Bentley and Mercedes audio upgrades

Modern vehicles often have very sophisticated information/entertainment systems built into the dashboard. In a lot of cases it would be just about impossible to change this and besides, why would you want to? They usually look great and offer large clear displays with all the features you could want.

A great example is the VW Golf 7.5. With DAB, Car Play, USB, navigation and vehicle information interface it has everything, except great sound and we can easily solve that!

Bentley Upgrade:

Whilst this is still a great car; older vehicles may not have all the features you want. Firstly, the entertainment system could do with an upgrade.

This may not be a simple task however as there may well be complications such as factory fitted amplifiers, steering wheel controls and dashboard information displays. A perfect example is this 2010 Bentley Continental. The car is absolutely stunning but the entertainment system is woefully out of date, the navigation is missing a great deal of new roads; there is no IPod / IPhone support; no music streaming and no DAB radio. There are however controls on the steering wheel for volume and modes, a rear mounted multi speaker amplifier and a screen that displays climate controls as well as vehicle information.

While we would like all the modern source capabilities we would not like to lose all the comfort features. Fortunately we have a lot of experience with these cars and have developed a fabulous solution. We can now seamlessly integrate new top of the range units to the Bentley to give you every modern convenience while retaining all relevant vehicle information displays using a state of the art, custom panel.

 

Bentley Continental or Flying Spur right up to date. As always anything we do can be reversed to return the car to standard trim at any time.

Mercedes Upgrade:

Another prime candidate for an upgrade is the Mercedes. These often come without Bluetooth or navigation and certainly no digital radio. Once again, here at Car & Home Stereo we have solutions for all types to bring them right up to date.

Adding these features adds a whole new lease of life to the car. Simple to use, elegant and seamless integration to the vehicle controls means you will enjoy all the luxuries of a new car without spending a small fortune.

Of course upgrades are not just for luxury cars and whatever you drive will benefit from our careful attention.

 

If you would like to know more about any of our upgrade options for your new or old vehicles please call on 01625 432707 or pop into our shop on Sunderland Street in Macclesfield.

 

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.

Improving the BMW audio

We have had a lot of calls recently from owners of newer BMW 1, 3 and 5 series vehicles complaining about the very poor sound quality of the factory audio system; even those with the Harman Kardon upgrade option. Some have described it as the worst sounding system they have ever heard! We have carefully listened to lots of these cars and can definitely agree. The bass is weak, the midrange is very confused and even where the optional tweeters are installed the treble is dull and lifeless.

Standard BMW speaker.

As if the poor speakers were not enough the problems are compounded by the head unit itself. Since BMW know that their installed speakers are of low performance the head unit is pre-equalised to prevent the user damaging them. This manifests itself as a roll off of bass as the volume increases; amongst other tricks such as reducing the treble when you think you are turning up the bass. All this adds up to a very disappointing performance with poor definition and a dreadful sound-stage.

But help is at hand. At Car and Home Stereo we have developed a 3 stage plan to improve any BMW audio system. All upgrades are specifically designed for the BMW and fit seamlessly with no changes to the vehicle interior. Each stage is a significant improvement and can be performed over time to spread the cost.

Stage 1; upgrading the speakers.

There are 6 speaker locations in the front of the BMW; tweeters either in the door or wing mirror position, mid speakers in the front doors and  bass units under the front seats. There will also be two speaker locations in the back of the car.

A stage one system replaces the front speaker set as we are always most concerned with the sound for the front of the car. If your vehicle is not equipped with tweeter locations then the appropriate parts can be obtained from BMW spares. While we can just replace the mid speakers, the tweeters add a tremendous performance boost.

There are quite a few manufacturers producing a BMW speaker replacement kit and we take great care to match the speaker set to our customer’s preferences. Not all the sets have the same characteristics and choosing the right one is important to make sure it suits the application.

We can install the speaker set in as little as 3 hours; we guarantee you will be very impressed. This upgrade may be all you need to satisfy your tastes, but in case you want even better, read on.

Stage 2; amplification.

This is where we can make staggering improvements. It is not enough to just add a simple amplifier because if we did then we would just get a more powerful version of the original signal. This is fairly pointless as we know the signal from the factory head unit is poor with all the problems mentioned above. What we need is a way to overcome those problems and that means we need a DSP, a digital signal processor. These are powerful equalisers that allow us to adjust the head unit output to correct the built in problems.

Ideally the processor and amplifier should be the same unit and fortunately there are a range of very high quality units available from Audison, JL Audio and others. Like choosing the right speakers it is imperative that we choose the right amplifier to ensure we can realise the perfect sound for our customer.

One of our favourites is the Audison AP8.9. This compact 8 channel amplifier/processor is capable of providing power to the whole car system. It can even be enhanced with the addition of dedicated slave amplifiers to increase the system power. The real strength of these amplifiers lies with the DSP. It allows me to carefully tune the sound output to perfectly match the acoustic requirements of the vehicle and the musical tastes of the customer.

A stage 2 system is worlds better than the original and is often enough of an improvement to satisfy; but of course there is an obvious final step…

Stage 3; adding a sub-woofer.

