Saturday, October 24, 2020

Modernizing the Stereo - Part 7 - THIS is what makes all the difference...

So all the hardware is now installed. Cleanly, might I add, and as a side benefit I was able to clean up and fix the mess left by others.  So does it sound good?

Cannot wait to go for another spin in this car! And this time with the full audio experience!

Well, I knew that the new speakers alone would be an improvement. Remember, a few months prior I had swapped out the door speakers for the Alpine coaxials, and it was actually pretty good, even using just the OEM deck (no external amp).

But now I have 6 very good speakers in the car - a pair of Alpine X-65C components up front and that pair of Alpine X-S65 coaxials in the rear.  I presumed all the high quality wiring and the powerful Audio Control d.6-1200 amp (at 4 ohm = 6x125 watts) with built in digital signal processor (DSP) WOULD mean good clean sound, but frankly I was not prepared for how a DSP can make a HUGE difference - even though I am choosing to stick with the OEM cassette deck (hooked up to the OEM optional Sony-made CD player).

Before I started this project, despite what I wrote in this blog, I was committed to keeping the OEM deck if possible, for aesthetic purposes.  To me, the OEM deck simply looks right.  So, no (more) fancy 21st century head units (plus I wasn't impressed with the Pioneer CyberNavi that had been installed by Worx).  And, my research quickly revealed that there are now a lot of products that integrate with the factory OEM head unit. With modern technology, the compromises inherent in factory head units can be vastly eliminated, and with modern cell phones I can get all of my navigation needs taken care of as well. So really, no more need for a 2 DIN stereo and the large display. Whatever stereo I use, I can focus on the sound quality. 

And this is why a DSP for me was a necessity from the beginning. Given however the lack of space in the car, an amp combined with a DSP was the only solution.  And, because this would be the first time I would use a DSP, I wanted something relatively simple to use, but sophisticated enough to actually add value by making a noticeable improvement in sound quality. 

My research revealed that there are some amps with rudimentary DSP controls on the amps themselves... but the majority of the current popular stand alone DSPs /DSP amps use bespoke software to make the necessary adjustments. 

As Pablo commented in an earlier post, the Five Star Car Stereo YouTube channel  (with Dean and Fernando) is a fantastic resource. The other notable YouTube channel is Car Audio Fabrication,  but Mark from that channel tends to be a bit too into certain brands (i.e. sponsored), while Dean and Fernando seem a bit more about installing what the customer wants (but centric to what their shop carries).  I also love their "911" series - I can totally relate to crappy installs that need to be removed and redone! Therefore, while Mark from CAF had a lot of interesting tips, I paid more attention to what Dean and Fernando talked about and demonstrated.  Thus when Mark recommended Audio Control, I was a bit skeptical (I've seen him act as their spokesman), while Dean and Fernando actively compared Audio Control against other brands, including Alpine, Helix, Rockford Fosgate, head units that include DSPs, etc.  

But in the end I was swayed by what both Dean and Mark said about ease of software use, which is why I went with the Audio Control DSP. The fact that their d.6-1200 product combines a 6 channel amp with the DSP was ideal, because I wanted to run the Alpine tweeters actively.

I'm not going to talk about the amp and its install because I've covered that in this Modernizing the Stereo series, nor will I talk at length about the features that the d-6.1200 has - stuff like AccuBASS (which restores bass the factory stereo removes), GTO (their auto-on feature), etc. - you can find plenty of reviews on the YouTube channels I mentioned plus elsewhere online.  I will mention however that I now have a USB cable tucked under the drivers seat by which I can hook up my laptop so I can use the DSP software to fine tune the d-6.1200's DSP settings:

Anyway, once the software was downloaded and installed, here is what the initial screen looked like:


I then began to tinker with the settings to get used to the software. It was also interesting to see how the music I was playing looked. Here is the Input View showing the RTA input from the OEM deck - you can see how there is a dip in the mid-range:

Then Output View:

It was here I started using the "auto" equilization feature (looking at the input and output RTA) in conjunction with playing back pink noise through the Sony CD player, in order to get the flattest output possible - important as part of OEM head unit integration.  Once output is flat, then a user can start tweaking to customize the sound to his liking. 

