Wired for Sound

Stand outside a vehicle equipped with the latest in-car audio technology and you will be impressed. But sit inside that car, let the sweet sounds surround you - and you’ll be hooked.

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By  Justin Etheridge Published  January 31, 2001

Introduction|~||~||~|Plunge blindly into in-car entertainment and you may soon be overwhelmed. Browse the Internet for stereo reviews and you may run headlong into a language barrier.

We’ve all shopped around for a car before and we have all invested in a music system. But it’s unlikely that many of us have weighed up the cost of frequency response, distortion thresholds and impedance. The lesson here is simple: regardless of your grasp of technical terms, and quite aside from the jargon that thrives in the realm of in-car audio, you know good music when you hear it.

So where do you start? First of all, realise what you’re missing. At home, right now, listen to your favourite track on your hifi and spend a minute enjoying that carefully calibrated sound. Now go outside, get into your car and listen to the same piece of music. The odds are good that you wouldn’t know it was the same song.

You don’t have to shuttle back and forth between Abu Dhabi and Dubai each day to appreciate the number of hours you spend on the road. And, let’s be honest, many of those are in less than pleasurable traffic conditions. Why not travel in comfort — and style.

Consider also how much more harshly you assess your electronics at home. The fact is that the majority of cars ship with mediocre audio systems as standard. Bar, perhaps, in the top five percent of high-end luxury vehicles, factory-made systems are basic at best. To rectify this situation, T2’s advice is to seek out a professional dealership and benefit from an expert refit.

||**||Sound on Wheels|~||~||~|The concept of a sound-stage underpins all in-car audio. It describes the position (front versus back and high versus low) that the music seems to be coming from.

For example, a car with speakers only in the front will usually have a forward soundstage, but lack sufficient ‘rear’ to deliver the best possible sensation. Much depends upon where the music seems to be originating: in the footwells, from the dashboard, out on the bonnet and all according to how the drivers interact with the environment.

Different cars have different acoustic characteristics. Take a single in-car entertainment system, install it in three very different vehicles, and you will reproduce three totally unique sounds.

The only danger in this game is to realise your mistake too late. Invest in a high-end audio system on reputation alone, or because the graphics display of the head unit outshone all others on the showroom floor, and you could be sorely disappointed. It’s for this reason that you need expert advice.

Abdulhamid El Dandachi, managing director of Dubai-based Sound on Wheels, is bringing just such a service to residents of the Middle East. El Dandachi learned his trade as a student at the National Academy of Mobile Electronics in New York.

His aim now is to educate the Middle East consumer to the ideal in-car audio system — on an individual basis. “Most people know what they enjoy listening to or watching, but the technical terms and titles that apply to such items are, so far, beyond them. We want to rectify that by introducing our advanced products to these people.”

Accordingly, Sound on Wheels offers a vast range of audio equipment, catering to the infinite variety of Middle East consumers and their respective vehicles. What could we do but hit the road with several sample systems?

||**||Sony Systems|~||~||~|First up is the XES-Z50 from Sony. Known primarily for its dominance in home electronics, Sony has made a successful crossover into in-car entertainment. The XES-Z50 includes an FM/AM tuner, CD changer and digital pre-amplifier. Its FIR (Finite Impulse Response) digital filter offsets wave form distortion, a common cause of inferior sound quality.

The interior of your car is itself a challenge to ideal car audio. The mix of materials that contributes to the car’s build — leather, glass, cloth, wall panelling and so on — reflects sound at different rates. To compensate for these fluctuating frequencies, the XES-Z50 includes a 12-band parametric equaliser with central frequency of 18Hz-21.7kHz.

The independent chassis structure of the XES-Z50 separates its internal and external components. This unusual configuration counters vibrations from the car and protects internal workings from dust. Copper-plated stainless steel components also limit the effects of magnetic interference.

At the heart of the XES-Z50 lies a DC/DC converter with an input of 12V and output of 18V, for a maximum signal output of 8Vrms. A copper DC/DC converter chassis makes for a clearer, more powerful signal.

Comprising both the XES-F50 full range speaker and the XES-L50, a 30cm subwoofer, the Sony system offers a truly refined audio presence. Crisp and accurate, the feeling of immersion is a sophisticated joy to be savoured.

Sony itself commissioned Sound on Wheels to install a state-of-the-art rendition of its Xplod system. The striking end result was a Volkswagen Beetle as loud as it is red — very, in other words.

Both rear seats were removed to accommodate the overwhelming speaker and subwoofer array. Injection of dynamic bass is guaranteed to turn heads and when we kicked the system into life our audio world was reinvented. Sony’s D-bass delivers three full bass boost steps for cranking up the bass enhancement level.

A discerning eye will also note the XR-M500R CD/MD changer control, featuring Sony's Active Black Panel (ABP) technology. It’s a head unit that is camouflaged as — you’ve guessed it — a flat black panel.

In standby mode, the unit fades into obscurity, only to explode into a light show when engaged in display mode. The XR-M500R display also includes a list-up function, naming each CD or MD in your changer’s magazine. DSP control allowed us to alternate various sound modes, replicating different environments according to musical taste.

These demo vehicles aptly show the seductive pull of a quality, in-car audio system. But a further trend is also emerging that promises to change forever the way you think about your car.

||**||System Integration|~||~||~|Space is at a premium in the modern vehicle and, when you ask industry insiders to talk about the future, most will describe the need for “system integration.”

