Mercedes Flies to The Moon
Bakul Manani is not new to car audio. His initial interest was piqued by a neighbour, while a teenager growing up in Leicester. Bakul was captivated by the enormous amounts of bass emanating from a car. Not that he was tempted to upgrade his own cars at the time. He was instead pursuing an academic route into Optometry.
Bakul went to the University of Liverpool where he studied Orthoptics. While in Liverpool, Bakul met his lovely wife Preti who was studying Biological Sciences. Bakul came to my attention via the FOUR MASTER network who I often consult when looking for cars to review. FOUR MASTER John Kleis Car Audio in Reading suggested that Bakul may be open to allowing me to have a listen to his freshly installed Mercedes C-Class.
Even after making direct contact, this assignment was not quite as straight forward as would normally be the case. We had decided to meet up somewhere between our home bases. We chose Christmas Common in Watlington.
Christmas Common is a nature reserve belonging to The National Trust. It is a hot spot for Red Kite photography as it sits overlooking the Chiltern hills, home to many of these elegant soaring birds.
Our first attempt at a meet up was thwarted by biblical rainfall and subsequent plans were affected by Covid App pings, holidays, building work etc. Finally, we managed to find a suitable date and finally got to meet.
I am not an expert photographer and need all the help that nature has to offer me, especially when looking for a main image. In these we like to try and inject a car owner’s personality and character into the finished article. This was easy to achieve this time, as because of some 15 years together Bakul and Preti are very much in tune with each other and spent a lot of our time together laughing and joking. The effect of this obvious connection was heightened by the fact that Preti was 26 weeks pregnant at the time of the shoot and her personality glowed as a result. Furthermore, Bakul had prepared for the day by presenting his car in tip-top condition, spotless inside and out.
I discovered that this was the second C-Class that Bakul had had upgraded. He told me that he was much happier with this one. As a result, he has left some great product reviews on the FOUR Car Audio website in order to help others to make their own equipment choices.
On receipt of this latest example from Mercedes, Bakul knew he would upgrade the audio. Having already researched, discovered and been delighted with the work and customer service offered by John Klies Car Audio, he visited them for a second time.
One doesn’t have to spend much time with Bakul to discover that he is a meticulous researcher, with obvious intelligence. He spent some time online tracking down equipment suitable for his vehicle. This put him in a position of some strength when speaking with Connor at John Kleis. Between them, they specified a collection of products that would deliver what Bakul was looking for.
Having previously experienced Rainbow speakers, he was looking for a bit more dynamism with added power and enhanced sub bass. His taste is eclectic and includes Rock, pop, R&B, Rap, Hip-hop as well as some acoustic music. A broad musical taste is becoming a more common thing amongst grown-ups these days. I put this down to the enormous amount of music available at the touch of a button (or swipe of a finger).
Connor steered Bakul toward Hertz Mille Legend speakers. The configuration in a Mercedes is similar to that of a BMW except that the standard woofer position is in the kick wells rather than under the seat. The standard 700mm mids fire across the vehicle form their positions in the doors. A wide dispersion characteristic was essential in order to marry mid-range frequencies with the dash mounted tweeters. This led to the selection of the very excellent Hertz Mille Legend ML 700.3’s. The staging would be further enhanced by utilising a tweeter with a wider frequency response particularly at the point where mid-range and high frequencies converge. Hertz Mille Legend ML 280 tweeters fit the bill here as the crossover frequency can be set as low as 1kHz.
The standard 8” mounting positions were filled with a pair of Audison Prima AP 8 drivers. These reach low and are highly capable bass reproducers in their own right, however, a subwoofer was an essential part of the specification.
Bakul and Connor felt that the added power of an Audison Forza, eight channel amplifier would provide plenty of power for an already quiet vehicle. Installer Dave at John Kleis still insisted on the application of plenty of sound deadening which Bakul reports had a dramatic effect on noise in the vehicle.
