Audi A8 Pipes Up, With Prima
Anthony Yeates was born and brought up in Portsmouth. Son of a Naval Officer, Anthony still enjoys a number of careers which have elevated him to a life of some comfort. A lifelong music lover, Anthony has now found an unexpected listening environment, his car!
One of Anthony’s careers was as a tuner of pipe organs. I have never met one before, although the instrument itself has always been a source of wonder to me. The art of organ tuning requires a great deal of patience, knowledge and a precise ear and it is clear from the two or so hours I spent with Anthony that he has all of these attributes in quantities to spare.
A pipe organ is a very complex mechanical musical instrument which consists of metal and wooden pipework. The organ in the Royal Albert Hall for example, is well known to him as he has tuned it on numerous occasions in the past. It is a mighty instrument and features 9,999 pipes. The largest of these measures 2 ft 6” in diameter is 42 ft high and weighs almost 1 tonne whilst the smallest is the size of a drinking straw. Each pipe needs to produce a very specific frequency to make the entire instrument pitch perfect! As metal is subject to expansion and contraction as a result of temperature change, tuning is pretty much an ongoing operation. Incidentally, the wave length of a 20Hz tone is 17 metres or approx. 56 feet. The largest pipes in a few working pipe organs can be 64 feet long, which in theory produce the purest 20 Hz frequency possible.
Having owned his own record label at one point, Anthony’s musical taste is very much shaped by his career. He is friends with many great musicians and has an obvious passion for orchestral, choral and organ-based music. In fact, his whole life has been spent in and around the music industry.
Anthony recently purchased a magnificent new Audi A8, however, he quickly became disappointed with the on-board entertainment and felt that it very much let the vehicle down. This irritated him to the point that he considered buying a different car; perhaps one that had an upgraded system such as those supposedly delivered by B&W, Harman Kardon, Bose or any other number of recognisable home hi-fi brands. This is a drastic measure to take but such is Anthony’s passion for pure reproduction of the music he loves, it almost came to that!
I am very relieved to tell you that instead of this drastic and probably disappointing action, he did a search of the internet instead and discovered FOUR MASTER, Accutek in Winchester. Co-founder Stuart Crombie is amongst the finest audio upgrade designers and installers in the country and following in-depth discussions, Anthony entrusted him with improving the Audi.
The car itself offers a very quiet interior. Road noise and engine noise are kept to a minimum by clever design, the vehicle also features Audi’s acoustic glass. The brief was a very recognisable one: “Make my car sound musical but don’t change the look and feel!” Fortunately, it is a brief that Stuart has received many times before and one he is now expert at delivering to.
Anthony admits complete ignorance when it comes to the technicalities of making a car sound good and left it entirely to Stuart to choose the equipment and the system design, he felt would do the job with only the budget and end result being pre-defined. For an installer, having a free hand is vital in order to deliver the sound required.
Stuart chose to work with Audison Prima equipment. Anthony’s preferred genres require incredible amounts of dynamic range. A piece of orchestral music (try Ravel’s “Boléro” for instance) can range from extremely quiet to deafeningly loud at the whim of the composer/musical director. There is also a need for surprising amounts of bass and sub bass. As an aside, sub bass in pipe organ terms begins at 60 Hz rather than the 80 Hz defined by hi-fi manufacturers! The lower the frequency, the more power required to balance with the rest of the system. We often hear of potential customers who are classical music lovers stating that they do not need a lot of bass. Actually, the opposite is true!
With this in mind, Stuart chose the tiny yet mighty Audison Prima AP-F 8.9 bit amplifier. He required enough power to reproduce low bass and enough channels to run a total of four speakers (including subwoofer). Up front Stuart installed the highly capable Prima AP 1 tweeters. These provide a wide dispersion characteristic with surprising accuracy for this level of tweeter. This helps open up the high frequencies and allowed Stuart to set a very wide and deep sound stage. These are paired with a pair of 8” woofers, Prima AP 8’s. Although there is a position for mounting a 3” mid-range in this car, Stuart chose not to and explained; “In my experience, the mounting position for mids in this car is too low down. This results in dragging the image toward the driver’s feet. When using mids I prefer to mount them high up on the A-pillar. The frequencies they handle are still extremely directional. Fortunately, due to the capability of the on-board processor built into the amplifier, we were able to make woofer and tweeter work seamlessly together without leaving any mid-range hole at all.”
The tweeters are driven from channels 1 and 2 of the amplifier while the mighty 8” woofers are afforded extra power by bridging channels 3 and 4 on one side and 5 and 6 on the other. The extra power allows the woofers to reach quite low enabling a smooth transition from bass to sub bass. This is known as running actively. This offers maximum flexibility as the sound can be balanced and frequencies split according to taste rather than being bound by the fixed parameters of a passive crossover network.
Anthony specified rear speakers and Stuart again chose to match the fronts with a pair of Prima APK 165’s in the rear doors run passively and driven from channel 7 and 8 of the amplifier. Rear-fill is an acquired taste, but when blended correctly offers the front-seated listeners an all-round “audio hug” which enhances the warmth and feel of the musical experience in this car. This is particularly noticeable with Anthony’s choice of music, which brings a new dimension to the word “ambient” due to the combination of dynamic instrumentation with natural acoustics of the playing environment.
As important as any other speaker in this car is the subwoofer. Stuart has once again reached for the Audison Prima catalogue, choosing the extremely compact yet powerful APBX 10 AS. This 10” driver and integral 400 watt amplifier is mounted in a surprisingly compact enclosure which works hard to get the best out of both. The driver itself offers an impedance of just 0.16 ohms to the class-D amplifier, so wattage can look misleading. It is mounted on the back wall of the cavernous luggage compartment and is the only visual clue to what lies elsewhere within the vehicle. The stitched “Audison” logo on the black carpeted box looks smart and in keeping with the boot (and its high-quality contents!).