Although the under seat speakers are 8 inch drivers they should not be considered sub-woofers, they are really bass speakers, an attempt to get too much low frequency will drive them to distortion. If you want plenty of deep bass then there is no alternative except to add a boot mounted sub-woofer. That does not mean there has to be a boot full of large speakers. On the contrary, we have many solutions that are extremely compact. Again we will choose the best solution for your needs from Hertz, JL Audio and Audison to name a few.

So there we have it, three simple stages to audio heaven in your BMW. Don’t forget that all of this is removable and can be reused in your next car; try doing that with a factory upgrade!

If you would like to know more about how we can improve the audio in your BMW or indeed any other car, please get in touch. Call us on 01625 432707 or better still call into our shop on Sunderland Street in Macclesfield. We look forward to speaking to you.

Let’s talk about bass.

Music, like all sound, is made up of multiple frequencies. Think about a typical piece of music; there are high frequencies for cymbals and high voices; mid frequencies for most vocals, drums and guitar and then there are the low frequencies for bass drum, bass guitar, low organ or piano, synth and low register voice.

As you know almost all hi-fi speakers are made of several separate drivers; small tweeters for high frequencies, one or two dedicated mid-range drivers for the mid frequencies and a dedicated bass driver for low frequencies. There may even be a separate sub-woofer for very low frequencies. This separation of the speaker drivers is so that no one unit has to deliver too wide a frequency range which would lower the overall performance of that driver. This is most apparent if we try to get one speaker driver to deliver very low bass and mid frequencies at the same time, that is why we always see a dedicated bass driver or sub-woofer.

Sub-woofers:

So if we want a true and accurate reproduction of music it is obvious that we need a sub-woofer. This is just as true for the car as well as the home and in some respects it is more important in the car as we have to allow for road noise and low frequency absorption of the interior.

The first thing I need to say is that a subwoofer is not just there to rattle the windows, it is an essential part of the audio system and has to have a true hi-fi performance to accurately reproduce the lower notes. I have often said that if you can hear where the subwoofer is then it is too loud. Its sound should blend with the rest of the music to create a complete sound stage that envelops the listener. These systems are often described as SQ or sound quality systems. The subwoofers do not need to be huge and do not need to dominate the boot, a lot of modern SQ subs are designed to work in small air spaces meaning I can build discreet enclosures taking up very little space.

In this car I constructed an enclosure that sat in a recess of the boot. We used the JL Audio 10TW3 as it is optimised for a small space but can still deliver a truly musical performance.

This car was a BMW Z4 with a custom enclosure behind the passenger seat using the JL Audio 6w3 driver.

Even when there are no hiding places to use we have subwoofers that are extremely discreet like the Audison Prima 8.

At only 4 inches deep this tremendous unit will not dominate the boot space but deliver excellent performance.

However…….

What if you do want that earth shaking, window rattling, feel it in your bones experience?
Often known as SPL (sound pressure level) performance; we are experts in delivering this as well.

Of course this does mean taking up space but usually that is never a problem! Here the emphasis is on power and lots of it.

These speakers need to be built to withstand epic amounts of power. They also have the ability to move huge amounts of air. That means they need a massive cone excursion capability and be strong enough to not flex under pressure.

Our new range of XFire subwoofers and amplifiers are built to deliver and then some! Designed by a European champion car audio competitor these subs are engineered to take anything you can throw at them. The 12 inch is rated to 4500W with an excursion (xmax) capability of 30mm one way (that’s 6cm front to back!). This monster can satisfy any requirement for ground shaking bass.

So whether you want sublime, discreet bass to complement the front speaker stage or the kind of low frequency you can really feel; we can design and install the perfect system for you.

If you would like to discuss how we can really improve your car audio please give us a call on 01625 432707. Or even better, pop into our shop on Sunderland Street in Macclesfield.

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.

Find your way with Pioneer navigation.

The popularity of the motorhome has never been higher; the convenience of just being able to load up and drive away with all the comforts of home is priceless. One of the most popular vehicles for conversion is the Fiat Ducato. It sports a great chassis and a powerful, efficient engine. The only drawback is the fact that the Ducato starts life as a van, meaning a very basic audio system.

Perhaps the most useful feature to the driver of a motorhome is navigation; over the years we have added this feature to many vehicles.  As the dashboards have changed we have sourced installation kits to allow fitment of aftermarket units and this has proved more than acceptable. We have frequently used Pioneer products as they offer the best performance and although powerful and feature rich are exceptionally easy to use.

Fiat Ducato:

Well now Pioneer have extended their magnificent Evo range of bespoke navigation/entertainment systems to include the Fiat Ducato.

The first thing you notice is the perfect fit as this has been designed to integrate seamlessly with the Ducato dash. The large 7 inch touchscreen is bright and clear and is angled forward to reduce reflection and glare which was always a problem when a conversion kit was used. The controls themselves are clearly laid out while the touchscreen icons are large and easy to read at a glance. All the original vehicle features are retained such as steering wheel controls.