Another cool thing you can do with DSP is to measure the distance from your ears to the speakers - you can see below how I've entered, in centimeters, the delay distance.   I did this for all 6 speakers, both when I was in the driver's seat and passenger's seat. And yes I could immediately tell the difference, the sound seemed to come from a proper sound stage, with the vocals seemingly floating above the center of the dash, and instruments on either side!

I also have to mention that this amp has an options port, to which I hooked up this Bluetooth module through which I can stream music and/or use a miniaturized version of the laptop software from my phone. 

Finally, because the DSP allows for different settings, I installed this optional controller (so I can change on the fly) and hid it in my old ashtray (which had holes drilled in the back) - excuse the dirt/dust on the dash surround, I'll get that cleaned up in due course:

Current settings are for "driver", "passenger" and "streaming" but I will continue to tinker with the DSP settings - clearly I have a lot more to learn, plus I haven't really tuned the output to my ideal. But the music truly sounds fantastic - even though I am still using a flat curve! I've found that I can adjust for each song by using the OEM deck treble and bass controls!

Meanwhile I am debating whether to keep going and add a proper subwoofer (located in the trunk) or maybe a powered one under drivers seat?  I also worry - is the OEM alternator enough or does the addition of a fairly powerful amp require an upgrade? Anything else I need to do?

Oh, and while I was working on this, I did a few other things... standby for some more posts on those!

Friday, October 16, 2020

Modernizing the Stereo, Part 6 - Almost Done!

While doing a decent job (if I may say so myself) on the rear speakers and deck,  the Alpine X series component speakers finally arrived (thank you WoofersEtc!), meaning that in reality, I was jumping back between these two jobs. For clarity of process I've posted the tasks separately to avoid confusion. 

So here are the Alpines - to say I was really looking forward to hearing them in action is an understatement!

Securely surrounded by styrofoam:

I unwrapped the a tweeter and crossover first:

You can see the grills but also the zip ties (to secure the crossovers, if you choose to run passive) along with some screws and double stick stickers (to mount the tweeters).

And then took a close look at the woofer:

Always surprises me how compact the magnets are compared to the Morels I removed earlier:

Anyway I went ahead and started prepping the doors to receive the new speakers.  As you may recall, I had, during my install of the two sets of speaker wires, taken pains to make sure the tweeter wires differed from those for the woofer.
Blue and silver tweeter wiring

Passenger side door too - these are the speaker spaces I had previously purchased a few years ago from the same Yahoo Auctions guy that did the rear speaker spacers:

Now comes the fun part. In the Audio Technica door dampening kit, were a couple of products I hadn't tried before.

First, these foam "clip dampers" which are designed to be placed over the holes into which the plastic clip connectors fit in, for the purpose of reducing any sound leakage and squeaking from the clips.

Then, these "sound proofing wave" foam strips (with adhesive side) that are designed to go around the outline of the door, providing a solid foam barrier between the door panel and the metal frame.

These are attached as such, along the edge of the door:

Meanwhile the clip dampers as follows (see green arrows):


When finished I had added the arrowed portions to the door (the existing dampening was either what I had done a long time or what had been added by Worx - heck if it works I'll keep it...):

So the woofers were going to be straightfoward. The tweeters on the other hand...

I had to carefully pull off some of the dampening material, but with all the old adhesive, decided to first wrap some protective sheathing around the tweeter wires.


And then simply funnel these tweeters leads so they ended up inside the door behind where the woofer speakers would be (and where the blue and silver wiring for the tweeters ended).

