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INDEPENDENT REVIEWS + AUDIO INSTALLS!

ISSUE

6#17

THE YEAR’S BEST INCAR ELECTRONICS SPEAKERS + AMPS + HEAD UNITS + PROCESSING

19 PAGES OF AWARDS FULL REVIEW OF EVERY WINNER!

RED REXIE Stunning Subaru with onboard Donkey Kong

Focal PC165F Speakers · Kenwood DNX5180S Head Unit r German Maestro MS 6.2 Speakers · Brax Matrix ML10 Subwoofe

REVIEWED


IES -SER ! X ON NLY S BIG IME O DETAIL E T V A R D S FO ITE LIM HERE K CLIC

S D fN U r o O e S mm Su

INTRODUCING THE

X-SERIES DIGITAL AMPLIFIERS DIGITAL AUDIOPHILE AMPLIFIERS Introducing the all-new X-Series, these small amplifiers produce an unbelievable amount of power and incredible sound quality. Alpine sets industry benchmark in achieving new levels of operational efficiency by employing an all-new advanced digital amplification technology. Reliability is an important feature of the X-Series amplifiers, generating virtually zero distortion to maintain the highest sound quality, whilst producing very little heat to ensure long periods of operation without the fear of a power shutdown. The all-new X-Series amplifiers set a new standard for sound quality performance and power output in a very compact design. What’s more, X-Series amps are designed for true Hi-Res Audio playback, featuring ultra-low distortion and a wide frequency range.

X-A90V

X-A70F

X-A90M

4 CHANNEL + MONO AMPLIFIER

4/3/2 CHANNEL AMPLIFIER

MONO AMPLIFIER

• 100W RMS x 4 + 500W x 1 [2Ω@14.4V] • 75W RMS x 4 + 300W x 1 [4Ω@14.4V] • BASS KNOB CONTROL READY

• 175W RMS x 4 [2Ω@14.4V] • 120W RMS x 4 [4Ω@14.4V]

• 900W RMS x 1 [2Ω@14.4V] • 600W RMS x 1 [4Ω@14.4V] • BASS KNOB CONTROL READY

X-SERIES SUBWOOFERS HIGH PERFORMANCE SUBWOOFERS

The all-new X-Series Subwoofers have been engineered to perfection, boasting supreme build quality and excellent performance. The massive power handling achieves cleaner and deeper bass extension, faster and more accurate transients and greater output capability.

X-W12D4

X-W10D4

X-SERIES 12” SUBWOOFER

X-SERIES 10” SUBWOOFER

• 2700W PEAK POWER / 900W RMS POWER • FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 22HZ-200HZ

• 2700W PEAK POWER / 900W RMS POWER • FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 24HZ-200HZ


ALL-NEW X-SERIES

X-SERIES SPEAKERS HIGH-RESOLUTION PRECISION SPEAKERS Alpine introduces the all-new X-Series high grade speakers engineered and tuned to perfectly match with the X-Series amplifiers for extraordinarily dynamic, realistic sound reproduction and a spatial sound impression. The X-Series Speakers employ an all new motor design which uses a very powerful neodymium ring magnet, ensuring a very compact basket and motor assembly, while achieving very high power handling and dynamic sound. Designed and built to handle massive amounts of power, even at high volumes the X-Series sound is always clear—making these speakers perfect for use with the powerful X-Series amps.

AUDIOPHILE SOUND EXPERIENCE Designed to deliver highest dynamic and sound quality, Alpine’s new flagship speakers reach their full potential when paired with the all-new X-Series ultra-high-resolution digital amplifiers for pure hi-fidelity sound.

GRAPHITE DOME TWEETER Instead of using a regular silk dome tweeter, Alpine chose an all-new carbon graphite hard dome tweeter design. This lightweight tweeter dome features improved high range response up to 40kHz to deliver highest sound detail.

NANO-FIBRE WOOFER CONE The woofer cone consists of an all new nano-fibre material to achieve a very fast response speed and dynamic, while keep high clarity and realistic sound reproduction.

X-S65C

X-S65

X-SERIES 6-1/2” COMPONENT SPEAKERS

X-SERIES 6-1/2” COAXIAL SPEAKERS

• 360W PEAK POWER / 120W RMS POWER • FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 60HZ-40KHZ

VISIT THE ALPINE WEBSITE: WWW.ALPINE.COM.AU/X-SERIES

• 360W PEAK POWER / 110W RMS POWER • FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 60HZ-40KHZ

X-S69C X-SERIES 6X9” COMPONENT SPEAKERS • 330W PEAK POWER / 120W RMS POWER • FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 60HZ-40KHZ


INCAR #06-2017: NEW YEAR ISSUE: AWARDS 2018

CONTENTS 32

Group Editor Jez Ford

Contributors Jez Ford, Stephen Dawson, Damon Greenwood, Charlie Lewis, Marty Price, Jun Sawa. Artist Paul Saint Group Art Director Kristian Hagen Technical Editor Greg Borrowman

Advertising Sales Manager Lewis Preece lpreece@nextmedia.com.au Advertising Traffic Diane Preece dpreece@nextmedia.com.au National Advertising Sales & Divisional Manager Jim Preece jpreece@nextmedia.com.au Production Manager Peter Ryman Circulation Director Carole Jones

WAYLENS HORIZON

It’s a dashcam, but much much more besides...

Australian InCar Entertainment is published by nextmedia Pty Ltd ACN: 128 805 970, Level 6, 207 Pacific Highway, St Leonards NSW 2065 © 2017/8. All rights reserved. No part of this magazine may be reproduced, in whole or in part, without the prior permission of the publisher. The publisher will not accept responsibility or any liability for the correctness of information or opinions expressed in the publication, or for the loss or damage to products or materials submitted to the magazine for review or other purposes. All material or equipment submitted is at the owner’s risk and should be covered by a suitable insurance policy throughout transit and while with the magazine. While every care will be taken, nextmedia does not accept liability for loss or damage. Privacy Policy: We value the integrity of your per-

sonal information. If you provide personal information through your participation in any competitions, surveys or offers featured in this issue of Australian InCar magazine, this will be used to provide the products or services that you have requested and to improve the content of our magazines. Your details may be provided to third parties who assist us in this purpose. In the event of organisations providing prizes or offers to our readers, we may pass your details on to them. From time to time, we may use the information you provide us to inform you of other products, services and events our company has to offer. We may also give your information to other organisations which may use it to inform you about their products, services and events, unless you tell us not to do so. You are welcome to access the information that we hold about you by getting in touch with our privacy officer, who can be contacted at nextmedia, Locked Bag 5555, St Leonards, NSW 1590.

see p24

Level 6, 207 Pacific Highway, St Leonards, NSW 2065 Locked Bag 5555, St Leonards NSW 1590 Tel: (02) 9901 6100 www.nextmedia.com.au David Gardiner Chief Executive Officer Bruce Duncan Commercial Director

INCAR ON THE INTERWEBS: AVHUB.COM.AU Delightfully digital as this issue may be, we’ve long been posting our best bits at AVHub.com.au, so for the very latest news in mobile entertainment, cars and features, visit AVHub and subcribe to the newsletter, which will alert you to future digital issues direct to your inbox. Audio, AV, photography and guitary bits are also up there on AVHub.

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AWARDS

CARS

AUDITIONS 50 FOCAL PC165F

Coaxial loudspeaker set Flax don’t flex - Focal delivers a fine coaxial speaker set using its latest choice of cone material from the vasty fields of France.

52 KENWOOD DNX5180S

CarPlay/Android Auto head unit Prefer Apple or Android? Doesn’t matter! Kenwood has you covered for both - and a whole lot more in this dual-mode head unit.

32 OLD-SCHOOL... WAY COOL

Everything was better way back when... Case in point — video games… and the Rexie.

54 GERMAN MAESTRO MS 6.2

Component loudspeaker set The best incar speakers you may never have heard of... made in Germany with high detail and quality control - with stunning results.

09 SOUND+IMAGE INCAR AWARDS 2018

Our annual awards honour eight categories and nine winners – and we have full reviews of each and every gong recipient. Check out the very cream of incar electronics right here, right now...

57 BRAX MATRIX ML10

Subwoofer Taking the deep stuff to a new level of quality, the ML10 proves you should never dismiss a 10-inch sub of this quality.

42 ART IN MOTION

In today’s world an artist doesn’t just paint on a canvas. See how this 1965 Chevrolet Impala SS has been transformed into a rolling Aztec-themed art piece in this issue’s Drive from the Archive...

www.avhub.com.au

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AWARD WINNING GEAR DESERVES THE BEST IN INSTALATION. THE BEST CAN BE FOUND AT OVER 80 STORES NATIONALLY! cam.net.au


AWARDS 2018 Held every year since 1989, the Sound+Image Awards recognise excellence in the design, manufacture and installation of all the key categories of audio, home entertainment and incar electronics. This year’s winners, the 2018 Sound+Image Awards, were announced at a gala Presentation Dinner held at the Grace Hotel in Sydney. The full list of hi-fi and AV winners is now live at www.avhub.com.au/awards — but you can read all about the Incar category winners in the pages that follow. Without further ado, then, the winners are... INCAR PROCESSOR OF THE YEAR HERTZ H8 DSP INCAR HEAD UNIT OF THE YEAR UNDER $1500 ALPINE iLX-107 INCAR HEAD UNIT OF THE YEAR OVER $1500 KENWOOD DNX9170DABS INCAR MONO AMPLIFIER OF THE YEAR FOCAL FPX 1.1000 INCAR AMPLIFIER OF THE YEAR UNDER $1000 DIAMOND AUDIO HX600.4 HIGHLY COMMENDED: FOCAL FPS 5.1200

Alpine’s Matthew Mecca collects the Award for Head Unit of the Year under $1500

Clarion’s Adrian Davies collects the Award for Hertz

INCAR AMPLIFIER OF THE YEAR OVER $1000 HELIX H 400X INCAR SPEAKERS OF THE YEAR UNDER $1000 ALPINE X-S69C INCAR SPEAKERS OF THE YEAR OVER $1000 VIBE AUDIO CVEN62C-V4 Awards Night Presentation Dinner at the Grace Hotel in Sydney.

www.avhub.com.au

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ALPINE

iLX-107

CARPLAY HEAD UNIT

AWARDS

HEAD UNIT OF THE YEAR UNDER $1500

REVIEWER STEPHEN DAWSON

Our first winner fulfills all the promise of Apple’s CarPlay software, which overlays Alpine’s own infotainment system to deliver almost everything you could want to do with your iPhone while driving, right there on your car’s built-in display. You can select and listen to music, get directions, make calls, send and receive messages, and much more. And the latest innovation with Alpine’s iLX-107 is that the connection no longer needs a cable.

PICKING THE PLATFORM Indeed, this is the first ever aftermarket wireless Apple CarPlay receiver. Of course, it’s worth noting that it’s so devoted to hte Apple system that apart from the built-in AM/FM radio, it is pretty much CarPlay and nothing but CarPlay all the way. To be precise, beyond CarPlay (to which we shall, of course, return) there are three entertainment options: AM

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radio, FM radio and the analogue A/V input. The last of these is only going to work when your handbrake is applied, assuming you’ve wired up the system the way you’re supposed to and not simply attached the ‘Park Brake’ cable to the earth. If properly wired you’ll still get sound when moving but the video will be blocked. The USB, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi functions are all dedicated to supporting CarPlay - which will suit many very nicely indeed. The caveat, of course, is that all these elegant hands-free functions and voice control aren’t be available to those with an Android phone. So if you’re later selling your car, this might restrict your market, and if you have other family members who are in the Android side of the camp, they won’t be able to borrow your ride and enjoy the tech. But that’s the nature of this rather tasty beast, so with those caveats, let’s put all that behind us and enjoy the fun.

EQUIPMENT The Alpine iLX-107 has a 2-DIN sized frontage on a single-DIN chassis, using a 7-inch LEDbacklit LCD display. It is of course a touchscreen (and a fine one, as we’ll see). Physical controls are across the bottom. The volume control uses two touch-sensitive buttons to the left — clearly a bias towards left-hand-drive cars here. Next is a dedicated ‘Siri’ button to invoke you-know-who. Then a Stop button which doubles as a home button to bring up the main menu. Finally, left and right arrows to do things like skip tracks and adjust the radio tuning. The four-channel amplifier is rated at 50 watts per channel. It comes with several wiring looms, one of which provides line outputs for the four main channels and two subwoofers. Another is for connecting a reversing camera and the A/V device. Another covers the steering wheel controls and the hands-free


microphone. The USB extension cable plugs into a recessed socket. A cooling fan is at the right-hand rear, and the amplifier heat-sinks appear to be on the left side. They got pretty warm after running the unit for a while with loud music (I originally mistyped ‘lout music’; there was some of that too).

USING CARPLAY

TOUCH AND TUNING

SOUND QUALITY

The touch-screens on some head units are an iffy proposition. With some examples I’ve spent a lot of time repeatedly stabbing a ‘button’ on the screen with it only occasionally responding. There’s none of that here: the screen was very nearly as responsive as that of an iPad or iPhone, both with selections and with scrolling. Which is all the more important given safety considerations. There are a bunch of basic audio controls, including the ability to switch on the subwoofer, using the audio set-up menu on the head unit proper, but for any serious tuning you really ought to install the Alpine TuneIt App on your iPhone. Rather than basic bass and treble controls, or a choice of a bunch of preset EQ curves (‘Flat’, ‘Rock’ etc) you then get a nine-band parametric equaliser, with three bands each in the bass, midrange and treble. Remember, a parametric equaliser isn’t locked into specific frequencies, but can be set to different frequencies, and with a different ‘Q’ for each. That’s the scope of the frequencies affected by the adjustment. There’s also a cool combined balance and fader control which you adjust simply by dragging a dot around a map of the car. Time correction is available in the app (so you can delay the channels closest to you in order to get a more realistic stereo/frontback image). This is adjusted individually for each of the six channels (two are for the subwoofer line outputs) via arrows. The time delays can be entered in inches or centimetres, rather than you having to calculate milliseconds. Each tap of the arrow adds a delay equivalent to around one and a third inches, or around 3.4cm. Finally, unlike the car’s interface, the TuneIt app permits proper adjustments for a subwoofer. There are both low-pass filters for the subwoofer channel/s, and separate high-pass filters for the front and rear speakers. You can choose the crossover frequency and the slope in 6dB increments from 0-24dB per octave. The filters can be set to as high as 200Hz. But don’t ignore the head unit’s own interface entirely. Scroll down its audio menu and you’ll find a nifty feature allowing you to adjust the relative volume levels of CarPlay, the radio and the A/V inputs. Fun as touchbutton volume controls might be, they are not as responsive as knobs, so having everything roughly match in level is a good idea.

One of the great things about Alpine is the quality of its amplifiers. No doubt you can choose to go louder with an external amp, but you’re unlikely to get smoother sound. Playing from the modest collection of music on my wife’s iPhone using CarPlay, and using the analogue A/V input from the far more extensive collection of music on my equipment, Van Morrison and Frank Sinatra sounded very nice via CarPlay. The latter, particularly, was mostly recorded in the days before audio gating and compression, so the big band backing was full and dynamic. The iLX-107 had the headroom to deliver this without notable limitation. Switching over to Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, a bit of progressive bluegrass with a high quality recording is normally pretty revealing of weakness in the audio chain. There was none. Nine Inch Nails — the track Piggy from ‘The Downward Spiral’ — tends to be pretty demanding on any audio system, from bass through to dynamics in the drums. Again delivered beautifully, with no limitation to the complex, interwoven drumming, and strong bass delivery from the full-range speakers I used.

