We have known Karl Ward, proprietor of Ultimate Audio, for many years. He has undertaken many installations featured in Driving Sounds Magazine, and we have watched him improve, like a fine wine, with the years. Here we look and listen to his Audison Thesis-equipped Land Rover Defender.
Ultimate Audio is based in Bromsgrove. The tidy one-car workshop is always occupied, and the car park is full of work in progress. Proprietor Karl Ward has become highly successful due to his commitment and dedication to fine car audio.
Being a music fan and exposed to some of the finest car audio products and knowledge, he wanted to create a statement demonstration vehicle. He chose to use a Land Rover Defender SE Commercial for this. Not an obvious choice as the vehicle in standard form is quite noisy. However, Karl is well-versed in the application of Skinz sound treatment products. The entire car was stripped and lined before any other work was done.
Karl is a knowledge sponge and often attends technical training and absorbs knowledge that he then uses to improve his work. Recently, he hosted a series of technical workshops at his premises delivered by Ken Ward (no relation!). Ken is a highly experienced installer from America who is now an integral part of Elettromedia's international technical team. Having him on hand to set up his car was too good an opportunity to miss!
Karl was drawn to Audison Thesis products for his car, and we wanted to find out why; "I believe that you have to be able to demonstrate the best upgrade available. Audison Thesis amps and speakers are definitely it! I include a priced Thesis package on my website, and it made perfect sense to have a vehicle to demonstrate what is possible. It is not the cheapest kit, but neither is a Bentley, Ferrari, Merc SL AMG, etc."
But why put it in a Defender? Karl continues, "The vehicle is a workhorse. I also felt it offered a nice upgrade to my Defender 4 that I owned before. At the time, I was being offered silly money for my 4, which enabled me to upgrade incredibly cheaply."
Looking around the installation, you can see that a tremendous amount of effort and pride has gone into creating this system. Mounted at the base of the A-pillars are some tweeter pods fabricated by FOUR MASTER Plush. They included some laser-cut Audison badges to replace the redundant ones fitted into a well to the side of the Thesis 3" midrange speakers. The 3" (Thesis TH 3.0 Voce II) are mounted on aluminium rings to give some rigidity with minimum depth as space is tight.
Audison Thesis TH 6.5 SAX woofers sit below these in the factory positions. The original equipment was badged Meridian. This is a cheap trick to fool car owners into thinking that they designed and supplied all the equipment and that Land Rover cares about good audio in their vehicles. This is usually complete nonsense, with the high-end brand's only involvement being processing and perhaps amplification.
I asked Karl what he thought of the original system. He told me he removed it within two hours of collecting the vehicle. It kind of says it all, really!
A DRC remote controller for top-line adjustment and memory selection is installed neatly in the centre of the roof lining where a sunglasses cubby would typically be.
Moving to the rear, a large, sealed box housing two Hertz Mille Pro MP 250 D4 subwoofers dominates. Wisely, this box is removable, if a little heavy. Underneath a false floor are mounted two Thesis Quattro amplifiers configured to drive the front 3-way system actively whilst the remaining pair of channels provide power to a set of Voce 2-ways passively in the rear. A third Amplifier, Thesis Uno, sits between the two Quattros and delivers powerful bass to the sub-box. All three amplifiers are bordered with coloured LED lighting to enhance the visual effect.
Finally, an Audison bit ONE HD Virtuoso is proudly displayed. An installation of this level deserves hi-res capability through to the amplifiers.
I was excited to power the system up and give it a listen. It was a chilly autumnal day, so an extended test was required to ensure the amps reached optimum running temperature. I kept the engine running to keep the supply volts up and also myself warm.
I listened to several tracks, including my benchmark Jeff Buckley's "Lover, You Should've Come Over". Karl explained that he wanted to demonstrate the effectiveness of time alignment and EQ; his presets reflected this. I had an idle flick between time-aligned and non-time-aligned settings. The effect this had on imaging was incredible, as you would expect. Without alignment, the image was all over the place with no prominent centre to the sound stage.
I flitted between EQ and no EQ. Without EQ, the tweeters sound very harsh and over the top. As an older man, I am not a big fan of over-accentuated high-end these days and found that setting quite unpleasant, although I am very aware that others with younger oratory equipment may not be so bothered by it.
Settling on the Ken Ward EQ'd and time-aligned setting, I listened to the Buckley track closely. An additional acoustic guitar track I had heard for the first time when auditioning the Mercedes SL 55 belonging to Steven Sailer elsewhere in this issue was noticeable, although not quite as prominent.
Overall, the track gave a sense of movement, with the excellent Andy Wallace production making absolute sense of the song. In the hands of others, it could sound somewhat dirgey, but with Wallace at the controls, it is emotional with just the right amount of melancholy. The track builds to a crescendo with the introduction of a guitar riff at 5m5s. The one constant is the dynamic drumming of Matt Johnson (later of St. Vincent). On Karl's system, this was probably the stand-out element. Punchy and direct with dramatic rolls and breaks. No wonder David Bowie cited Grace as the best album ever made!
Throwing other material at it, I was struck by the sheer emotion of Gabriels' "Bloodlines". The instrumentation and arrangement is very reminiscent of 1920s soulful jazz. I was also hypnotised by Sheryl Crow and Citizen Cope's version of Bill Whithers' "Lonely Town, Lonely Street". The only track that didn't work quite so well was some 70's guitar rock, "Same Old Blues" by Lynyrd Skynyrd. It is possible that this is because I grew up listening to this kind of music on scratchy old vinyl through distorted amplifiers and speakers.
As a demonstration vehicle, this car works brilliantly in showing listeners just what is possible. The budget is significant to the casual listener, but it could be considered worth it to those with an attachment to great sound and music who spend lots of time in their vehicles.
Thanks to Karl for accommodating me on a hectic day, letting me access his vehicle, and creating a listening experience I won't forget in a while!
FOUR MASTER Ultimate Audio: 01527 837847
Thesis 3-way components (front speakers run actively )
Audison Voce 2-way components (rear speakers run passively)
Audison Thesis Quattro amplifiers x 2
Audison Thesis Uno amplifier
Audison bit ONE HD Virtuoso
Hertz Mille Pro MP 250 subwoofer x 2 in a sealed enclosure
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