As for tweeter location, I did not want to touch the Alcantara lined A pillars by Robson (absolutely perfect) nor did I want to cut up my leather dash or leather covered door panels.  That left only one real option - the sail panels (the black plastic that covers the area where the green arrow is pointing).


I'm not experienced enough to take the tweeter apart and create something more flush (although when I undid the back, I found a nice quantity of acoustic wadding behind the tweeter magnet, likely used to dampen the back wave - so I am guessing these sound the best in this unadultered form), so for now I followed the instructions and attached the tweeters to a pair of spare sail panels I had. (Photos taken after I re-attached the door panel):



Lastly, although I was forced to run new wiring into the door (because Worx had removed the OEM speaker harness), I had to solder on these connectors to the wires (including the wiring coming from the Alpine tweeters - so 3 pairs on each side!)- just in case in the future I change my speakers.

Now just need to find some more projects....

 After installing the front speakers, and before I sealed up the rear seat area, I made sure to test to make sure the amp works - the blue LEDs are a definite bonus, although I will never see them in action!

Then I sealed it up (you can see that I had finished installing the rear deck speakers):

And then it was matter of putting it all back together (the seat was last):

Same in the trunk - making sure all the wiring is tight and in place:

Before I sealed up the trunk access however I tested the speaker polarity and found the front woofers were showing reverse polarity for some reason:

This was quickly rectified by reversing the speaker leads at the amp.  Then I installed the bracing:

And then the trunk lining (yes need to get it fixed looks weird):

Then it was matter of putting the stereo back in, making sure the carpet was as flat as possible and then bolting the seats in.  Everything works! Except now the best is yet to come...

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Modernizing the Stereo, Part 5 - Rear Deck

So while waiting for the Alpine components to arrive, I decided to clean up the rear deck area and at minimum run new speaker wire from the DSP amp to the new rear speakers. I had actually already removed the rear parcel shelf while working on installing the amp and the wiring.

You can see how the amp isn't installed yet,
but I had already gone ahead and removed the rear parcel shelf!

A closer look at the speakers showed that there was some degradation.

The plastic ring surround on these Pioneers were about to fall off!

The parcel shelf itself needed some help as well:

Quick glance and you can see the OEM felt lining was bunching up in some places.

A closer look at the speaker grills showed a mottled texture, almost like mold.

So I removed them both to try to figure out a way to clean up.

Obviously this is beyond saving. I guess Nissan used this black tissue-like cloth to protect the OEM speaker? Thin enough to let sound out, thick enough to protect from fading or degrading from sunlight?

Since I didn't want to remove the grill from the plastic housing, I had to be very patient and use a small screwdriver to slide the tissue cloth out of the nooks and especially the corners. Check out this dust!

The end result:

And yes I was tempted to cut away the supporting plastic ribs, but given the age of the part decided to leave well enough alone for now. Then it was onto first removing the old Pioneers (and yes had to figure out how to tuck away the existing speaker harness/wiring):

Whereupon I found out that the Alpine coaxials would not fit!

The reason is obvious when you take a look at the shape of the speakers from the side - they are both 6.5 inch in diameter but:

You can see how the basket of the Alpine (left) is much wider and taller, with the magnet actually incorporated into the basket body. The wide basket doesn't give enough clearance to allow the speaker to simply drop into the speaker hole. The Pioneer is a more traditional shape, with a minimal basket and larger magnet on the bottom.

And even though both are supposed to be 6.5inch (17cm) wide, the Alpine looks larger. 
Certainly the tweeter core looks like it uses a wider diameter tweeter too.

Luckily I knew exactly what to do, which is to get some MDF spacers which would have a larger diameter cut out than the OEM plastic ones - and I went to the guy I had purchased the spaces for the front speakers many years again (from Yahoo Auctions).

Of course I immediately painted these with some flat black lacqpaint to protect from moisture, and to ensure they blend in with the interior.

Test fitting it to make sure.

