Monday, August 31, 2020

New Front Speakers (for now)

So as I alluded to in a prior post, in addition to replacing the OEM radio/cassette deck with one that actually could still play cassette tapes, I removed the Morel Tempo Ultra 602 mid-range component speakers that had been installed in the doors. They are great speakers, but do not sound as good as they could without their tweeter components, which had been installed into the A-pillars (covered in the wrong colored Alcantara) by Worx but in the wrong location and aimed improperly, resulting in a terrible soundstage.

Even with that super advanced Pioneer CyberNavi head unit, the whole set up never really sounded good, even when playing CDs. Such a shame given Morel's stellar reputation.  And of course, I want to get rid of anything in the car that reminds me of Worx.
Strangely... that foam surround felt...moist...
The problem of course with now finding, deciding on and then buying speakers (especially online) is that it is very difficult to describe the sound objectively and much of the listening criteria is subjective.  So in many ways you have to see what others say (and hope they know what they are talking about), look for brands you like, and hope for the best. Basically a gamble.

In the past I had bought off the shelf Pioneer car speakers for all 4 corners from my local Autobacs store, and been impressed. Then again, anything is better than the OEM speakers, but the Pioneers seemed to be very efficient power-wise and also very good at reproducing high frequencies, along with very good soundstage abilities.  In fact, to me they were much better than the Morels that Worx installed, although I think that objectively on paper the Morels Tempo Ultra 602s are a better speaker (and subjectively, some people will say they have "warmth" etc.).  A lot of it again was on how the separate tweeters were aimed, as well as the overly complicated CyberNavi stereo that got installed. 

In any case, my thinking this time was, replace the Morels with something JDM - modernize as if the car left the factory last week.  Granted, I know that Nissan's premium sound system in the current Skyline is a Bose system, but for all other cars sold in Japan they use head units and speakers from Japanese suppliers. Plus I'm not so sure about Bose systems that aren't bespoke to a particular car.

Since I didn't want to go with Pioneer again, the JDM brand I focused on this time was Alpine. I was very impressed with the Alpine shallow mount subwoofer (SWR-T10) as well as the Alpine amp powering it in the trunk box that I had custom made, but unfortunately got thrown out by Worx. 

For 6.5 inch Alpines, I quickly learned they sold 3 model lines overseas (Type S, Type R, and Type X) (strangely, the specs for their JDM products aren't very good....) and so I gravitated towards the premium Type X series, especially after reading about how this guy thought the Alpine X-S65 coaxials were "bloody brilliant" and how he also thought the 6.5 inch components were "bloody awesome"   He also has some videos, here is one:

Since he looks like someone who is REALLY REALLY into car audio, I think I'll take his word for it... Finally, I found that Crutchfield had an online speaker listening comparison tool  (SpeakerCompare) and while it sounded to me that the Morels had better low end sound, the coaxial (non-component) Alpine X series speakers sounded better to me on the higher frequency end.  A subwoofer would solve most of the lower frequency issues anyway...

In any case, I ordered the speakers from - not only were these on sale, but they were offering to package them together with these silicon speaker baffles from NVX for free:

A week later they were at my door - a few days before I got the car back from Nismo, actually!

Most people will notice immediately that I ended up getting the coaxials, and not the components - because these were cheaper and IF they are good, the plan would be to move them to the back shelf and put the component versions up front.  If they disappoint me, well I didn't lose that much money and they will do for now...
Made in China means not as clean soldering as  I would expect of a Made In Japan model...

So to replace the speakers, the door cards came off - very easy especially as I treated myself to this awesome Vessel motorized screwdriver. Highly recommended, don't know how I survived so long without this little gem.
Rechargable via mini USB, like everything else these days.
It also has a spotlight so you can see what you're unscrewing in darker spots!

It came with the yellow screwdriver bits on the left but I went ahead and got some more assorted bits just in case
The right side is always a bit more work due to the driver controls but I was pleased to see that this side looked ok as well.
And yes, I will give credit - I have chosen to keep the wooden speaker surround (which actually I supplied to Worx after I painted them black) as well as the StP sound deadening material Worx installed. Why not?
Once the cards were off, I first had to peel off (yes, it was glued on) the steel rings that had the foam mounted around it.

