Chris Cave is a top chap! He has had a full and interesting life to date and shows no sign of letting up! We caught up with him and his lovely and extremely tolerant wife Julie in Sheffield to photograph his car and audition his system for the next issue of Driving Sounds Magazine.
We were attracted by the fact that his car contains one of the finest examples of a pure digital audio chains in the country. Built around groundbreaking products from Audison, Chris is in every sense of the words, an early adopter. This tag does not come without pain as in many cases early adopters are buying into largely untried technology that sometimes has not completely settled down! This is increasingly true of digital products that can be radically "re-imagined" via firmware updates. The technology in this system is "way out there" and Chris along with installing FOUR MASTER Source Sounds have already done much to further product development of what will soon become the go to system for audio purists on the move.
I used to love cars but lost my passion through over familiarity I suppose, I am now so detached from current models that I had no idea what a Mercedes SL500 was until I saw it all sparkling in front of a magnificent building in Sheffield. This is clearly the sort of motor that only the very serious would entertain. The V8 engine barks a warning on fire up that this car could take an inexperienced driver unawares! Thankfully, ex-policeman and advanced driver Chris knows how to control this beast.
You will get further insight into Chris' fascination with technology and motivation for investing in this system in the final article.
The system is quite complex but I will attempt to lay it out as clearly as possible. Keeping the audio signal as pure as possible is made possible by three main products from Audison. These are a bit Play HD, bit One HD and AV 5.1K HD - The suffix denotes that they are all High Definition audio products, more commonly referred to as hi-res these days. All three are capable of handling 24bit, 96kHz audio. The bit Play HD is a hi-res source unit that will play many formats including the incredibly capable FLAC format files. These are output via TOSLINK Optical cable to one of two optical inputs on the bit One HD. This in turn, outputs its processed signal to the AV 5.1K HD via Audison's digital AV link. The digital signal is converted to analogue with a high quality DAC just before the final amplifying stages – There is also an Audison Voce Quattro 4-channel amplifier fully occupied driving rear speakers and front woofers. So there we have it, practically end-to-end digital performance. However, there is more. The car is equipped with a MOST (Media Oriented Systems Transport) buss that allowed Paul Ellis at Source Sounds to pick up unadulterated digital audio signals from the on-board head unit using an Audison bit DMI. This means the audio remains in the digital domain all the way through to final output. It is the MOST aspect of the installation that is the biggest headache. It is a digital communication protocol that car manufacturers buy into and defines much of the format of the signals (including audio) it carries but not quite all. The protocol allows for manufacturers to include their own strategies for controlling and interfacing with on board ancillary devices and this is where the headache begins. Getting detailed information from car manufacturers is a very difficult thing. They generally keep their cards very close to their chests and so, it is up to independent experts to try to unlock the secrets of manufacturer specific signals and data and find ways of extracting the signals required to for instance, interface the bit Play HD with the on board screen without interfering with reversing cameras and security equipment. Without wishing to labour this point, we will investigate this a little more closely in the final article.
For now, I am happy to report that the system works. Furthermore, it lives up to my expectations in providing incredibly accurate audio through to the speaker set up. Paul and Chris worked closely together in specifying the speakers and did not always see entirely eye-to-eye - For instance, Paul felt that the factory-installed woofers would be adequate for Chris' needs. Chris was not convinced and after living with them for a while decided that something better was required. He opted to have them removed in favour of a pair of the very excellent Hertz Mille Legend ML 1800's. Paul built these into custom enclosures. My very favourite Audison Voce AV 1.1 tweeters and AV 3.0 mids look after the mid and high frequencies more than adequately. A Voce AV 12 subwoofer was included that I felt might be a little over the top but, having auditioned it, I think it was entirely the right thing to do especially as I can imagine that when introducing the accelerator pedal to the floor pan, a good deal of bass may be cancelled by throaty engine sounds and road rumble.
As always with a system of this sophistication, I can imagine that more fine adjustment will be undertaken and I look forward to revisiting the system one day to see how the performance has been developed. I would urge Chris to trust in Paul's ability - his set ups are legendary and he will extract every dB of musical performance from the system over time. Paul intimated that he and Chris are working on a roof down setting which involves a pair of Audison Voce AV 3.0 mids used for rear fill - This was not demonstrated to me as it is still very much work in progress but from the brief explanation I was given, I am extremely enthused about the innovative strategy being worked on which hopefully, I can report on in the future.
For now, one word, WOW!