Tony Parr For The Course
Co-founder of high-end car audio distributor FOUR, Brian Parton is a passionate car audio evangelist, but he has never been able to convince his life-long friend, Tony Parr, to make the leap into enjoying great sound in his car. Until now that is. In this article we follow a life-changing audio install to demonstrate just how important good sound in the car is, even to those who do not know it yet!
Father of five, Tony Parr is a toolmaker by trade. He works for a lighting company based in Highgate in Birmingham making pressing tools and fixtures for in-house use, and has been there since serving an apprenticeship straight from school. Tony and Brian have been friends since their school days, and although he shares a similar penchant for rock of the heavier variety, he admits to being nowhere near as fanatical about his music. Apart from a recent birthday present of tickets to a Muse concert, he has not been to see any live music for many years.
His listening amounts to having the radio on in the house or car and playing a few CD’s on his way to and from work. These include Muse, Linkin’ Park, Slade, The Beatles, Newton Faulkner and One Republic. When growing up he was influenced to some extent by his older brother’s record collection, but his parents were avid listeners of Country and Western music which left him with a mild dislike for this genre alongside Classical and Jazz which he admits to disliking quite a lot!
Tony’s main hobby and interest over the years is snooker. He has scored countless 100’s and even managed a 145 and regrets not having had the opportunity to misspend his youth a little more in which case he believes he could have become professional. Other interests include preparing and eating food (especially curries), watching films and playing golf. He admits that music would not ordinarily make the list.
Tony has just purchased a Ford Focus. He explains that he needed something economical and the diesel-engined Focus only costs £20 per year to tax. It runs nicely, is relatively quiet and very reliable. The factory “entertainment” offering, he feels, is adequate for his listening and he would definitely not choose to upgrade without the influence of Brian. Following a close inspection of the settings on his standard system, we suspect Tony is not as happy as he claims. Why else would the bass and mid frequency levels on the on-board equaliser be increased hugely while the treble is reduced almost to nothing?
A brief listen of Tony’s Muse CD, using his settings was quite worrying really. The high frequencies distorted badly and, there was a complete absence of mid-range frequencies. The bass was so over exaggerated and “peaky” it was rattling the door cards off the car.
In order to give the existing equipment a proper “shake down” I reset all the controls to zero and switched the DSP to flat. I then selected tracks from a disc I made a couple of years ago. It contains music I know very well which helps me to recognise a good system when I hear it, and guess what? I didn't hear it this time. Not by a long way.
My overriding concerns were with sibilance distortion (t’s and s’s) but there was also a total lack of a sound stage. I was listening to mono with no discernible depth or width. When the volume level was turned up it was like having someone shout right in my face – very unpleasant! I only managed a few brief minutes before having to jump out of the car to save my ears. I suspected that this car would need a lot of work to make it sound anything like musical.
Brian wanted to treat Tony to the latest Audison Prima equipment for this installation. It has been designed specifically to overcome the inherent issues with speaker positioning in cars and the range includes intelligent amplifiers with built-in processing similar to that utilised in Audison’s highly successful bit One and bit Ten products. However, for practical reasons, the installation had to be done in stages and stage one was to replace the plastic and cardboard monstrosities that are passed off as “speakers” by the mighty Ford organisation.
Brian chose Audison Prima APK 165’s. This slim-fit high-tech replacement component pair was chosen because of the extreme ease with which it integrates with any car. All Prima speakers contain a lot of new technology designed to optimise performance when installed into factory speaker positions which are often extremely restrictive. For instance, an acoustic lens fitted to the tweeters helps to de-emphasise the disturbingly distracting high frequency humps associated with poorly designed tweeter housings and grills, while a unique triple wave surround on the woofer helps to ensure linear, distortion-free performance even at high bass levels.
The front doors were smothered with Skinz sound deadening and wave diffuser with panel liner used on the inside of the door cards to ensure an environment more conducive to producing good audio than the biscuit tin-like qualities of this “Dagenham Dustbin”. The work was carried out by FOUR MASTER, Ultimate Audio in Bromsgrove, under the careful and skilful auspices of demon installer Karl Ward. On completion of the speaker upgrade, Brian collected the car and rang me immediately. I know Brian very well. We have spent many hours sat in cars together listening to music and analysing sound. We share a very similar vision of what makes good audio in a car. But, because Brian is around car audio every day, it takes quite a lot to get him excited. I have never heard him so effusive about the sound in a car as he was when he called me! – “Blow me!” he said, or words to that effect, “this car sounds absolutely amazing. I am listening to Frank Sinatra, he is actually sat on the dashboard and I can literally see his hat reflected in the windscreen. I have never heard him and his orchestra sound so good. The image is as wide as you like and the stage depth is absolutely astonishing and this car has only had the speakers replaced – we need to tell people how good this is!” (I’m trying to Brian – ed). But it was Tony’s initial thoughts that I craved but, I had to satisfy this craving with Brian’s second hand report; “When Tony finally called me, he just said; “Oh my God, this sounds amazing!” He went on to tell me that he had just given his 19-year-old daughter a lift and she asked what had happened to the car as she was so amazed by the difference in sound. Finally, following a lot more enthusiastic and unprintable exclamations of his first impressions, he admitted to having just driven past his house as he was listening too closely to his new speakers!”
