Audi TT Audio Upgrade

The latest Mk3 Audi TT is packed with technology and has a very sophisticated infotainment system installed as standard (it desperately needs better speakers but that’s another story). But what of the Mk2 TT? Still a great car; but the old Chorus, Concert and RNS-E navigation systems are certainly showing their age. Regardless of whether it is equipped with standard or Bose audio the head unit is the same and is definitely lacking features and performance.

One feature that the later cars have is a multi-function steering wheel which incorporates audio controls. These are invaluable as they allow you to alter such things as volume and track without taking your hands off the wheel. When we upgrade the system we would definitely want to retain these.

Our most common upgrade to the TT is one the Pioneer multi-media navigation units. These very sophisticated entertainment systems feature DAB radio, CD and DVD, Bluetooth streaming and hands free telephone, Apple Car Play. They also include dual USB ports, reverse camera input and external video input/output.

We have all the appropriate installation items required for installation; so that all vehicle functions work properly. This includes steering wheel controls as well as neatly blending with the dashboard.

Audi TT audio upgrade

I think you will agree that this upgrade looks great and of course brings a whole suite of desirable features to the car.

Speakers:

With the head unit brought up to date it’s time to look at the speakers. Regardless of whether the audio system is base level or has the Bose option; the speakers have pretty much the same disappointing performance. On the positive side the speaker locations are good and the cabin is compact and quiet.

The simplest option is to just upgrade the front speakers. There are three speaker locations per side, two in the door and one on the corner dash. If the car is not already equipped with the smaller driver then the ‘grille’ in the middle of the door is actually just a solid cover without a mesh. If we wish to add these drivers then the appropriate part can be sourced from Audi. This then allows us to add a proper three way speaker system, one solution is the Audison Prima APK163.

What else?

We also like to add sound deadening treatment to the door to improve the acoustic response. The Audi door is well constructed but a generous addition of Dynamat or Skinz will dramatically enhance speaker performance.

Another option (and my preferred one) is to ignore the dash tweeter location and install a high quality two way system to the doors. Perhaps the magnificent Hertz Mille Legend MPK1650.3.

 

This is my preferred option as I prefer to keep the speaker count to a minimum. With a three way system there are by necessity two different crossover points; one for the bass / mid and one for the mid / tweeter. More crossover points mean more opportunity for phase errors to creep in if we use the standard passive crossovers with the kit. This can lead to poor definition in the image and sound stage. With a two way speaker system there is only one crossover point that is easier to control and thanks to the good speaker/listening position in the TT the staging works very well.

Amplifier:

Of course a great speaker requires a great amplifier to achieve the best results. Therefore, the standard Audi (or even the Bose option) amplifiers will never be good enough.

One of my favourite options is the Audison Prima 8.9Bit amplifier. This extremely compact amplifier is absolutely perfect. It is small enough to completely hide and is powerful enough to drive all the vehicle speakers. However, if more power is needed then a secondary slave amplifier can be connected alongside.

Of course its greatest asset is the very powerful digital signal processor on board. This DSP allows me to carefully tune the system for the optimum sound staging and personal preferences of the customer.

It also allows me to customise cross over points, time delay and phasing to ensure the best possible response in the car. Even better, if the TT is a convertible then I can tune two different performances; one for top up and one for top down. These tunings can be swapped at the touch of a button to ensure optimum sound whatever the configuration of the car.

Is it all worth it?

Naturally these speaker and amplifier upgrades are not cheap but consider this; if you were to opt for the expensive dealer audio ‘upgrade’ option then when you changed the car you would lose it all and you certainly would not get any of the cost back. In comparison everything I add can be removed and the original equipment reinstalled. This means you keep your investment and can have it reinstalled in your next car (and the next and the next…) and whatever the vehicle I can re-tune it for fabulous performance. I think this makes great sense and offers tremendous value for money.

If you would like to know more about how we can improve the system in your Audi TT or indeed any car please feel free to call me on 01625 432707 or better still pop into our shop on Sunderland Street in Macclesfield for a chat.

Car audio upgrades, sometimes simple is best.

