Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Audio system update

I promised to give an update on the audio system some many months ago.  If you've been holding your breath, you probably passed out long before now.  Sorry about that.

The new view from the passenger seat
To review, I didn't much like the interface on the stock head unit.  I don't really use nav much anyway, nor do I like satellite radio (the sound quality is crap, in my opinion).  So I looked for an aftermarket head unit that had a larger screen, better ease-of-use, and that would function well for playing music from an iPod or other external device.  I settled for a Pioneer AVH-P8400BH.  It's got a 7" touch screen, "App Radio" features that can sort of control an iPhone, and more goodies.

I also wanted a little more "oomph" to the sound system, but I didn't want to add two hundred pounds of gear, so I had CAS Designs install a lightweight JL Audio 500/3 amp, and a little
custom fiberglass sub box in the hatch area with a single JL Audio 8W3.

One of the problems I had with the OEM audio was it had a hard time overcoming the ever-present road noise.  There's just not much sound deadening in the car, and it's so low to the ground, you can always here lots of wind and tire noise when the car is underway.  We added some Dynamat to the doors and hatch area to try to reduce that.

New sub is compact and lightweight
The end results were pretty good -- the sound quality and volume level increased dramatically.  I hadn't realized how little bass response the OEM system had until we installed the new sub.  I do love the large screen and the crisp audio from the new head unit, and the ergonomics are FAR better.  It's intuitive to use, and answering the phone or changing tracks doesn't cause me to swear in frustration any more.

There are some disappointments, though.  For one thing, simply upgrading the sound system didn't make the car a better place for listening.  The car is still inherently loud inside at speed.  With the better sound system, I can certainly turn it up loud enough to mask the road noise, but after any extended period of time, it's loud enough to be kind of hard on the ears.  The moral is, there's only so much you can do; the car is not a Lexus.

The Pioneer head unit has its issues, too.  The App Radio functions sound great, but in practice they are kind of half-baked.  The system is fussy, and you have to set the phone to a certain app to enable the functions, and occasionally it doesn't work right. Sometimes I have to reboot the head unit to recover from errors.  That happens sometimes just when using the iPod, too.  Someday this will all be debugged and it will work perfectly, but we're not there yet.

Overall I'm happy with the upgrades.  CAS Designs gets a big thumbs up for the excellent quality work.