CONCLUSION Clearly the Alpine iLX-107 head unit is only for iPhone people. But if you’re one of them, it’s certainly a winner at the price, bringing the very latest in incar tech directg to your dash, with the great convenience of an automatic wireless connection.

ALPINE iLX-107 CARPLAY HEAD UNIT TYPE: CarPlay head unit FEATURES: 7 inch LED touch screen display, GPS/Glonass, GPS/Music/Phone/Voice command via Apple CarPlay compatible iPhone, Mic supplied, USB charging, AM/FM, Steering Wheel Remote ready, Reversing camera input, pre-outs including subwoofer POWER: 4 x 50W into 4 ohms; CEA-2006 rating: 4 x 18W COST: $1099 CONTACT: Alpine Electronics of Australia WEB: www.alpine.com.au

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TECH SPECS

The first thing to remember with CarPlay is that not only it is an Apple system, it is designed to work with iPhones, and iPhones only. Given the iPad’s common software, you might expect it would be fine with, say, a 4G-fitted iPad, but no - no iPads, no iPod touches either. You can only use it with an iPhone — specifically an iPhone 5 or later. And make sure iOS is up to date - we initially had trouble connecting because our iPhone was on iOS 10.3.3 at the time we tested it, the last version prior to 11.0.x. When we upgraded the phone to the new version, it worked straight away. Whether this was down to Alpine’s implementation or the version of CarPlay itself was, as so often with multilayered software, hard to judge. If in doubt, try your iPhone with a demo unit at a dealer. With it all working fine, even with this reviewer being an Android guy, I must say that if anything was going to get me to jump over to the iPhone, it’d be Apple CarPlay running on the Alpine iLX-107. Once it was working, it was a delight. The unit’s own microphone captured my voice without error, with a ‘Hey Siri’ allowing all functions to work. That is, within the limitations of Siri being aware that it’s in a car. For example, when I asked Siri to “show me the way” to the nearby shopping mall, he (he has a British male voice on my wife’s iPhone, which I guess says something) refused because I was in a car. So I had to ask him to “give me directions to” the mall, and he was happy to oblige. The standard items on the main CarPlay screen were Phone, Music, Maps, Messages, Now Playing, Main Menu (that takes you back to Alpine’s main screen), Podcasts and Audiobooks. Each of those just hooks into the matching apps on the iPhone. There are several other audio apps that also work with CarPlay, such as Stitcher for Podcasts, Audible for one of the largest collection of purchasable audio books, and VOX for higher quality audio playback, including support for the FLAC audio format. But the standard Music app is what most people will use, and that worked fine. And it worked well with Siri, playing music to my voice commands. Using a wired connection for CarPlay is going to help your phone’s battery of course. But Alpine’s special ability here is that you can

pair the phone so it does all this via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and conveniently does so automatically when you get in the vehicle with a previouslypaired iPhone.


KENWOOD DNX9170DABS

HEAD UNIT OF THE YEAR OVER $1500

MULTIMEDIA HEAD UNIT

AWARDS REVIEWER MARTY PRICE

This is the second year Kenwood has taken our award for the higher price category of head units. Bitter pill though it may be for our esteemed European and American colleagues to swallow, when talking high-end receivers, the Japanese brands continue to perform brilliantly, though it’s fair to say Kenwood hasn’t always been the crown bearer. It was last year when the tenacious company hit the ground running with a range of receivers that were approaching flawlessness, and judging from this year’s DNX9170DABS receiver, it seems Kenwood has no plans to vacate said throne anytime soon.

KING KEN Literally designed to be king of receivers, the DNX9170DABS is an impressive number to behold. Capable of handling everything audio and visual it inherently has a feature and ability

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repertoire nothing short of amazing. Putting it succinctly, it’s a magnificent marriage of ability, performance and flexibility – an incredible amount of technology packed into a doubleDIN chassis. Input methodology-wise the primary asset is of course the disc mechanism. It floats via a highly effective suspension arrangement that’s able to prevent all but the nastiest shocks impacting upon operations. It handles all the primary types of the plastic hardware such as CD, VCD and DVD while on the software side will accept all the standard acronyms such as MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV, FLAC and Vorbis for audio and MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, WMV, H.264, MKV, JPEG, BMP, PNG for visual. Files need to be structured using the usual FAT16, FAT32, exFAT or NTFS format protocols. Upon the rear exists more analogue and digital inputs including twin high voltage, high

speed version 2.0 USB inputs, auxiliary audio visual composite inputs, 3.5mm jack, front and rear camera inputs where the reverse can be configured to auto trigger and to display guiding lines. Alternatively you can plumb in Kenwood’s DRV-N520 dash camera if preferred. Last but not least there’s a microphone input and steering wheel remote control port. On the wireless side of operations there’s both analogue and digital radio tuner chips; analogue offering 18 FM presets and AM offering six, and DAB offering a multitude of preset slots for the numerous stations within each of the DAB bands. Also on board is a Bluetooth 3.0 chipset handling both information streaming and telephony, via multiple phones if necessary. The unit also employs both Android Auto and CarPlay, with the operating system prerequisite for Android platforms being 5.0 ‘Lollipop’ or later. A similar prerequisite exists for Apple


AFTER GIG PARTY With the sound tuned and ready for exportation; the output options start with 5-volt front, rear and subwoofer RCA pre-outs. If you’re not using amplifiers there is also an internally mounted MOSFET amplifier which can output 22 watts continuously or 50 watts maximum at 4-ohms, with distortion staying well below acceptable industry standards. Naturally there’s the full gambit of analogue audio visual outputs intrinsic to the design including the ability to supply and control separately the rear seat entertainment. The Garmin navigation package comes via SD card and includes regular features

such as voice guidance, text to speech ability, high resolution two or three dimensional maps with landmarks included in the display and a searchable point of interest database resembling a phone book. Going beyond the basics, the unit also includes abilities like traffic information, junction view with lane assist and intelligent parking assist. Positioning is superb thanks to the situating software employing multiple satellite channels to locate you with pinpoint accuracy. Attractiveness personified is the DNX9170DABS – it’s a beautifully presented design. It’s finished with a piano black trim which surrounds a bright LED backlit 7-inch anti-reflective TFT touch screen boasting a 16:9 ratio

WVGA resolution of 1,152,000 pixels or 2400 x 480. It deals with both NTSC and PAL and when the anti-aliasing software is combined with just the right combination of sharpness, contrast and brightness the image is comparable to that of a home theatre panel. Underneath the screen reside the primary controls and their illumination colour can be altered to match your car. Likewise the wallpaper can also be changed to suit your personal preference. The face position can be set at various angles, all the way through to a reverse position of -10.2-degrees. Despite first appearances, installing the unit and setting it up is not too daunting. Sure there are a lot of components included in the box, however, you don’t need to fit them all because Kenwood has continued with its plug’n’play loom system thereby allowing you to omit the ones you’re not using. Other goodies include various looms all colour coded and clearly labelled, an IR remote control, navigation SD card, face surround, numerous aerials and the external microphone. With the unit installed I began by first devoting a significant chunk of time to tuning it – it’s suggested you do likewise. Kenwood put a lot of effort into getting that level of aural manipulation ability into the deck; make full use of it. People are often shocked here at how good we get systems sounding post tuning and,

to be honest, we’ll confess it’s not because we’re genii. If you use DSP receivers of this ilk to their potential you’ll achieve great things. Control wise the unit is easy to use with menu schemas being logically set out. Auditioning started with the standard zero noise track to test for system noise. As one would expect, the DNX9170DABS is very quiet thanks to its high voltage pre-out being conducive to low gain positions further down the line. Moving to the dynamic sinusoidal stuff, the unit handles tasks with deceptive ease thanks to the combination of DSP and DAC chipsets performing amicably. The overall output is linear, devoid of artificial level boosting at either end of the frequency spectrum and its sound is natural and balanced in a very real sense. The face on the other hand is equally agreeable, with information being displayed in superb detail, especially when playing movies. Speed is all but a non-event, with the unit reacting quickly to requests without lag windows spanning multiple seconds.

CONCLUSION Topping the best receivers in the world is no straightforward feat. It’s something that takes a tremendous level of ability and skill, and indeed Kenwood has done exactly that in order to remain on the throne for another year.

KENWOOD DNX9170DABS MULTIMEDIA HEAD UNIT TYPE: Double-DIN receiver FEATURES: 7-inch TFT screen, 24-/32-bit DAC, DSP, 5V pre-outs, CarPlay, Android Auto, Air Mirroring, Bluetooth, GPS navigation, DAB plus multiple audio visual inputs and outputs POWER HANDLING: 4 x 22 watts continuous, 4 x 50 maximum (4 ohms) COST: $1949 standalone, or $2299 with DRV-N520 dash camera CONTACT: JVCKenwood Australia on 02 8879 2222 WEB: www.kenwood.com.au

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TECH SPECS

devices, in that they must have a later operating system installed. You simply select which system you’re using when initializing the unit and from there you are then able to access a whole range of secondary tier abilities to which you can manipulate via the head unit. Android users can also further this ability by employing a function call Air Mirroring, whereby allowing you to seamlessly display your Android apps on screen and enjoy two way interactions with them minus the usual clutter of cables. With sound securely on board you’ll no doubt want to manipulate it, ergo Kenwood has provided an extensive digital sound processing suite enabling you to combat your troublesome acoustic environment and attain the best possible sound from it. Starting with a 24/32-bit DAC and basic fader, balance and loudness controls; from here the operation is bolstered to incorporate a 13-band graphic equaliser with frequency centres set at 62.5Hz, 100Hz, 160Hz, 250Hz, 400Hz, 630Hz, 1kHz, 1.6kHz, 2.5kHz, 4kHz, 6.3kHz, 10kHz and 16kHz with a gain adjustment from -9dB to +9dB. Also located within this section are a bass booster called bass EXT and -50dB to +10dB subwoofer level control. As far as a crossover, the satellite channels feature a high-pass which is settable incrementally between 30Hz to 250Hz and, depending on what configuration you’ve selected, you’ll have first-order 6dB through to fourthorder 24dB slopes in 6dB increments for 2-way, or 6dB through to 12dB in 3-way mode. The subwoofer channels feature similar frequency centres but as a low-pass, in addition to a 0 degree or 180 degree phase switch. The time alignment section provides up to 6.1m distance delay on each channel and for a little extra control you’re also able to adjust speakers’ individual levels between -8dB and +0dB. This feature will prove most handy if you have some highly efficient speakers you need to attenuate. The unit is also preloaded with numerous presets to get you by if you’re not overly confident with the whole self-tuning gig.


HERTZ H8 DSP DIGITAL PROCESSOR

AWARDS

PROCESSOR OF THE YEAR

REVIEWER MARTY PRICE

Processors are ever more important to the incar audio equation, preparing the variety of input signals, including those from factory-install units, but then delivering the highest of quality outputs to your amplifiers and speakers. And Hertz, along with its sister company Audison under the Elletromedia umbrella, undoubtedly leads the way. Indeed our fellow EISA members voted the Audison bit HD as the EISA Incar Processor of the Year for 2016-7, and those who read our last issue will have seen not one but two stunning installations which put the Audison very much centre of their systems. But for 2017-8 EISA recognised the Hertz H8 DSP in the category of Incar Integration, calling it “the DSP to beat all rivals”. And we’re delighted to agree with them in these, our own awards. And although Hertz correctly eschews any suggestion of the term ‘rebadged’, given the shared DNA there is certainly a family resemblance between the H8 DPS and the Audison bit Ten D. Hertz has logically used the latter as a starting point - given its success they’d be crazy to start entirely from scratch. However as you look closer you notice the

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similarities taper off, as the H8 DSP is no mere rehash. In actuality this is a redeveloped platform freshly designed to take up the fight against those persistent laws of physics without avowing to take up a fight with your bank account as well.

PROCESS & CONTROL The task of getting our music to the point of being enjoyable can be herculean, processors therefore spending their entire lives catering for us, taking the raw signal and, akin to an Ikea flat pack, disassembling the sound, cleaning and correcting little aspects sometimes to the point of almost reconstructing it before presenting it back with a cherry on top for us the discerning listener. At the risk of overdoing the metaphors you take my point, in that while it’s inherently still the same raw music ‘material’ that’s coming in as is going out, the car’s interior will always inflict absolute havoc upon it. Unfortunately, every car is different, as are the conundrums they present. Therefore it’s paramount that your processor has the ability to overcome and remedy every one of them.

Taking it from the top, then, the H8 DSP is a software-based platform controlled primarily via your PC through USB. Input-wise analogue and digital both feature, the former by way of four independent channels of input. Independent in that they can be configured to match whatever your source is outputting. These can accept either high-level 2V to 15V speaker-level input or low level 0.6V to 5V linelevel input. Adjacent to these is a pair of linelevel auxiliary inputs. The digital side of the equation comes care of an S/PDIF 96kHz/24-bit optical input connection. Residing within the input plug also are the fundamental power, earth and remote wires, the latter of which can be programed to trigger with a delay of up to 60000ms which will all but eradicate any pops. On the other end are the outputs of which there are eight individually assignable pre-outs capable of up to 4V, thus ensuring you have a strong and clean signal. Moving into the digital realm, central to the H8 DSP is a 32-bit/147Mhz clock speed Cirrus Logic DSP chip which works in cahoots with A/D and D/A converters operating with


CROSSING OVER Snuggling up next to the crossover are the output gain controls which are imperative if you’re running components actively because no two speaker types ever quite output the same volume, especially if they possess differing impedances. Attenuation ability ranges from 0dB down to -40dB in 0.5dB increments and this section also houses the mute controls for each channel which is mighty handy for confirming channel mapping or assessing individual speaker issues.

Much of the lower portion of the GUI is consumed by the section many will argue is the most important for good sound – the equaliser. Although graphic, it does offer independent third octave options between 20Hz to 20000Hz with a boost or attenuation figure of ±12dB at increments of 0.5dB. Besides being displayed numerically, adjustments are also clearly represented via a response graph just north of the sliders. Crossover points can also be displayed via this area, providing for a very clear visual plot of what’s happening for any specific channel. There’s also a global reset and option to bypass the equaliser altogether. Now the haters will immediately exclaim that it’s not fully parametric and, yes, there are various other idiosyncratic controls omitted too. However, as someone who’s tuned literally thousands of systems hitherto I can assure you that in the hands of an experienced tuner the H8 DSP will easily achieve similar success to many other processors at three times the price. This is the genius of Hertz personified; it has meticulously chosen what functionality to include and what to omit in order to rein the costs in – and it’s chosen wisely. The result is that the H8 DSP is just as capable as most other DSPs, though nevertheless still comparatively inexpensive when juxtaposed with said competition. Physically its external appearance is not dissimilar to the bit Ten D, in that it’s super clean and finished with a steel case that’s been powder coated in gunmetal grey. It’s a fairly diminutive unit, measuring just 131mm x 191mm with a height of just 34mm meaning it’ll neatly install into all manner of constrictive places. All inputs and outputs are clearly labelled atop and residing with these are the sensitivity potentiometers for controlling input gain along with a warning light which alerts you if the signal is pushed into clipping. Clearly innovative is the fact that many of the controls can also be made via various jumper switches located upon the unit’s side and there’s also the option of plumbing in an independent, not to mention very classy looking digital remote control, or simply ‘DRC HE’ as is

known colloquially. Fast forwarding to audition day; I was predicting a long and somewhat mediocre day of installing and tuning before finally getting to enjoy my toil. However, when installing and setting up the H8 DSP it’s anything but. Everything is very straightforward, so much so that messing up either the installation or setup is a challenge to say the least. Hertz has spent a fair while developing and evolving the platform in order to allow just about anyone to install and tune their car. Although it’s fair to say that you’ll still likely need to consult a professional that’s armed with an oscilloscope and real time analyser in order to net the best results. As far as linearity, I tuned the system to the standard Fletcher-Munson curve and, can it be said that, when getting the stage and image just right via the time alignment, that real time adjustment is near on perfect, adjusting the sound immediately with little audible interruption.

