Introduction to Car Audio: The Corvette C5 Factory Audio System Evaluation

Part 3 - OK, Now What?


The Current 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.

Future System: Now is a good time to start your search, as we start ours.

  • Headunit: What features do we want?

    • CD: 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 CD material.

    • DVD: 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 DVD-A.

    • Multimedia: 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.

    • MP3: 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.

    • Sound 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.

  • Processor:  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.

  • Amplifiers:  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.

  • Speakers: Just like in home audio, listen, listen, listen! Speakers are personal taste, but here are a few pointers:

    • Positioning: When the speakers are installed, they will most likely be off axis. So listen to them off axis (in the driver's seat).

    • Power: 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 level.

    • Price: 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 -

Related to the article above, we recommend the following:

IEEE 1394

Nature of Equipment Reviews

The Digital Link

What we Hear

High Fidelity

Accuracy, Distortion, and the Audiophile


Copyright 2003 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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