I have to admit that initially I was not as convinced as Brian that Tony would “get it”, but the far more commercially experienced Brian explained that his initial “coolness” toward the project is very typical. A couple of days later, I managed to catch up with Tony himself to ask him a few questions.
When I first met Tony and attempted to engage him on music and car audio it was, to be frank, hard work. Having never experienced good sound in his car, Tony had nothing to say and was struggling to get what all the fuss was about. I shouldn’t get too disheartened by this, as I would bet that over 90% of car drivers in the UK are similarly disengaged with what they are listening to. Most people I speak to about car audio think I am part of some sort of weird minority group. If I am, I think we may have just recruited another member!
Tony is already a changed man and when I phoned him, I had to wait for him to finish demonstrating his new speakers to someone. Anyway, under the circumstances I was only too happy to wait. I began by asking Tony for his first impressions.
DS – Tell me what you thought when you sat in the car, with its new speakers, for the first time?
Tony – Brian took the car while I was on holiday. It was late at night when I returned and the car was waiting in the drive for me. I couldn’t resist having a quick listen. I sat in the car and listened to a Muse track very quietly, not wishing to wake the neighbours and wow! Even at low level, the clarity was incredible and I certainly had no trouble identifying that the new speakers had been fitted while I was away.”
DS – What other things made an impression, once you were in a position to crank it up?
Tony - The next day, I checked that equalisation on the head unit was set to flat, and set off for a drive. The depth of the bass notes and the punchy snap that was added to everything I listened to was a bit overwhelming. The other notable thing was that everything was much louder than my previous speakers were at the same level. I couldn't previously turn the volume up past 11 or 12 before the old speakers distorted really badly. Now at that same level, the sound is much louder, but also really clear and undistorted.
DS – Have you explored other music since the upgrade?
Tony – My intention was to use my phone as a music source as I don't really have many CD’s but I haven’t managed to get round to that yet. However, Brian gave me a Driving Sounds demo disc which has lots of different kinds of music on it. There is a jazz track (JAZZ Tony? - ed) featuring a female vocalist, which must have been recorded live as I could hear glasses and crockery jingling away in the background. This has become my favourite track as the things I can hear in there are really astonishing. It really is like I am sat in the front row at a gig. I keep going back to that track and can't stop myself from dragging work colleagues and even my boss into the car to listen to it!
DS – You are due to have an amplifier and some bass reinforcement fitted as part of this project. What is your expectation of the difference that will make?
Tony - Initially, I was concerned that this would just make the system far too loud, but Brian has since explained that adding an amplifier isn't all about sheer volume and that it would provide a more controlled reproduction to the speakers which should increase instrument separation and make the speakers sound even better. I can't wait now. I want more definitely, and I previously thought my factory fitted speakers sounded OK!
DS – Do you see yourself ever being happy to own a car with standard speakers fitted again?
Tony – There is absolutely no way I am driving a car with standard speakers in ever again!
Brian planned to further upgrade the system by adding an Audison Prima AP-5.9bit five-channel amplifier and a subwoofer box fitted with an 8inch Hertz Energy ES200 sub. Upgrading speakers alone is a great start however, due to the cheap design of factory fitted head units, a great deal of distortion (more than 20%) can be experienced when listening at over two thirds volume level and this can destroy speakers no matter how good they are. An amplifier will ensure that when Tony develops a taste for a high-energy musical “livener”, he will be able to do this, without damaging the speakers. Furthermore, the amplifier was to be configured to run the speakers “actively”, meaning the tweeters and woofers would run from their own individually amplified channels, further improving instrument separation, clarity and controlled performance. The addition of an Audison Bit Play HD was to be the icing on the cake and although this has been installed, it was unfortunately not completed in time for me to listen to. Having heard one in a different car however, I can say that this will lift Tony’s car to a whole different level and I can't wait to hear it!
