Car Audio for the Common Man

on 23 April, 2012

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

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