Blog

Blog Introduction

Well...if you have read the "About Me" section of this site, then you know that I come from a liberal arts background. Ever since I was a young man in elementary school, I loved writing; at first creatively, then increasingly technical and research oriented as I got older. The drastic change in language and culture when I immigrated to the United States hardly dulled that passion at all...despite a limited vocabulary and shaky grammar, I enjoyed putting words to paper far above solving mathematical equations and memorizing chemical formulas.

I can still remember sitting in a computer lab in the College of Fine Arts at CMU, on the night before a 20 page history paper was due; playing Quake 1 with one of my best friends Tenaya late into the night....then he would retreat upstairs to work on a painting, and I'd gather up my thoughts and START on my paper. Roughly two hours later, it was all done and we usually go off to Eat n' Park for an early morning snack. Yup, 20 pages in 2 hours...and it was immensely enjoyable for me...because once I organized my thoughts, I find very little distinction between writing and giving an oral presentation, if you can speak 20 pages worth of words in half an hour, there is no reason you can't write it all down, proof read and make corrections in 2 hours.

Stepping away from that nostalgic tangent; eventually, something did stop me from writing...well in a sense, LIFE did...I got married, started installing full time and moved to California...this new environment left me with virtually no time to do any writing...and soon months and years passed by and I almost forgot about this passion. Perhaps subconsciously, I tried to keep it alive by constructing ever more elaborate install logs and posting them onto various forums…but coming up with basically glorified captions to photos can hardly be justified as literature.

When Car Audio and Electronics magazine came back as a webzine a few years ago, I was offered the opportunity to sign on as a senior editor; I jumped at the chance and soon found myself dusting off that portion of my brain and composing reviews and articles on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, like many many other ventures out there, the new CAE became a victim of the economic downturn, and after being stagnant for almost a year, it recently disappeared altogether. Once again, I was left with no avenue of outlet...

So anyway, don't want to bore you with the details but basically, this blog is my decision to continue writing and keeping that side of my brain well-oiled and functional. After all, I still DO plan on getting my PhD in History someday and writing books and getting published.

As you can see, this blog is called "Random Musings of an Installer"...I modeled it after the editors' sections at the front of popular print automobile magazines such as Car and Driver or Road and Track. It will be populated by a combination of articles with strong connections to car audio and other more random thoughts that have very little to do with the field; and everything in between. Basically, I will try my best to collect my weekly thoughts into something fun and easy to read and offer it to you...You won't see random one line or single paragraph updates though, a shitload of those are available daily from my Facebook page.

Many of the early articles will be from a pool of essays I wrote for the predecessor of Caraudiomag.com. They existed for a few short months and then disappeared when the site was transferred to the new URL...so some of you may recognize them from a few years back...I will try my best to come up with fresh content though, despite growing senile in my old age. :)

So that’s the intro and first blog out of the way...I will post the first official entry very soon!

Cheers!

b

Car Audio for the Common Man

If you have a TV, you no doubt have seen the various Allstate Insurance ads featuring actor Dennis Haysbert. Haysbert, if you are a fan of Fox’s TV show 24, played President David Palmer. I truly enjoyed his portrayal of the commander-in-chief, and as a result, whenever I see him on TV, I naturally refer to him as President Palmer. If you have never seen 24, then just think of him as the Allstate dude or perhaps the man who worshiped mighty Jobu in the movie “Major League”.

Anyway, in one of those spots, President Palmer made a series of statements regarding what is important in the world today, as the economy struggles to regain its footing. He tells us that in the present, we have come to realize that “meatloaf and Jenga can actually be more fun than reservations and box seats.” (okay this sorta dates when this entry was written lol but I don’t think the times have gotten easier.)