The all-important DRC remote controller allows Anthony control of image placement and sub level as well as offering volume control. It also allows for multiple sound settings that can be recalled at the touch of a button.
Despite an already very quiet car, Stuart added Skinz sound deadening to both front and rear doors. This offers further sound isolation but as importantly, stiffens up the door panels establishing a more solid basis for sound projection.
For insight, if any were needed, a trip across to the FOUR website reveals just how self-effacing Anthony is. Each item has been reviewed by him with the words “I don't know what this bit is. I took advice from the fitting professional”. This demonstrates the absolute faith he put in Stuart and the rest of the Accutek team to deliver his dream of a more musical driving experience.
For the listening bit of this article, I wanted to let Anthony do the talking. His taste and passion for his music shines through in general conversation. It did not seem appropriate for me to throw a hip-hop track or some old rock and roll at this system. It would have felt a little disrespectful. However, I did throw a couple of familiar tracks in, streamed using Tidal on my iPhone and utilising the built-in USB connection in the car. The first was Ravel’s “Boléro”. I used this track simply because of the way each instrument of the orchestra is used to carry the main theme in turn. The whole track grows from its extremely quiet snare and flute beginning to the timpani-heavy, wildly enthusiastic brass and strings verse toward the end. This track demands a very wide dynamic range and the system played it with aplomb. The other track I played was “Gaia” from the James Taylor album, “Hour Glass”. This has a drum break at 4:09 which I often use to find out how sub bass integrates with bass as well as checking for any “swamping” that can happen with this kind of explosive passage. The system passed with flying colours of course and the drums marched like a giant’s steps across the dashboard!
After this, I left it to Anthony to play me some music that he likes. He tends to stream using high quality settings on his Spotify account from his iPhone. Again, he uses the wired option of the on-board USB – very sensible in my opinion! Everything we listened to was delivered with extremely high precision. Every element of the music could be clearly picked out with no sound left undelivered. Clarity on some of the naked solo vocal passages was cherubic while the mad low-end of passages depicting thunder in Richard Strauss’ Alpine Suite and the marching music from Shostakovich 7th Symphony made me shudder.
On this occasion, I leave it to Anthony to describe his Top Five Driving Sounds!
“It’s always difficult trying to pick your favourite music as each piece means something different and, with all the variables we chatted about including my own hearing, musical likes etc. I have chosen five pieces for the reasons I have noted on each piece. As discussed, the recording, venue and artists all play their part in making the pieces enjoyable, exciting and pleasurable to me.
“We all know that familiarity with a particular piece of music makes it far more enjoyable. It’s important that the entire piece is played, but I do understand that with some of my picks it may not be possible, unless it’s a long trip. Here I describe music that has moved me when listened to in my car:”
1) The organ at St Paul’s Cathedral played by John Scott:
Franz Liszt, “Ad nos, ad salutarem undam”. Released under the Guild label.
In this piece you can hear the mighty organ in St Paul’s Cathedral and although the music lasts half an hour, the playing is both exciting and sensitive. The organ and the building work well together, even showing off the softer stops, flutes and strings. It is exciting in the car.
2) Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Conducted Herbert von Karajan.
“An Alpine Symphony”. Richard Strauss. Released on Deutsche Grammophon:
In this we hear all the seasons and weather experienced in the mountains – the Alps. This includes the thunder, lightning, rains, and the arrival at the summit. This is so good to hear in the car. The bass speakers do absolute justice to the thunder claps. Listen to the whole symphony.
3) Mahler Symphony number 7 in E Minor:
I enjoy most versions of this, some of us will remember the second movement for the muted trumpets solo from the “Castrol GTX” motor oil advert on TV (“liquid engineering” circa 1984). Particularly fun in a concert hall as the trumpets are played off stage, again this works well in the car particularly hearing the trumpets coming from the rear or passenger seats. It always thrills.
4) Louis Vierne: Symphonies pour orgue. Played by Olivier Latry, recorded in 2012:
Having suffered the massive damage to Notre Dame Cathedral in the great fire, organists and musicians all over the world were relieved to hear that the mighty and magnificent Cavaillé-Coll pipe organ was left unscathed. This is one of my favourite recordings of this organ.
The organ could not be played “full organ” at this time, without bringing the cathedral down, such is the condition after the fire. This massive organ and cathedral work well together. Go for it in Symphonie No 2, the 5th movement finale, sounds great in the car. The organ itself is very aggressive and extremely thrilling to hear in the building, but we will have to wait a while to experience this again.
5) Carols of Ancient Europe with the Prague Madrigal Singers:
I love Christmas, and all the pleasure and good will it can bring. There are so many fabulous traditional carols and the sounds of a well-trained choir singing really does it for me. We are so blessed in the UK to have the huge tradition of cathedral, church and college choirs and choral societies who keep that tradition alive. But this recording really does bring the spirit of the festive season into the home. This is from Prague, and I think the little theme from track 2 is one of the tunes you will be singing to yourself all day. The quality of the sound system is really tested with this soft, clear musical improvisation. The entire album takes you back a few hundred years.”
I have of course listened to all of this wonderful music. I realise we break from tradition with this piece, but Anthony’s eloquence and passion for his own music needed to be voiced by the man himself.
I salute Anthony for his bravery, for his dedicated research and for allowing us to speak with him and sit in his car and listen. He was extremely fortunate to find a FOUR MASTER and in particular Stuart, who shares a keen ear and eclectic taste in music with the vast majority of his customers.
Accutek: 01962 886900 – www.accutek.co.uk
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