CONCLUSION Installed, tuned and happily operating, the H8 DSP outputs a clean and competently manipulated sound, introducing little if any noise even when the gains are raised to absolute maximum. The interface is a pleasure, clearly presented by Hertz. And when you hit that ‘bypass’ button, you’ll be absolutely astounded at the monumental improvement the H8 DSP makes to the listening environment and aural atmosphere of any system, no matter what the components. This world of difference is what makes the Hertz a winner.

HERTZ H8 DSP DIGITAL PROCESSOR TYPE: Software based digital processor FEATURES: Multiple digital and analogue inputs and outputs, 31-band graphic equaliser, adjustable crossovers, timealignment, levels, digital remote control ready POWER HANDLING: 4 x 50 watts continuous COST: $849 CONTACT: Clarion Australia on 03 8558 1115 WEB: www.hertzaudiovideo.com

www.avhub.com.au

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TECH SPECS

a pulse code modulation speed of 24-bit/ 48kHz. The processing functions are microcontrolled in pre-configured blocks meaning there’s next to zero impact on the software performance as it’s being employed, thus ensuring you can hear your changes in real time as they’re affected. Ancillary performance specifications are also very impressive and encompass a total harmonic distortion of 0.005 percent which is conducive to that wave profile staying true to form. Signal to noise ratio hovers between 95dB for analogue and 105dB for digital meaning inherent hiss and colouration is kept to a minimum during operation, as is channel bleeding thanks to a superb separation figure of 85dB. Upon initial fire-up you’re presented with the principal graphic user interface which allows you to configure the inputs and outputs via a set-up matrix, including acutely deequalising the factory system if necessary. The GUI is a global design, in that you can control the majority of things from the one screen rather than having to tab through endless displays as various other processors do. The input and output channel map are displayed in both diagrammatic and list form meaning you can select what channels to work with by either clicking around the vehicle or selecting from the list. Adjacent is the crossover section which displays information relevant to the channel(s) you’ve opted to work with. All eight outputs can have low-pass, high-pass, band-pass or through-pass assigned with frequency centre options set approximately at 6th octave intervals. Slope options are first through fourth order intrinsic to the selected slope logarithms, which can be either Linkwitz with 0dB gain at the cross point or Butterworth with 3dB. Put simply, if you cannot get your speakers to gel coherently with the options presented here then something’s amiss. Nestled amongst the crossover settings are the time delay controls and again individual channels can be manipulated via either time or distance. Options range from 0ms to 15ms at 0.05ms increments for time or 0cm to 510cm in approximately 2.8cm increments for distance. This section also contains the phase controls for each channel, changeable between 0- and 180-degrees.


DIAMOND AUDIO HX600.4 4-CHANNEL AMPLIFIER

AWARDS

AMPLIFIER OF THE YEAR UNDER $1000 REVIEWER MARTY PRICE

Diamond Audio (or simply Diamond as it is colloquially known) arrived on the scene a quarter-century ago, back then offering only component speakers and without any reputation to recommend them to customers. It didn’t take long for word to get around, however, as it went around decimating the competition scene with its wares. Diamond struck while the iron was hot, expanding its stable to subwoofers and ultimately power amplifiers. The performance and build standard remained impressive throughout, and today Diamond showcases these traits with its flagship components, the acclaimed Hex series, incorporating everything from component speakers and subwoofers through to amplifi-

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ers, among which this mighty HX600.4 amplifier proved itself on our test benches as worthy of taking our crown in this category. An astute performer, it successfully blends impressive power, efficiency and ancillary figures with a small footprint and a modest asking price. Class-wise it operates with a digital switching Class-D topology, offering 160 watts continuously from its four satellite channels when measured at 4 ohms. These figures rise significantly to 250 watts when the channels are loaded down to 2 ohms, and running the channels bridged will return you a mammoth 500 watts continuously for each pair at 4 ohms. As if that’s not intimidating enough; it does so with a total harmonic distortion of

just 0.06 percent and signal-to-noise ratio of -80dBA thus ensuring it plays quietly so far as induced hiss and artefacts are concerned. Cone deceleration is aptly controlled thanks to a damping factor over 250, while reciprocal speed and dynamic integrity is overseen via an impressive slew rate. Succinctly speaking, the HX600.4 represents an extraordinary marriage of grunt and fidelity, an art form often lost on many manufacturers today. While many companies can produce amplifiers capable of shattering eardrums, they often overlook the ancillary specifications to their own peril; as the ensuing sound is comparable to that of a un-tuned sistrum. Thankfully, Diamond’s obsessive nature has


DIAMOND BRILLIANCE Removing the steel bottom plate to eyeball the internals is an equally rewarding experience as Diamond has attained quite the reputation

for masterful amplifier design. The HX600.4 is no different; the design starting with a four layer glass epoxy circuit board bolted firmly in place. Upon this resides an array of high quality componentry starting with a cluster of 25v/2200uf Samwha stiffening capacitors placed right behind the power input to smoothen the voltage. From here the power is shunted through two large air core transformers for voltage step up before moving to the 50v/2200uf Zhuohao power storage capacitors. Here the charge lays dormant until required, upon which point it’s fed through to a multitude of transistors that are firmly clamped along the rear wall of the heat sink – this is the most efficient location thermally speaking. Logically the power capacitors, transistors and just about anything else intrinsic to power has been kept well away from any signal handling components. Not only are these located up the other end, they also live on their own completely separate circuit board. The omission of a cooling fan may raise an eyebrow or two, however, being Class-D in design dictates that it shouldn’t experience the kind of heat its Class-A/B comrades are forced to endure. Installing the unit is straightforward enough thanks to the apropos combination of small size, smart terminal layout and clear labelling. Included in the box are basic tools and mounting hardware in addition to an instruction manual. The amplifier comes packed in a neat cloth bag to keep greasy finger prints away from that superb case. Before reaching its test car destination the HX600.4 first had a date with the test bench. Not that I dared to doubt Diamond Audio, you understand, but no matter how you paint it that’s quite an audacious power claim given the amplifier’s price and diminutive proportions. After a good half an hour of happily ‘fiddling around’, for want of a technical term, I can report she’s certainly got the horsepower where it counts! Metaphors aside, it’s one menacing little powerhouse, with current to boot. It’s a quiet little operator too, remaining all but hiss-less until near on full tilt is reached with the gain potentiometers. So far so good, the first two tests equating to two ticks on my clipboard. Just reiterating why I was somewhat apprehensive; you need to understand that here we have an amplifier claiming to possess power in droves, with enviable control statistics and all for

a price south of four figures. Put simply this combination is plain unheard of. So I was understandably circumspect as I moved from the test bench to the car for some real world testing. The test bench is one thing, but how would it handle a solid day’s worth of cruising around working? Would it really be the performer proclaimed or would she stumble at the last hurdle? It’s was time to find out. Oscilloscopes and real time analysers beeped, gains were wound back down and the processor feeding it was tuned. I spent a good hour idly running through the usual suspects of test music genres before moving onto general cruising music. One thing straight up; it’s a tenacious little number. Not only does all that ability equate to a performance that’s bedrock solid, it’s also measured and controlled in every sense of the words. Rather than threatening to kick you in the groin at any moment, the HX600.4 instead retains complete authority over the music no matter what you ask of it, and no matter the volume. Even at full tilt it continues to provide linear and articulate sound across the entire 10Hz to 35kHz response range, albeit we’re unable to appreciate the upper third of this.

CONCLUSION Quality, power and price — when dealing with amplification the norm dictates that you’re restricted to any two of these three criteria. In this case that norm is broken. The HX600.4 nails all three with aplomb.

DIAMOND AUDIO HX600.4 4-CHANNEL AMPLIFIER TYPE: Class-D 4-channel amplifier POWER RATING: 4 x 160 watts at 4 ohms, 4 x 250 watts at 2 ohms continuous FEATURES: Adjustable crossovers, bass boost, input shunting COST: $949 CONTACT: Audio Group WEB: www.diamondcaraudio.com.au

www.avhub.com.au

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TECH SPECS

put paid to this conundrum, ensuring this new design can deliver performance aplenty. The instantly recognisable element of the design is that it exudes smoothness via its stark appearance. Not that Diamond has ever made a bad looking amplifier but this new look and feel has placed the Hex range well and truly ahead of the amplifier peloton so far as aesthetics are concerned. The unit is enshrouded in a solid cast aluminium case that’s anodised in copper. Serving as the primary heat sink, this magnetically inert case also offers serious protection for the components residing within. Boasting a footprint of just 195mm by 302mm with a height of just 51.5mm, it’s anything but a titanic affair. Clearly labelled and plated terminals line the front edge and they are recessed for protection. These include 4AWG power and earth terminals in addition to speaker terminals able to accept up to 10AWG cable. On the signal input side of the equation the amp features balanced differential inputs and although space won’t permit me to fully expand upon this concept, put simply, the amplifier measures and compares the positive pin impedance to that of the negative shield before using this and other criteria in order to recreate an input signal which in theory does not suffer from noise and ground loops. Not to be confused with fully balanced connections the likes of professional audio equipment, balanced differential inputs are conducive to a far cleaner input signal regardless of whether you’re feeding it with high level or low level voltage. There’s also a full range line output if you desire to feed signal to an adjoining amplifier. Removing the front portion of the top plate gives access to the primary controls, which range from the mandatory gain for each channel pairing in addition to a fourth order high- or low-pass crossover settable between 40Hz and 400Hz. There’s also a small clip warning light in addition to a 0dB to 18dB bass boost ability centred at 45Hz. The amplifier is also switchable between 2- and 4-channel modes, meaning if you only have one pair of RCA interconnects you can still feed all four channels the same signal.


FOCAL FPX 5.1200 FIVE-CHANNEL AMPLIFIER

AWARDS REVIEWER MARTY PRICE

HIGHLY COMMENDED AMPLIFIER UNDER $1000 The silver rather than gold on this page indicates this to be a Highly Commended award — indeed the only such award in our incar categories of the Sound+Image Awards this year. It’s no indication of second-class status, rather that after the winner had been chosen, the judges simply weren’t prepared to let this superb amplifier pass by without recognition of some sort, and it’s for just such occasions that our Highly Commended status is reserved. Focal’s FPX stable boasts many a configuration, and on page 22 you’ll see the subwoofer amplifier from this range take out our Mono Amplifier of the Year. But if it’s a full four-channel plus sub system you’re looking to power, the FPX5.1200 combines all the important facets, boasting superb power and efficiency, a small footprint, impressive performance specs and not too alarming

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a price tag; it’s one little power-house to be reckoned with. And indeed the specs of that subwoofer channel are in line with the awardw-inning mono amplifier, so here you’re pretty much getting two award-winners in the one box. The French company — famous also in the hi-fi world for two-channel speakers which range from cost-effective designs up to the quarter-million-dollar price bracket — was intending to make an iterative change to its highly successful FPS automotive range, give it an aesthetic makeover and implement some technical updates. I suspect, however, that Focal is afflicted with a condition that might be labelled ‘techno OCD’. For not long after the project was initiated, the rejig evolved into a major rework covering just about everything from look and feel through to class and power. The efforts did not go to waste. The result is a

new FPX range that looks absolutely stunning, and comes with power to match.

HIGH FIVE Using ‘digital’ switching Class-D topology, the FPX5.1200 is a quintuple-channel amplifier, outputting 75 watts continuously from its four satellite channels when measured at four ohms, while the subwoofer channel outputs 420 watts at four ohms. When loaded down these figures rise substantially, to 120 watts per satellite channel and 720 watts on the subwoofer channel respectively. However if you’re planning on taking the latter impedance path, ensure you have adequate airflow for cooling, because she can get a tad warm and you don’t want to dehydrate the caps over time. Total harmonic distortion remains at 0.03%, this measured at a healthy volume too, rather


than at near-on idle as some less scrupulous manufacturers quote. Damping factor likewise stays quite high, thus ensuring controlled cone deceleration, while a decent slew rate ensures controlled reciprocation speed and accuracy. A signal-to-noise ratio of 75dB affords the ability to play fairly quietly so far as induced hiss and artefacts go. Just a word on power ratings before we move on — as some have queried how Focal arrived at those output points. It’s actually a perplexing conundrum deciding what power output a new amplifier design is to afford, not only because you don’t know what subwoofer the end-user intends to marry up to it, but also because you have other external considerations such as fiscal restrictions and real estate requirements. Sure, five figures of power output in conjunction with an equally imposing pricetag is fine — right up until you actually try to sell one. Focal being no Johnny-come-lately, and at the risk of overusing my clichés, this not being its first rodeo, it has carefully chosen the power output point, and this becomes self-evident when you begin to deal with as many subwoofers as this author does. The vast majority of subwoofer motors tend to hover within a certain band of power

requirement, and most five-channel amplifiers tend to be either woefully inadequate or else titanically overpowered for what this band stipulates. Therefore Focal wisely chose the aforementioned 400 to 700 watt region, as it’s right slap bang in the middle of what ninety-nine percent of subwoofers require. It’s almost as though it’s done this whole amplifier gig before...

MAKING THE CONNECTION

PERFORMANCE When the time comes to install the FPX5.1200, you quickly discover that given its diminutive proportions it fits in all matter of places you probably didn’t consider previously. I had mine jammed down within the confines of a side trim panel, vertically to allow cool air to flow along the heat sink. Focal also seeks to make your life easier by including clearly labelled instructions along with various tools and mounting hardware.

As always the auditioning process began long before the unit made it to the test car, with the first check upon the test-bench being that of the zero-noise track. The amplifier is not what you call completely hiss-free, but even at full tilt the hiss is minimal. Overall it’s one very quiet design, despite having plenty of power on tap, a real credit to the Focal designers. Getting to the car, I set up the unit with the oscilloscope before grabbing my music and heading out on the road. The delivery of sound proved most articulate, with the satellite channels remaining very clear and controlled even when pushed. Despite the fact they may not look as titanic as some on paper, rest assured there is still plenty of grunt, more than enough to aggrieve your ears. The subwoofer channel, likewise — its output is solid, defined and accurate, and all five channels display an impressive level of linearity combined with minimal distortion over their entire 10Hz to 20kHz bandwidth, even when pushed right to the brink. Naturally physics dictates that there is an upper limit; however if you feel the need to continually approach said point then perhaps look to the well-proven combination of Focal’s FPX1.1000 and FPX4.800 pairing instead.

CONCLUSION Overall the FPX5.1200 is one very solid performer, offering a rich blend of overall tonality, control and precision. Focal goes to great pains to explain that if you’re looking to hit the lofty heights of 180dB… well then perhaps look elsewhere. But if you’re in the market for an amplifier that’ll vastly improve both the quality and volume of your listening experience, without consuming half your boot or bank account, well then, this is the unit for you.

