Craig’s Construction – No Diggity!
Craig Beck is a builder by trade. He works hard and is therefore perfectly justified in spending his leisure time getting away from it all. How better to do this than in a Volkswagen T5 Transporter. Naturally, he has made some improvements to the vehicle.
Unfortunately, as sometimes happens when putting the magazine together, it was not possible for us to meet with Craig and we were therefore left in the more than capable hands of Paul Ellis of Source Sounds Sheffield, who gave us a comprehensive tour of the vehicle and the work carried out on it.
This highly popular vehicle which evolved from a panel van has become the “people’s choice” as a leisure vehicle. Its solid construction and reliability were attributes designed-in for its primary market of builders, bakers, candlestick makers, delivery drivers etc. and now with the appropriate amount of interior refinements including plenty of acoustic damping, finds itself as the “go to” family leisure vehicle.
In this vehicle, every panel that can be reached has been treated with Skinz Expert sound deadening. This gives the whole vehicle an immediate luxurious feel, as there is no sense of flapping metal panels that typifies many an untreated van. This is time consuming work but not particularly expensive given the resultant noise-attenuating effect the treatment has. I would suggest that this is essential work regardless of whether the owner is treating for excellent audio or not.
Craig has owned his van for three years during which time he has had many upgrades carried out by others alongside some that he has done himself. We are primarily concerned with the work carried out by FOUR MASTER Source Sounds although, Craig can usually be found willing to give those with similar vehicles the full nine yards at any of the VW shows that he attends enthusiastically. In fact we first came across this fantastically appointed vehicle at the 2016 Busfest in Malvern. He brought it along to present it on the Driving Sounds Magazine stand and his enthusiasm for all things VW and especially his own pride and joy did not go unnoticed!
We have met a few owners of VW Transporters and they are all driven to make their specimens stand out from the crowd. To this end, Source has installed a comprehensive array of LED lighting to the pop-top as well as the underneath of the vehicle and also the front door cards and sliding door inner sill. This robust, weather-proof lighting system was put together by Source Sounds and is an accumulation of different off-the-shelf products that have been seamlessly and expertly integrated to provide a novel, versatile feature. It is the first system of this kind I have seen that can be operated by a mobile phone app! When I say operated, I don't just mean switched on and off. The app also allows an almost infinite pallet of colours and shades to be selected depending on the mood of the operator. Even in broad daylight, the effects were most distinctive although very hard to photograph (sorry Laurence!).
Craig has known Paul at Source Sounds for some years as he takes all of his company’s vehicles to him for tracking and security systems as well as reversing cameras. Some also have audio upgrades. In fact, his trust in Source Sounds is such that when it came to the audio system in this vehicle, he gave Paul a completely free hand with just a cursory restriction on budget following a presentation of the different levels of system available. This is very common when speaking with Source Sounds’ customers and it is encouraging that customers are able to put such trust in the experience and knowledge in those who use car audio equipment every day. For most it is an absolute must, as they simply have neither the time nor inclination to wade through reams of technical specifications to choose their ideal systems.
In this case I am happy to report that Craig was absolutely delighted with the result although, he hasn't ruled out further upgrades to the system.
Craig uses the vehicle a lot. Most weekends he is either travelling out with his wife and two children up and down the UK or pursuing his hobbies of downhill mountain biking and snowboarding in Scotland. It is a regular pleasure palace with many features included to make taking the van out as easy as possible, including a full AV system based around an Alpine flip-down screen mounted for viewing from the rear seat or I suspect more regularly, from the motorised, spacious bed. The first thing I notice is the small keypad mounted in the drivers armrest with the self-explanatory word “e-LEVEL” and the ACCUAIR logo printed on it. It is quite common for us to see air ride systems on modified cars but not so much on vans yet. This device is not fitted purely for sitting the van low when parked up however. Its primary purpose is for levelling the vehicle when it is parked up for camping. As a camper of some standing myself, I know how uncomfortable it can be sleeping on a slope, even given the opulence of the interior in this case.
Back to things audio, Paul gave me an extensive tour around the vehicle. The challenge in establishing good sound in this vehicle is that the interior is vast! It was important to Craig that everyone in the van experienced good sound. This required some compromise as always, as the interior of the vehicle had to remain practical as well as housing three pairs of speakers and two subwoofers. Craig is coy about his musical influences but the head unit contained many lossless as well as 320kbps MP3’s with a heavy bias toward popular music (Now 94) and certainly, the excitement of this music is well reproduced by the system.
