As you know, we are well up for a little OEM speaker bashing at Driving Sounds. Those who have come to see us at events this year will have seen exactly why. They largely feature old technology in the important areas such as; magnets, voice coils, cone materials and surrounds (wait, that's all areas isn't it? Ed.), and not only are they old they are produced very cheaply with little importance placed on quality or performance.
It would be great if there were a single device that could be fitted to a car that would make the audio system sound great although, bearable would do in my opinion!
Well blow me down if those clever bunnies at Audison haven't actually come up with something! The product is the Audison Prima 8.9 Amplifier. The current issue of Driving Sounds carries a round up of all Audison Prima products but at time of writing I had not heard the product. Now I have.
A friend of mine is a huge fan of music and spends a good deal of time on the road. He has experimented with all kinds of equipment in his cars but as with many travelling business people, he changes cars on a regular basis, which has put him off the expense and effort of custom installs. I advised him to try a Prima amplifier in his car and he agreed to have one fitted by way of experiment!
The Prima 8.9 is a multi channel amplifier providing 8 channels of modest power but with the flexibility to join together or bridge channels to provide more power. The amplified channels are supplemented with a signal processor much like the one found in an Audison Bit 10 processor but with a 10-band parametric equaliser as opposed to a 31-band graphic (I feel another technical article coming on!) The neat thing about the built-in processor is that it comes loaded with a number of vehicle-specific set ups which have been developed to iron out the inherent issues of speaker positioning and get the very best out of the on-board equipment.
For those who are not fully aware, there are many facets of audio reproduction that can affect the resulting stereo "picture". To explain this more fully, the reader ideally needs to go to a local jazz club or to watch an orchestra. Close your eyes and visualise where the sound of each instrument is coming from. When you listen to the same ensemble in your car the instruments should appear in those very same places. With factory speaker positions being restricted by other equipment and a lack of care by the vehicle manufacturer, we often find that this is where factory systems fall-down most! The image in many cars is completely collapsed and in fact most drivers are listening in mono! Couple this with the fact that speakers are positioned to point toward your ankles rather than your ears then it is no wonder that any perception of width, height and depth in the music is completely lost.
This was completely true of the BMW my friend has until the Prima amplifier was fitted. My resulting audition suggested first and foremost, that the original equipment is underpowered! Immediately, I could sense far more control particularly in the bass and lower mid bass areas. But, what about the stereo image and sound stage? As standard this was seriously scrambled and confused. It was very difficult to point to where a female vocal was positioned and almost impossible on orchestral music to separate all of the instruments. The width was so compressed that there wasn't enough room to fit all of the instruments in! Furthermore, the image was playing low; by which I mean that it was as if I was sat in the upper balcony rather than in the stalls at a concert venue.
The above issues with image all go to limit any opportunity of drivers engaging with music at all! The causes all come down to cost I'm afraid and this is even the case with so called "audio upgrades" offered by motor manufacturers many of which are nothing more than a tweak of the tone controls and can cost the hapless car purchaser £1000's - Effectively, you are buying a badge not an audio solution.
Once the BMW had undergone a Prima upgrade, the system fundamentally changed from a confused mess to an engaging musical experience. I was immediately re seated at the front of the stalls and was able to experience the whole width of the stage and the depth too! I could tell that the cellos were playing from the right front of the orchestra while the woodwinds were in the centre about half way in while percussion was placed on the back row behind the brass. The resulting extra space in the sound stage in terms of width and depth meant I could now pinpoint where sounds were coming from with tons more accuracy than before. There was a huge improvement in dynamic range too as the speakers which once performed like bed sheets flapping on a washing line, responded more accurately to every pulse and beat of the music while still offering a smooth response when the music demanded.
Of course, it is important at this stage to point out that treating the doors with sound deadening and upgrading the speakers would bring so much more but from a starting point of disappointing mediocrity, simply plugging in an Audison Prima 8.9 and selecting the right preset has done a magical job at making my friend's driving experience so much more enjoyable!