FOCAL FPX 5.1200 AMPLIFIER TYPE: Class-D five-channel amplifier POWER: Continuous power rating 4 x 75W + 1 x 420W @ 4 ohm, 4 x 120W + 1 x 700W @ 2 ohm FEATURES: Adjustable crossovers, bass boost, phase control, input shunting & remote level controller COST: $899 CONTACT: Focal WEB: www.focalaustralia.com.au

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TECH SPECS

Turning to the presentation, the FPX5.1200 is an ultra-clean design — refreshing because, as much as I love Focal, the previous FPS range looked more like a Star Trek prop than a power amplifier. The new design uses an outer extruded aluminium case, anodised black for a very professional look. As mentioned the dimensions are anything but large, measuring a mere 337mm x 176mm with a height of 57mm, and a weight of 4100g. These physical dimensions take into account the plated terminal blocks recessed into the ends for protection too. At the business end are 4AWG power and earth terminals along with the operational LEDs and five sets of speaker outputs able to

accept up to 10AWG cable. The other end of the unit is home to the three plated RCA input pairings, which can be routed in various configurations by switch, depending on how many inputs you have at your disposal. Aural controls also reside here starting with the mandatory gain pot for each channel pairing. Crossover-wise on the satellite channels there’s a switchable low or high pass which can be set between 50Hz and 500Hz, while on the subwoofer channel there’s a 50Hz–250Hz low pass crossover, 10Hz–50Hz subsonic filter for ported applications, 0dB–12dB bass boost ability centred at 45Hz, in addition to the critical phase adjustment allowing 0° through to 180° (which is infinitely superior to 0° or 180°). Last but not least this end is also home to a remote input port, with the remote control and cable being supplied in the box. Removing the bottom plate for an eyeball is a rewarding experience, as Focal has garnered quite the reputation for its mastery of amplifier design over the years. The FPX5.1200’s internal topology is wonderfully laid out upon a glistening blue PCB, and starts out with stiffening in the form of a quadruplet of 25V/2200uF caps. From there the power is shunted through a large aircore transformer for step-up, the newly raised voltage then being stored within six 50V/1500uF power capacitors, including a reserve for those occasions where a little more supporting current is required. Power is expelled courtesy of twin rows of highly efficient output transistors. Thermally speaking the layout sees the power input stage, power storage area, stepup transformers and output stage placed in thermally efficient locations, with the FETs literally clamped hard against the outer case to draw heat away from them. The power components are also kept well away from any signal handling, thus being less conducive to induced noise.


HELIX H 400X FOUR-CHANNEL AMPLIFIER

AWARDS

AMPLIFIER OF THE YEAR OVER $1000 REVIEWER MARTY PRICE

While we don’t believe we’ve ever found such a thing as a ‘bad’ Helix product in any of the types it offers — speakers, subwoofers, processors — the speciality of this audacious yet modest company is certainly amplification, and it’s a pleasure that the pricing doesn’t put these products out of reach. Indeed given that this awards category has no price ceiling, it’s doubly impressive that this wonderful amplifier came to the market only a ton above the price break from the lower category. We love the look, with its tech all on display, and the eye-popping specs are an immediate stand-out for this unit. Of course, you can’t rely on specs alone — some companies publish specifications, others offer what might be better called ‘specifiction’. But the performance here backs up the promises, and there’s also some very clever technology implemented in the Helix H 400X, especially where power delivery is concerned.

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SWITCHING THINGS UP At a time when so many amplifiers are switching (pun intended) to Class-D amplification with its high-efficiency and low heat operation, Helix fully appreciates the merits of more traditional circuits. Class-A is conducive to the warmest and purest sound, but is extremely inefficient, drawing an ongoing flow of amperes even at idle. Put simply, you might enjoy a warm sound, but only until the amplifier causes an in-car brownout. So the H 400X uses Class-A only in its low-power circuitry, combining extremely fast MOSFET driver circuits operating in Class-A operation combined with enormously load-stable, power-potent ‘afterburners’ (as the company refers to its bipolar technology power stage). With only a little bias current flowing through the output transistors when there is no audio signal waveform, the overall result is more efficient than Class A, yet enjoys a similarly warm-sounding output.

As for those specifications, it’s not so much the sheer power levels as the quoted distortion levels that amaze. The H 400X is a four-channel design with each channel outputting 70 watts continuously when presented with a four-ohm load. Loading it down to two ohms will equate to upping the power output to 140 watts per channel, while bridging the channels will return you 250 watts at four ohms. If you load it down to two ohms bridged, you’ll double this figure… however if you find yourself needing to load it down like that, can I suggest you get yourself an SPXL1000 monoblock instead? Now grip something firm. The power comes with a total harmonic distortion of 0.009%. That’s lower than a lot of hi-fi stereo amplifiers which costs tens of thousands of dollars. Next up we deal with undesirable cone movement and to that end the damping factor is over 300, remembering that we humans cannot detect much difference over 50. Reciprocal accuracy is maintained thanks to an impressive slew


40V/3900µf power capacitors, before being shunted through to two lines of bipolar output transistors clamped along the heat sink for maximum thermal dissipation.

providing you with an honest listening experience rather than hammering you blindly into submission completely oblivious to anything relating to quality...

KING OF DETAIL

CONCLUSION

Installation is hard to mess up, as is setting the gains if you’re handy with an oscilloscope. I ended up with the gains a tad above zero, raised ever so slightly to match my processor’s output voltage. Not surprisingly it passed the zero-noise test with flying colours, and in actuality you can set it well past three-quarters on the gain potentiometers before any appreciable level of hiss presents itself. That’s dealing in sine waves though. Where the unit really shines is when you start playing actual music through it. If you’ve owned anything Helix previously, you’ll already be accustomed to its signature sound. But if this is your first foray into the brand, then rest assured you’re in for a real treat. It’s not so much the volume that’s staggering but the sheer tonal control and astute accuracy. You hear far more detail in your music than that provided by almost any other brand of amplifier. No matter the genre, be it the dulcet tones of a pipe organ through to the shrill screech of a Charvel guitar, the H 400X is scarily truthful and exact to the point of lifelikeness. Linearitywise the output is also extremely smooth, as it concentrates more upon the business of

The H 400X was one of those review items which brought on “reviewer’s curse” where we feel genuinely despondent as we prepare to remove it again. So much does this Helix bring to the musical experience. If there’s anyone still out there who thinks the amplifier is almost incidental to system performance, well, try swapping out your existing unit for these. The Helix H 400X will update your opinion.

TECH SPECS

rate of 7V/µs and channels are kept separated with very little cross-bleed thanks to a separation figure of 85dB. Operational noise is kept to a bare minimum thanks to a signal-to-noise ratio of over 100dB, and the overall operational frequency range is a sensible 20Hz to 20kHz. There’s more than the specs to please the eyes, of course, as akin with many Helix products the H 400X is stunningly presented, and utilises a delectable blend of aluminium and Perspex to great effect. The majority of the case is extruded aluminium, anodised black. It retains relatively small dimensions, with a footprint of 200mm x 336mm, and height of just 32mm, meaning that finding real estate for it is straightforward. The top of the unit is covered by a clear smoked Perspex cover, and why not? When you have an internal topology like this, the last thing you want to do is hide it. This cover not only allows you to see what’s inside but also doubles as protection for both the internals and connections it overhangs at each end. At the north end of the amplifier are gold-plated power, earth and RCA input terminals, in addition to the channel routing switches. At the other end are the four gold-plated speaker output terminals and half the audio controls, the other half being accessible through the top plate itself. The switch locations on the top govern the crossover configuration between high, low or through-pass, while the four potentiometers on the end control the crossover frequency, which is adjustable between 15Hz and 4kHz. Crossover slopes are second order with a Q logarithm of 0.7. The sensitivity controls are also located upon the top plate, up the other end adjacent to the RCA inputs. With the internals on display for all to see, laid out like a Canberra street directory, do let’s delve into them further. The H 400X is a masterclass in intelligent amplifier design, chock full of high-quality goodies, an electrical odyssey starting with a bank of six capacitors to stiffen and smoothen the incoming voltage before it’s fed into twin toroid-core transformers for step-up to a final voltage of ±27V. Power is stored ready for usage in twin

HELIX H 400X AMPLIFIER TYPE: Class-AB four-channel amplifier POWER: Continuous power rating 4 x 75W/140W continuous at 4/2 ohm FEATURES: High, low or through-pass crossover COST: $1099 CONTACT: Dynamic Audio WEB: www.avhub.com.au/helix/

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FOCAL FPX1.1000 MONOBLOC AMPLIFIER

AWARDS

MONO AMPLIFIER OF THE YEAR REVIEWER MARTY PRICE

It’s the monobloc subwoofer amp from Focal’s Performance FPX series, which also took out a Highly Commended award (on page 18) with the full five-channel FPX 5.1200. Here the French company takes the win for an amazingly compact yet powerful Class-D monobloc — the FPX1.1000 proves that not all subwoofer power packs need resemble an apartment block in order to achieve their goal. Focal makes ultra-compact models too, but this is hardly a beast at three kilograms, and indeed this latest model delivers thrice the power output of its predecessor, yet with a footprint that’s scarily similar. Such is the tenacious nature of this French marque.

MONO, NEW BLACK Forming part of the esteemed FPX range of amplifiers, the FPX1.1000 is head monobloc of the stable, and is the quintessential modern subwoofer driver, being a high-current Class-D number, its output channel is rated to produce over 420 watts continuously when presented with a 4-ohm load, and 700 watts when faced with a 2-ohm load. One ohm doesn’t frighten it either – offering this load up will result in it returning you just north of 1000 watts, and

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that’s not ‘speci-fiction’ watts either; the unit is rated to CEA-2006 standards. Not bad when you consider we’re talking about an amplifier possessing an insignificant footprint of 297 x 132mm, a height of just 53mm and weight just shy of three kilograms. Unlike some competitors able to reach the coveted four-figure realm, the FPX1.1000 actually performs this happily, supported as it is by robust internal components. A quartet of 2200µf/25V Samwha stiffening capacitors smooth the voltage before it’s transferred to an enormous air-core transformer for step up. From here the now raised voltage is transported to six 1500µf/50V Samwha power capacitors for storage. From this vast storage area the power is then shunted through to 20 audiophile-grade MOSFETS; these transistors hammer the power out with aplomb when the need arises. They’re lined along either side of the heatsink, well-placed to allow for maximum thermal dissipation when the heat is on. Naturally with this level of current pulsing around careful consideration had to be given to ensuring all signal handling components were kept well clear. To that end, the control elements are placed at the other end, as

far away as physically possible given the amplifier’s diminutive dimensions. As a Class-D design, this Focal amplification returns an efficiency hovering around the 80 to 90 percent region, with the remaining being turned to heat because, as you’ll no doubt remember from high school physics, that energy cannot be eradicated but only converted. Despite the slightly higher distortion levels common from Class-D amplifiers, the FPX1.1000 still manages to return an impressive total harmonic distortion of 0.08%. Frequency response is a suitable 15Hz–250Hz; signal-to-noise ratio is above 76dBA. Damping factor is of equally critical importance when talking subwoofer amplifiers because the larger heavier cones of subwoofers are harder to control. Damping factor speaks to the amp’s ability to control the subwoofer’s motor movement, not just acceleration but also the crucial deceleration to the zero point before it begins the opposing side of the music’s sinusoidal wave. It’s this control which delivers accurate, fast and punchy sub-bass reproduction, and a high figure is better than a low one. Calculated nominally by dividing the subwoofer’s


impedance by the output impedance of the amplifier, a figure of 20 is often considered the limit of audibility, and a factor of 40 is common. The FPX1.1000 returns a healthy damping factor of 80.

COSMETICALLY SPEAKING

is packed with quality components appropriate for handling high current demands, all solidly mounted to a thick glass circuit board. Focal include mounting screws, tools and multilingual instructions; the result being a very straightforward installation. With the unit installed, I set the gains with the oscilloscope, noting for the record that the output waveform doesn’t show any significant signs of deterioration until its well into its output range. This is a good sign that the amp is capable of

outputting what it claims, as if the triplet of 30A internal fuses weren’t a dead giveaway. Passing the silence test with flying colours, music performance into four ohms revealed a sound not unlike its appearance — clean, smooth and disciplined. The Focal maintained a very natural and linear sound olaying acoustic notes from the likes of tuba, double bass, pipe organ and cello, and when hammering out electronically enhanced bottom-end notes from genres such as industrial metal, house and techno it was superbly controlled, each note delineated perfectly. And yes, we switched the load to 1 ohm and gave it a serious SPL run. It’s not one to shy away from more demanding volumes. That

said, it does become fairly warm when you’re banging it for extended periods. If you’re in the business of hearing damage, perhaps install a barrel fan nearby.

CONCLUSION One astute little performer, as might perhaps be expected given its creator, yet the final surprise of our award winner is that this level of performance comes at $599. Yes, just $599. You can close your mouth now.

FOCAL FPX1.1000 MONOBLOC AMPLIFIER TYPE: Class-D 1-channel amplifier POWER RATING: 1 x 420/700/1000 at 4/2/1 ohms continuous (CEA-2006 compliant) FEATURES: Adjustable crossover and subsonic filter, bass boost, subsonic filter, pre-outs COST: $599 CONTACT: Focal Australia on 02 9724 6070 WEB: www.focalaustralia.com.au

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TECH SPECS

Focal’s amplifier aesthetics have been a moveable feast over the years. The initial FP range had beautiful brushed aluminium cases which gave them a serious industrial look. Focal then went a little unorthodox with some very enthusiastic designs, reaching their crescendo with the awkward looking FPS units, designs that were, well, fascinating if nothing else. Thankfully, common fashion sense has once again prevailed in the FPX range, their attractive finish giving them the ability to look at home anywhere. The outer case is aluminium extrusion and anodised in black, while the shock-resistant plastic end-caps serve to protect the controls and connection blocks. The northern end is home to all the physical power connections, including 4AWG power and earth input terminals in addition to dual 10AWG speaker output terminals, the latter of which you’ll appreciate if you’re running twin subwoofers with large speaker cables. The power and protection LEDs are also found here, between the two terminal blocks. The southern end is home to the remainder of the connections, starting with both input and output line-level RCA connections, along with a remote port for the bass level controller that’s included in the box. Located adjacent are the aural controls which aside from sensitivity include a 10Hz–50Hz subsonic filter along with a 50Hz–250Hz low pass crossover. Both of these utilise a fourth-order slope instead of the usual second-order slope, 24dB being far better suited to sub-bass crossover duties, lest your subwoofer continues to play well into midbass territory. There’s also a 0dB–12dB bass boost and the very important phase controller. Well aware of its importance, Focal’s phase controller is variable between 0 and 180 degrees, as opposed to just being switchable between the two settings. This makes for a potentially far more successful blending of subwoofer to your front stage. Dismantling the unit for inspection simply necessitates the removal of six screws securing the steel bottom plate, upon which is revealed the superb electronic landscape intrinsic to Focal. Intelligently laid-out, the unit


NEW

HORIZON

Through a successful Kickstarter campaign, the Boston-based company Waylens created the next big thing in automotive technology. Introducing, the Waylens Horizon performance camera system. More than 1600 backers pledged more than US$600,000 for development, and the final product has now moved in to production and has distribution throughout Australia. Not just a dashcam, the Waylens Horizon is a state-of-the-art vehicle performance logger, lap timer and premium video camera for driver and engine performance analysis for automotive, 4WD and motorsport enthusiasts. Some performance loggers on the market need to be professionally installed and can cost thousands of dollars. The Waylens Horizon can deliver most if not all of the functionality of the higher priced units at a fraction of the price. And no professional installation required, as it is a simple windscreen suction-cup mount with a dongle that plugs in to the vehicle’s OBD-II port. The OBD-II transmitter sends performance data to the main unit via Bluetooth. Data such as

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speed, RPM and boost pressure are all recorded as a data file and overlaid on the video. The Horizon also records GPS position, G-force and pitch/roll from sensors within the unit. The main unit is very high quality, with an aluminium casing, 7-element aspherical glass lens, OLED touchscreen display and a large 1/1.8-inch CMOS image sensor with high dynamic range processing. The Horizon records in super-smooth 1080p/60fps video along with high quality stereo audio. It can also drop resolution but up the frame rate to 720p/120fps for slow-motion recording. File storage requires a high endurance Class-10 microSD card – the unit supports up to 128GB cards (not included).