Up front, Source has installed a pair of Hertz High Energy HSK 165, 6.5” components. These sit in the factory locations. Happily, although the tweeters do fire on to the windscreen, they do not point toward each other across the dashboard. The woofers are positioned low in the doors but unlike the factory speakers, are driven with plenty of power to ensure not all of the sound is swallowed up by trouser! The front speakers are driven by two pairs of bridged channels derived from a Hertz HDP 5, five-channel amplifier supplying 200 watts RMS to each side. The fifth channel provides 380 watts RMS to one of two 8” subwoofers housed in a custom enclosure mounted what seems like miles away, in the very rear of the vehicle. We have spoken before of the uncanny ability of Hertz subwoofers to blend seamlessly with front speakers even when mounted some distance away and this is yet another example of this phenomena. There is a second HDP 5 driving a pair of Hertz Energy ECX 130, 2-way coaxials mounted on the front face of the cubby above and behind the rear passenger seat. A final pair of HCX 165’s is mounted in the tailgate and best enjoyed with it open. The remaining subwoofer channel of the second amplifier drives another 8” in a symmetrical enclosure directly opposite the first.
As the vehicle is wide and open at the front so is the sound stage. Considering Craig opted to do without sound processing initially, for budgetary reasons, the sound stage is well defined and sits high enough to ensure that music listened to can be enjoyed in all of its magnificent stereo glory. Of course, further improvement could be made by pointing the tweeters away from the windscreen and toward the interior of the vehicle but this is not that sort of an installation.
I listened to a merry selection of MP3’s to get my ears in before reaching for the trusty compilation that I use to assess a system’s ability across different genre. The first of these was “Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up” from the Frank Zappa album Joe’s Garage. This 70’s track tips its hat to Reggae but takes the genre to new heights of fidelity and contains many somewhat “corny” or even “satirical” expressions of this popular genre, in keeping with the themes of the whole album. A crystal-clear guitar beautifully layered with reverb redefines the popular “chop” sound prevalent in Bob Marley recordings amongst others and instead of staccato chops features sustained open chords accentuated with liberal use of a tremolo arm (Sometimes called a Whammy Bar, a tremolo arm changes the pitch of the guitar by releasing the tension on the strings). This sits on top of a minimalist bass line that mixes jazz with traditional drum line enhancing “throbs”. A tuneful melody sung by Ike Willis carries the lyric; a bitter-sweet tale of a young man (Joe) helplessly lost in love.
On this system, everything is rendered flawlessly – I think better than in any other car audio system I have listened to. Maybe the bass does not drop quite as low as on some systems but the continuity from the lowest discernible notes to the highest is extremely smooth with no lumpy transitions or peaks or troughs caused by unwanted resonances. While listening to this track, Paul was slightly distracted by the rear speakers and I suppose ideally, I should have turned them off, but I wanted to experience what Craig hears when he is driving along. I have to say that the presence of rear fill did not bother me in this vehicle at all.
Next I went for Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” from the 1987 classic, Bad. The track begins with mind-boggling percussive effects bouncing across the sound stage. The width of the vehicle made the effect truly astonishing! Once the track has settled down it bounces along like an excited puppy with the keyboard figure holding up the vocal and the overriding impression was one of immense fun.
In fact, I had so much fun listening to these tracks amongst a number of high tempo electronic tunes from Craig’s Now album, I was disinclined to play anything sombre or sad. The system does exactly what I would want in a vehicle like this. It filled every nook and cranny with well-defined musicality. It is also capable of playing very loud and so I determined to check Craig’s tour plan before booking any campsites this year! – I am joking of course, as I am certain Craig is a responsible camper and would do nothing to detract from the enjoyment of others and anyway, with the amount of sound treatment that has gone into the vehicle, I would suspect that little sound can escape provided windows and doors are kept shut.
Craig’s Top Five Tunes
“Breathe” – The Prodigy
“Don't Let Me Down” – The Chainsmokers ft. Daya
“Waiting All Night” – Rudimental ft. Ella Eyre
“The Shape Of You” - Ed Sheeran
“Thunderstruck” – AC/DC
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