It is common when searching for ideas about car audio upgrades to find images and blogs about out of this world systems. Earth shaking bass installs and custom built fiberglass and Alcatara door pods. At Car and Home Stereo we can do all of this and more and of course they are beautiful to behold. Inevitably these sorts of installs come with a pretty high price tag as well, what if you just want to improve the audio in your car at a sensible budget? Well let’s look at a typical upgrade that provides a very big ‘bang for your buck’!

A recent install of ours was to a Renault Megane RS. This fabulous car is at home on road or track especially when ‘tweaked’ to over 400 BHP as this one was.

Unfortunately the stock audio system is quite frankly dire. The dreadful speakers are mostly to blame but the low power of the head unit certainly does not help as any attempt to squeeze out a decent bass response just results in hideous distortion.

This was what the owner had experienced and indeed had already replaced two of the speakers as they had failed. He realised they were never going to sound good so popped into the shop to discuss options.

Usually I get carried away when designing a system but fortunately the customer told me straight away that his budget was £1000, certainly for the first part but he would consider future upgrades. He also told me that his preference was for dance music, high energy and plenty of bass. However he was very keen to keep the look of the interior unchanged and did not want to lose the boot to a mass of amplifiers and subwoofers.

So what should we choose?

The front speakers are a 5 inch mid in the door and 1 inch tweeter on the dash. Space is an issue in the doors so nothing too deep but we needed something that would deliver a good mid bass performance from only 5 inch. I knew there would be an amplifier so power was not an issue. In the end it was an easy choice; the JL Audio C2 525 component set. JL Audio are the masters of bass, their subwoofers are legendary and they know how to engineer a speaker to get the best bass performance possible.

In addition the C2 tweeter is very lively and I felt would suit the dash location of the Renault Megane perfectly. Of course we would be installing Dynamat sound deadening to the doors to further enhance the speaker performance. The sophisticated crossover has a range of adjustments to allow fine tuning of the sound which is of great benefit as the factory head unit has very limited EQ controls.

Choices, choices…what amplifier to choose?

Budget and space was tight and I wanted the best possible sound for this car, I had to work with the factory head unit so needed something that could deliver a big punch from a compact unit. It had to be a 4 channel as it was also going to drive the subwoofer in the boot. I wanted a unit that could take a high level in and had plenty of control; step up the brilliant JL Audio JX 400/4D.

This powerful D class amplifier boasts 400W output with a host of EQ and filter controls allowing fine tuning of the sound output. It will take high or low level inputs with up to 10V capability on the high level, perfect. Another benefit is the size; the compact dimensions of this amplifier mean I can install it under one of the front seats out of sight. Channels 1 and 2 will drive the front speakers while channels 3 and 4 will be bridged to provide a huge mono output for the sub.

But what subwoofer should we fit?

Well as we knew the customer’s preferences and requirements it had to be compact but still deliver hard hitting bass. After checking that he was happy with the size in the boot we settled on the JL Audio CP108 microsub.

This is a high output, slot ported enclosure houses the 8w3 subwoofer and can punch far above its weight. The subwoofer itself is extremely good but when married to the JL Audio designed enclosure it is astonishing. When set up correctly you could be forgiven for thinking you were listening to a 10 or even 12 inch woofer.

So a simple system at under £1000 but one that plays loud and clear with no distortion and offers plenty of scope for future upgrades like Bi amplification and DSP signal processing.

The test was always going to be when the owner of the car heard it for the first time, I knew it was good but would he like it? At first listen he played the same CD that was playing when he dropped the car off at our workshop. After a second or two a huge smile spread across his face and remained there for about half an hour while he tried other tracks. ‘Absolutely awesome, exactly what I wanted’ as he stepped out of the car. He mentioned that he was taking the car down to the Nurburgring, Germany was going to sound good!

If you would like to know more about how we can improve the audio in your car then please give us a call on 01625 432707 or better still call into the shop on Sunderland Street in Macclesfield for a chat and a demonstration.

Improving the Mustang

The Ford Mustang GT, 5 litres of good honest, V8 muscle car.

The Mustang looks great from any angle and the rumble from that big lump up front is wonderful. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the sound inside the car; the performance from the audio system is very weak. We recently worked on just such a car equipped with the Shaker audio system which, although fitted with an amplifier and subwoofer in the boot as standard, was distinctly lacking in performance.