MADE TO SHARE Plus you can share. Want to see who has the fastest 0-100km/h time or the best quarter

mile? Download the Waylens smartphone app and compare times with others around the world. It’s also perfect for race days, with a builtin lap timer utilising the GPS to mark your start point; the Horizon will automatically map and track your laps from start to finish and log your best lap times to share. Laps and 0-100km/h times can be displayed on the OLED screen in real time and also overlaid onto your video. With Wi-Fi enabled, the video footage can be displayed and edited on your phone with the Waylens app, as well as shared to YouTube or the Waylens community. Even more editing capabilities are available via the Waylens desktop software; the included dock makes transfer to your PC or Mac easy. There’s even a remote attachment for the steering wheel to bookmark your favourite moments. The Horizon is available through all major auto accessories and car audio stores, with a RRP of $799. For more product info or to find a dealer near you, contact Neltronics on (08) 9383 7833 or visit www.neltronics.com.au.


ALPINE

X-S69C

2-WAY COMPONENT SPEAKERS

AWARDS

LOUDSPEAKERS OF THE YEAR UNDER $1000

EQUIPMENT The speaker cone is rated at 9 inches by 6 inches (speaker drivers are traditionally measured from their screw holes, not the size of the cone itself) — thus the X-S69C model number. It features what Alpine describes as a ‘Nano-Fibre Woofer Cone’ and its engine uses a neodymium magnet.

Interpreting more of the model number, the ‘C’ stands for component. Which is to say, there’s a tweeter, but instead of being suspended in front of the cone of the larger driver, it’s separate, and so can be placed somewhere on the dashboard. As always, you’re going to get more treble if the tweeter is facing you, the listener, than if it’s firing into your calf from the door or under the dash. The tweeter is a 25mm unit with a carbon graphite dome and neodymium magnet. It comes with its own enclosure, standing 34mm tall and 58mm in diameter. It’s designed for surface mounting. There’s also a separate crossover network, which can be put anywhere it will fit, within the range permitted by the speaker cables. Lots of mounting hardware is included. You can open up the crossover network boxes a little to change some settings, and with little careful squeezing, remove the lid completely. This discloses a PC board with two largish components: a 0.4mH coil and a 100 volt, 3.9 microfarad, 5% tolerance Bennic PMT capacitor. Alpine boasts of using ‘high

grade network components’ for the crossover, without going into details. Bennic capacitors certainly have a reputation for high quality in audio applications. We also noted that the printed circuit board is glued into the case, so it’s not likely to come loose and start rattling around over time. When you slide back the lid of the crossover, two adjustments are available. by moving little square jumpers from one set of two pins to another set. One set of adjustments is to change the level of the tweeter. As delivered it is preset to a reference 0dB, but +3dB and -3dB are available. Chances are you’ll adjust the level with the EQ in your head unit, assuming that most purchasers will have a head unit worthy of speakers like these. The other adjustment allows you to reverse the phase of the tweeter compared to the larger driver. This may help deal with crossover issues, potentially unpredictable given that Alpine has no idea how far from the main speaker you’ll be installing the tweeters. But it’s going to take a fine ear indeed to detect any such issues, so I doubt it will be widely used.

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REVIEWER STEPHEN DAWSON

The X-factor of Alpine’s X Series takes out the award in the lower of our two price breaks for speakers. The X-S69C is the top model in the company’s X Series range of speakers, and use oval-shaped woofers, a handy device for incar use since they can allow a larger driver to fit into a space which is wider than it is high. You don’t often see them in hi-fi, since if you want a bigger woofer in a home speaker, you just make a bigger box. The exception is in slim soundbar designs, where space is again at a premium, and a row of oval speakers along the bar can meet just the goal Alpine is aiming at here in the auto world, where the speakers have to conform, not their enclosures.


AWARDS

The wiring diagram, which I managed to read by carefully aligning the templates I’d removed from the box, made it clear that the amplifier is wired to the larger driver, with additional wires going from it to the crossover and thence to the tweeter. Clearly the crossover does not control the range of sound delivered to the larger speaker. The necessary wires are already attached to the crossover and tweeter, but you may need to add more depending on the layout of the speakers in your vehicle. The wiring included allows up to 830mm between the woofer and the crossover, and 1.04 metres between the crossover and the tweeter. If you like what you see about the Alpine X Series, but don’t have a place for these speakers for whatever reason, there is also the X-S65 model ($649), with is a component system like this one, but the larger speaker is a round 6.5 inch unit, and the X-S65 ($549), which is somewhat like the X-S65C but with the tweeter mounted as part of the main speaker system.

LISTENING

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TESTING I ran a few measurements of the two drivers, chiefly to see where the crossover kicked in. That was relatively easy to do given the split nature of the drivers. I just put the tweeter well away from the main speaker, and the microphone a few millimetres away from it. It was clear that the -3dB point of its output at the bottom end was at 1700 hertz, so you could call that, or perhaps 1800 hertz, the crossover point. At the top end it was still producing plenty of output at 30,000 hertz, so if you think you might get some advantage from

CONCLUSION Depth lovers may wish to factor in a subwoofer, but Alpine’s “ultra high grade” X-S69C component two-way speaker system certainly lives up to its promise, producing truly high quality sound.

ALPINE X-S69C 2-WAY COMPONENT SPEAKERS IMPEDANCE: 4 ohms FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 45 to 50kHz DRIVER: 1 x 24mm dome tweeter; 1 x 160 by 225mm cone bass/midrange POWER RATING: 120 watts ‘RMS’, 330 watts ‘Peak’ WEIGHT: 669g for bass/midrange; 82 grams for tweeter COST: $699 CONTACT: Alpine Electronics of Australia WEB: www.alpine.com.au

TECH SPECS

I started off my listening with some challenging material: Beyoncé’s album ‘Lemonade’. With one omission, the sound was astonishingly good. Really lovely, with great tonal balance and precision, and pretty respectable imaging. The omission was the deep bass on the first track, and there was a definite hole there because there isn’t a whole lot of mid or upper bass on that track. Get rid of the really deep stuff, and there isn’t much left. But then the next track — Hold Up — started and the character changed. This track has plenty of mid bass, and the speakers did a startlingly good job of delivering it. There was a real authority and punch, and even some respectable depth, to the bottom end in this track. Meanwhile, the vocals and some of the instrumentation was reproduced with a real sense of three dimensions. This was real hi-fi stuff, and as fine in the car as at home. I pushed the volume hard, to the point of producing some rattles in the right channel. I think the main driver was bottoming out, so I backed off a couple of decibels. Up until that point, even though it was extremely loud, the speakers remained clean and controlled, without any sense of distortion.

Switching genres radically, I played sections of the Sutherland/Pavarotti version of La Traviata. This kind of music is challenging in a car because of the dynamic range, leaving too much of the content lost in a car’s relatively high noise floor. That means the level has to be high, which means the speakers have to cope with the peaks. Unlike Beyoncé, though, there’s no really deep bass, and consequently no danger of bottoming out the large driver. And it didn’t. The speakers went loud, and the amazing Sutherland aria near the end of the first Act was delivered at a thrillingly high volume, without any sense of shriekiness, which is what lower quality speakers can sometimes produce, even when not overloaded. Instead, this Alpine system was again in complete control. Later in the same track Pavarotti lets loose, and the result is the same: controlled, powerful music, and nothing untoward. Perhaps splitting the difference between those two kinds of music, I played Billy Joel. On the opening of The Stranger the cymbals danced cleanly and precisely in space over Joel’s piano. The kick drum was hinted at by its second and third harmonics rather than the fundamentals, although the toms were fully realised. The bass guitar line, rarely strong with Joel, was discernible at around the right level. And the whole thing was nicely boppy.

high-resolution audio in a car environment, these tweeters are going to be the kind of thing you’ll want to hear. As expected, the larger driver exhibited no hint of having a low-pass filter applied in the crossover. It just does the best it can with the full range of frequencies. Measuring up close, they appeared to be dropping away by 2000 hertz, although it was hard to tell for sure because the measurement showed considerable variation which, I suspect, was due to differing path lengths given the oval rather than round cone. No matter really, I was only interested in the end points. At the other end, the output was very solid to 130 hertz, then dropped by around 12dB to a new plateau, which it maintained from around 115 hertz down to 40 hertz. Again, all that was with a close measurement. Measuring the whole thing together at a distance of a metre smoothed it all out a bit, and put the end points of the response at 28,000 hertz at the top (maybe higher given microphone limitations there), and around 100 hertz at the bottom. The roll-off below that was fairly gentle, but the output was still something like 18dB down at 45 hertz.


VIBE

CVEN 62C-V4 2-WAY COMPONENT SPEAKERS

AWARDS REVIEWER STEPHEN DAWSON

LOUDSPEAKERS OF THE YEAR OVER $1000 What to call these speakers? We’ve called them the Vibe CVEN 62C-V4 2-way component speakers, partly to tie in with our colleagues at EISA who also recently gonged these classy component speakers. It’s more or less the name used by Vibe in the rather swish 20-page manual. But on the box they are called the CVEN Series 7 6.5” (165mm) component speaker kit. More importantly, the box explains that Vibe has seven speaker ranges, and that the Series 7 of this model doesn’t mean that they’re the seventh version, but that they are the top of the heap of Vibe’s offerings in quality terms.

EQUIPMENT In a way that didn’t come as a surprise. Even before removing the black plastic covering the box, this was a weighty package. As the name on the box suggests this is a component speaker system. A two way one. There’s also a three way version which uses the same

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bass driver and tweeter and adds a 3.5 inch midrange. The carton containing this system was of high quality, high density cardboard with a lid that lifts clean off, no fiddly cardboard tabs involved. The components are packed in a sculpted black foam. There are six items in total in the system. Two CVEN 6 “Midwoofers” (along with their mounting gaskets) two CVEN 1 tweeters, and two 4.7µF, 250V capacitors. No cables or clips, though, or, indeed grilles for the CVEN 6 speakers. Indeed, Vibe does not sell grilles for them at all. The tweeters do have metal grilles. They’re held lightly in place, seemingly by the magnetic field from the tweeter’s driving magnet, and can be very easily removed. The CVEN 6 drivers use what appears to be a heavy aluminium basket with a polished/ brushed face. Again, no mounting screws are included. You will want to use ones with pleasingly styled heads, perhaps operated with an Allen key. It employs a 1.3 inch (33mm) voice

coil with a 90mm magnet. The voice coil former is vented to keep things cooler and there’s an “aluminium field-stabilizing ring inside the magnet assembly” which Vibe says is for “reduced high level distortion”. I suspect this may be a shorting ring at the end of the voice coil which, should it significantly enter the magnetic field, act as a strong break against further excursion, reducing the chances of damage and softening the effects of “end of travel” issues. Other things Vibe talks about: a vented chassis “for lower air flow speed” to reduce distortion, a heavy-duty black fibreglass voice coil bobbin, “black magnet parts” which apparently improve heat transfer and thus power handling, and a linear suspension with a specially designed Conex spider. The screw terminals are gold plated. The cone material isn’t specified but looks like the polypropylene often used in loudspeakers. You may find the specifications relatively modest, particularly with regard to the power


Finally, the crossover, such as it is. Vibe makes no bones about it: “Protection is the only requirement, therefore, a Mundorf reference capacitor is included in each kit.” The crossover for the three-way system is a little more elaborate, but this basic high pass filter for the tweeter has much to commend it, particularly in a car where the occupant’s ears are generally wildly off-axis from the larger drivers. These typically provide a gentle 6dB per octave reduction below the point of effect — they’re called “First Order” crossovers — and it’s clear that their role is simply to stop bass and midrange frequencies from being delivered to the tweeter at any appreciable level, thereby ensuring it isn’t overdriven.

PERFORMANCE Vibe recommends wiring in the tweeter out of phase, so that’s what I did. And while I would expect that speakers of this quality would normally form part of a system with a decent subwoofer, I started with two channels alone, no sub, to see how they could cope. And to that end, I started with the bass-heavy track called Oregon from the band Leather Cats, something from a test CD that I’ve been using for years. To call it “bass heavy” might be misleading, because it isn’t like the lumpy bass from many R&B tracks — overblown and intended to blast. This is a deep, clean, almost acoustic bass, and these speakers reproduced this with excellent articulation and clarity. Not the extreme depths, but clear down to around 50 hertz. And the main thing about it was the complete lack of audible distortion, and the excellent sense of dynamic fullness. For something more confronting, I played the album ‘10000 Hz Legend’ by the French electronic group Air. This has very forthright bass which was delivered with excellent power, right up front on both the synth drums and the musical bass line. They band plays with a lot of phasing effects in this music. All this carried through, as did the precise tick of the high frequency percussion. And all that at a very high level. Very high. No one’s going to be disappointed with the simple slam and power of these speakers, so long as they’re paired with suitable amplification. The powerful wavefront produced by these speakers can be felt bodily, seemingly all out of proportion to

their size, while they remain quite free of any sense of distortion. That makes them ideal for the mobile music lover. So marvellously entertaining was this, that I confess difficulty switching to another piece of music. But duty did call, so it was time for a complete change of genre. Opera can be challenging for any audio system, especially a car system, especially when the sopranos are letting rip. I had a listen to the Flower Duet from Delibes’ “Lakmé”, and two things rapidly became obvious. First, the sopranos were handled sensitively, allowed full power but with zero nasty emphasis or ringing. Second, the bass elements of the musical accompaniment were delivered at a higher level than I’d normally expect for speakers of this size, and again with that clean, musical touch that made the experience a truly high fidelity one.

CONCLUSION While you may need your processor EQ to correct for the effects of the cabin shape and the location of the speakers, and to deal with the inevitable noise of the road, you will not need to correct for the sound of these truly classy component speakers themselves. The Vibe CVEN 62C-V4 speakers are for those who really want the best quality sound in their car. Sound the awards gong!

VIBE CVEN 62C-V4 2-WAY COMPONENT SPEAKERS NOMINAL SIZE: 165mm (Bass/midrange); 22mm (Tweeter) POWER (IEC 268-5): 60 watts continuous, 30 watts long term, 120 watts short term (Bass/midrange); 30 watts continuous, 15 watts long term, 60 watts short term (Tweeter) SENSITIVITY (2.83 VOLTS @ 1 METRE): 91.5dB (Bass/midrange); 89.5dB (Tweeter) NOMINAL IMPEDANCE: 4 ohms (Bass/ midrange); 4 ohms (Tweeter) FREQUENCY RESPONSE (FREE AIR): 70 to 11,000 hertz +/-3dB (Bass/midrange); 800-30,000 hertz +/-3dB (Tweeter) WEIGHT: 1.03kg (Bass/midrange); 60 grams (Tweeter) COST: $1099 CONTACT: Vibe Australia on 1800 088 055 WEB: www.vibeaudioaustralia.com.au

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TECH SPECS

ratings. You see some pretty high ratings on quite a few car speakers, so what’s this about 60 watts continuous and 30 watts long term? Well, rather than just some loose sense of what a speaker might cope with, these figures are derived from rigorous tests under standards developed by the International Electrotechnical Commission. In short, these are meaningful figures, unlike those frequently slapped on loudspeakers. (The speakers do have the traditional looser figure printed on them: 120 watts RMS, 240 watts peak.) The manual in fact contains many more specifications than you usually see with loudspeakers. In particular, it lays out the full Thiele/Small parameters for the driver. These are things like the mass of the moving parts, the actual area of the driver, the inductance and resistance of the voice coil, the magnetic field strength and the compliance of the driver (its springiness, you might say), along with several others. Loudspeaker engineers — and even the less well educated amongst us — can use these figures in models developed by Australians Neville Thiele and Richard Small to calculate how a particular sized enclosure will affect the bass, as well as determine the best dimensions for a bass reflex port. Furthermore, these parameters are specified both for the drivers new, and as “burned in”, since use tends to change the operation of mechanical systems. It’s good stuff. Many installations will just place these speakers in standard positions within a car (often, sadly, with a highly inadequate “enclosure” such as the hollow space in a door). But it’s good indeed that those who are prepared to go the extra mile for high-end performance are equipped with the information they require. (You can actually work out the Thiele/Small parameters yourself, but it’s a difficult and complicated process.) Those figures are also printed in the manual for the CVEN 1 tweeter as well, although one is rarely much concerned with the bass design of enclosures for tweeters. Anyway, for what it’s worth, the free air resonance of the tweeter is at 825 hertz, well below where it will be handling significant signal levels. It also features a brushed aluminium ring around the driver components. The grille is black. The 22mm dome uses a “precision coated textile”. The 22mm voice coil is vented and features copper clad aluminium wire in the voice coil for reduced moving mass. (The lower the moving the mass for a given magnetic push, the more quickly it can respond.) The magnetic component is a neodymium ring outside the voice coil.


