System: As stated before, there isn't much we can upgrade due to
the proprietary connections. This means a entirely new system. What
we can do is lower the noise floor. There are several products out on the
market that can be applied to the interior of the car body. No matter
what, the noise floor is the best investment in the car environment. Every
3 dB of road noise you block, you have effectively made your system 3 dB
louder (you can turn it down 3 dB and still hear what you were hearing
before). This means an easier job for the amplifier and better dynamics. It's also a
chance to eliminate rattles and loose items. Our goal will be a whopping
6 dB reduction in road noise. Stay tuned for the next installment where we
try to hear less of the road and more of the music.
System: Now is a good time to start your search, as we start ours.
What features do we want?
Almost every head-unit will play CDs, so listen to some of your
reference CDs to get a feel of the noise floor of CD playback.
Some players have techniques to improve the perceptible noise in
Even if you aren't considering watching movies with the kids in
the car, consider that DVDs can provide a much better signal and
lower noise floor than CD. Some players support DTS, DD, even
There are some really cool things out now for cars, one being
multimedia. If you have kids, this can be a big seller. Dual
zone systems allow you to listen to a CD while the kids watch a
DVD in the back seat. Or better yet, hook up an X-box, and let the kids
play video games while you drive. Multimedia also allows other video inputs
such as Satellite Navigation or a camera for seeing behind you
when you are in reverse.
While not the best material from a quality standpoint, it is the
best from a quantity
standpoint. You can fit 200 songs on a CD in MP3 format,
eliminating the need to carry around those bulky CD cases. If you
want great sound with your MP3s, you can rip your own music from
your CDs at 192 kb/s or higher.
Control: Because every car is different you need
as much control over the sound that you can afford. This is
usually done with an EQ function. Now, 7 and 10 bands are common, but
to really fine tune the system, you need a 15 or 30 band. Some higher
end decks now come standard with time alignment. This enables you
to compensate for not having the drivers seat in the middle of the
car. Time alignment is, to me, one of the most important features
to look for in a modern car sound system.
Expandability: Many newer decks
feature expandable network busses that allow you to add
processors, satellite radio, CD/DVD changers, zone switchers, all
in a single shielded wire. Each manufacturer has their own bus
name and proprietary connection/transport.
If you want to get the best sound and best tunability, you're going to need a
processor. Look for 30 bands of EQ per channel, 5.1 decoding (if you
want that), time alignment, and digital inputs. Even better is having
the ability to store a few profiles for different music and seating
positions. WORD OF CAUTION: In
car audio, digital inputs tend to be proprietary, so double check the
connectors when you are buying the various cables.
In the entire car audio industry, this is the area that turns
technology into religion. There are some very reputable manufacturers
out there, but also some scam artists. The stuff you buy at swap meets that
weighs a few pounds isn't going to do anything it promises. Stick to
major brands, or brands that have very good reputations. Look for
reviews in reputable magazines (;->), and listen to them yourself. It's very
common to see an amplifier that is 8"x8" in size claim to output
1,000 watts @ <1% THD, yeah maybe if it got struck by lightning.
Just like in home audio, listen, listen, listen! Speakers are personal
taste, but here are a few pointers:
When the speakers are installed, they will most likely be off
axis. So listen to them off axis (in the driver's seat).
Stores have a real habit of playing speakers for you with big
power amplifiers, and this leads to great detail and a solid sound. Unfortunately,
if you aren't going to power them with similar amplifier power levels, the
speakers will sounds very different. Ask to listen to them at your
The same manufacturer will usually have 3-4 price-levels of speakers.
Often much of the technology is common between the lines. Listen
to all the lines if you like a particular manufacturer. You just
might save a few $$.
Coming Soon .
. .We Tackle Road Noise !
- Brian Weatherhead -
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