Riverside Amarok With Sorted Audio
Jason Field has several cars. He has always loved them, and his taste remains somewhat old school. Here we look at his most comfortably-fitting utility vehicle, which is very much prepared for sound.
On the day I went to view this impressive vehicle, Jason had to be elsewhere due to business commitments. I did manage to catch up with him later in the day over the phone, and he was able to fill in some blanks and explain his motivation for upgrading this and his other vehicles.
Jason is a very busy man who, along with his wife Rachel and business partner Tom Wilson purchased a company servicing and selling outboard motors. The company, KMO Marine, is based in a marina on the river Hamble and has received a good deal of recent investment. The three of them purchased the company from the original owner Kevin Mole who remains with KMO in an engineering capacity. Previously known as Kevin Mole Outboards, the company was built around his engineering talent and quickly built a good reputation for engineering excellence and exceptional service.
KMO has a second office on the Isle of Wight, and there is much toing and froing between the two premises. Having seen the Hamble operation, I can confirm that the customer-facing part looks highly organised and well laid out. I suspect the company is also thriving, which enables Jason to indulge in his passion for cars.
We focus today on the VW Amarok, which has had a complete system upgrade designed and installed by Stuart Crombie of FOUR MASTER Accutek in Winchester. Stuart has worked on several cars for Jason and knows what equipment mix is best for his taste in music. Jason told me that he considers Accutek to be a really slick organisation. Having visited Accutek many times, I can confirm that it is not just a highly polished façade designed to give an impression of slickness. It is an ethos that runs all the way through the company. It is also an ethos Jason applies to his own business endeavours.
Jason suggests that despite being non-musical, he has eclectic taste but does cite Reggae and 90s dance music as his favourite genres. I was expecting the big bass requirement of both genres to be appropriately catered for by Stuart and looked forward to finding out how he achieved this in a vehicle short on cabin space for big bass boxes.
Speaking with Jason, I got the feeling that he is fond of the 90’s car culture and the audio that went along with it. He mentioned many vehicles he has owned over the years, and there was a suggestion that most had received some kind of upgrade. His motivation for upgrading the Amarok was due to an intermittent fault on the factory standard head unit. He also wanted DAB radio with a proper aerial. His other requirement was reliable hands-free operation as he relies heavily on this for his work. Jason always found the vehicle noisy, which never helps when driving and conducting a business call. Stuart is a master at sound-deadening vehicles. His first task was, therefore, to strip the interior of the vehicle and apply lashings of Skinz sound-deadening material and panel liner.
Stuart did not restrict the use of Skinz products to the doors. The floor, transmission tunnel and roof were lined and deadened for maximum effect.
Stripping the vehicle’s interior allowed Stuart to inspect the space available for an audio system upgrade. As is pretty typical these days, Jason wanted the installed equipment to be out of view to maintain the original aesthetic of the car but also to protect it from damage and to stop it from getting in the way.
Stuart used his go-to Rainbow Germanium 2-way speakers for the front end. These drop into the normal factory positions without too much trouble. The wide-dispersion characteristic of the tweeters would help provide a stereo image as the tweeters in this vehicle fire across the front screen rather than giving direct on-axis distribution. The Germanium speakers run passively, so Stuart had to find space for the significantly-sized but excellent crossovers. These have been mounted on the bulkhead behind the glove box.
There is no processing in this system. DSP-free systems are rare these days; however, people managed without DSP for many years and were perfectly satisfied with the results. I forgot to ask Jason why he decided to go DSP free but would venture that cost was a consideration, particularly as an audio upgrade was not on his original agenda. In any case, an Alpine head unit at the front of the system does have several features, such as time alignment and equalisation, to help. Running the speakers passively meant that the front speakers could be run from the bridged channels of a single Audison SR 4.500 amplifier. Bridging the channels ups the amplifier’s power output from 130 watts to a mighty 450 watts per channel. Stuart has mounted this compact class D amplifier in a narrow space behind the rear seats. The SR range of amplifiers has proved a revelation, with installers and end-users commending its audiophile performance since its launch despite a very reasonable price tag.
As with everything else in this build, the subwoofers are invisible to the untrained eye! Stuart has chosen two active under-seat subwoofers by the German manufacturer, Eton. The Eton UG USB 10 is a super shallow enclosure with a dual voice coil 10” subwoofer and a 2 X 85watt amplifier. The Subs are mounted underneath the front seats. The size of the enclosure offers a compromise in sound. In this case, the very low sub-bass from 20Hz – 50Hz is compromised over that achievable from a huge ported box containing 2 X 12” subwoofers, but that was never an option in this vehicle.
It was time to fire the system up and have a listen. The Beck track “End of the Day” was in my head as I listened to a Hi-Res rendering while travelling from Oxford to Southampton. The track is gentle and relatively downbeat. Had I met Jason before meeting the vehicle, I would have known that this track would not necessarily get the system to do what it was designed to do. However, the image was fine, and I could hear everything, but there was a slight lack of definition in the upper mid-range. I moved on and listened to several other tracks with a bit more energy about them. These all worked much better, and the previously discerned hole was not apparent.
Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall” was a particular high point, especially with a bit of oomph behind it. The subwoofers began to kick at higher levels, and the whole track came to life. His constant hiccupping was a bit annoying, though. I think I am over this particular affectation now!
I listened to a couple of tracks from David Bowie’s Blackstar album. These have terrifically dynamic bass lines, although the whole audio range is well represented. I also revisited “Killer”, an old favourite audition track of ours by Seal. Trevor Horn’s production really challenges a system. I did note that although the image was reasonably defined, it wasn’t that wide, but that would require DSP or re-positioning the tweeters to achieve in this vehicle. Feist’s “How Come You Never Go There”, another Driving Sounds favourite, really excited the Eton subwoofers. Everything made perfect sense when I finally caught up with Jason and asked him about his preferred listening material.
I didn’t listen to any reggae on this occasion, but I now get the reason for the bass. It makes perfect sense, and I feel the Etons at full chat are just the ticket. I wish I had had the forethought to ask for Jason’s Top Five before I listened to his car. They would all have sounded great in the Amarok.
Jason told me of a couple of other vehicles he has which may be perfect for the next issue of Driving Sounds. In the meantime, I am most grateful to Jason and Rachel for allowing me to crawl all over their vehicle. I am also pleased to experience Accutek’s work and look forward to hearing more.
Jason’s Top Five:
Theory of Revolution – Time Warp Inc.
Animals – Martin Garrix
Adagio for Strings – Tiesto
Sun is Shining – Bob Marley
Sun is Shining – House Remix
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