And here is where I found another problem - while these spacers DID fit properly, they still did not clear enough of the metal (pink arrow). However after fiddling around with the spacers, I hit upon a solution, which was to flip them over and use only the front bolt hole, while drilling out another hole on the opposite side (in mirrored location) below the elongated tip (green arrow below).

While I was doing this I measured and drilled out the holes (orange arrows above) to screw down the speakers:

Despite the silver ink marks, to make sure the lower holes were accurate
I drilled the holes with the speaker in place. Nerve wracking!

So now it was time to install the speakers, but before that, I wanted to install some sound deadening and dampening to the rear deck. For that, the easiest solution was this door sound dampening kit from Audio Technica Japan.


I had previously used a similar kit for the front doors way back when I first added sound deadening to my car (way before my misfortune with Worx). So I knew I was getting a good kit, and rather than buying parts separately a kit is always easier (plus I figured if I didn't use all the pieces I could add even more material to the doors).

Here is what the kit contained:

First, these foam items - here you can see the round "clip dampers" (designed to go around the clips used to connect door panels- to prevent squeaks); the thinner "sound proofing wave" on the left (designed to be applied to the door metal as an outline to the panel - to plug any gaps between the door frame and panel (and thus prevent further sound leakage) and the thicker "sound proofing wave" (designed to be applied around the speakers to direct sound up and out):


Here are some "vibration controllers" (small sizes for "point tuning")- to dampen vibrations:

What Audio Technica calls "noise-less rug" - a sound insulator material

More "vibration controllers" (cut for door application):

Application tool with clip remover on one end:

So the usual stuff, plus some stuff I hadn't used before (the "sound proofing wave" and the clip surrounds). 

At the same time, the foam speaker gasketing tape had arrived, so I decided to apply that first.


Pretty simple stuff, just cut to length and attach. Looks like Alpine expects its customers to do so, judging by the pattern on the underside of the lip of the speaker:

Green arrow shows how the tape width was perfect!

Just a few minutes per speaker and:


So this gave me reassurance of no rattles between the speakers and the spacers. But what about between these spacers and the rear deck itself?

Right before I started adding parts from the sound dampening kit, I wiped down the rear deck for dust and dirt (but it was actually really clean!) and first applied this gasketing tape to the outlines of the speaker holes (purple arrow below). As you can see I did not cover the entire area with the sound deadening material. I first laid out as much of the vibration reducing material ("vibration controllers") and then on top the "noise-less rug" sound insulation but made sure to leave space for the spacers to fit completely flat and snug on top of the gasketing tape.  I also got clever (I think) and added some of the vibration controllers and sound insulation material to the area next to and above the rear coilovers (green arrow):

Eventually, the rear deck was sufficiently covered - given how loud the car is and how the rear board already has some factory insulation, the emphasis was on vibration reduction and patching up holes that lead into the trunk - to try to get better bass response from these speakers) and I had the spacers installed as well. After this I only had to drop in the speakers (note the red wiring - that's the 16 AWG speaker wires for the rear speakers):

But before I did that, one more thing to do -  fix up the rear parcel shelf itself. First, I had to re-glue some of the insulation that was coming off.

I let it dry overnight (and yes, see those two white clips in the middle - I DID apply the foam "clip damper" things to them during the install).

One more hurdle - turns out the OEM holes in the parcel shelf are too small for these larger Alpines (and how the speaker locations had also changed a bit as I shifted the spacers) so I had to widen them a bit - as you can see there was plenty left to cut out:

Using my jigsaw, I managed to cut cleanly cut out the extra space needed:

To get this:

Pretty clean if I may say so myself!

Finally, before re-installing the parcel board, I attached the speaker foam surrounds (pink arrow below):

Meanwhile as I was doing this over the course of a few days the Alpine X-series component speakers had finally arrived... so in my next post I'll show the unboxing and then how I installed those speakers.

Almost done!!