“Every great shop needs a demo vehicle to show off their products and installation abilities.” These were the words of an industry member that I respect a lot at a training earlier this Spring. His words really hammered home. There we were, 2010 Mobile Electronics Retailer of the Year and we didn’t have a store demo vehicle. We’ve had a lot of them in the past, but we haven’t had one to speak of for the last 3-4 years. Shame on us!
It was around this time that an ex-employee who now works for a chain of car dealers called me to let me know that they had just traded a vehicle “that I just might like!” The vehicle turned out to be a 2008 Lexus IS250. It was in excellent condition, had been serviced meticulously and the price was right. We took delivery of the vehicle a few days later.
The next thing that we did was to lay out a list of criteria that the demo system needed to meet. This is what we came up with:
- It had to retain factory radio. This system needed to show off the capabilities that exist for factory integration.
- The vehicle needed to remain as factory looking as possible. I wanted there to be very little, if any indication that an aftermarket system existed.
- Sound quality was to be much more important than SPL. We wanted it to sound great and get loud if we wanted, but this was not going to be an ear-shattering system. Sound quality was the primary goal.
We spent the following week determining what we could do with this vehicle. As we learned more about it , we quickly realized that we had made the right choice. The front doors were equipped with 3 way component speakers. There was a woofer in the bottom of each door, a mid in the center and a tweeter in the top. The back doors housed a 2 way component set.
We also found that the vehicle was equipped with a factory amplifier located in the rear of the trunk. After spending a good deal of time with the oscilloscope and RTA, we figured out what each of the wires did. Turns out, the front doors were bi-amped. This meant that the amplifier was sending out low frequencies to the woofers and a shared mid/high signal to the mids and tweeters. The amplifier also supplied a sub signal to the factory “subwoofer” located in the rear deck.
This presented a small problem to us. In order to supply the amplifier with a full range signal, all of these frequencies had to be combined. Audison BitOne to the rescue! The BitOne is an amazing product that we will cover in detail in a future post. In addition to re-combining the audio signals, it acts as a multi-channel 30 band EQ, time alignment device, provides an auxiliary input (or 2) and is the ultimate line output converter (among other things). We’ve used plenty of BitOne’s before, but this time we were really going to put it through it’s paces. This vehicle was the perfect playground for the BitOne. As an added bonus, the DRC (remote control unit) for the BitOne fit nearly perfectly in the factory change holder to the left of the steering wheel.
When it came time to pick speakers, the decision was simple. We wanted the ultimate in high end sound from a 2-way system. That narrowed the search to the Hertz Mille MLK2TW 2 way component set. We mounted the woofer in the factory woofer location and the tweeter in the factory midrange location. Great care was taken to make sure the speakers were aimed properly for the best imaging possible. The back speakers remained stock and play off of the factory amplifier. There is a small twist here. The rear speakers would not be part of the main system. For critical listening, the rear speakers would be turned off completely. In the event that there would be a rear seat passenger, the rear speakers can be engaged to provide sound to the back.
Again, the sub proved to be an easy decision. We wanted very defined and clear bass. We also knew that this single sub would go into a small sealed enclosure in the trunk so it had to handle a good deal of power. This lead us straight to the Hertz HX250.5 10″ subwoofer. This sub handles power, works great in a small sealed box and sounds fantastic. A custom fiberglass enclosure was built into the driver’s side of the trunk. When you open the trunk, you would not know that the sub is there unless you were familiar with a Lexus IS250 trunk.
For amplification, we went to the Audison LRX5.1K. This 5 channel amplifier is an all in one solution designed specifically for bi-amped systems with a sub. Channels 1 and 2 provide 60 watts to each of the tweeters. Channels 3 and 4 send 170 watts to each of the doors woofers. A massive class D channel provides 750 watts to the subwoofer. These power ratings are for the way that we chose to configure the system. The amp can produce more power when being driven to lower impedances. We chose not to do this to maximize sound quality and system headroom.
At Mobile Edge, we believe in sound deadening and encourage it in all of our jobs. To be able to demonstrate exactly what proper sound deadening can do, we turned to Hushmat. Hushmat is a leader in vehicle sound control. We treated nearly every surface of the Lexus with Hushmat Ultra. Three of the doors were treated, inside and out. The driver’s side rear door was not treated with Ultra so that we could show customers the difference that it can make by doing a simple “knock” test. The difference is truly amazing. In addition to the Hushmat Ultra, we installed Hushmat Silencer Megabond in each of the 4 doors. What Ultra does for low frequency vibrations, Silencer does for higher frequency noises such as road and wind noise. When the vehicle was reassembled and we took it for the first ride, the noise floor difference was nothing short of astonishing! An already quiet car is now nearly dead quiet while cruising down the highway. Imagine what this did for the sound.
We installed a few other tricks into the vehicle:
- We added Bluetooth handsfree that works through the factory radio and outputs through the vehicle’s speakers. This system is truly remarkable in both ease of use and sound quality.
- A custom usb port was installed into the factory cigarette lighter location. Looking at the port, you would think that it was there when it left Japan.
- An iStreamer device was installed to boost the output level and overall sound quality of an iDevice. In addition, the iStreamer will charge the device while it is in operation. We have used the iStreamer in several vehicles and find the improvement in sound from an iDevice to be remarkable!
- We added an Audison 1.4 farad capacitor to improve overall sound quality of the system. This is recommended in most every system that we do.
- We made a customer Lexan panel to go into the factory skihole location. It was engraved with “Mobile Edge 2010 Retailer of the Year” and backlit in red neon.
After the installation was completed, it came time to tune… and tune….. and tune some more. Fortunately, Mobile Edge has all of the necessary tools to toon any system the right way. We spent hours in the trunk with the Oscope getting the levels just perfect. Once that was complete, we moved on to the driver’s seat with laptop and RTA in hand. While the BitOne is a very complex and detailed device, it takes a lot of time to properly set it up. Crossover points need to be set, tested and changed. Each output channel has it’s own 30 band EQ. Time alignment has to be set up and then slowly dialed in to perfection and all of that is for the driver’s listening position. Much of this has to be calibrated specifically for other listening positions. In our case, we set up a passenger’s seat listening position for when we are demoing the system to clients. When it was all said and done, we probably had close to 40 hours of setup and tuning in this vehicle. It wasn’t until we were completely satisfied with the results that we announced the vehicle’s completion.
The Lexus rivals the sound of most high end home hi-fi setups. The imaging and staging in this vehicle are nothing short of amazing. The singer sounds as if he/she is hovering over the center of the hood. You can pick out the locations of the other musicians across the top of the hood. Fidelity and sound quality far exceed what you would normally come to expect from a high end car setup. Don’t take my word for it. Stop in sometime and take a listen for yourself. This is not a boom system, but I would submit that this very well might be one of the very best sounds systems that you have ever heard.