4WD OFF-ROADMAPS

Alpine’s standard 4WD Off-Road maps will put the Amarok’s toughness into action. Off-road point-to-point navigation and turn-by-turn guidance makes losing your bearings impossible while exploring 4WD maps. Navigate to your favourite camp ground; or alternatively utilize the comprehensive points of interest database to find a new one nearby.

VOLKSWAGEN AMAROK – NEW AMAROK Alpine’s extensive range of navigation stations ensure there is a perfect fit solution for the all-new Amarok. State of the art navigation features 3D landmarks and lane guidance which informs you what lane to be in allowing you to always make the correct turn. Live traffic updates, school zone, red light camera and fixed speed camera alerts help provide a safer and quicker journey. 4WD off road maps come standard with this system and includes intuitive turn-byturn navigation with 3D terrain. Three years of free map updates allow your navigation system to stay up to date. The X208AU and INE-W977A will bring the latest in car technology to the Volkswagen Amarok. Equipped

HCE-C1000

with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto it delivers smartphone apps into the dashboard, such as phone calls, messages and an endless choice of music which can all be commanded effortlessly by Siri and OK Google. HDMI enables connectivity to a number of different devices including smartphone mirroring—making audio and video playback possible in high-definition through the display for virtually limitless entertainment. What’s more these solutions offer remarkable high definition playback and breathtaking performance. Specially engineered to deliver faithful audio reproduction from high resolution sound sources at 96kHz/24Bit or greater.

Add a rear view camera to your system with the HCE-C1000. With cutting-edge technology and full-screen touch operation, experience a significantly increased sense of spatial awareness and enhanced driving ability. Manoeuvres that were previously difficult or thought to be impossible can now be achieved easily through the guidance of your Alpine Multimedia Station.


CAN-UART / MFD

VOLKSWAGEN AMAROK – OLD AMAROK Enhance your Amarok with the ultimate work tool, creating a whole new driving experience. Alpine’s Navigation Station’s effortlessly navigate you to work and holiday destinations. Complete control is provided without taking you’re your eyes off the road via the steering wheel controls, complemented by the multi-function display which indicates song and phone information. Built-in Bluetooth for phone and audio streaming further increases driver comfort, while a

comprehensive database of 4WD off-road maps ensures you get to your leisure destination safely, taking the best route possible. Driving enjoyment is boosted with a multitude of sources on hand such as, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, DAB+ and HDMI input all displayed via the capacitive touch display. Premium navigation, ultimate connectivity and audiophile sound quality — Alpine engages and excites your senses.

DVE-5300

The X208AU and INE-W977A are CANUART compatible. CAN-UART capability provides connection to a vehicle specific interface for display of climate information, park assist and steering wheel controls. In addition, system information can be sent to vehicle subdisplays.

The DVE-5300 is the ultimate upgrade for adding DVD playback capability to the X208AU and the INE-W977A. Featuring HDMI technology for high quality data transfer, the DVE-5300 can be either touch controlled from the screen or operated using the included wireless remote control. Its compact 1-DIN chassis is easy to install in the glove box or any other free compartment.


OLD SC

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1998 SUBARU WRX FEATURE CAR

CHOOL

WAY COOL!

Everything was better way back when... Case in point — video games… and the Rexie. Story Damon Greenwood Images Jun Sawa www.avhub.com.au

33


1998 SUBARU WRX FEATURE CAR

t’s all too easy to get caught up in a whirl of nostalgia. But really, sometimes it really does seem that everything was better ‘way back when’. No? Hear me out. Way back when… life was simpler. There was a close-tozero chance that your Friday night drinkinggame shenanigans would make it onto every computer in the world by morning. Our video games back then didn’t need an uberfast internet connection that Australia couldn’t get organised. And it was harder to get booked for speeding. [Though our Editor interjects that this last could be considered an improvement, in safety terms at least.] Your own list would no doubt add personal-preference items similarly removed or reshaped by Old Father Time. Sometimes we miss those old-school ways of doing things. That’s why I love this car — it screams OLD SCHOOL. Well, perhaps it’s because I am (relatively) old — that is where I live. In fact if this car had the Image Dynamics waveguides under the dash I would have to check my undies to remember that this is, indeed, 2017. Back in the day, those old-school days, sound quality was judged very strictly. Sound-staging and imaging were the topics of hot debate. A lot of old-school competitors argued that waveguided horns under the dash (properly equalized) were the way to go to get the maximum score. There were highly competitive cars around the circuit comprising of one ID15” sub, waveguides in the front with one (or two or sometimes even three) amplifiers as the be-all and end-all of car audio. And in some cases they were right — I mean, wow; some of these cars could make you weep, they were so good. For one reason or another the waveguides slowly disappeared (probably because A-Pillars got ever wider) and the now ubiquitous midrange and tweeter up top are today de rigeur. In itself that’s not a bad thing, since of course a well-installed set-up like this can be truly aweinspiring as well. But ermembering those fierce youthful debates with mates about tweeter placement always brings a smile to my face.

I

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SYSTEM

TECH SPECS

source: Alpine IVA-D511E

owner: Daniel Broadbent vehicle: 1998 Subaru WRX

computer: 7” Windows Tablet game console: Nintendo NES Classic front speakers: Helix C63 3-way active speaker set

engine: EJ20T induction: Apexi Power intake, GFB BOV controllers: Turbosmart exhaust: 3” turbo back magnaflow mufflers transmission: STi V6

rear speakers: none subwoofers: 1x Image Dynamics lOMAX 1502 amplifiers: 2x Helix G-FIVE (5 channel amps run sub and speakers actively) rear monitors: 2x 7” touch screen slave screens

clutch: Exedy Heavy Duty

processor: Helix DSP Pro+ Helix Director+ Helix HEC BT

suspension: Coilovers brakes: STi V7 Rotors and calipers QFM HPX pads body kit: STi V6 Bodykit exterior: STI V6 bodykit with full respray in Chevrolet Corvette ‘’Torch Red”, Gloss black vinyl wrapped roof, CAR PRO C-Quartz ceramic sealant, CARPRO Dlux to all plastics and wheels, CARPRO Flyby 30 on glass. interior: Full retrim in red leather and black alcantara, 4x 7” screens, sunroof

wiring: Stinger Pro I Crescendo Acapella RCAs battery: 2x Full river HC55 lighting: White/Red LED with wireless controllers sound deadening: Stinger Roadkill, Mass Loaded Vinyl (MLV) to boot floor total system power (12V/4Q): 1360w RMS configured power (as wired): 2000w RMS highest recorded dB: 136dB total system component cost: rrp $13,500 installed by: owner total build time: 55 hours + tuning

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1998 SUBARU WRX FEATURE CAR

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1998 SUBARU WRX FEATURE CAR However, I digress — another trait of age. Back to the car. And whether the owner of this car built this up as a shine to the good old days, well — perhaps, perhaps not. But that’s what it is.

THE SYSTEM The Alpine head unit, of course, goes back only a few years — the IVA-D511E is the primary head unit up top, a capable mobile media station in a single-DIN chassis lifting out to yield a decent seven-inch monitor that here rises above the console into the windscreen area. It’s got USB and a 24-bit DAC in there, and internal power, though that’s not required in this system. The Alpine is fitted so high because below it is a 7-inch Windows tablet, flush-mounted below the air-con controls. This holds the owner Daniel’s entire music library (and we’re delighted to see he favours the lossless FLAC audio format). And below that is the touchscreen Helix Director, the wired remote control for the Helix DSP Pro processor which offers not only high-res audio capabilities but powerful fixed-point DSP to allow extensive tuning options. Indeed we note that when we asked how many hours were spent on this install, Daniel specified “55 hours + tuning”. Which may mean he isn’t entirely sure how many hours have gone or will go into tuning — after all, a system like this is never finished, as some new song will come along that has you thinking perhaps a little tweak here, a little tweak there… no wonder he chooses to keep the touchscreen input panel right there by the driver!

DONKEY IN THE CAR In the centre console between the seats is something that takes the old-school joy to another level — a Nintendo NES Classic! This is the miniaturised version of the groundbreaking NES that was originally released in 1985, and the retro reissue comes loaded with 30 classic games — Super Mario, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, they’re all here. With two controllers tucked into that centre console, the second you’re parked you can flip out that Alpine screen, power up the Nintendo, and it’s Metroid time!

POWER TRIP From there a generous amount of Stinger Pro 1/0 gauge cabling, 6 pairs of 14-gauge speaker cable and a fibre-optic link from head unit to processor were fitted. Custom-made Harmonic Harmony RCA leads were used from the processor to the amplifier — that again shows the attention to maintaining the quality of the audio signal path. And we must admit there’s nothing old-school about the Helix G-Five amplification chosen — four channels of Class-AB power rated at 80W per channel into four ohms, which is what (nominally anyway) is offered up by the 3-way active speaker set, again from Helix, the reference speakers in its C-series, model C 63C. But for the subwoofer the G-Five uses Class-D, able to offer a full 600W into the two-ohm impedance of the selected subwoofer, the legendary monster Image Dynamics IDMAX 15D2 subwoofer, a true high-output (but high-quality) 15-inch sub.

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For those 3-ways, fabricated custom-angled speaker mounts were used in the front doors to place the midbass on axis and to remove a 160Hz peak that had apparently been caused by the opposing centre console. Showing the attention to detail and going that extra mile here, the midrange/tweeter rings were 3D-designed to allow computer-controlled CNC-routing (3D computer design is one of Daniel’s handy sidelines) to get the mid/tweeters flush, controlling edge diffraction. These MDF rings were placed on axis, firing six inches forward of the opposing upper seatbelt anchor. This positioning was tested for sound quality and gave Daniel the best combination of detail, stage depth, width and centre image. Power flows through the car through 4-gauge Stinger Pro power wire and a Stinger Pro distro block. A Stinger Pro 1/0 fuse holder/fuse is used to disable the main power feed at the front and another at the rear for servicing or when needed. While the whole car screams of attention to detail, there has been a lot of time spent on the physical surfaces of the vehicle. The A-pillars were modified, fibreglassed and smoothed, with matching roof-lining material. The boot actually started off as a hand-drawing which then became a 3D

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AutoCAD model, allowing a baffle to be CNC-cut from MDF and Perspex to deliver the perfect fit you can see in the pictures. A four cubic-foot custom fibreglass enclosure sits under the installation in the spare-wheel well, and that’s where that Image Dynamics 15-inch subwoofer sits. The CNC-cut Perspex is edge-lit to highlight the amplifier installation. The front doors, floor and boot are covered thoroughly in a combination of Stinger Roadkill and mass-loaded vinyl. Any point where hard surfaces touch has had a small layer of felt inserted to prevent any rattles or resonance. A pair of Fullriver HC55 batteries are hidden from view behind the amplifiers. It’s impeccable and careful work.

GAME ON While every modification of this vehicle has been performed to an impressive degree, all good project cars are in fact never really finished — so what plans here? Next up for this little beauty is an LS1 engine swap! Way cool — though that V8 burble might not be heard if I was driving, given the music would be up so loud, enjoying a car set up for high audio quality, great soundstaging — oh, yes, and with that awesome 15-inches of bass product in support…


1998 SUBARU WRX FEATURE CAR

DRIVER PROFILE Name: Daniel Broadbent Occupation: Quality Manager Car: 1998 Subaru Impreza WRX

1. What got you into car electronics? Friends first, and then work experience with a local car audio shop. 2. How long have you been into it for? Fifteen years. 3. Favourite music for testing audio gear? Michael Buble, Michael Jackson, Rage Against The Machine, Marc Cohn, Sarah Mclachlan, lASCA and CASO test discs. 4. Dream car? 1999 Rover Mini 40th Anniversary! 5. Other hobbies/interests? 3D design, rare automotive parts design and fabrication. 6. Where to next? Complete the LS1 swap-out of my other Subaru lmpreza into this.

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Artin 42

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1965 CHEVY IMPALA SS FEATURE CAR

In today’s world an artist doesn’t just paint on a canvas. See how this 1965 Chevrolet Impala SS has been transformed into a rolling Aztec-themed art piece in this issue’s Drive from the Archive...

motion

Story and Images by Charlie Lewis

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1965 CHEVY IMPALA SS FEATURE CAR

a

n outstandingly iconic American car — a 1965 Chevrolet Impala SS — decked with the glories of a high-ranked Aztec Warrior carrying all the top honours of his tribe. So just as the Aztec Empire gained tribute from conquered enemies, we pay tribute to the astounding quality, extent and time invested in this eye-popping flame-filled Impala.

BATTLE CRY Owner Matt Dearing had a few key requirements for his 65 Impala after he liberated it from the seller, the first being that it needed to have a massive audio system set-up. But he also wanted to create a spectacular home for the music, and in that regard, the battle has been well and truly won. Let your eyes drift to the colours and materials of the car’s interior, in two-tone maroon and white leather. The white leather is used as a tribal theme, maintained through detailed craftsmanship with a finish of white stitching along the seats. To celebrate the car’s own heritage, custom handcrafted Chevrolet Impala symbols are centred on the top of the front and rear seats. The seamlessly smooth transaction, still in leather, carries on to the door panels. And they’re not standard door panels; they have a handcrafted custom kick panel painted to match the car’s candy maroon colour. The kick panel houses Rockford Fosgate ‘Punch’ series P1675-5 6.75-inch mid-bass speakers and, directly above, Soundstream SST05 1-inch cone tweeters which produce a crisp, clean and dynamic sound.

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Focal FPS 5.1200 REVIEW HERE

FOCAL – FRENCH, FABULOUS AND AWARD WINNING SOUND For over 35 years Focal has been developing and manufacturing loudspeakers for the home, speaker kits for cars, and monitor speakers for recording studios. The brand is recognised around the world for sound quality and technological innovation. If you are upgrading your car audio system, audition the sound at one of our 80 authorised Focal car audio dealerships across Australia.

INCAR MONO AMPLIFIER OF THE YEAR Focal FPX 1.1000

Visit www.focalaustralia.com.au for the dealer nearest you!