As you may know I am an advocate of simple systems. The simpler they are the easier they are to control. Dozens of speakers does not automatically mean better performance where sound quality is concerned. A lower part count but of a better quality is much to be preferred.

The owner of the Mustang felt the same about the sound. After a discussion regarding his musical preferences he left the car with us for three days.

Choosing the system:

The first job was to assess the interior of the car for speaker and hardware locations and to listen to it to get a feel for the general acoustics both stationary and with the engine running. Try to work out where extraneous noise was coming from and gauge the sound stage from the seating position. The Mustang has six speaker locations in the front and two more on the rear deck; with an 8 inch sub in the boot. There is no spare wheel and the empty wheel well is spacious so ideal for amplifiers. There was also quite a lot of road noise in the cabin so we knew that a complete sound deadening treatment was required.

The audio performance for this car had to be spectacular, for me that meant A and AB class amplifiers for the main speakers with full active EQ control. I wanted detail and power in the front but also an all-encompassing performance from the whole cabin. I was instructed not to change any part of the car so that it could all be returned to standard so I knew I could only use an eight inch sub.

My choice of amplifiers had to be from the magnificent Audison Voce range.

I needed seven channels for a fully active system so that meant an AV5.1K and a Due. The beauty of the 5.1K is that channels 1 and 2 are full class A which is perfect to drive the tweeters. Channels 3 and 4 are class AB and ideal for the mid drivers. I had settled on the staggeringly accurate Rainbow Profi series for the front speakers and the Voce 5.1K would be the perfect partner. I opted not to install tweeters in the front A pillars as I felt they were too far forward to be of use and I knew I could tune the sound stage with the Audison Bit 1. This way all front speakers would be in the doors for the optimal imaging.

For the rear deck I chose the Hertz Mille Pro 165.3 coax. These are tight and punchy, perfect to complement the front detail. The Voce Due amplifier is very dynamic and again suits the performance I was looking for.

Since I was restricted to an 8 inch sub in the original enclosure I opted for the Hertz Mille Legend ML 2000.3. I have the same sub in my Discovery and know how much punch and performance this speaker can deliver. The 1000W from the sub stage of the Voce 5.1K amplifier will help as well!

Once the system had been decided upon it’s time to start work.

Initially we need to strip the car down to allow for cable runs and sound deadening treatment. This in itself can take a full day; as it is imperative that cable runs are safe and cannot cause rattles. A job like this requires a significant amount of cabling so we have to ensure that there is room under all the trim and all looms are protected and supported. Power cabling should be separate from any audio cabling where possible and of course carefully fed through grommets and sealed where passing through bulkheads.

Once I knew all the amplifiers and processor would fit in the wheel well I set about sound deadening the area.

This is made easier with all the trim panels out and will really help to reduce noise but will also improve the sub performance as no acoustic energy will be wasted into the resonant panels. Although the picture does not show it the treatment goes right up the side of the boot area onto the rear wing panels.

I also treated the rear deck as this can easily resonate with the extra energy we are generating in the speakers. I also built new wooden speaker collars to replace the standard plastic ones. This helps to isolate the speaker from the resonant metal deck.

Next Steps:

Once the rear treatment is complete I could start to manufacture the panels to support the hardware. Even though this can’t be seen I like to make this a perfect fit and trim it to look like the original.

This shot shows the initial setting up of the processor and amplifiers. This process tells the system where the input signal is coming from, what speakers are installed and allows me to set up the initial crossover points for the speakers, fine tuning will take place at the end of the install.

Now my attention turns to the front doors.

The Rainbow Profi speakers are quite simply stunning, their accuracy is very close to perfect so careful installation is essential. This of course means a full sound deadening treatment inside the doors as well as making wooden speaker collars and supports. Although not shown we also apply foam speaker rings around the mid and tweeter drivers. This helps to ensure an acoustic seal to the door card.

Great care is taken to ensure everything is moisture sealed to prevent any damp getting to the door card.

As I mentioned earlier, we were to use the original subwoofer enclosure to keep the car looking standard. This enclosure was manufactured from plastic so needed significant treatment to improve its acoustic properties. This was accomplished by lining the interior with copious amounts of sound deadening and adjusting the internal volume to suit the Hertz Mille Legend driver.

