with David MacKinnon: Three Easy Steps to Awesome
I used to have a simple and effective upgrade path for people wanting to improve the performance of their factory car audio systems. With the complexity and integration level of the radios that come in new cars today, my plan has had to evolve dramatically. In this installment of Listen Up, we will look at a modern approach to upgrading your factory audio system.
If you ask any music enthusiast what is lacking from most factory-installed audio systems, their answer would be bass. Now, don’t start imagining a wall of woofers and banks of batteries; that’s not what I’m talking about. It takes a dedicated speaker in an appropriate enclosure with an adequately powerful amplifier to reproduce the bottom octave of the music we listen to with any semblance of realism. Even the eight- and 10-inch “subwoofers” many automakers include in their vehicles can’t hold a candle to what can be achieved in the aftermarket. So, step one is to add a good quality subwoofer system to your vehicle. Having a subwoofer in your system relieves the small factory-installed midrange speakers from the strenuous duty of trying to make bass. This allows them to play midrange frequencies louder, and sound better!
Once you have a nice subwoofer added to your system, you may find that the little amplifier that is in your radio can’t keep up adequately. Step two is to upgrade the amplification to the rest of the speakers in your vehicle. With more power, not only will they play louder, but the music will be more dynamic. Think of it like having an extra 100 lb-ft of torque at idle! Look for an amp rated at somewhere between 50 and 100 watts per channel, and that is compliant to the CEA-2006A rating system. If you want to combine this step with the first, there are some great five-channel amplifiers available that will run your entire audio system.
Now that we have a solid foundation for the system, it is time to upgrade the most important and critical component – your speakers. Anyone that knows me has heard me say a few hundred times: “You can have the best electronics in the world, but if you don’t have good speakers, your system still won’t sound good.” Picking speakers is much simpler than people think. A good speaker sounds good with all music, and at all reasonable volume levels. If the sound of the speakers you are auditioning changes as you turn them up, keep looking. If the instruments and voices you hear don’t sound natural and realistic, keep looking. If any portion of the spectrum seems over-emphasized or missing, keep looking. Work with your local car stereo specialist retailer to pick speakers that will fit into the factory locations in your vehicle, but be sure to discuss different mounting options. For example, you could relocate tweeters to the A-pillars to improve staging and imaging.
THE CLARION XC7520 IS A FIVE- CHANNEL AMPLIFIER WITH INTEGRATED SIX- CHANNEL DSP. A GREAT SINGLE- AMP SOLUTION FOR ALMOST ANY SYSTEM.
THIS IS THE OUTPUT OF AN AMPLIFIER IN A VEHICLE WITH A FOUR- WAY SPEAKER SYSTEM. YOU CAN SEE THE DIFFERENT LEVELS USED TO COMPENSATE FOR SPEAKER EFFICIENCY AND LOCATION.
THIS IS THE OUTPUT OF A PROCESSOR THAT CAN SUM FOUR SIGNALS TOGETHER AND UNDO THE EQUALIZATION THAT WAS APPLIED TO EACH SIGNAL. BECAUSE OF TIME ALIGNMENT, THERE ARE SOME NASTYSOUNDING ISSUES AROUND 2 KHZ.
HERE'S THE OUTPUT OF THE JL AUDIO FIX- 82. THE INPUT SIGNALS ARE ADJUSTED FOR LEVEL AND HAVE HAD THE TIME- DELAY REMOVED. THE RESULT IS FLAT FREQUENCY RESPONSE ACROSS THE ENTIRE AUDIO BAND. THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT.
A PAIR OF AUDIOMOBILE SUBWOOFERS IN A CUSTOM UNDER- SEAT ENCLOSURE IN THE BACK OF A QUAD- CAB TRUCK. A GREAT WAY TO ADD BASS WITHOUT LOSING ANY STORAGE SPACE.