Usually, the middle class of car audio equipment is considered to be any system that goes beyond the budget category, but does not yet reach the Hi-Fidelity level. However, for this article, we decided to create our own, more rigid system of classification.
The so-called middle class system is a rather abstract concept. There is no unified table of ranks for car music equipment, so the middle class can be called as a three-hundred-dollar stereo with a set of expensive speakers, and professionally installed system, consisting of a dozen components. Moreover, sometimes manufacturers or dealers call middle class any equipment which does not reach Hi-Fi level, and some installers are able to create a rather mediocre audio system using the most “sophisticated” components.
We decided to put our reasoning on a financial basis and define the boundaries of the middle class, based on the cost of complete systems, necessarily containing an amplifier and a subwoofer. The second criterion of evaluation we considered a “complex approach” to the installation, i.e. thought-out installation of equipment to achieve the pre-planned stereo effect, rather than just connecting a series of additional devices to the electrical circuit of the car.
It turned out that the lower bar of an average level audio system can be considered an amount slightly over a thousand dollars, and the maximum cost of such “sounding” will not exceed two and a half thousand, including installation and all taxes. Both amounts are just in the tradition of the middle class: the owner of a new eight-car will strain himself, save up and collect a thousand dollars for good “sound”, and the owner of a three-year-old BMW, having estimated how much it will cost to install a Hi-End system, will easily lay out two five hundred.
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It is necessary to admit that the difference in quality of sound of the majority of head devices costing more than 200 dollars can be distinguished only by the chosen gourmets of car audio and those electronic devices, which measure the amplitude-frequency characteristics of the sound signal. All stereos, receivers and MP3-players in this price group reproduce the sound fragments entrusted to them equally well. Our statement does not mean that it is senseless to spend more than two hundred “Franklins” on the player, but only draws a line, beyond which the adherents of the simplified scheme should not go. However, many of today’s inexpensive units a year ago were the dream of the most orthodox fans of quality sound. For example, the cassette recorders Clarion AX413R and Pioneer KEH-P5011 or CD-receiver Kenwood KDC-2021S passed to the middle class from the upper echelons, where they were on the peak of popularity for a long time.
Those who do not want to overpay for head unit options that do not affect sound quality should stop at the aforementioned mark. And those who will not be embarrassed by the high cost of equipment, can afford a more modern “head”, produced by a prestigious brand. And they will not be disappointed. The main advantage of such acquisition, of course, is the high status of the device in the hierarchy of car audio and its more attractive, fashionable design. However, many expensive head units have a whole list of additional features which their budget counterparts do not have. To the “expensive” options include such nice little things like big color display with the possibility to choose the shade of its backlighting from 32 thousand possible, high tuner sensitivity and a large number of custom sound presets, as well as “advanced” noise correction system and convenient “plastic card” type remote control (in fact, the remote control is a bit fatter). We should not forget about the perfectly designed ergonomics, for which professional installers call turntables more expensive than $ 400 “polite and warning. For example, when you turn off the power player front panel of the latest generation of boomboxes type “mask” automatically begins to turn the back side and after turning 90 degrees makes a pause, as if to offer the user to decide whether to remove it or not.
Also expensive “heads” are always equipped with additional protection. Such devices as Clarion DXZ928R or Kenwood KDC-M9021 are equipped with special infrared “immobilizers”, which are activated after each complete disconnection of the player from the network, then to “revive” the player is required to send the code from the key. The Grundig SCD 3490RDS CD-receiver, with its attractive gray-black housing and ruby backlighting, offers an extremely ingenious solution: a security panel (removable insert with three control buttons), the case of which can be used as a key-ring.
Unlike the budget audio system, the cost of the head unit in the middle class system, no matter how expensive it is, is not the main item of expenditure. A lot of money is also spent on equipment that amplifies the signal. Calculation and installation of amplifiers is a very delicate business, therefore if you are not very well acquainted with subtleties of installing serious “music” in your car, it is better to address to professionals. Do-it-yourself experiments with amplifier in the best case will lead to the loss of time, and in the worst case – to the purchase of a new amplifier.
But even professional installers can’t say exactly, what is more profitable: to put one multichannel amplifier or several two-channel amplifiers. The adherents of both options have dozens of arguments in favor of “their” amplification scheme. The first ones confirm that cars with channel-by-channel amplification, which is provided by several dual-channel amplifiers, are almost always winning in car audio competitions, and the big amount of the signal amplifying equipment, placed in one case, does not promise anything good for the sound quality. Others cite the fact that multichannel amplifiers are in high demand in the music market and are more often used in Hi-End car installations. A customer who is far from these professional debates will most likely not care what type of amplifier ends up in the trunk of his car. First of all, he is interested in quality sound at not too high price.