With all the trim panels back in place and a grille on the subwoofer the car looked almost standard. We did install the Bit 1 controller in the centre dash below the radio for convenience but even here the chrome finish and blue illumination looked perfect.

So how did it sound after tuning?

Well words can hardly do it justice. The image was high but surrounding with everything placing exactly where it should be. The sub was powerful without being obtrusive and a perfect blend with the front speakers. The Profi speakers benefit from an extended run in period but even initial performance was stunning. Playing my usual suite of test tracks demonstrated amazing clarity and detail; I use Eva Cassidy’s Fields Of Gold as a test piece and in this system her voice is sublime. This is one system I could listen to forever without any stress.

If you would like to know more about how we can improve the audio in your car please feel free to contact us on 01625 432707. Better still, call into our shop on Sunderland Street in Macclesfield. You’ll be glad you did!

 

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.

Range Rover Recovery

The Range Rover Vogue or L322 as it’s known. A British classic with world beating all terrain capability that will take you anywhere in leather trimmed luxury.

Now anyone who has owned one of these will know that there are a few niggles with this vehicle and one of the common problems is the audio. One day the stereo will not make a sound or the screen will just show the Land Rover logo while the red light just flashes on the volume control. This usually means the main amplifier has failed in the rear of the car. It could also be a failure of one of the other components in the audio chain but the amplifier is most common.

The cost of a replacement from Land Rover will leave you shocked, an eBay one will set you back a few hundred pounds with no guarantee and you may be no further forward if that is not the problem. Even if it is you will only have the same performance as before. Wouldn’t it be nice to properly improve the system while you have the chance?

This was the situation our customer recently had and after a short discussion and a budget decided upon we set to work overhauling the whole system.

The vehicle owner had specified the Pioneer Avic F88DAB head unit.

The rest was up to us.

The first job was to strip out all the unnecessary kit in the rear of the vehicle and from the dash.

stripped dashboard range rover car and home stereo macclesfield

stripped range rover dashboard macclesfield car home stereo

Not for the feint hearted but reasonably straight forward when you know where all the hidden screws are! We will, of course, be rewiring the system so there will inevitably be many unused plugs on the original looms. These cannot be left to rattle around the back of the dash so we make sure that each unused end is padded and secured. There is also a reasonable amount of modification required behind the dash to allow the double din unit to fit. We have done quite a few of these and are used to it but again great care is needed.

Once the car was stripped it was time to install the new cabling. We had already decided on the system components and so we produced a custom loom for this. The Range Rover is a big vehicle and it still surprises me how long these looms need to be. All the service accessories need to be installed for the head unit; such as the Bluetooth microphone, dual USB ports, DAB and GPS aerials. We usually fit one USB to the centre arm rest bin and one to the glove box while the other items are discreetly fitted for optimum performance. I also replaced the original rear view camera that had failed. Car & Home Stereo can install a new camera into the original housing keeping the OE look.

Now the head unit can be installed and the dash rebuilt.

rebuilt dashboard rangerover

I think you will agree that this now looks far better!

The next task was to upgrade all the speakers and we decided on Audison all round. These Italian speakers are superb and so much better than the fitted Harmon Kardon units. A component set was installed in each door.

audison speakers custom fitting

Now for the fun part!

Knowing the tastes of the customer we knew that he would want plenty of power. Space is a little limited so we needed an amplifier with high performance but compact size and the perfect candidate was the fabulous JL Audio RD 400/4.

This compact power house is a gem of an amplifier boasting 100W per channel. The sound quality from these is amazing. It shares a lot of the design features of the award winning JL Audio XD amplifiers but at a lower price.

This amplifier will fit perfectly in the metal rack assembly in the boot cavity. It is hidden but easily available for any adjustments required.

The results are astonishing. The improvement over the factory system is huge; the detail at the front is crisp and the bass performance feels solid with no distortion. I would recommend this system to anyone with a failing factory audio.

If you would like to know more about how we can improve the system in your Range Rover (or any vehicle) please give me a call; on 01625 432707 or better still call into the shop on Sunderland Street in Macclesfield.

blue audi s3 car and home stereo macclesfield

Awesome Audi

We have recently completed the audio system for this magnificent Audi S3. If you have read the previous instalment you will already be familiar with the car but it has developed considerably since then! This piece is a perfect example of how we work with our customers to achieve their audio dreams.