To complement the front speaker set-up and maintain a uniform tone, this was completely mirrorred with installation of the same speakers into the rear-side panelling of the car. So there you will find a further pair of the three-way Rockford Fosgate Punch series P1675.5 units. Drifting to the main control on the dashboard, directly in the centre is a Soundstream multimedia head unit, the VIR-3200, with its 3.2-inch monitor with touch sensors taking charge. The in-dash head unit sends continuous power to the two Rockford Fosgate prime R14X2 4-inch 2-way speakers, arranged on both ends of the painted candy maroon dashboard. Simply keeping the balance of the tunes under control is the Soundstream MPQ-5X0 equaliser which has been mounted on the left side of the dash that controls all eight of the Rockford Fosgate 6.75 inch speakers and six Soundstream 1-inch cone tweeters. On the right side of the head unit is a VDVD-200 DVD player by Soundstream outputting on to three TVs throughout the vehicle. Directly below the unit is the first flat screen TV LCD, a 10-inch Pyle PLVW10IW, perfectly housed in a custom-crafted centre console. Staged directly behind the front seats is a rise platform that holds the 17-inch Pyle RBPLVW17IW flat screen LCD TV mounted within a fibreglass shell finished in maroon paint. The third flat screen LCD TV is a 19-inch Pyle PLVW19IW that is directly above on the trunk lid. On each side of the 19-inch monitors is a twin set of Rockford Fosgate 6.75-inch speakers installed in fiberglass speaker pod enclosures.

HIGH RESOLUTION Continuing down the line, while the bonnet is wide open, you will notice the five Soundstream amplifiers mounted on the base of the floor. Firing off first is the small Soundstream PCA4.520 amplifier which is used to send signal to tweeters in the car. Powering up second is the mediumsized Soundstream PCA2.760 amp trickling the dash speakers for crisp sound. Following are the third and fourth amplifiers, the awesomely-large Soundstream PCA1500D rated at 1,500 watts which provide juice to the eight speakers placed in every corner of the cabin. As for our fifth and final amplifier it is the massively extra-large Soundstream PCA3500D rated at 3,500 watts pushing extensive drive to the main two Audiobahn AWES12P Eternal series subwoofers rated at 2,200 watts each. This is not your typical set up for subwoofer placement in this car audio system. Making it unique is that the Audiobahn subwoofers don’t actually hit bass tones in the bonnet itself they are organised directly inside the cabin. Yes that’s right, out the rear deck to mount two monstrous subwoofers that pummel a thrashing sound rattling the classic car along with ground-shaking vibrations.

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1965 CHEVY IMPALA SS FEATURE CAR

TECH SPECS owner: Matt Dearing vehicle: 1965 Chevrolet Impala SS Engine: 1965 GM 327 CI Transmission: Automatic Wheels: Coys Wheels, 20-inch front, 22-inch rear Tyres: Capitol front 245/35/20, rear 265/35R22

SYSTEM Source: Soundstream VIR-3200 Front speakers: Rockford Fosgate P1675-5 6.75-inch Rear speakers: Rockford Fosgate P1675-5 6.75-inch Subwoofers: Audiobahn AWES12P 12-inch subwoofers Front amplifiers: Soundstream PCA4.520 and PCA2.760 Rear amplifiers: Soundstream PCA1500D Sub amplifiers: Soundstream PCA3500D Equalizers Soundstream MPQ-5X0 Battery: Kinetick HC1800S-PRO Wiring: Monster Cables Sound deadening: Dynamat Installed by: previous and current owners Total build time: Two years Credits: Thanks to my family, M&M Powder Coating and everyone involved in the build and getting this magazine feature together.

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1965 CHEVY IMPALA SS FEATURE CAR

DRIVER PROFILE Name: Matt Dearing Car: 1965 Chevrolet Impala SS

1. What got you into car electronics? My brother worked at an audio store. 2. How long have you been into it for? Twenty years. 3. Occupation? Construction. 4. Favorite music for testing audio gear? Techno, rap, country. 5. Dream Car? 1960 Chevy Impala. 6. Other hobbies or interests? Anything cool. 7. Where to next? Not sure…

Deep into the boot, back behind the seats, is the crystal clear plexiglass box with a laser cut diagram of realistic flames around the subwoofers box edges. Something completely different but what makes the 65 Chevy Impala correct is the candy maroon paint on the exterior. And to top it off is the full-on Aztec Warrior theme, the side of the car tribal patterned, the boot with a full battle face, and on the bonnet a strong Aztec warrior set to save his life-partner from danger. Meanwhile open up the bonnet to find a 1965 GM 327 cubic inch motor. That’s road warrior strength right there. Chevy masy have helped a bit here too as the car is an Impala SS which stands for ‘Super Sport’. The owner Matt wanted something completely different and he decided to put in an order to chrome out and even polish every engine part he possibly could and the result speaks for itself. Venture to the exterior of the car you will notice it expresses a low stance due to the lowered 2-inches in front and 3-inches in the rear. Add a marvellous set of Coys 20-inch wheels in front and 22-inches on the rear and a decent set of SSBC brakes making for a good call on the big brake disk system.

CONCLUSION Few classic cars look as aggressive as this iconic all-American, this 1965 Chevrolet Impala SS almost challenging all comers to battle. It redefines the notion of a road warrior — but also of craftsmanship, as we have to appreciate the supreme interior finish along with the explosive audio gear tucked through the cabin’s nooks and crannies, with the top-shelf audio components in the boot taking the install to a whole new level.

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The ultimate experience all-new state-of-the-art Thomastown showroom.

209 Settlement Rd Thomastown Ph: 9464 4373

14 Translink Drive Keilor Park Ph: 9336 0188 www.streetsoundvision.com.au

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FOCAL PC165F COAXIAL SPEAKERS

AUDITION

FLAX DON’T FLEX: A SONIC HARVEST REVIEWER MARTY PRICE

Surely no audio enthusiast living on God’s earth needs an introduction to French speaker virtuoso Focal — especially after reading the list of our award-winners this issue. Yet some may not appreciate the reputation this audacious company has for working with difficult materials. And when I say difficult I mean really, really difficult materials — such as its penchant for beryllium, which is one of the ultimate tweeter materials, but toxic as hell during manufacture (though perfectly inert, we should emphasise, once in your car). Rather less toxic is Focal’s most recent innovation in cone material — flax. Focal’s award-winning Flax range began its migration from Focal’s hi-fi speakers to its incar ranges just under a year ago with a triplet of component sets. Soon after, especially once enthusiasts got wind of just how good this new material sounded, many began requesting that Focal complement the component sets with subwoofer and coaxials. And the company obliged, first with a pair of subwoofers, and now these coaxial drivers under review. What’s curious, though, is how Focal has marketed these new coaxial drivers, deliberately labelling them as rear speakers,

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designed to augment the component sets which will undoubtedly reside up front. It’s a rare occurrence that I disagree with Focal, but this is one such occasion, since coaxial speakers enjoy benefits inherent to their design which can be useful up front as well as behind. Compared with their separate siblings, coaxials benefit by having none of the phase or origin point issues of separated drivers, so that coaxials will often stage and image better. It just makes positioning critical, especially in terms of treble delivery. Comme ci, comme ca, then — as ever, there are trade-offs to be made. But I’m certainly of the opinion that Focal are selling these drivers a little short by focusing the marketing on rear fill duties.

FIELDS OF FLAX But before we talk about mounting locations, let’s expand upon what makes the flax material so special. During their development phase Focal had three main prerequisites for a new cone material to meet: low mass, high strength and exceptional internal damping qualities — the ability to handle surplus energy without physical distortion. The desire for lower mass is pretty self-explanatory, as is strength; ergo

let’s talk about those tensile properties. Internal damping is a term that’s somewhat overused yet seldom understood, especially with regard to why it’s so important. Internal damping is characterised by a dissipation factor, how well surplus energy is distributed within the material. A higher dissipation factor is conducive to less resonance, which pertains to the diaphragm’s break-up frequency, and that translates in audio terms to the level of coloration and tonality accuracy. Contributing to this also is Young’s modulus, the ‘stiffness’ of a material, or more specifically the ratio of applied force versus the level of physical deformation caused by the force. The higher the Young’s modulus, the more resistance there will be to undesirable bending and physical distortion of the loudspeaker diaphragm. Focal had been experimenting with numerous new materials, and flax came out on top. Although ‘new’ is perhaps not the word for a crop that was grown for food and fabric in ancient Egypt (where it was a symbol of purity). And in its wild form it goes right back to Paleolithic times — cave excavations have shown that Cro-Magnons were using it to make string. (Indeed you have likely used it yourself, since


dried flax seeds produce good oil, too — which we know as linseed oil.) The properties of its fibres for loudspeaker drivers is a most convenient discovery for a French company to make, given that the fields of Normandy, Flanders and Picardy are absolutely rippling with the stuff; the French are one of the main cultivators of flax in Europe today. Flax is around seventy percent cellulose, with each fibre being a single elongated cell measuring between 60 and 100mm in length, and Focal’s exhaustive testing revealed exceptional qualities relating to strength, mass and neutrality. Flax proved a standout success against many other contenders such as carbon, because although some offered similar strength characteristics, these harder rivals lacked the damping ability of flax. Of course, there’s more to it than harvesting some flax and knitting a loudspeaker cone. Focal’s engineering team incorporated it into the company’s longstanding ‘W’ sandwich cone construction, retaining a 0.04mm-thin glass fibre surface on each side but with the former central acrylic plexiglass foam core replaced by 0.4mm flax. The fact that the flax core is effectively hollow makes it approximately half the weight of fibreglass, ideal for sandwich cone construction. And it’s nonwoven, which means its thickness can easily be altered along the radius of the cone.

but it’s no less deserving of praise. Featuring various innovations including a carefully modelled exponential cone profile which aims to project sound further forward. Circling the cone is a butyl rubber surround which works in conjunction with the polycotton spider beneath to manage undesirable axial and radial float. This resides in a frame measuring 73mm in depth, constructed from magnetically-inert machined alloy, finished with the customary Focal grey powder coat, and embossed with its logo. The web fingers are designed to aerodynamically direct airflow down and away from the cone underside, and attached between two of these is the clearly marked terminal plate. Bolted to the rear of the basket is the 85mm x 17mm strontium magnet which serves to keep the internals strictly controlled, thanks by and large to Focal paying attention to where the strongest flux influence is in relation to where the motor is seated; the Xmax because of this being 4mm. The 25mm former within is constructed from Kapton and upon it is wrapped a twin-layer four-ohm copper coil which possesses excellent thermal resilience. To assist with the cooling duties is a system that’s a little departed from the norm. The coaxial design tends to dictate that the tweeter’s feed wire and crossover (in this case a 3500Hz

TECH MECHS

CONCLUSION Our conclusions, then, echo those for the separates version previously reviewed — the coaxials of the Flax stable are similarly difficult to fault. They not only sound wonderful, they will suit many a role, and don’t require titanic amounts of power or money either. It’s as though Focal’s mastered this speaker gig during its 40-year tenure at the top...

/6dB affair) must reside within the core of the chassis, consuming the real estate usually reserved for a pole vent. So Focal has enhanced the perimeter vents — more than 40 of them, rather than the usual handful. The entire frame is liberally peppered with large elongated slot vents which allow air to flow in and out with each reciprocation; the result is a continuous power handling ability of 70 watts. The extended back plate and suspension on the other hand allow the moving mass to handle in excess of double that haphazardly.

PERFORMANCE The installation of the PC165F is straightforward, although the comparatively deep mounting depth might prove a little challenging for the odd car. The other bonus of the tweeter being lower in the chassis is that no longer

FOCAL

TECH SPECS

Besides the change in material, both the midrange and the tweeter have come in for some extensive remodelling over the older Polyglass ranges. The new tweeter now features a processed aluminium magnesium inverted dome, which promises exceptional accuracy and detail due to its low moving mass. Strengthening ‘dimples’ surrounding the edge offer additional resistance to deformation during high speed transients. Sound is projected well forward of the face before dispersing through a wide azimuth thanks to the intrinsic dome profile, thereby removing the need for a radical swivel mount and allowing the pedestal’s height to be lowered considerably. This allows both drivers to integrate seamlessly presenting minimal phase issues. Beneath the dome lies more engineering wizardry, including a motor comprising of a 20mm four-ohm copper-clad aluminium voice coil wound on a Kapton former. This is supported by an extremely agile Poron suspension system that returns an efficiency of 91.9dB. The entire motor structure resides in a carefully designed and patented damping chamber which is apt at dealing with troublesome back waves, preventing them from causing cavitation within the cavity immediately beneath the diaphragm. This in turn increases the bandwidth up to an excess of 28kHz while at the same time minimising internal resonance to promise improved linearity. The midrange driver below is might be similar in appearance to the FS165 separates,

will it butt up against the rear side of your polypropylene trim when in situ. If you don’t have a trim to hide them under, then Focal also provides some neat looking mesh grilles, in addition to gaskets and a small multilingual instruction booklet. I kicked off the audition with the standard wearing-in practise, playing a combination of pink noise and 70Hz sine wave (the larger driver’s resonant frequency). Once they were fully worn in, I grabbed my disc bag and hit the road. In a natural unprocessed environment they’re certainly a clean-sounding driver; what really grabbed me, however, was just how linear they were right out of the box. Sure you can make any speaker sound fairly linear if you process the wazoo out of it, but here, even with my processor bypassed, the Focals sounded incredibly smooth, without any excessive traces of erratic peaks or dips. The midrange notes sounded well controlled and deep, playing right down into the bass regions before handing the aural baton to the subwoofer. Higher frequencies were crystal clear and accurate, not at all harsh as some might presuppose from a hard dome driver. Overall it’s well-controlled treble reproduction, testament to the effort Focal has put into the design. The combination of dome and diaphragm profiles, tweeter height, crossover characteristics, a slight upward angling of my mounting baffle and a touch of time alignment delivered a stage and imaging that were quite elevated and centralised, an impressive feat considering the speakers’ location at the door bottom.

PC165F COAXIAL SPEAKERS TYPE: 6.5” coaxial set CONTINUOUS POWER HANDLING: 70 watts continuous, 140 watts maximum FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 60Hz – 28kHz IMPEDANCE: 4 ohms COST: $369 CONTACT: Focal Australia WEB: www.focalaustralia.com.au • Well-controlled smooth treble • Full midrange and upper bass • Don’t save ‘em just for rears!

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KENWOOD DNX5180S HEAD UNIT

AUDITION

ALL-ROUND SMARTS REVIEWER STEPHEN DAWSON

In so many aspects of modern life you have to make a choice. Case in point: Apple or Android? In practice, the skills you learn with one are largely applicable to the other. You can do pretty much with one system what you can do with the other. Yet we choose camps. And the problem is that the Apple system and the Android system don’t often play well together. Which brings us to your car audio system. Traditionally, even smart car head units are largely standalone systems. You can plug in your phone, or connect by Bluetooth for hands-free calls and music playback. Apple? Android? Doesn’t matter. But with the rise of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, some newer systems merge with a smartphone to become an integrated system, allowing the use of certain apps via the head unit, and becoming almost an extension of the phone. CarPlay and Android Auto again largely do the same stuff — yet are not compatible with each other. But if you have the Kenwood DNX5180S, you need not care. It implements both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. You can use either one equally well. If you share your car with someone of the other telephonic persuasion,

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this unit will just switch over to the relevant interface when they plug in their phone. And for those who don’t care to connect their phone, this unit has almost everything they could want as well.

