the ideal location.

 

Let’s imagine a fictitious “perfect” speaker. This unit has been designed to produce a perfect range of frequencies for a totally flat sound. This can be measured and verified. Now, let’s place it in a car in the typical location in the door. Allthough this is the same speaker the environment has had a dramatic effect on the sound output. To compound this our brains are very good at judging where sound comes from and the  speaker location will be very obvious. Our carefully designed and very expensive speaker has been severely compromised.

 

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So how do we fix this? We could re-engineer the speaker for the new environment but of course that is not practical. Fortunately the answer lies in digital signal processing. A modern, state of the art processor like Audison’s Bit 1 has the power to solve all the installation and acoustic problems we find in car audio. Of course, it requires a great deal of skill to set up properly but the results can be astonishing.

 

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All the issues of frequency cancellation or addition can be solved by using the powerful on board graphic equalisers. Positional issues can be solved by applying time delays to any of the speakers which will make it appear that the sound is coming from a different location. This will have the effect of making the sound stage wider and more dynamic, more like a live performance. Individual speaker level controls will ensure the sound is perfectly balanced for the driver or both front seats as required. We even have the ability to program multiple adjustments and to save them in up to four presets. This is especially useful for convertible cars so the sound can be adjusted for ‘top up’ and ‘top down’ at the touch of a button.

 

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Of course we have all the latest technology and tools to ensure the perfect sound for you.

 

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Our latest demonstration vehicle features this processor and we have built in the capacity to bypass it, it really is an ear opener to hear the difference a well set up processor makes.

 

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If you are interested and would like a demonstration of how good car audio can be, please call us on 01625 432707, we love to show it off!