Focus RS

A day at the races

Ford Focus RS with Audison upgrade

Focus RS – A Day At The Races


Car enthusiasts are still following a path of updates and modification to achieve outstanding individuality and performance. We catch up with Ian Cleaver at Silverstone, who has taken his Focus RS beyond the limits.


Car owners have purchased cars with the express intention of improving them using aftermarket parts forever! The landscape and demographic of those involved in the modifications has changed enormously since the bad old days of the 1990’s boy racer however. Back then, modifying became accessible for all with cheap (and often nasty) parts falling out of Chinese factories and competing for shelf space with gaudy packaging and unbelievable pricing. DIY enthusiasts fitted many of these products. They were often armed with no knowledge other than that gleaned from a fatuous magazine and a “mate” who claimed he once won the Gumball Rally!


Fortunately, most responsible manufacturers stuck to their guns and continued to develop high quality performance and styling parts, often with the blessing of the motor manufacturer involved. Modifying now appeals to an older more responsible car owner. This new modifier will only have a go if they have access to specialist tools and the knowledge to do so. Others prefer to take their beloved machines to bone fide upgrade companies who offer performance guarantees and specialist services alongside professional support services. At Driving Sounds, we believe this is proper and right, particularly when dealing with a machine where safety must remain a number one priority at all times.


Ian is in his mid 40’s and has been around cars all of his life. His father was a test driver for Jaguar and often got to bring home pre production prototypes. A youthful grounding in mechanical engineering coupled with his later career in IT has given Ian the intellectual and physical tools to carry out a lot of upgrades himself. His interest in modifying has seen him buy and work on 12 traditionally shaped Minis ranging hugely in age and specification. These became the training ground for his passion.


Ian now works in the city of London for a specialist IT company providing Risk Management solutions to government, financial and other heavily regulated institutions.


Alongside his passion for cars, he has developed a passion for music too. In the early days he admits to being quite taken by big bass. As a result, multiple subwoofers adorned many of his early efforts. Latterly, his taste has broadened hugely and he says it would be impossible for him to shortlist genre in which he is interested.


Ian was at Silverstone for the annual Ford Fair. This is a celebration of all things Ford and attracts many car clubs from all over the country. The real draw for Ian however, was the opportunity to book track time and take his pride and joy out on to the hallowed tarmac to see just what it was capable of. With so many Ford owners wanting to do the same thing, this means a very patient wait for a track slot, and a mandatory driver’s briefing. This process gave me the opportunity to take some pictures of the car and in particular of the audio installation he has recently had carried out by FOUR MASTER, Cambridge Car Audio (aka CBS Automotive).


A good deal of system design has gone in to the audio and the unique product mix used in the installation immediately caught my attention. Cambridge Car Audio Director, Adil Khokhar, took personal charge of an initial consultation with Ian. During this initial meeting, Adil was keen to eek a system brief from Ian. It became immediately clear that Ian wanted a forceful system with clarity and instrument separation top of his criteria. Physically, the equipment had to not take over luggage space but should be on show when the car is at events.


Adil, presented Ian with some product choices and outlined the benefits of each in context of Ian’s aims. High power amplifiers and subwoofers were clearly going to be the largest components in the system. This made the Eton powered subs an inspired choice. With a maximum depth of just 82mm, Adil was able to mount these under the original boot floor alongside all of the other electronics excluding the crossovers for the rear-mounted speakers. The boot is laid out in a very pleasing manner and the equipment really looks like it means business. The desire to show major elements of the install is not only for vanity, it helps Ian to explain how the system was put together. This is vital when at shows as it means casual viewers can see the majority of the equipment installed.


Up front, Ian selected a pair of Audison Voce AV 6.5 woofers that are paired with matching AV 1.1 tweeters. A pair of Hertz Mille MPK 165P.3, 2-way components reside in the rear factory positions. Both pairs share the power available from two Hertz Mille Power ML 4, 4-channel amplifiers. Each of these is capable of delivering 150 watts RMS per channel and much more when channels are bridged.


The Voce’s run actively with 2 X 150 Watts from one amplifier driving the tweeters while the other two channels drive the MPK165P’s. The second amplifier runs the Voce woofers in bridged mode providing plenty of controlled power for those all-important mid range frequencies.


Given the upgrades that Ian has done and had done to the engine and exhaust system, there was an obvious need for lots of sub bass. Two Eton UG USB 10, powered 10” subwoofers provide this. These sit in very flat boxes but clever design means that the cones offer impressive excursion and therefore move plenty of air. When Ian first powered up the car the bass was overwhelming. However, he had just driven to Silverstone from his house in Peckham and as we know, the engine note and road noise would cancel a lot (in the region of half) of this out when moving.