Though founded on quality hifi, interconnected electronic devices will evolve to include mobile telephones, emergency notification devices, traffic congestion warning systems, route planners and orientation computers. In short, tomorrow promises the ultimate telematics system: get ready for ‘infotainment.’

The technologies that will drive the car of the future are already in place. Yes, CPUs have been fitted into luxury vehicles for some time but they are typically used to monitor internal functions such as fuel injection.

In future, they will control more personal, in-car electronics. The ultimate goal is a standardised “intelligent data-bus system” (IDB) that will allow drivers simply to plug in new devices, immediately compatible with the existing vehicle set-up.

Over in Europe, Blaupunkt is spearheading the automobile revolution. Enlightened motorists in the past have forsaken their mobile phones when in the car to concentrate more fully upon the road ahead.

Today, Blaupunkt’s RadioPhone enables drivers to communicate with both hands on the wheel. The Monte Carlo series, for instance, combines a GSM phone and audio system into a single, hands-off device. Incoming calls are relayed over your car hifi speakers.

More than this, Blaupunkt is perfecting a smart system that monitors radio stations for traffic information and interrupts your music with pertinent traffic bulletins.

Available today too is the Blaupunkt KeyCard, an encoded device the size of a credit card that inserts into your system. Without the KeyCard, programmed to work with specific units, the stereo is rendered useless to thieves.

The Blaupunkt New York series fuses a CD player with TravelPilot navigation computer. Both its infrared remote control and the softkeys of its audio system can be used to control the navigation system, plotting your progress against a calculated route.

Note however that its availability in the Middle East will depend upon Blaupunkt creating a digital map of this region — which hasn't happened yet.

Nonetheless, Blaupunkt’s specialist focus on in-car electronics, and consequent expertise, is receiving due recognition from the industry and consumers alike. Since its world-first installation of a car radio in 1932, to the first dynamic navigation system in 1999, Blaupunkt has been leading the way.

The Dallas series, complete with multicolour display, fills your car with Antishock quality of MiniDisc: there are no skips or jumps on even the roughest of roads. Refined by a source-specific amplifier and digital parametric equaliser, the Dallas offers dreamlike audio. At any rate, it kept us driving around the block. Over and over again.

The naming of Blaupunkt systems after prominent cities was not lost on T2’s staff. Charles Jesudason, marketing manger, Central Motors Co., the exclusive agent for Blaupunkt in this region, agreed: “Exciting developments are clearly taking place in Dubai. Maybe one day soon I will be advising on the latest Blaupunkt Dubai audio system.”

And what will this Dubai package offer? By then, perhaps, an integrated GPS, DVD, satellite-phone with plasma-based display, able to guide you safely across the Emirates on autopilot? If so, you can bet that your upgraded system will be seamlessly integrated into your vehicle.

“A theatre in the car is what we can guarantee to create for customers,” said Sound on Wheels managing director, Abdulhamid El Dandachi. “We are the only official dealer in the UAE for Crossfire and Power Acoustics, Blaupunkt, Rockford Fosgate, Alpine, MB Quartz and Polk audio,” he added. “In any of our customers’ cars, we can give them a full choice of equipment and then design and install the chosen items.”

Tomorrow’s in-car audio is calling. All you have to do now is play the right kind of music.

||**||Future Car|~||~||~|Visteon rolled out its demonstration vehicle at the 2001 Consumer Electronics Show this year, complete with nine in-car innovations.

“This car demonstrates Visteon’s unique ability to develop, design and integrate several technologies of tomorrow into one vehicle today,” said Michael Johnston, president and chief operating officer, Visteon Corporation. “We are excited to have these nine, leading-edge technologies working together on one vehicle.”

Dynamic Seat System
Sensors in the chassis are linked to the seats so, in the case of vehicle inertia, seat bolsters will hold the passenger securely in place. In case of an accident, the system helps ensure that the occupant will be properly aligned with the airbag.

Deformation Sensing
Strategically placed sensors, in and around the car, also provide faster and more reliable air bag deployment by predicting the extent and severity of a crash impact.

Biometrics
Fingerprint identification allows personalised levels of entry to a vehicle, including starting the car, accessing internal compartments inside, or locking and unlocking the doors and boot.

High Intensity Discharge
Lighting
HID lighting uses a Xenon gas light source to illuminate the road, backed by a ballast for each lamp. The goal is better vision in all-weather driving.

‘Voice Technology’ Recognition
Proprietary software allows drivers to operate various vehicle features, including climate control, windows, telephone, and navigation systems with just their voices. The theory is that eyes stay on the road and hands stay on the wheel.

Hands-Free Entry and Access
The system recognises a specific, Customer Identification Device (CID) that locks or unlocks the doors, recalls seat and mirror positions and sounds a panic alarm. The device can be contained in a key fob, integrated into the head of a key or encoded onto a plastic card, watch or other preferred object.

While several of the new systems operate firmly with safety and security in mind, the following deliver enhanced comfort and convenience to the driver:

DVD Rear Seat Entertainment
Rear seat passengers can watch movies, play video games or listen to CDs. The entertainment system features a fold-down screen, wireless headphones and infrared remote control.

ICES
The Information, Communication, Entertainment, Safety and Security system provides an interactive link between your home, office and vehicle. ICES enables vehicle occupants to access the Internet, check e-mail, and obtain real-time information such as news, weather reports and stock quotes. ICES is also linked to Visteon's Voice Technology, for hands-free operation.

Light Emitting Diode Indirect Reflector
LED indirect reflector lighting is designed to consume only a fraction of the power of traditional incandescent lamps. The technology offers brighter vehicle illumination in flexible, thin packaging.
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