Then I unscrewed the speakers, only to find...
Why are there two leads going into each of the terminals?
 Here is a closer look after I snipped the wires.
I had to snip the wires because they were soldered onto the speaker's leads (green arrow).
Note also the speaker magnet was wrapped in Tesa Tape (purple).
I have no idea why you would have 2 positive leads and 2 negative leads going into a mid range component speaker.  Initially, I thought this might be due to some weird crossover set up, although when I looked inside the doors as well as under the dash, could not find anything resembling a crossover.

But then I learned from Ochiai-san that when Uchida-san at Nismo Omori removed the tweeters and their wiring, he did not find any crossovers. Turns out, that the CyberNavi had its own internal high frequency crossover and it was possible to wire the tweeters directly.

So likely this was the set up.  Then when I opened up the center console and looked behind the OEM deck, I found this:
Green points to tweeter wiring that's now been removed and sealed off.
Red arrows show how one positive (red) and one negative (black) from the head unit expands into two leads each.
And yeah - not happy about how the leather is all banged up here...
This photo also shows that for the mid-range the OEM deck is putting out two wires for each channel (positive and negative) but then Worx Nakamura used these connectors to start running two wires from one? Why not simply use larger gauge wire from the beginning? Does anyone know if this is some kind of advanced speaker wiring technique?

Anyway, I then had to solder on proper leads to the ends of the wires I cut so that I could attach them to the Alpines (or any other aftermarket speaker):

I think my soldering is better than Nakamura's but...
While the speaker cutouts were empty, I took a look inside. I then found out that Nakamura had installed this squishy foam (it feels moist, like the foam surrounds did).  I was also pleasantly surprised to see that, despite his criticism of my sound deadening attempt, he hadn't bothered to remove the sound suppression material I had installed the doors many years ago.
Green arrow is the weird foam.  Pink arrows are the sound suppression material I put in a long time ago.
I removed this wet feeling grey foam and replaced with the rippled black foam that came with the NVX baffles:

Here they are side by side:
Anyone know exactly what this grey foam is? Moist/sticky to the touch...
This looks better I think. At least it feels dry to the touch.

And here is how the silicon baffles go in:
Again I do give credit - the way the speaker wire is coated in that foam is a nice sound deadening touch.

After they go in (the door is wide enough I didn't have to cut the silicon) I simply hooked up the Alpines and then bolted them in.

And the sound?

Yeah I know, it's 80s pop, but a classic song, and it's on tape too - but you have to admit the bass response on these is unexpectedly good, and the clarity of the instruments and vocals is superb! I will have to experiment with other music (presuming I can find other old tapes that still work) and yes for some tapes there is a severe degradation in sound quality (for those I listened to too much). But on rarely played tapes like this one... wow!  Even the tape hiss doesn't bother me.  What's really interesting is that even though these are coaxial, the sound stage and imaging is absolutely spectacular! And I'm not even using a proper amplifier or DSP - just the head unit's 2x15W! Not sure how Alpine engineered that but they did...

Now, I'm really tempted to see how these speakers sound from a digital source... hold on as I figured out a very interesting way to do so!

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Cabinets for the Garage (Garage Series)

So after I installed the slatwall, things were looking better. But yeah, things were still not as organized as they could be. Plus, I really wanted a workbench of some sort for small projects.  So again it was Alibaba to the rescue, and I was able to order a full set of garage cabinets directly from the Chinese factory, for a very low cost (a fraction if I bought from the USA, or any other country).  And again, similar to what I had encountered when researching slatwall, the closest I could get to garage cabinet sellers here in Japan were cabinets for clothing (locker room cabinets) or super industrial looking ones which were not only expensive (I am sure well made) but not in the color I wanted nor of the dimensions that would fit nicely in the garage.

So after placing my order, my garage looked like this:

But when the factory told me that the cabinets had arrived in Japan and were ready to be shipped out of customs and directly to me, I hustled and cleaned up the areas where I wanted to have the cabinets.

First was this area along the shorter wall:

As well as this area in front of my first floor office:
I figured this could work as a space for a bench. Maybe with some cabinets.
So you can see I was already experimenting with the slatwall accessories (I eventually decided not to hang any bicycles here).

And then lo and behold, TWO 2-ton trucks arrived and unloaded a bunch of boxes. Here are photos of the ones they kindly placed INSIDE the garage....