The Audison Prima F 8.9bit eight channel amplifier offers great flexibility and the built-in DSP adds almost endless tuning possibilities to an installer. As mentioned before, Bakul’s initial attraction to car audio was bass-led. He definitely wanted to scratch that itch in this vehicle, but being very aware of the luggage space constraints a new baby would add, he requested that the bass element be hidden away and maximum storage space maintained.
An Audison Prima APBX 10 AS active subwoofer was selected for the job due to its bass-to-size ratio. This little beauty outputs up to 400 Watts continuous of musical sub bass. Although compact, Bakul was still concerned about giving up boot space. John Kleis’ demon installer Dave who did the install, promised to see what he could do.
It was only on collection of the vehicle that Bakul discovered that Dave had moved some of the vehicle electronics out of the way and managed to make enough space to drop the bass box into the redundant spare wheel well. This is such a neat trick and Bakul was naturally delighted.
I was intrigued to hear how well the bass would integrate with the front end of the system, so we set our ears to work! Bakul’s music source of choice is Tidal. This artist-owned streaming service has access to very nearly studio-quality renderings of its enormous library.
First up, Bakul selected a Muse track, “Plug In Baby” from their Origin of Symmetry album. Bakul is a huge fan. The elongated guitar riff which becomes the basis of the song starts proceedings following some heavily filtered guitar feedback. The drums and a heavily distorted low keyboard bassline kick in. The drum kit sounded very live and punchy. This is less usual than you would think, as standard car audio does not reproduce tight mids like an aftermarket upgrade can and often end up sounding really stodgy and undynamic. I did however, feel a little disappointed as the whole effect of all that distortion and the production made the track feel a little closed in. The image was not as wide as I knew it should be with this equipment and everything seemed a little one dimensional for me. It is only when I got back home to my personal listening environment that I discovered that this is just how the recording is.
On my journey to meet Bakul and Preti, I had been listening to a Frank Sinatra album. I have always been intrigued by these old (40’s, 50’s and 60’s) recordings and how, despite the primitive equipment available, they sound so good. I am certain that a lot of electronic jiggery-pokery is employed when these old recording are remastered, but I can’t help feeling that recording instruments in a live setting means that studio engineers are much more meticulous when it comes to balancing levels across just a few microphones in order to keep the original instrument positions intact. To check that Bakul’s system was not causing my disappointment I selected the 1964 recording of “Fly Me to the Moon” played by the Count Basie Orchestra with old blue eyes doing what he used to do best. I could tell that Bakul was a little sceptical at first. However, the recording certainly demonstrated in no uncertain terms that this track was much better at extracting the stunning capabilities of his system. The image is so precise and spread out, that you can practically see the instrumentalists sitting in their usual live performance places. You can count the brass instruments, point to the guitarist and simply hear absolutely everything. Regardless of whether you like the song, this is a must listen and it solicited raised eyebrows from Bakul who had to check what he was hearing with Preti who was sat in the back. She confirmed that the clarity and width of the arrangement were absolutely different class.
Following this most revealing experience, we returned to a few tracks which are more familiar to Bakul. These included Sade’s “Cherish The Day” – Her dusky vocals and the minimalist arrangement are deceiving. There is actually a lot going on in this track. Particularly incidental percussion such as Claves on the left. At 1:37, a languid synth bass line makes a showy entrance. This showed off the balance between the subwoofer and front end beautifully. Dave has installed the sub level control right on the dashboard. I was able to easily adjust the level to check how much bass was coming from the sub and how much from the AP 8’s. The sub made an astonishing difference and you couldn’t tell that it was under the floor of the luggage compartment at all. The track sounds luscious, laid back and beautiful in this car. There were other listenings, but the call of Coffee and Cake at the nearby Spire and Spoke public house proved irresistible, so off we went.
Despite my initial Muse-related concerns, this system proved itself to be absolutely right for both the vehicle and the discerning tastes of Bakul. John Kleis Car Audio has once again delivered an exceptional audio system and consigned the mediocre factory standard system to the bin where it belongs!
Last Night - The Strokes
Wake up in the Sky - Gucci Mane feat. Bruno Mars
Survival - Muse
Remurdered - Mogwai
Lost in Thought - Koan Sound
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