Co-founder of FOUR, Brian Parton, is a passionate car audio evangelist but has never been able to convince his life-long friend, Tony Parr, to make the leap into enjoying great sound in is car. Until now that is. In this mini-series, we will report on developments beginning with some background below which we find is fairly typical of those who do not yet know what they are missing as well as a review of the factory system he currently endures!
Father of five, Tony is a toolmaker by trade. He works for a lighting company based in Highgate in Birmingham making pressing tools and fixtures for in-house use and has been there since serving an apprenticeship straight from school. He has been a friend of Brian's since their school days and although he shares a similar penchant for rock of the heavier variety, he admits to being nowhere near as fanatical and apart from a recent birthday present of tickets to a Muse concert, has not been to see any live music for many years.
His listening amounts to having the radio on in the house or car and listening to a few CD's on his way to and from work. These include Muse, Linkin' Park, Slade, The Beatles, Newton Faulkner and One Republic so, fairly eclectic. When growing up he was influenced to some extent by his older brother's record collection and his parents were avid listeners of Country and Western music. The latter having left him with a mild dislike for this genre alongside Classical and Jazz, which he admits to disliking quite a lot! - We can always rely on one genre to have a polarising effect when mentioned.
Tony's main hobby and interest over the years is snooker. He has scored countless 100's and even managed a 145 and regrets not having had the opportunity to misspend his youth a little more in which case he believes he could have become a professional. Brian who is often at the receiving end of a huge walloping whenever they visit the snooker club together, backs up this belief. Brian and Tony share an interest in films and I suspect we will return to this once Tony's system is installed and working and we can demonstrate that his favourite Star Wars has an epic sound track created by John Williams which stands alone as a dramatic piece of music even without the pictures! Other interests include preparing and eating food.
Tony has just purchased a Ford Focus. He explains that he needed something economical and the diesel-engined focus only costs £20 per year to tax and runs nicely, is relatively quiet and very reliable. The factory offering he feels is adequate for his listening and he would definitely not choose to upgrade without the influence (nagging) of Brian. We know that this is not true as we have looked at the settings and it would appear that Tony is far from happy with the standard equipment. Why else would the mid on the on-board eq be increased hugely while the treble is reduced almost to nothing while the bass has also been considerably boosted too!
In order to give the existing equipment a proper "shake down" I reset all the controls to zero and switched the DSP to flat. I then selected tracks from a Driving Sounds demo disc I made for demonstrations a couple of years ago. It contains music I know very well which helps me to recognise a good system when I hear it and guess what? I didn't hear it this time. Not by a long way. Listening to the Muse CD Tony had been listening to with his settings was quite worrying really. The high frequencies were distorting badly and there was a complete absence of mid frequencies. The bass was so over exaggerated and "peaky" it was rattling the door cards off the car. So I flattened all of the settings and listened to a selection of tracks from my Driving Sounds demo disc.
Feist - How Come You Never Go There: This track is heavy on the bass on any system and the balance between the bass guitar and the strings, piano and other instruments is key to its enjoyment. There was no balance at all, just a wall of bass and rattling of every fixing inside the car. There was plenty of sibilance distortion (S's and T's) and no separation in the middle order at all. All in all a very difficult listen.
Joan As Police Woman - Christobel: I like the recording on this track which features violin as well as electric guitar playing over a nicely mic'd drum kit there are also some really odd but intriguing backing vocals which make me smile. However, in this car the mid-bass peaks, which I would reckon are around 150Hz are so over the top that everything is ruined. The image width was about 60cm and discernable depth of soundstage fell somewhat short of the steering wheel. It was like having someone shout very loudly right in your face - very unpleasant.
Porcupine Tree - Sound of Muzak: The key feature of this track is the playing and balance of Gavin Harrison's drum kit which has a lot of dynamic power and really drives the tune along. Not in this car I'm afraid. In fact that trademark snare drum sound was hardly there at all. I only managed a minute of this track before I started screaming to be let out - Awful!
Listening to this car you get to understand the motivation of those kids who ran down to their local Halfords to buy a pair of 6X9's to glue on to their rear parcel shelf in the 80's and 90's. Yes the result sounded horrible but not as horrible as what had been there before. I am looking to hear nothing less than a miracle in sound upgrade when Tony's car is finally completed and I will of course bring you a review as soon as this is done.