And then luckily my buddy Dino came over to help me unwrap/unbox everything.  He actually enjoyed using my hammer to yank out countless nails as he dismantled the wooden framing. He said it was therapeutic!
Showing off his nail extraction technique
After we unpacked everything, the cabinets were preassembled, so it was all about lining it all up, then making small adjustments to make sure it all looked good.
Here I am wrapping the steel leg pieces with soft tape to prevent scratches on the floor...
After the main cabinets were set up, then it was time to set up the work bench. It has a nice back board plus overhead cabinets, which required some assembly.
I'm smaller so I of course squeezed back to screw the cabinets onto the frame. Dino is holding it all up with his fingers
And the final result of the workbench:
Later I got the lighting to work and added some items to the pegboard.
The tall cabinets lined up nicely along the shorter wall behind the door.
Still alot of work to be done, check out that mess on the right.
And then basically put all of my cleaning/detailing items into the cabinets... it's still a work in progress, but from left to right, it's 1) cleaning materials, 2) drying items, 3) polishing items, and 4) other stuff such as spare parts, lubricants, paints, etc.

With the smaller cabinets taking up space in the garage where I would normally park (and leaving my vehicles outside!), I decided to hurry up and finish adding slatwall on TOP of these tall cabinets, and then hauled up the smaller cabinets for even more storage space. Of course, I bolted them to the ALC walls and also used those anti-earthquake poles that fit between furniture and the ceiling. 

And the workbench now? Well as you can see I currently have several projects underway...

But indeed it's very nice having a bench and tool cabinets to store all of the small stuff one accumulates over the years, in a somewhat organized fashion.

And yes, this mess is anti-thema to my OCD, so it will get cleaned up... eventually! Anyone have any suggestions?

I DO still have other garage stuff planned for the future, but right now I'm happy with this set up.  I also have a lot of stuff to get rid of as well, because for far too long I've been accumulating various parts and materials so I'm gradually unloading them as we speak. Either trash or Yahoo Auctions or send to people who want/need it (maybe I should have a list somewhere?)

Next post - back to the car's interior! Stay tuned, post coming soon!

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

New Slatwall for the Garage (Garage Series)

Before I continue talking about the fixes I am being forced to make to bring the car's interior back to OEM, sharp eyed readers might notice that my garage is much more weekend mechanic friendly than before.  Let me get you guys all caught up with what I've been doing this year.

Beginning with my first post of 2020 and continuing with all the posts marked as "(Garage Series)," I've shown how I have slowly made improvements to the most important room in the new house, the garage!

As a recap, I first had to get the garage floor redone to remove an incline, then had the floor covered in an epoxy coating, then I got a shed for storage overflow, and then finally got an industrial grade sink as well as a Braava floor cleaning robot.

But maximizing garage storage space and keeping things better organized are what I wanted to improve, and I also wanted a work bench in order to have a safe place to do smaller projects.  And of course, looking good is important as well. This means being organized is key - up until now, all of my tools and supplies have been scattered about in various boxes and metal racks, and frankly it's not the most efficient nor comfortable way to do things.

So, first order of business was to utilize the wall space - this garage is large, with a ceiling height of about 3.4 meters.  That means the walls SHOULD be utilized to hang items, and the easiest and cleanest looking way, from what I have seen, is to use slatwall (think vertical!).

The problem for me was that literally no one apparently sells slatwall in Japan (I found companies selling the hooks and shelves for slatwall, but NOT the slatwall itself... weird).  I looked at companies in the USA, but in the end I found that pricing and customer service was the best out of China! (call me un-American, but when American companies are getting their stuff made in China...why not buy direct? Alibaba really makes things easier).

So I made some rough estimates as to the quantity I needed, and a few weeks later:
Guy had to get the dolly out!
Yeah, they look like a drug shipment. Very suspicious!
Contents were these interlocking slatwall pieces

As well as the accessories such as a magnetic tool rack and various hooks and shelves
So the trick here is - see the wall behind the slats? That's made of "ALC" or Aerated Lightweight Concrete.  This requires special bolts to be used to attach things to the wall.  You can see that although I cut out (using a jigsaw) enough space for the faucet and the electrical outlets, the bottom slatwall piece is using 4 massive ALC specific bolts to anchor itself and the top piece.