This has been a developing project in the quest for the best performance. What started as a simple bass upgrade has turned into a monster!

First things first:

When the car left the factory it was equipped with the B&O audio system and was quite frankly appalling. The front end detail was reasonable but the bass response was dire. The ‘sub’ that was fitted in the boot was a flimsy plastic chamber with a low quality, 6-inch paper and plastic speaker. Any attempt to push the bass resulted in a feeble burp, it had to go.

During the discussion with the owner it quickly became apparent that he was a true music addict and a simple upgrade was not going to be on the cards, he also admitted to being a JL Audio fan which we definitely approve of. We applied the simple motto that you can never have too much, only too little and recommended a JL Audio 12w6 subwoofer and an XD 1000/1 amplifier to drive it. Now we already knew that the signal from the factory amplifier was poor so we also recommended a JL Audio FiX processor to clean the response up.

The 12w6 sub is one of my all-time favourites and the results were very impressive but it wasn’t long before the bug bit again and our customer returned for more. Another 12w6 and XD1000/1 later the bass performance was doubled. Brilliant, but now the front end was starting to sound really bad in comparison, so a speaker upgrade was discussed.

dynamat lining on audi s3 car home stereo macc

Copious amounts of Dynamat inside and out kept the noise and vibration down while a set of JL Audio C5 650 components went in the front. This was all powered by a JL XD 400/4 in active mode while the awesome TwK processor allowed me to carefully tune the system.

 

The sound was amazing and that could have been where it ended, or so we thought.

Next Steps:

The owner of the car felt that there was a slight gap in the low mid frequency performance, and knew that there was room for an extra speaker in the middle of the door. That speaker can only be a 4-inch shallow unit so we knew it could not add the desired low mid. However the main door speaker location can accommodate an 8-inch driver and it just so happens that JL Audio produces a fantastic eight inch, free air mid bass unit, the ZR 800 CW.

This is a big driver but with a carefully designed spacer collar, it just fitted into the lower speaker position.

So what should we use for the high-mid and tweeter? Unfortunately JL Audio does not currently have a slim 4-inch but there is one company that has the perfect solution. The Focal 100KRS is a magnificent small speaker we use it a lot in Land Rover Defenders and know its potential so this was what we recommended. Again we produced mounting collars and the fit was perfect.

Of course, this extra speaker needed driving and there was really only one option for us and that was the JL Audio XD 800/8.

This allowed us to drive the tweeters and 4-inch mids at 100W while delivering a full 200W into each ZR mid-bass driver. Another cool feature is that the 800/8 shares the same chassis with the 1000/1 so now we had three identical looking amps in the boot!

What a sound we had now. The low mid gap was gone and the punch was quite something to experience. Thanks to the TwK processor the sound stage was crystal clear and right in front of the driver.

Was this finally the end? Oh no!

One thing still had to be addressed, the boot build. “Oh and while you do that since we can’t get a third sub in the boot can we squeeze any more performance from the existing two?” Challenge duly set we opted to refit the subs into slot ported enclosures giving us a realistic increase of up to 9dB from the same amplifiers. The owner wanted blue Alcantara to match the car with a raised JL motif on the box. Well, how could we refuse!

sound system in back of audi s3 car and home stereo macclesfield custom fitting

There’s definitely no room for golf clubs but that hardly matters when you hear this. There is, of course, a bass control at the front of the car and when wound up to full this system leaves you breathless.

This install has turned into one of my favourites and complements this gorgeous car perfectly. Look out for it at a show near you and you might just get to hear it.

If you would like to know more about custom installation for your car then please feel free to drop us a line by email or call on 01625 432707.

Factory ‘upgrade’ systems

Recently I have been working on two cars that had factory upgrade audio options fitted. A Nissan GTR with the Bose system and an Aston Martin with the Linn option. My customers were both complaining of poor sound and were wondering how it could sound so bad when the car had the upgraded audio. Now both Bose and Linn are respected hi fi manufacturers who produce excellent products, at Car and Home Stereo we sell the full range of Bose home audio and have supplied Linn audio in the past. I know it well and have a lot of respect for them.

