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.

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.

Demonstration of Distortion

An interesting situation occurred at Car and Home Stereo recently that I would like to share. It highlighted a phenomenon that is quite counter intuitive and led to some interesting discussions.

We have a demonstration Land Rover Discovery that has a simple, high quality audio system installed that is tuned to perfectly suit the interior acoustics. We always encourage our customers to sit in and experience it as it shows what can really be done with car audio. The amplifier that powers the system is the magnificent Audison 5.1K which develops a true 1650 Watts.

There is one pair of component Hertz Mille Legend speakers in the front doors and a Hertz Mille subwoofer in the rear.

A customer recently auditioned the system and we spent a good hour playing different types of music with a view to producing something similar in his car. He was completely blown away with the sound, couldn’t believe the clarity and how the sub blended perfectly with the whole system. And then he said ‘I love it, but it’s not very loud is it?’. In fact he reckoned his standard Ford system was louder!

Now I know just how loud our system is and the odd thing is that the cleaner the sound the less we perceive volume. Since we had some time I decided to run a little proof experiment with my customer’s car.

As part of our equipment set we have an industry standard spectrum analyser which is also equipped with an SPL meter. It was a simple task to set this up in the Discovery first and then the Ford to compare. As expected our Discovery hit 126dB easily, the Ford however struggled to hit 110dB. In real world terms this equates to a perceived doubling of power (a true doubling is 3dB but we don’t really hear it that way). The next test was the distortion level. By plugging an oscilloscope into the amplifier output we can measure the clipping levels. Unsurprisingly the Discovery registered less than 5 percent distortion at full volume as this was how it was set up. However the Ford reached 5 percent at a little over half volume and climbed to over 25 percent.

There is no arguing with the figures so what is going on? Simply that the higher  distortion levels were being registered as unpleasantly loud and our brains are trying to get us to turn it down! Distortion is the quickest way to destroy a speaker or indeed your hearing.

At Car an Home Stereo we value our customers and hope to be providing high quality audio systems for many years. A distorted sound system will very quickly do serious harm to our hearing and that is why we only choose the best equipment and like to carefully set these up to give the best possible sound. Brands such as JL Audio, Audison, Hertz and Dynamat may not be the cheapest but certainly are amongst the best. The fact that when installed correctly they can deliver an amazing sound makes them excellent value for money.

As to my customer with the Ford, he now has a fabulous system based around a JL Audio amp and speakers with a Rainbow active sub. He loves to play it loud and I know it will give him years of pleasure without doing any harm.

If you want to experience the Discovery sound system or would like to discuss how we can improve your car please all us on 01625 432707.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Sound Deadening?

In the pursuit of great sound it is essential to consider all aspects of audio reproduction. JL Audio, Audison and others make tremendous speakers which have been carefully designed for accurate music reproduction, unfortunately we have to fit them into less than perfect environments!

The average car door is an acoustic nightmare. A thin, unsealed metal enclosure fronted with hard plastic fittings, often with a loose polythene moisture barrier as well.car-door- explodedCrucially, we want the full, uncoloured response from the speaker we are installing. Unfortunately the design of the door is working against us. Fundamentally, a speaker is a transducer converting electrical signals into pressure waves. Sound is generated from the front of the speaker and from the back.

This is important as the sound from the back of the speaker is playing into the car door. Some will be reflected back into the speaker cone causing distortion of the front signal. Some will be reflected into the door card creating unwanted resonance and annoying vibrations. The louder you want to play it, the worse it will be. speaker distortion

 

Some car manufacturers do apply a token amount of damping but this is just to prevent the panel from rattling, we want to optimise the enclosure for sound reproduction.

The answer is sound deadening. Quite different from sound proofing, sound deadening is about the control of pressure waves inside the door. By applying special materials we can eliminate unwanted resonances and reflections.

There are lots of different products out there but by far the best are Dynamat and Skinz. Dynamat Xtreme is the lightest and most efficient panel treatment I have ever used. It’s damping properties are second to none meaning less needs to be applied. All sound being radiated from the back of the speaker is absorbed and converted into low level heat. This of course stops unwanted vibrations and ensures that you only hear the sound from the front.dynamat door A liberal application of Dynamat behind the speaker prevents reflections.

I believe that it is essential to consider sound deadening whenever a speaker upgrade is installed. Otherwise you will never achieve the full benefit.