Naturally, he is making the statement that in tough times, we often conclude that having a good time doesn’t necessarily involve spending a ton of money.   Not everyone agrees of course, as I am sure there are those that truly believe the loss of a fancy lifestyle is the coming of the apocalypse. But I digress…

What I do find interesting about this statement is that while it downplays the need for luxury, it also didn’t stipulate that we all have to endure a terrible and tragic life full of hardship and misery. I mean, if the ad had stated that “Instant noodles and living in your car can actually be more fun than reservations and box seats.” You’d probably have yourself a good chuckle. After all, meatloaf is quite yummy and Jenga, while I have never played it, looks like a ton of fun.

So, how does this all apply to car audio? Well, perhaps it’s inherent in humans to promote the extreme, but as it happens, the side of car audio that people tends to remember the most are the spectacular show cars gracing the pages of magazines and websites, or meticulously polished standing behind a rope at car shows. Painted fiberglass, lighting, motorization and equipment galore. In essence, these are the “box seats and reservations” of the car audio world.

In my opinion, while everyone, including myself, love to gawk at these masterpieces, they have also skewed the way many average folks think about car audio. When talking with potential clients for the first time, I am constantly surprised by the “riches or rags” mentality many of them possess. In other words, many average people seem to have developed the idea that in order for a car audio system to sound great, it has to absolutely LOOK insane and cost a truck load of cash.

One of the most common statements I hear on initially meeting a client goes something like this: “I can’t afford a show or competition install that I see in the magazines, so let’s just throw a box in the trunk and replace the stock speakers, I know it won’t sound that great, but as long as it’s better than stock, I am happy.”

Conversely, the opposite type of thinking is just as common. The client will usually present a magazine or internet printout, and ask to “duplicate” a mega-show project. The trouble is, most of them are on a limited budget and their vehicles are pure daily drivers not intended to be a show car.   Often, the motivation behind mentality is that in order for them to truly enjoy their systems, it needs to have a brilliantly executed flashiness to it.

To me, the overemphasis on showiness, along with the implied correlation to sound quality, has led many astray on their quest for mobile audio perfection. Two of the most common aftermaths I have witnessed are the systems with a big sub box in the trunk, featuring a mix bag of expensive and entry level gear(often with higher emphasis towards the sub-bass components) which in reality, for a modest and often negligible increase in budget, could have looked and sounded much better by altering their gear selections and installation techniques; as well as those who tried to imitate a magazine feature on an inadequate budget and ended up with a poorly executed show install, one that both looks and sounds sub-par yet burdens the customer with a substantial financial responsibility.

Obviously, if someone has the motivation and the means to achieve both flash and sound quality, I am more than happy to oblige. But for an overwhelming majority of us with more realistic budgets, I generally preach the same ideal: Instead of going for a prefab box with cheap replacement speakers or extreme cosmetics and tons of flash, let’s start with a clean and simple custom design, concentrate on spending money to improve the way the system SOUNDS, and then, if there are funds left over, we can add more cosmetic enhancements to the project. In other words, go for the “meat loaf” instead of reaching for the “box seats” or settling for “instant noodles”. I call this “Car Audio for the Common Man”, which isn’t a specific type of system, but rather a way of thinking to balance the depth of one’s pockets with the limits of their aesthetic desires.

The idea sounds so simple and obvious, “spend money on things that make your system sound good before moving onto flashiness.” Yet it’s a concept that seems lost on many, both customers and installers alike.

Again, I am not here to ram this theory down your throat by any means. I am sure many will say, “Wait a minute, who made YOU the judge of what people like and don’t like? If the owner of the car is happy with the way their installs sound and look, that’s all that matters!”

Obviously, this statement about being content is true to a certain degree. However, though my own experiences in demoing cars to others, it appears that the majority of people, when presented with an install of similar or even lower budget but higher emphasis on sound quality, will immediately recognize and appreciate the sonic improvement. It is my belief that for a daily driver, the way the car sounds is still more relevant, especially in the long term, than how flashy the install looks, and that the desire for improvement is always present in each and everyone one of us.