In this case, as well as when choosing a head unit, equipping the system with an amplifier can be divided into two types. Let’s start with the inexpensive one. In order not to overspend at amplifier selection stage, you can limit yourself to 5 or 6-channel amplifier which will take upon itself both front and rear speakers, not forgetting about subwoofer as well. It will allow you to save a considerable part of the budget and approach the most important process – the choice of speakers with more freedom of maneuver. The cost of the average representative of the family of five-channel amplifiers ranges from $200 (Alpine MPR-F320) to $800 (Rockford Fosgate Punch 600.5). The six-channel amps will differ only in the higher price and in the fact that the subwoofer will be given an additional channel.
Systems built exclusively on two-channel amplifiers and monoblocks (a set of amplifier and woofer) are mainly used in sports installations. Their cost, as a rule, is disproportionately higher than what is included in our definition of the middle class system, so we will consider them later, in the article devoted to Hi-Fi equipment. A set consisting of three amplifiers, one of which (multichannel) feeds the rear speaker and the subwoofer, and two two two-channel (Audiobahn A2301Q or DLS A1 type) give the signal to the front speakers can be considered the ceiling for the middle level system. Compared with installing one multichannel amplifier, the total cost of three amplifiers will only increase the cost of the “power” part by half, but will provide a more powerful signal for the rear consumers.
Consumers in car audio are acoustic systems (speakers), that is speakers. It is believed that the quality of the whole system depends on their work. The player only outputs the signal, and amplifiers transmit it with the required power value. Therefore, the speakers must be of high quality, even in a budget system, and in the type of installation, which we describe, you can not try to “skimp” on the speakers in any case. Principled “economists”, however, can play on a simplified scheme, which involves less signal emitters. This option really exists, but it necessarily entails a hassle when configuring the system – it is more difficult to create a good sound picture in the car, the less acoustics are installed in it.
The ideal variant of the full-fledged “sounding” of the interior is the use of a pair of sets of three-way component speakers in the front and two similar sets in the rear, plus an active subwoofer in the trunk. Using the simplest sets of speakers such as Eton pro 100X or popular Diamond M341, a similar scheme can be assembled, keeping within 1,000 dollars, but there are also much more expensive options. So, for the Hertz HSK-163 or MB Quart PSD 316 speakers you will have to pay twice as much. However, as we said before, you should not save on speakers, it is better to change the configuration of the system a little bit than to use cheap components. It is probably not worth to cut the front speakers in the budget (or it is worth it in the very last turn), but the rear speakers you can pick up more modestly. For example, by putting decent coaxial speakers (Macrom CF-2.51) instead of isolated speakers in the rear, you can save a significant amount of money, as well as a few working hours of the installer. It is not a sin to deprive the subwoofer of its independence as well, leaving it without built-in amplifier – but then you will probably have to pay extra for the sixth channel in a separate multi-channel amplifier.
Crossovers are a subject for a separate discussion. Professionals say that if you still have money left after purchasing speakers, you should consider purchasing at least one active frequency filter. The presence of such a device will greatly facilitate the tuning of the system. On the other hand, almost all devices in the system except for coaxial speakers and some head units from the category of expensive ones have built-in crossovers. Those who choose to rely on the capabilities of the amplifier’s crossovers, there is hardly any reason to worry. Due to the large number of passive filters, the speakers in any case will not get a large amount of “non-mechanical” signal, and therefore for their health, you can not worry. The worst thing that can happen in the absence of an adjustable crossover is periodic distortion of high frequency sound, which not everyone can detect by ear, and which can be easily eliminated if necessary.
We mentioned the need for complete noise insulation of the cabin and special wiring last time, when we talked about the budget audio system. A higher-end system requires even more attention to car preparation. The actions that are necessary to ensure good sound in a mid-level system are almost identical to similar procedures in the installation of a Hi-End system. First and foremost, we are talking about complete vibration isolation of the car. Everything that is iron in the car must be glued with a special material. Most often vibration isolation material Dynamat is used for this purpose, which in some cases is applied in two layers. Vibration isolation is necessary to eliminate the additional sounds created by air vibrations created by the sound wave.
The power wiring is just as careful. The middle class system contains more components than the budget one, so its installation should be carried out with the observance of certain rules. Mostly it concerns the accurate “wiring”, which should be able to understand not only the one who installed the “music” in the car, but also another expert, who may later have to repair or upgrade the system.
Finally, let’s talk about an unwritten rule, which for some reason is often ignored even by professionals in the field of car audio. There is always a “weak link” in any stereo system, which limits the quality of its sound. Usually it reveals itself some time after the operation. An inexpensive turntable, poorly chosen amplifier and even too weak frontal “squeakers” can become such a link. It is impossible to eliminate this effect, but it is possible to reduce its influence, picking up as much as possible homogeneous components, which will support their “colleague”, compensating his shortcomings.
You can, of course, experiment endlessly with equipment in an attempt to assemble a perfectly balanced stereo system, but when the result will be achieved, then we will no longer be middle class, but a real Hi-End. By the way, that is what we will talk about in the next article.