Pioneer’s acclaimed Navgate software is a joy to use with simple controls but extremely powerful and accurate navigation. The internal, high speed navigation covers 46 countries with more than eleven million points of interest. Powerful algorithms ensure the best route is chosen. Since this system is designed for motorhomes the software allows you to input the vehicle’s weight, height, width and length to make sure you will only be directed to appropriate routes and avoid any restrictions.

Connectivity:

Since almost everyone now uses a smartphone of some sort the Pioneer Evo is equipped with both Apple Car Play and Android Auto ensuring perfect integration with your device. Once connected it allows voice commands to control your system for enhanced safety while driving. Of course it also allows you access to all your stored music and streaming services for the complete entertainment experience.

To further enhance your listening the Pioneer Navgate Evo is equipped with a DAB+ digital radio tuner, full Bluetooth streaming and dual USB inputs. For safety an optional reverse camera is available to assist manoeuvring. There is even a hideaway CD/DVD player available if you still use CDs and of course movies for when stationary.

This unit has all the power and performance you would expect from Pioneer. Therefore we would highly recommend a speaker upgrade to take advantage of this. We have a vast range of speaker systems available; one of the most common popular is the Audison Prima APX165.

This speaker set is ideally sized to replace the front door speakers in the Fiat Ducato and will offer vastly better sound over the standard units. All changes are completely invisible as they fit behind the original trim.

While we are in the doors we would also recommend adding a full treatment of sound deadening. This improves the sound from the speakers and also to reduce road noise. This comprises a layer of sound deadening applied to the metal panel of the door followed by a closed cell foam sheet applied behind the door card. The difference to how quiet the vehicle is has to be experienced to believe it.

Final Touches:

Finally, for those looking for the best possible sound we would add a discreet subwoofer. Usually located under one of the front seats this really lifts the audio performance to home hi-fi standards.

We have the magnificent Pioneer Navgate Evo for Ducato on demonstration in store. If you would like to pop in we are on Sunderland Street in Macclesfield; where we can install any of the above upgrades. If you have any questions or would like to know more about upgrading your motorhome please call us on 01625 432707.

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!

 

The stages of Car Audio upgrades

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

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

What about costs?

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

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

So how do we split it up?

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

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

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

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

So what next?

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

Added Extras:

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

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

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

Digital Audio – BMW 1 Series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Result?

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

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

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

Latest Products from Bose.

Sorry to bring up the ‘C’ word but that time of year is fast approaching. Of course, if you’re anything like me then gift shopping might not start until December 24th but for the better organised of you, it is worth a look at the Bose range of audio systems now.

There some new additions to the range this season and they always seem to fly off the shelves so getting in early will ensure you are not disappointed.

The first of the new products is the super cute Soundlink Micro Bluetooth speaker.


Just released, the Micro is part of the Colour range and this one is truly rugged. The integral flexible strap means it can be attached to just about anything and the weatherproof design means not having to worry about getting it wet. With built-in Siri and Google assist compatibility you can control your music without picking up your phone and of course for taking calls on the go the Bose Soundlink Micro has speakerphone capability.

Like all Bose sound systems, this one sounds fantastic and is designed to give a rich, powerful performance even when outside while still delivering impressive battery life. This is all the more impressive when you consider the price of only £99.99. Available in black, red and blue we carry stocks of all three but hurry, I’m sure these are going to be extremely popular.

The original Soundlink colour was incredibly successful because of its performance, rugged build and long battery life, the Mk2 version takes all of that and improves upon it. Now with Siri and Google assist compatibility control is even easier while the voice prompts mean pairing and setting up is a breeze. Control can be further enhanced with the Bose Connect app for Apple and Android devices.

All this for £129.99 makes the Bose Soundlink Colour incredibly good value for money.

Soundlink Revolve & Revolve Plus:

The original Bose Soundlink Mini redefined how good a Bluetooth speaker could be and was the biggest selling portable Bluetooth device for a long time. That unit has now been retired and has been replaced with the Soundlink Revolve and Revolve Plus.

The Mini was unbeatable indoors but a little less so outside so the engineers at Bose set out to improve this. The result was a completely new design and the most striking feature is the full 360 degree sound delivery. This technology has come straight from the top of the range Bose Lifestyle system where a fully immersive surround sound performance was required.

 

 

Bose

By placing the driver vertically there is no directionality to the sound meaning everyone around the unit gets the full experience. I can vouch for this personally as my Revolve + in the garden is astonishingly good.

Battery life is equally impressive with up to 12 hours available from a single charge. Again they are rugged with shower resistance and of course full compatibility with Siri and Google Now. Control convenience is further enhanced with voice prompts from the unit and compatibility with the Bose Connect app.

The Revolve comes in at £199.99 while the Revolve+ is under £300 at only £279.99. Both are available in silver or black.

 

That concludes the Bose Soundlink line up, all of them are mightily impressive but which one is right for you? If you would like to know more then please call us on 01625 432707 or call in for a demonstration at our shop on Sunderland Street in Macclesfield and remember we will always try to match any genuine price.