So in conclusion, if you are in the market for a stereo system upgrade to your vehicle, I strongly urge you to heed the advice of one fictional President David Palmer, take note of your finances and go for the “meat loaf” first and foremost, in the long run, I think you bank account and your ears will thank you.

Cheers,

b

Five Things You May Not Have But Should

As anyone who has worked on a vehicle knows, having the right tools for the job is essential. For car audio installers, professional and amateur alike, high quality variants of jigsaws, table saws, routers, sanders, common hand tools and pneumatic devices can shave hours off the total work time and help to ensure a desirable outcome to your project. However, quite often I find myself in scenarios where none of the standard instruments in my arsenal work well and forces me to MacGyver my way through using alternative and homemade solutions. Often, these remedies are merely stopgap measures until I purchase the proper utensil; but over the years and hundreds of cars, there have been a list of things that I find myself going back to on a weekly basis, simply because they tend to work superbly for a specific task. Here are five of these off-the-beaten-path tools that I can’t live without in my garage.

Cardboard

Purpose: Making mockup panels

One question I get asked a lot of is how to make trim panels conform perfectly to the stock shapes and curves of a vehicle’s interior or trunk. Having specialty tools such as a multi-scribe or profile transfer kits are big pluses, but for me, the most essential element in the process is cardboard, and a lot of it. The reason is quite simple-- cutting a bunch of templates out of cardboard is infinitely faster and cheaper than using wood. In the corner of my garage, there is always up to a dozen sheets of the stuff resting against the wall, trimmed from shipping containers of various sizes. When building a fake floor for example, smaller sheets can be cut out to line up with individual areas of the trunk and then pieced together using tape to form a single large mockup panel ; this can then be transferred onto wood for a precise fit and finish the first time out. In addition, you can use cardboard to build three dimensional shapes, which can also help you visualize the final outcome of the design, and make the necessary tweaks and adjustments as needed before the blade hits the MDF. Simply put, cardboard is truly the duct-tape of the custom trim panel world, you can utilize it for just about every purpose.

Tip: Higher quality cardboard that is both thin and rigid works best.

Tinner’s Snips (Not to be confused with metal or tin snips)

Purpose: Cutting everything big and small

Back when I first started building cars, I possessed a small army of shears big and small. Seamstress scissors for cutting upholstery materials, metal snips for trimming grille mesh and metallic sheets, and everything in between for cutting dowel rods, plastics, fiberglass and sound dampers. As time went on however, I found myself repeatedly using just one set of shears for virtually everything, and it wasn’t even part of my normal tool set. Instead, it was an old pair of medium sized Wiss tinner’s sheers I kept for landscaping duties.   The original intended purpose of these oversized blades means it will chew through light gauge metal, fiberglass edges, and even thin sheets of hardboard with ease, yet with its traditional scissor-like handle design and cutting motion, you can use it with precision on much thinner elements such as cardboard, upholstery, sound proofing materials and paper. Best of all, tinner’s snips are often cheaper than other more specific-usage cutters, and comes in a wide variety of sizes to suit your preferences.

Tip: Pick the snip best suited for your hand size and strength.

Long-Nose Squeeze Bottles

Purpose: Injecting fiberglass reinforcement into tight spots

Let me start off by stating that sanding body filler is one of my least favorite tasks in all of car audio. To that end, I tend to prefer reinforcing an initial mold from the inside rather than laying glass on top. This helps to achieve a smooth surface onto which relatively little filler have to be laid. On larger objects such as a sub enclosure or door pods, this is as simple as cutting a portion out of the back mold and smothering the interior walls with layers upon layers of fiberglass; but on miniature items such as pillar pods for tweeters, this is simply not an option.   Thankfully, these light duty pieces don’t require the same herculean strengths of their bigger cousins, and over the years, I have found that a mixture of Duraglas and resin, mixed roughly 70/30, will be more than adequate when poured into pods to act as a stiffening agent. The trick then, is how to get the gooey fiberglass milkshake INTO the tiny confines of a pillar mold; this is where long-nosed squeeze bottles, purchased by the dozens, come in handy. Simply mix up a batch of Dura-resin, pour into the bottle, put on the cap, stick it into the cavity and squeeze. Voila! No running droopy mess and a solid coverage throughout the interior!   Just remember to mix only what you need each time, if there is too much excess milkshake left in the bottle, it will render it un-squeezable once the mixture hardens inside.   I have found that a single bottle can be used roughly two to three times before the plastic becomes too brittle from the heat of the curing process, and at less than a dollar per bottle, it is quite a cheap and effective solution indeed.