The easiest way to set up a system of such sophistication is to employ a Digital Signal Processor (DSP). Adil and Ian selected the very capable Audison bit Nove for this job. Audison bit products are world renowned for their fidelity and flexibility. They allow system builders to fine tune just about every element of the sound. Most FOUR MASTER installers will have a device known as a bit Tune in their workshop. This helps to set the system basics very accurately leaving just equalisation to be set manually if none of the pre installed equalisation presets is exactly what the customer is looking for.


In installation terms, the equipment is all mounted on a false boot floor underneath the original boot floor carpet. It is quite amazing that the sound does not differ discernibly with the covering on or off even though it covers the sub woofers. Sub bass is of course non directional but it also renders many solid objects acoustically invisible – Just ask your next door neighbours after a hip hop party at your house. Even concrete does not stop bass!


Ian streams his music from his iPhone. This is most convenient as his car head unit uses the Apple CarPlay iOS to display his phone home page on the dash mounted touch screen making track selection easy and safe. When I got into the vehicle, Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side” was playing. This is a favourite demo track of mine, although I usually use the hi-res re mastered version via Qobuz.


The bass was very much on the wild side so I turned it down by about 5dB and returned to the head of the track. The Herbie Flowers double bass motive sounded deep and controlled with the electric bass harmony clearly separable unlike on some factory standard systems. In fact the standard system in this car is quite atrocious – No wonder Ford insist on making Sony own up to it by putting a badge on the tweeter.


One of the key features of this song for me, is the female backing vocals on the chorus. On the high res edition these seem to move toward the listener then recede back into the distance. I didn't quite get this effect but this maybe to do with the rear fill. In any case, it sounded really well defined and had plenty of rhythmic movement for a fairly sparse track.


Time for something a little more upbeat. I went for a track I have recently come across called “Calling Mr. Wolf” by Citrus Sun. The band formed by Incognito’s Jean Paul “Bluey” Maunick and featuring ex Average White Band guitarist, Jim Mullen, heads more toward cool Jazz than Bluey’s usual Acid Jazz and I would even say Jazz Funk. Thrilled to see Trombonist, Fayaz Virgi name checked. He plays in a Jazz Jam in a pub close to my home on a Tuesday evening. He also looks after horn arrangements with the Jools Holland Rhythm and Blues Orchestra and is friends with Snake Davis (see issue VII of Driving Sounds Magazine!).


The track starts with a very live drum kit and solid bass line with practically no added effects. I love that sort of thing as you get a much clearer idea of where performance ends and production takes over! On this track, it is clear that all the musicians are very, very good at what they do and each instrument is rendered with alacrity. A guitar with wah-wah joins in and everything begins to sound a bit 70’s Miami Vice until trumpet, keys and other things join the fray. At around 40 seconds a female vocal raps along bringing the entire production into the noughties, when it was recorded. A male vocal accents key words and all this can be heard quite clearly with absolutely no sign of swamping. Even when everything is playing at full chat the original drum and bass motive sounds just as naked as it did at the beginning. This shows the benefit of the power being pumped into the Voce woofers. The sub bass is clearly adding drama but by no means overtaking space occupied by low-mids and bass. All in all, this is a very musical listen and very much informs later artists, especially the very excellent Loyle Carner.


Finally, as Ian had suggested he attend a very broad musical church indeed, I went for a re mastered James Taylor track form 1971 called “Long Ago And Far Away”. Streaming from Qobuz, this version demonstrates the raw beauty of those old mixing consoles and minimal recording and production techniques. The track begins with guitar and vocal on the left channel. Both sounded exquisite and took me way back to my first listen of the album, “Mud Slide Slim” when I was about 12-years-old. A small band joins James 18 seconds in, including guest vocals by Joni Mitchell. Quite perturbing that her vocal came from the rear right with very little coming from front right until the track built a bit more. This track was clearly not mixed with rear fill in mind. Furthermore, the system is brand new and not yet fully run in. I would think fixing this (if a fix is required) would be quite simple in set up once the car goes for a retune. As it is, I found it a bit weird, but I know this track as well as I know my own mother, and different ears may have a different idea of whether or not this sounds right in the context of this system. Once again, every element is very clearly defined and closing your eyes you can point to the source of every instrument, which is definitely as the artist, and Ian, would want it.


Cambridge Car Audio has done a fantastic job with this installation and Ian is clearly delighted and quite rightly so. Personally, I left feeling there is even more to come from this system once it is fully run in and a little more time spent with set up.


Huge thanks go to Ian for allowing me to intrude on his day. I do hope this system continues to delight him as much in the future as it clearly does today.


Ian’s Top Five Driving Sounds (subject to change)


Get Lucky - Daft Punk
Walk On The Wild Side - Lou Reed
Hip Hop - Dead Prez
On The Moon - Oliver Smith
IDGAF - Dua Lipa

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