Clearly, both these manufacturers know how to make great audio so what goes wrong when they try to create a car audio system? And I’m not singling out these two, the Harmon Kardon, B&O, Meridian and Mark Levinson are little if any better especially when you consider the cost of ticking that upgrade option box. In my opinion, the short answer is money and marketing while the longer answer is a fundamental misunderstanding of the car environment.

Xcar:

Let’s take a fictitious, generic car manufacturer, Xcar. Let’s assume they are successful and respected producing a high-quality product with flashy showrooms and huge marketing budgets. They need to keep their cars selling and beating their competitors. This competition is excellent for the consumer as it forces the car manufacturers to constantly improve their vehicles. More power, more fuel economy, more safety, more features. More is always better, isn’t it? Of course, at the same time, they need to balance this innovation with costs so that they can turn a profit.

Now Xcar have a mid-priced car that sells very well but is in close competition with its rivals. How to make it more attractive while making more money? This is where the option list comes into play and right up there near the top will be the audio upgrade.

Remember that to marketing people more is always better so obviously, more speakers have to be better right? Wrong! At Car and Home Stereo we design audio systems with one goal; to sound great. What we use to achieve this is almost not relevant, there will be speakers, amplifiers and sound processors but the type and quantity will be decided by the customer’s requirements and personal preferences.

Some of the best sounding audio systems I have ever designed have used only four speakers and a subwoofer. The four speakers would typically be a two way component set comprising a mid and tweeter in each door so could be considered a single pair. A multitude of speakers means that there will be a lot of competing pressure waves in the cabin not to mention multiple reflections causing phase cancellations and ruining the sound stage. Manufacturers often put yet another speaker in the middle of the dashboard, perfect if it is to watch DVDs in 5.1 surround but terrible for stereo delivery.

But Xcar listens to the marketing department and offer a speaker upgrade package that takes the speaker count from six to fifteen. Of course, this many speakers are going to need an amplifier. They could go to a company that designs and builds car audio amplifiers for this but most people have never heard of Audison or JL Audio or Rainbow and Pioneer and Alpine are not considered up market enough. Marketing do their research and find that most of their customers have a house with some decent hi fi so why not get these hi-fi companies to build them an amplifier?

There are two major problems here.

The first is that the car manufacturer has gone to a home audio company. There are fundamental differences between your car and your living room, too many to mention here and most home audio companies simply do not understand them. At Car and Home Stereo we of course use amplifiers from the best car audio manufacturers and while these can be expensive they are ideally suited to the vehicle environment to ensure the best possible sound.

However, the biggest problem can be laid at the feet of the accountants. Remember they need to make more profit without increasing costs too much well putting a big brand hi fi badge on your speaker grille and installing the lowest cost amplifier can do that. The badge might even convince customers that this is great car audio.

amplifier upgrade Nissan GTR Skyline

This is the upgrade amplifier option for the Nissan GTR Skyline. Designed to drive seven speakers even the simplest offering from Hertz would outperform it. And there is the problem, Bose are completely capable of designing and building a tremendous amplifier but car manufacturers will not pay the price for this and go with the least expensive option. That doesn’t stop them from charging a hefty premium when you tick the upgrade box though.

You might assume that you are getting better speakers designed by that hi-fi manufacturer wouldn’t you?
Well more often than not you actually only get the standard speakers with a few more thrown in.

So what have we learned?

My advice is to never tick the upgrade audio box. You will most likely be disappointed and when it comes here to be improved I will usually have to remove it all anyway. Any changes I make will be completely reversible and invisible to any inspection but the difference to your listening experience will be astonishing. You will start to relish the long drive and hold ups will be almost a pleasure as you will have your favourite music in stunning clarity to keep you company.

If you would like to know more about how we can improve your car audio or would like to listen to our stunning Land Rover Discovery demonstration vehicle please feel free to pop into the shop on Sunderland Street in Macclesfield, Cheshire or give me a call on 01625 432707

 

orange ranger

Rocking Ranger

The Ford Ranger is a beast of a utility vehicle.  The 3.2 litre V6 will tow three and a half tonnes while you luxuriate in leather-trimmed comfort. The feature list is as impressive as the stats but one thing that really lets it down is the audio. The head unit is fine as it boasts Bluetooth, USB, AUX, CD and DAB tuner but the output is weak and the speakers are quite frankly poor. Let me share how we put this right.