Tip: Go for bulk packs of the smaller sized bottles.

Bullseye Level

Purpose: Making sure your project is on the level

One of the worst things that can happen when fabricating a custom floor panel is realizing after the fact, that the entire thing is tilted. This kind of imperfection can ruin an otherwise stellar job; and worst of all, fixing it often requires tearing out EVERYTHING and re-leveling the foundational support structure. As someone who prefers fake floor designs above all others, having a good level is vital to my process of avoiding such errors. So it may surprise you to learn that the product I use 90 percent of the time is not that fancy digital tool or the shiny machined aluminum monstrosity sitting pretty in my tool cabinet, instead, it’s a little gadget that is barely larger than a quarter and costs a whopping two bucks at the local hardware store. It is a bullseye level, a simple clear plastic topped tablet with concentric markings and a bubble within. Lay it on any surface and if the bubble is at the center of the bullseye, then you have yourself a level plane. Beyond the obvious cost savings, the advantage of the bullseye over more traditional levels is that it measures all directions simultaneously, and is small enough to sit on virtually any surface. So please go and shell out the chump change and equip yourself with this neat little device.

Tip: Glue one to a perfectly cut MDF cube, you can also measure vertical orientation in tight spots.

Chopsticks

Purpose: Routing wires through door conduits

I am the ultimate hoarder of cheap chopsticks; every time I get Chinese take-out or visit an all you can eat buffet, I invariably end up with a handful of extra packages. Before you start making Chinese jokes, allow me to explain my somewhat odd behavior. Running thicker-gauge speaker cables into doors is a good practice when installing aftermarket speakers powered off an external amplifier, but getting the wires through the stock rubber conduit hose can often be tricky and frustrating. To accomplish this task, people have used chopped up wire coat-hangers, thin screwdrivers, and the wire passing tool which is basically a screwdriver with a hollow tube for a blade that extends through the handle. I myself have tried every one of these remedies but have found a common problem with them all: The sharp metal rods can easily penetrate the delicate rubber hose and sticking out in the middle of the conduit, not to mention the likelihood of slicing a factory wire inside the loom is pretty high. I stumbled upon the perfect solution one day while performing this task having just finished a lunch of Chinese take-out. It suddenly dawned on me that the standard throw-away wooden chopstick is the ideal tool. It is thin and long enough to pass through any conduit, rigid enough to hold its shape when forced through a curved tube, and best of all, dull and fragile enough to not hurt the rubber or wiring. Simply take a single stick, duct tape the wire you want to insert onto it, coat the front with some grease to decrease the friction (I use a little Vaseline rubbed on with a paper towel), insert it into one end of the tube and push it out the other. Grab the exposed tip with a pair of needle-nosed pliers and pull the entire thing through. Often, the pressure of the action will crack the chopstick, rendering it useless, but when it’s free and available by the handful, who cares?

Tip: Throw away chopsticks with their coarse wood have better adhesion surfaces than smooth ones.

Contact Info

SimplicityInSound
879 Ames Avenue
Milpitas, CA 95035 
USA 
Phone: 408.262.6075 
Cell:    408.533.2399 
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Hours of Operation:
Monday – Friday: 10am-6pm
Weekends/after hours: By appointment