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with Garry Spring­gay: Se­crets of Car Au­dio Com­pe­ti­tion

I have been in­volved with car au­dio con­test­ing since it was in­vented. My first ex­pe­ri­ence was in 1986 with the Alpine-spon­sored CAN (Car Au­dio Na­tion­als), which then merged with NACA (Na­tional Au­tosound Chal­lenge As­so­ci­a­tion) to even­tu­ally be­come IASCA in 1988. Over the years, I judged a lot of IASCA and dB Drag Rac­ing shows, and did some com­pet­ing my­self.

In my re­tail days, I had cus­tomers who were se­ri­ous about com­pet­ing and ex­pected to place well in ev­ery con­test, if not win it out­right. Here, I’ve writ­ten what I would tell any­one who was se­ri­ous about com­pet­ing.

BEND­ING THE RULES

To com­pete in any or­ga­nized event, you first must read and un­der­stand the rules. If you ask any suc­cess­ful com­peti­tor from IASCA to NASCAR, they will tell you they strive to gain as much ad­van­tage as pos­si­ble over their com­pe­ti­tion, with­out break­ing the rules. This means that you need to push the bound­aries a lit­tle some­times, and as such, I have seen a lot of very cre­ative in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the rules over the years.

In the early days, classes of com­pe­ti­tion were di­vided by am­pli­fier power. When the rules were writ­ten, ev­ery­one as­sumed the man­u­fac­tur­ers’ ad­ver­tised power was the limit of the am­pli­fier’s per­for­mance. Soon, man­u­fac­tur­ers and com­peti­tors found they could gain an ad­van­tage by un­der-rat­ing the prod­uct, or by build­ing the prod­uct to work into lower im­ped­ances, which could more than dou­ble the avail­able power from what was ad­ver­tised. Another method of cir­cum­vent­ing the rules was to rate the am­pli­fier’s power at a lower volt­age than nor­mal, but op­er­ate it at as high a volt­age as pos­si­ble for max­i­mum ad­van­tage. In re­cent years, these ad­van­tages have been pretty much elim­i­nated through rule changes and third party ver­i­fi­ca­tions of prod­ucts, but it doesn’t mean you can’t push the en­ve­lope wher­ever pos­si­ble.

FAKE IT ‘TIL YOU MAKE IT

One of the most suc­cess­ful com­peti­tors in those days would use his knowl­edge and tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise to in­tim­i­date the judges, who would then “hear what he told them to hear” when lis­ten­ing to the car.

Another com­peti­tor, who went on to win many pres­ti­gious con­tests, would fre­quently lose points for not hav­ing a “strong cen­ter im­age.” He no­ticed that most of the cars beat­ing him were us­ing cen­ter chan­nel speak­ers, so he re­designed his sys­tem with a re­ally prom­i­nent cen­ter chan­nel speaker on the top of his dash and his car al­ways got max­i­mum points for a strong cen­ter im­age. What judges didn’t re­al­ize was that his car had great left and right speaker po­si­tion­ing, but no speaker at all un­der the grille in the mid­dle of his dash.

The IASCA rules in the '90s gave points for hav­ing “front stage with rear fill.” Sev­eral com­peti­tors found that hav­ing sound com­ing from the rear of the car would se­ri­ously de­tract from their stag­ing score. Their so­lu­tion was to have rear speaker grilles in place, and in some cases ac­tual speak­ers in­stalled, but no con­nec­tions. Judges would be fooled by the pres­ence of the grilles or speak­ers and give them the “rear fill” points.

BE A GOOD LIS­TENER

Be­ing a crafts­man and turn­ing out amaz­ing in­stal­la­tions is one thing, but you need to also spend time learn­ing what your mu­sic is sup­posed to sound like. You’ll need a de­cent home au­dio sys­tem so you can learn and mem­o­rize the way the mu­sic is sup­posed to sound. This way, you can in­stantly rec­og­nize a prob­lem.

For ex­am­ple: I was asked to help tune a car for a com­peti­tor at the 2001 IASCA fi­nals. The car had com­pleted a suc­cess­ful year of com­pe­ti­tion and the owner sim­ply wanted the tune pol­ished a lit­tle. So, I grabbed my sleeve of CDs and jumped in the driver’s seat. Within the first 10 sec­onds of the first track, I shut off the sys­tem and told the com­peti­tor that his left and right chan­nels were back­wards. He looked at me like I had three heads and ex­claimed, “There’s no way! I com­peted all year like this and I haven’t made any changes!” I told him I knew for a fact the chan­nels were back­wards and I could prove it to him. We went to the home ref­er­ence sys­tem we had set up, took a lis­ten, and sure enough, I was right. He asked how it was pos­si­ble that no one had caught it all year, and I heard it al­most in­stantly. I said, “I have that song and a few oth­ers com­pletely mem­o­rized. The fin­ger snaps al­ways come from the left chan­nel and the acous­tic gui­tar is al­ways full right.” His car was back­wards be­cause of an ac­ci­den­tal swap of color-coded RCA ends on his cus­tom ca­bles. I learned months later that two judges who had scored his car ear­lier in the sea­son had not de­ducted points be­cause he was a fa­mous com­peti­tor and they didn’t think it was pos­si­ble for him to make such a ba­sic mis­take.

For any­one who is con­tem­plat­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion in these con­tests, you need to know ev­ery­thing about what you are be­ing judged on. You need to know your car, your sys­tem and your mu­sic, in­side out and back­wards. Be pre­pared to an­swer any ques­tion and do it with con­fi­dence. The peo­ple who win are the com­peti­tors who fully un­der­stand the rules, pay close at­ten­tion to their score­sheets, as well as the score­sheets of the peo­ple who are beat­ing them. By re­ally un­der­stand­ing what the rules mean, and by giv­ing the judges what they are look­ing for, you’ll soon learn what is re­quired to get max­i­mum points. This isn't cheat­ing; you're sim­ply fig­ur­ing out ways to use the rules to your ad­van­tage, with­out bla­tantly break­ing any.

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