Initially, we like to have a good chat with the client to determine what his preferences are and how he likes to listen to his music. It is quite rare that we start off talking about specific equipment until we get this information. We know how different products have different characteristics and are better suited to specific requirements and vehicles.

For this job, the brief was for a high-quality sound that would be fine when played loud with plenty of bass. Not just fill in bass from a simple under seat sub but something impressive. Now if you know the Ranger then you will know that there is precious little spare space and certainly no useful boot for a sub. Fortunately, we had already provided a solution in a previous vehicle by extending our passenger footwell build for a single JL Audio 6w3 to a twin and this appealed to our client.

Once the car was in we started on the enclosure build. Our intention was to minimise the space taken up in the footwell and this meant creating an enclosure that takes advantage of all the angles available.

Fortunately, each JL Audio 6w3 only requires 0.125 cu ft of space but even so it’s tight. The finished article sits neatly in the passenger footwell leaving plenty of room for passenger’s feet.

The only useable space in the Ford Ranger is behind the rear bench seat and this is where we opted to install the Audison Bit 10D processor and the JL Audio RD900/5 amplifier. The Bit 10 has been available for quite some time now and is one of my favourite pieces of kit. It allows me to connect to any audio system out there whether factory or aftermarket. The powerful digital signal processor means I can carefully configure and tune the system to my exact requirements while the elegant DRC allows the customer access to various parameters at the touch of a button. We sited the DRC to the right of the steering wheel for easy access.

Because of the limited space, we only wanted to use one amplifier but did not want to compromise performance. We knew we were only going to replace the front door speakers and add the subs, the rear door speakers were superfluous for this system. We could just use a three or four channel amplifier but that would not be taking advantage of the power of the Bit 10D, instead, we opted for the JL Audio RD900/5 which as implied by the name is a five channel amp.

These five channels meant that I could drive the tweeters, mids and subs directly from the amplifier without passive crossovers. This allows me total control over every speaker directly from the Bit 10D, a huge benefit when tuning.

By relocating the tools attached to the wall behind the rear seat we created enough space for the equipment board. Again space was tighter than you might think but there is still access to the scissor jack just below.

With the seat upright everything is invisible but there is still plenty of ventilation for the amplifier. By carefully balancing the sensitivity of the Bit 10D we were able to keep the amplifier gains at minimum for maximum dynamic range with bags of power.

Based on our client’s wishes we chose the fantastic Hertz MPK165P.3 component speaker set. A great advantage of this speaker set is its 3 Ohm load. Slightly lower than the normal 4 Ohms this speaker set can draw more power from the amplifier without harming the damping factor too much. This coupled with the sensitivity of the speaker makes for a very punchy performance and excellent high volume control.

However, before anything was mounted in the door we needed to apply a complete sound deadening treatment. There is absolutely no deadening in the door as standard which makes for a potentially rattle filled experience when we put more power in. By preference, we always use Dynamat application to the door interior and Dynaliner under the door card. The Dynamat absorbs any stray vibrations from inside and outside the door while the Dynaliner creates a thermal and acoustic barrier helping to significantly reduce road noise.

 

The main speakers need to be mounted on collars and we custom manufacture MDF rings to provide support. All doors are wet inside so it is imperative that all parts are sealed with silicone to prevent water ingress.

The tweeters sit perfectly inside the original mounts at the top of the door.

Of course, all the cabling was renewed as required to a higher standard.

Overall:

When it came to tuning the system we were delighted to find that only small corrections were required once all the phase and time correction had been applied. The speakers all need some running in time but the sound stage was nice and high and the bass performance was everything our client wanted and more!

So a difficult vehicle dealt with and a big smile from the owner, that’s what we do it for. If you would like to know more about how we can improve the sound in your car please call us on 01625 432707 or better still call in for a coffee and a chat at the shop on Sunderland Street in Macclesfield, we look forward to hearing from you.

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

pic-of-rainbow-tweeter

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.

pic-of-sam-bad-sound-face

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.

dsc_0002

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.

dsc_0003

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.

dsc_0004

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.

dsc_0006

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.