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[personal profile] tugrik
Just realized that I never did post in LJ about the audio work on the van, save some moblog pics here and there.

The TC had a 'work van' sound system: two cheap speakers in the doors, nothing else. The head unit was kind of a pain to replace, but I got it and the speakers swapped out two months ago. Still, it sounded really lame. I've not been lucky enough to own a properly-audio-equipped vehicle since my old white van some six or seven years ago.

When Folf gave me an old subwoofer crate of his I figured it was finally time to at least try installing something. Reveille was hanging out and we were talking about audio stuff while he worked on a burningman project. We had to run back to his house to pick up some parts and it occurred to me that we could test out that crate on his already-wired noodledragon-mobile. The speaker actually made noise, though it sounded a bit odd.... but heck, it was all the excuse I needed. We headed over to the local stereo installer I trust with the intent of picking up an amp to install.

While I love good sound I'm really not a fan of 'exposed' audio. I like to make things as hidden/stock as I can instead of being all hey-lookit-my-mad-speakers-yo. That's why I found good fronts that fit in the stock speaker locations... and its' also why I picked out an Alpine PDX-5. Much-love for the new digital amps out there; tiny but powerful. This one is barely bigger than an Apple Airport Extreme router, yet it does 75w x 4 and 300w x 1 (Alpine's great about conservatively rating their amps: the actual test-out came to 104w x 4 and 422w x 1). More than enough power for my needs while fitting completely invisibly under the passenger seat. No bulky things or wiring hanging out everywhere.

The guys at AMS were in a good mood and cut me a real deal, doing the install with proper 4ga cabling for a mere $70. That's a steal, considering the cabling alone is almost that much. Revs and I chilled out and enjoyed a Happi House (fast-food teppanyaki) dinner while they worked on the van. When they were done the fronts sounded amazingly better... but the lack of rear speakers meant the low-mids were simply not there. Those will be added sometime in the near future, now that the wiring and amp channels are there and ready for them.

The sub, though... was odd. It's a good little unit for what it is: a bandpass enclosure with a 10" cone. It's designed to cover only a very narrow range of frequencies (thus 'bandpass') and needs to be put into a system that has coverage on the nearby ranges. It's also designed for a much smaller airspace, like a cute little hatchback or something. The moment you give it too much free air it tries to hide under the seat and not make a fuss. So, while I hugely appreciate the gesture, I'm going to return it to Folf for him to give to someone else with a properly sized car.

The solution was a 13" JL-Audio single-vented enclosure. It's big, sure, but it's done up in a basic, understated gray box which sits behind the rear passenger seat like any other cargo box in a cargo van. It's got a chunky wire with banana plugs so it can be lifted out and put back any time I need to, for cargo carrying; it'll be the only visible part of the audio system. The important part, though, is that it's right-sized to the amp and it's designed to move cargo-van-volume of air. I can wail on it with the amp wide open and it doesn't distort, wobble or flutter. Sure, I'll have to mat out some areas in the bodywork if I wanted to keep things at that volume, but mega-thumping down the road isn't my style anyway.


Now things sound better, for the first time since I got this van. Even without the rears the audio is better than the Element ever had. The system can be turned up quite high without any distortion, which means listening at lower (but road-noise-covering) volumes results in very clean, enjoyable music. The tea-rambling-trip this weekend proved to me how well it works at highway speeds even in this half-done state. There are no annoying buzzes or case-rattlings until it's too loud to listen comfortably anyway. I'm running the sub a little high up on the crossover at the moment to cover for the lack of rear speakers. While this leads to a little over-rumblyness, it's an acceptable trade-off. I've still got that low-mid hole which will remain until I put a good set of 6x9s in the rear doors. Currently I'm looking at the Focal 690's. I fear the work, though, as I'm sure I'll have to dynamat the heck out of those back doors to keep them from becoming rattle-monsters. The results will hopefully be worth it.

The last step after the 6x9s will be to put in the Imprint system and see how well Alpine can pull off closed-loop calibration. Canceling out a little road-noise, trimming up the sub so it still pushes bass at lower volumes and getting the time delays right in that huge inside-van airspace should really bring it all together. Considering how much driving is a part of my daily life, it's going to be soooo nice to have a good audio environment in my vehicle again.
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