Tony had stipulated that Brian was not to change the look or functionality of the vehicle which, these days, is a most basic requirement made by those wishing to upgrade. This turned out to be more of a challenge than anticipated as an attempt to use the rear speaker positions to run subwoofers had to be abandoned. The reversing sensor beeps are delivered through the rear speakers and filtering the sound would have removed these and an alternative was not readily available, so a discrete subwoofer solution had to be adopted. This almost compromised Tony’s ideal, which was to have nothing on show and to leave boot space as standard. Brian’s solution was to employ a compact, band-pass, subwoofer box mounted on a quick release bracket, so that when Tony needs the whole boot space, he can quickly remove it. The subwoofer box utilises a Hertz Energy ES 200 driver, which runs off the dedicated 150 Watt RMS subwoofer channel. This is plenty to provide powerful, deep bass from the highly efficient speaker. As mentioned previously, the front woofers and tweeters run from the remaining four channels of the amplifier in order to improve the soundstage and separation while allowing better balance between all speakers to be achieved.
I was really looking forward to hearing this car. I have little experience of Audison Prima and from all accounts, this was going to be a bit of an eye or ear opener!
I decided to challenge the system right away by playing a solo acoustic guitar piece by Michael Hedges, called “Layover” from his 1981 album “Breakfast In A Field”. Acoustic finger-style guitar is very challenging for most car systems as the tonal depth required to avoid the high notes sounding thin and weedy requires formidable mid-bass. Also, the dynamic range needs to be far greater than with ensembles or bands as much of the colour comes from incidental noises made, like finger taps, harmonic “pings” and the “zip” created by the fingers moving up and down the strings. The system performed adequately, but without really blowing me away. There seemed to be a slight ponderous heaviness to the bass, which seemed to slightly mask some lower mid-frequencies. Next I moved on to a Michael Jackson track, “The Way You Make Me Feel” from “Bad”. Again, the bass was a bit heavy for my taste but a quick check of the EQ controls on the head unit told me that Tony, as with most newcomers to car audio, had become a little “bass inclined” - This is a temporary condition and totally curable! – I flattened the EQ and things improved drastically. Bass is addictive in a car system. Road noise causes cancellation at low frequencies and what begins as a slight compensation for this often leads to a certain heavy handedness with the bass control particularly when, as with this system, you have 150 Watts RMS of pure sub-bass at your fingertips! The difference between the sound now and last time I heard this car was astonishing. The soundstage was vast in comparison with the factory system, with sounds pinging out at me from all over the dashboard. Some of the percussion was playing outside of the car and the rock-solid lead and backing vocals were crystal clear.
Finally, I went for the Annihilation remix of “Two Tribes” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood. This collection of awesome Trevor Horniness is well known to me, delivering so many diverse but superbly recorded noises that I never tire of hearing it. The track is filled with cleverly positioned percussion, which can highlight a lack of width. I am pleased to say, there was no such lack in Tony’s car! The main bass theme finally kicks in at 2m30s and drives the track with great attack and relentless accuracy. The system reproduced this wonderfully, but slightly to the detriment of the snare drum, which normally adds hugely to the drive of the track from 3m50s. It still did, but maybe not as much as with other systems I have listened to. I feel this is purely due to set up and I know that this is scheduled to happen soon. That is not to say the snare is absent, far from it and in fact at 5mins, there is a dry snare figure that I have never heard before and will be looking out for from now on! But it is the bass that is dominating the track at the moment and this is no bad thing as from 6m30s onward you are bombarded with heart pumping bass action all the way to the end. I feel that following a Bit Tune session coupled with a human tweak or two, this system will punch well above its weight!
Sat in the car with me while I was auditioning the system, it was very clear that Tony is a changed man for this experience. He could relate to everything I was saying and was pointing at where sounds were emanating from and making great observations about the tonal quality of some tracks. I look forward to hearing how Tony’s taste evolves over the next few months. I already caught sight of a “Bond” CD in his car which coupled with his love of a Jazz track tells me that he is looking far deeper into the music he is listening to! – That said, after waving goodbye, he cranked the bass right up again when he drove off! – That is completely normal and will change with his growing appreciation for the finer elements of music.
Top Five Driving Sounds
Starlight – Muse
Pushing Me Away – Linkin’ Park
Setting Sun – Chemical Brothers
Two Tribes – Frankie Goes To Hollywood
Stockholm Syndrome - Muse
Audison Prima APK 165 2-way Component Speakers
Audison Prima AP 5.9 Bit Amplifier
Audison Bit Play HD
Q+ Design Bass Baby
Connection Cables, Interconnects and Accessories
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