September 24, 2010

End Of The Road For After Market High End Mobile Audio?

The Tokyo by night dash board lighting design of the latest Honda Accord CP1.

Just as the high end audio and music industry is under going a transitional period at the moment, so is the after market high end mobile audio scene. I've been dabbling in the mobile audio circles for nearly 20 years now. From the humble Blaupunkt head unit with the snake head style EQ booster of the same brand partnered with JBL Titanium 3 way 6x9 speakers, till the last of Alpine's finest 79xx series head units, tube pre amps, multiple power amps, component speaker systems and big bad ass sub woofers. The journey had being filled with sweat, tears and joy.

I saw the demise of high end mobile audio coming many years back, when many premium auto manufacturers started fitting tamper proof systems to their cars. I remember the very first BMW E39 5 Series, introduced in year 1997, it had an integrated audio system/air conditioning and info display hub in the center console of the dash area. Any attempt to disconnect, by pass or add accessories will render the fault light showing unstable voltage causing the car's engine management system to become unstable. The after market guys found a way around the system after a while. However, with each new model introduced, car manufacturers just made it harder and harder to fit after market audio systems. I'll have to say that auto manufacturers are indeed improving their OEM audio system's sound and ergonomics too, just to be fair.

In fact, many premium car manufacturers are working with high end audio manufacturers for improved sound, for example, Lexus has Mark Levinson on board, up market Subarus have McIntosh systems, Bentley has appointed Naim and up market Nissans have BOSE pre-installed. I totally loved the Mark Levinson sound inside the Lexus. The Subaru's McIntosh system is pretty basic, but gets the overall tonal quality right.

I remember my last corporate chariot, an A33 series Nissan Cefiro 2.0L. I had installed an after market high end mobile audio consisting of a 2x200W and another 8x50W class A power amps. The system sounded fine, but the car would stall in the middle of the road when I turned the volume up! It turned out that the class A amps sucked so much power, that it starved the car's electronic management system of the much required 12V DC, causing the engine to stall. I had to scheme down my mobile audio system, with the use of highly efficient, but less than good sounding class D power amps.
The integrated info display combines air cond mode, clock and stereo info all in one.

Our corporate fleet manager had recently decide it's time for another round of chariot change, after all the economy seems to be on the mend, our sales figures are bouncing back, and over time became the order of the day. This time, they had chosen the Honda Accord CP1 2.0 iVtec model. The car came with the latest fashion of integrate designed audio/air cond system plus info display center. I just could not do high end after market mobile installs anymore.

The Pioneer supplied 2 DIN head unit is nicely moulded to fit in to the center console area of the dash, lumped together with air cond controls and info display system. I opened up the dash to check with hope, that some how, if Pioneer had provided pre outs to feed signals to power amps. I am left extremely disappointed. A peek under the hood showed a tiny alternator and puny maintenance free battery, which is unlikely to generate and store enough amps to feed power amps with adequate juices. It would take too much cash resource and electrical re-engineering work to fit an after market high end audio system on the latest corporate chariot.

I called it a day and for me, it's certainly end of the road for high end mobile audio. Many seems to agree with me too, as many mobile audio specialist shops have either down sized or diversified the businesses to other areas of automotive supplies.

Well, perhaps I should just convinced my fleet manager to go for a Lexus in the future corporate chariot shuffle. Maybe, that's just wishful thinking too?


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