But once that first piece is in place, it's really just a matter of stacking additional pieces onto (the bottom and top of each are designed to interlock) each other.

 And once this side of the garage was done, then it was time to attach this odd corner

You will note that there are joint pieces that join, at 90 degree angles, the slatwall pieces. So I used some PVC cement and created the angle.  And then it was just a matter of screwing the panels into the wall and then stacking up (and screwing in) additional panels on top.

This corner was tough. You can see I had to get the level (dark blue, bottom right corner) out to make sure that both sides were absolutely level with the floor as well as with each other.
And the completed (kind of) result? Well this is looking much cleaner and utilitarian, but there is still too much clutter. I also haven't used all the hooks and shelves I was sent.

To take care of the rest of this clutter, I needed cabinets... and that was another crazy adventure which I'll talk about in my next post (and featuring a minor celebrity who came over to help...)

Saturday, August 22, 2020

New(er) OEM Deck!

As you may recall from an earlier post, Nismo Omori Factory installed an OEM radio/cassette deck that I found on Yahoo Auctions to give the car an OEM look. They installed it but...

Unfortunately as you can see, the cassette deck wasn't working properly in that it would immediately spit out any cassette you tried to put in. This is important as anyone who's lived in Japan knows that Japanese AM and FM radio stations are terrible. Long on talk and short on music.  So generally speaking an alternative music source is essential, whether that be cassette, CD, MD or now, iPhone/Android/Bluetooth.

Here is the back story - I searched for but couldn't find my original Nissan deck that came with my car (which I had removed for a 1-DIN Pioneer Navi shortly after I bought the car in 2005!)
It was a nice compact 1-DIN unit...

With a retractable screen for the navigation system! (Before Google Maps, people!!)
So for this effort to go back to OEM I had actually initially found and bought 2 OEM radio/cassette decks on Yahoo Auctions - one came with the HVAC unit that I couldn't use either - and the second one I bought because it looked to me to be in better condition. Unfortunately, when Nismo tried to install it - it turns out it had connectors NOT in the 10 pin/6 pin arrangement found on the later 33s and 34s, but rather the 4pin/6pin/4pin arrangement found on the BNR32. Weird!

So I couldn't use this deck, even though it's apparently for the BCNR33... and super clean...going back on Yahoo Auctions I guess!
Yahoo Auction tip - make sure to check the connectors!
Just in case someone out there is in a Series 1 car and needs the correct OEM cassette deck parts number...
Anyway, even though the car's interior LOOKS OEM, if it doesn't FUNCTION like OEM, that bothers me... so as soon as I saw the video of the installed deck spitting out the cassette tape, I went ahead and found yet ANOTHER OEM deck on Yahoo Auctions...this one the seller had a 30 day guarantee that it would work (and the photos showed the proper 10 pin/6pin connectors)!

So right after I got the car home (and brake lamp fuse pulled) I disassembled the dash cluster and swapped out the defective deck with the replacement deck.
Take out the center console, remove steering wheel, remove the steering column covers and remove the dash fascia
About to remove the defective deck
Comparing the newly purchased deck (left) with the one I removed (right) - the one on the left even LOOKS cleaner/newer!!
Success! The newer deck plays tapes with no problem!
So why go to all this trouble? Because these used decks are cheap and I have a bunch of old cassette tapes still at home that I can still use in installing new speakers!  Also, before swapping out the front Morel Tempo Ultra 602 component door speakers (which Nismo Omori did not remove), I wanted to see how they sounded without their accompanying tweeters.  And from an audio source other than the radio.  And if possible replace one side with another (new) speaker of my own choosing, just to compare.

Note - of course I'm not after high fidelity/SQ at this time. Just returning to OEM-esque.

But how does it sound now? Not bad, right?

These mid range Morel woofer, being driven only off the OEM radio/cassette deck (2x 15W!) - actually sound pretty good with surprisingly good bass, except of course there is no treble without the separate tweeters. In conjunction with the old Pioneer coaxial 6.5 inch speakers in the rear deck, it sounds weird even if the sound is clean, because the sound stage is coming from behind and the personalities of the speakers are so different.

In my next post, I'll talk about how I removed the Morels from the doors... but then ran into some weird problems. I swear Worx is going to haunt me for as long as I own this car...