EQUIPMENT I’ll return to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but let’s consider this unit first as a standalone. Because unlike the trend towards abandoning old features, this one retains them all. For one thing, it still has a disk spinner in addition to the traditional AM/FM radio. This’ll play CDs, of course, and DVDs. And also newer media you’ve burned to those formats. Right now as I’m typing, a recordable CD full of MP3 tracks is playing, but it can also play FLAC, WMA, AAC and WAV music files. And you can also burn H.264, MKV, WMV, MPEG1, MPEG2 and MPEG4 video content to recordable DVD for playback. Control of DVDs in particular is facilitated by the infrared remote control that’s included with the unit. But most interaction is via the touchsensitive 6.8-inch display screen. This delivers respectable LCD-style picture quality with DVDs. The contrast ratio is decent and the

colours generally good. The touch sensitivity is fine, too, with swipes working reliably. There are plenty of adjustments for the screen, including contrast, brightness and so on. And an unusual one called ‘Viewing Angle Adjustment’. This shows a diagram on screen and four viewing angles from which you can select. (Note, the viewing angle only seems to be the vertical angle, not the horizontal.) To my eye, the depicted angles look as though the top one is from perhaps slightly above perpendicular to the screen, while the next three are from increasingly deep angles below the perpendicular — which would be an odd place in a car to have your head. You’ll almost always be looking down from above. In any case, the higher setting does seem to increase the contrast ratio slightly but discernibly. There’s also analogue A/V input (although not a 3.5mm input). And USB — actually two USB connections, along with extension cables to get them where you need them. They are colour coded. For Apple CarPlay you use the black one. For USB storage playback, and for Android Auto, you can use either the grey or the black one. We’ll talk further about how well these systems work later. But, briefly, very well.


There are inputs for a reversing camera, and also for a compatible Kenwood dashcam. The usual range of connections are provided on the main wiring harness, including those for steering wheel controls. There are also inputs for the microphone and the supplied GPS antenna (there’s a self adhesive pad for affixing it on your windscreen, along with a long run of thin cable to allow it to be placed as inconspicuously as possible). The GPS uses the very well established Garmin technology as its engine. A microSD card slot to the left of the disc slot provides for map updates. But of course, you can also use the GPS system in your Android phone via Android Auto, or iPhone via CarPlay, and ongoing updates for those are handled smoothly. There are also line-level outputs for external amps. These are run fairly ‘hot’, providing up to four volts. A 13-band, two-thirds-octave graphic

latter runs iOS, but not Apple CarPlay (which is currently limited to iPhones from the iPhone 5 on). In both cases, when connected to a USB input no music was produced. But the head unit was nonetheless aware of the connected unit, showing a playback screen with track information. I could control playback using the screen — skip tracks, pause and play — but the music continued to come out of the iPad Mini’s speakers rather than the Kenwood system. (Nothing came out of the nano, but I didn’t have any headphones plugged in.) But the main game is standard Bluetooth connectivity, which worked perfectly well, with no elaboration required (apart than noting that the head unit supports the Apple-preferred AAC codec), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. And all of those worked perfectly. The first time you plug them in you have to give a permission or two on the head unit, a permission

only common audio format it does not support is Apple Lossless, and that’s the CD-quality and high resolution format most used by Apple folk. For the rest of us, I was able to confirm that the device was perfectly happy playing back FLAC tracks with 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz, 176.2kHz and 192kHz sampling, and Direct Stream Digital in both DSD64 and higher resolution DSD128 format. And they sounded fine indeed, clean, with no apparent decoding difficulties, and good control over the speaker system. Indeed, apart from those couple of issues mentioned earlier, this head unit worked smoothly and quickly throughout all functions. Kenwood has been at this a long time, and this experience shows. Aesthetically I think I would have preferred slightly cleaner screen design and layout, but your taste may not be quite the same as mine. I’d also like the main controls — volume and such — to be on the right side rather than the left, so that there’d be less of a stretch. (The left-hand drive world dominates.) There is still yet to be any push-button volume control as responsive as a knob, but that’s hard to fit in while providing a large screen and conforming to certain standards for physical design. I guess I’d better just accustom myself to a longer reach, and pressing and holding.

CONCLUSION Sometimes — all too rarely — when you’re thinking about gear, you need to consider not what features it has, but what it’s missing. The Kenwood DNX5180S is one of those pieces of gear. So what is it missing? A DAB+ radio tuner, perhaps, but that’s about it. Now take into account the price, and unless DAB+ is vital to you, this one’s verging on a must-have.

PLAYBACK Despite running the unit solidly for hours on end on a warmish day at fairly high levels, it remained cool to the touch. There was just a little warmth at the bottom rear, below the cooling fan, but less than I’ve generally experienced with other units. There were some oddities in operation. I’m pretty certain that these are to do with the fact that the review unit was a test model with unfinalised firmware. (Indeed, I’ve been asked not to mention a specific advanced feature that Kenwood is hoping to introduce, but doesn’t want trumpeted in case it doesn’t make it. The particular oddities related to playback of music from an iPod nano and an iPad mini 4. The former doesn’t run iOS of course, while the

or two on the iPhone, and a seemingly never ending stream of them on the Android phone. (Okay, there were about six individual approvals for things like location, contacts and so on.) And then both worked quite intuitively in the way that phone owners would expect. The CarPlay interface is a little more locked down and sleeker in appearance, somewhat like an iPhone as compared to an Android phone. The Android Auto interface offered essentially the same features, but with different organisation. In both cases, you can voice dial or otherwise interact with Siri or Google Assistant as appropriate (the microphone is included with the unit). You can start music manually, or by voice. Send messages and have your chosen assistant read messages to you. Since it’s the phone that’s really running operations with these systems, the head unit is sitting there just following orders, so Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is pretty much the same on all head units which support them. And this Kenwood head unit does that just fine. As for the music, it all played very nicely. In one sense, the system is a little less kind to those of an Apple persuasion, since about the

KENWOOD DNX5180S HEAD UNIT TYPE: Double-DIN head unit FEATURES: 6.8 inch WVGA touch screen; Garmin GPS with microSD for updates, 3D landmarks and city models, eco Route; Mic supplied; USB playback with high resolution support (MP3, AAC, WMA, FLAC, WAV, DSD); Bluetooth with support for two phones; AM/FM; Steering Wheel Control ready; Reversing camera input; Menwood Dashcam input, pre-outs including subwoofer POWER: 4 x 50 watts COST: $1399 CONTACT: Kenwood Australia WEB: www.kenwood.com/au • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto • Good value for money • High resolution audio support • No DAB+ digital tuner

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equaliser provides for tuning within the car, as do fully configurable delays for each channel. There is an adjustable (frequency and slope) low-pass filter for the subwoofer outputs, and separate high-pass filters for front and rear channels. In short, all the good stuff you need to optimise sound. Rated power output is 50 watts per channel.


GERMAN MAESTRO MS 6.2 COMPONENT SPEAKERS

AUDITION

AKUSTISCHE SOUVERÄNITÄT. REVIEWER MARTY PRICE

“German who?” was a response received recently when I included these speaker designers on a list of companies widely perceived as the world’s best. “Maestro” I replied, with perhaps a little more haughtiness than I ought, given that some years back I asked the exact same question. Insofar as top-shelf audio is concerned, the name German Maestro is synonymous with high quality equipment, and although nowadays it has very few rivals the company didn’t just hit these lofty heights straight out of the gate. One of the few remaining companies where the design HQ still operates its own production plant (located upon the outskirts of Obrigheim, Germany), German Maestro began its work several decades ago under the moniker MB Quart. Since then it’s not only designed but also produced (proud of its ‘Made in Germany’ tag) what are among the best car, home, marine and headset speakers available. It takes quality assurance very seriously, as is evident throughout everything the company produces. So I confess that when yours truly

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was recently presented with the absolute pinnacle of its component speakers to review, I near on wet myself with excitement. Because these component speakers are well worthy of such an outburst. An evolution of the existing flagship M-Line series, the name hasn’t changed but the technology has — with both technological and material advancements. There are numerous configurations within this hand-crafted stable, ranging from the MS 5.2 (5.25” two-way component set) through to the MS64.3 (three-way 6.5” component set, available in active, passive or semi-passive). We’re reviewing the MS 6.2 two-way passive component set as the configuration most commonly sought after.

PARTITION & REUNIFICATION Neatly packaged the box contains two tweeters, two midranges and two crossovers, all draped with a German Maestro flag — hardly a necessary item but sa neat touch nonetheless! Starting our narrative with the tweeter, the

remodeled MT 40 WS now features a 28mm titanium-based inverted dome profile born of FEM software simulation and fluid modelling to calculate the precise geometry required to allow both motor and diaphragm to best work in concert, projecting sound well forward before dispersing it throughout an extraordinarily wide azimuth, all whilst maintaining its shape under the most trying of circumstances. Aiding this is a specifically developed ‘nano-ceramic’ coating designed to afford the tweeter not only a considerable strength coefficient but also minimal mass. These aspects are critical given the laws of physics state that the higher a frequency is the smaller the membrane surface should be in order to disperse sound radiation competently and without distortion. Trouble is, though, the thinner you make the membrane the worse the compression strength and damping get, meaning a potential habit of flexing under duress. All these summate to form what German Maestro calls ‘UltraSphere’ technology. Put simply the combination of inverted dome, textured coating and unique motor structure


it into the surrounding air. This affords it the ability to handle around 90 watts continuous, with the suspension allowing for more than triple that if need be. The sturdy polycotton spider works in conjunction with the surround above holding everything in place, and returns a resonance frequency of 49Hz and sensitivity of 84.5dB. Top side is also home to a mechanical work of art, the cone being constructed from a base of pulp to achieve a natural and affluent sound. This has then undergone a similar nanoceramic treatment to that of the tweeter, which not only improves damping characteristics and minimises distortions but also gives the cone gargantuan strength. Lining the edge of this diaphragm is a thick butyl surround that also has a specially designed parabolic profile allowing it to maintain accuracy whether playing softly or hammering one into oblivion. Yet despite the seriousness of the suspension system it’s still fluid enough to allow for a frequency response well into five-figure cycle territory.

tions — all of which were not only met but well and truly exceeded. Listening for mere minutes immediately reveals these components to be quite simply superb. It’s actually a tad confronting at first, not that I wasn’t expecting it, more that I just hadn’t prepped myself for just how impressive are their sound signature and low coloration. The technical advancements speak for themselves — these new components are simply stunning, and I’m not talking solely in comparison to the German Maestro stable either. Judging from what I’ve heard hitherto, these speakers will easily outdo many of their esteemed colleagues, including some over quintuple their price. The lifelike atmosphere they create is just astounding; they’re more controlled, more refined, more accurate, just more, more and more of everything positive. Working together via those new crossovers also ensures that both drivers transition together seamlessly in order to produce an overall linear sound which is pronounced well forward of their mounting locations.

GERMAN CROSSOVER

The first line on German Maestro’s ‘about us’ page is a quote from Sir Frederick Henry Royce of Rolls-Royce fame. It states “Small things are what make perfection, but perfection is anything but a small thing”. This may have been through one too many Google Translations (the original is more widely quoted as “Small things make perfection, but perfection isn’t a small thing”), but certainly this quote is given substance in the new MS 6.2 component set. Compared to previous models there’s no neon sign pointing to one particular significant aspect of this new design. Rather they impress in how all those little improvements combine to present a component set bordering on just that — perfection.

Even the best drivers in the world still need their frequencies limited, and these new crossovers are the recipient of some extensive reworking. As is often the case with German Maestro it’s opted to pay more attention to the component quality and topology rather than striving to make them the biggest and most complex. That said these are a radical departure from those previous, and running an eager eyeball over them reveals painstaking attention to construction detail, from the gold-plated recessed connector blocks through to the high quality capacitors, solid-core inductors and low-tolerance resistors. Beautifully simplistic in their design, they provide a second-order 12dB slope for the tweeter set upon 3300Hz, with a Butterworth logarithm Q of 0.7. The midrange on the other hand features a low pass of 680Hz, also with a second-order Butterworth slope. This may seem like somewhat of a gap — but because the Butterworth slope has an intrinsic 3dB summation gain, the gap is masked perfectly without serious phase and overlap issues presenting themselves. Level control hasn’t been forgotten either; you can attenuate the tweeter either -2dB or -4dB to suit your application. The components all reside in a black plastic 190mm x 105mm x 40mm case complete with open sides for cooling and smoked clear top cover for protection.

CONCLUSION

GERMAN MAESTRO MS 6 2 COMPONENT SPEAKERS TYPE: 6.5” & 1.6” component set CONTINUOUS POWER HANDLING: 90 watts continuous. 295 watts maximum FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 28Hz – 32000Hz IMPEDANCE: 4 ohm midrange / 6 ohm tweeter COST: $2499

MUSIC MAESTRO PLEASE

CONTACT: German Maestro

Because of the inherently shallow mounting depth the installation of these components will prove little challenge. Post installation I began my standard wearing-in ritual using a combination of resonant frequency sinusoidal waves and correlated pink noise. Being a flagship speaker I’ll confess I did hold high expecta-

WEB: www.german-maestro.de • Controlled, refined, accurate • Excellent crossover choices • Only price

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design allow the driver to move air with far higher efficiency than a conventional dome. and with far superior control. The butyl foam outer roll spanning from the frame to the dome forms the top suspension and, together with the motor beneath, controls all movements with tremendous accuracy. The motor features a six-ohm voice coil wrapped upon a thermally efficient 25mm Kapton former. This is paired with a dense neodymium magnet specially shaped to exert a substantial influence over the aforesaid motor, with both residing in a meticulously designed rear labyrinth chamber. This chamber also contains an aperiodic damping material which combats troublesome back waves emanating from the diaphragm underside, in turn diminishing this turbulence to such a point it can no longer interfere with the motor. The outer case is shock-resistant alloy and sports clearly labelled terminals on the back end. The combination of strong suspension, vigilant chamber design and beefy motor structure not only allow the MT 40 WS a power handling of 90 watts continuous; it also returns a resonant frequency of 1188Hz which is conducive to a lower F3 point — meaning it can blend with the midrange seamlessly. Moving along to the MW 6508 woofer, this 166mm driver is one robust unit and shares various technologies with its smaller sibling. Don’t let its diminutive back-end discourage you, for though it might look similar to previous models, within lurks a motor structure that again brings a craftful raft of technological advancements. The frame is constructed from alloy, a largely inert material thus employed so as not to interfere with the magnetic forces encapsulated within. The motor starts with a generous high-density neodymium magnet to control the voice coil during its entire 4mm Xmax. The motor comprises an enormous 38mm Kapton former tightly wrapped with an edge-wound four-ohm copper voice coil. Both magnet and voice coil have again undergone extensive FEM simulations, and they feature specific t-yoke geometry in order to maximise efficiency during linear travel. In order to retain the relatively shallow mounting depth, the traditional pole vent had to be omitted, which posed a problem with cooling. How would German Maestro get around this conundrum? The answer lies within the laws of thermal dynamics. There are only two effective ways of dissipating heat: either you douse the source with cool air or else you draw the heat away from the source instead allowing radiation to take effect. This driver utilises both methods, first drawing cool air down through the spider. Then rather than expulsion via a pole vent German Maestro instead opts to incorporate a mechanical heat transfer system in the form of healthy sized radiator fins. Liberally peppered all over the basket, these dissipation fins surround the motor and draw heat away before expelling


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BRAX MATRIX ML10 SUBWOOFER

AUDITION

SUBSONIC SUPREMACY. REVIEWER MARTY PRICE

When talking about audio-visual manufacturers, biggest doesn’t always correlate to best. Proof positive of this is a phenomenon I like to colloquially call ‘corporate small man syndrome’, whereby various companies’ marketing machines rather outstrip their actual abilities. On the flipside, however, there exist companies of another ilk — a small cadre of boutique operations that, although comparatively smaller in size, nonetheless achieve staggering performance heights though careful research and development (rather than overinflated and unsubstantiated boasts). They’re often brands that chainstores and Facebook pages never feature, and likely won’t anytime soon. I’m sure you can see where I’m headed with this, so no prize for guessing which side of the marketing

divide the German-bred Brax belongs. Founded in 1990 as a subsidiary of Audiotec-Fischer, this modest yet tenacious company chooses to remain relatively low-key. Indeed many learn of its existence the hard way, as it possesses an uncanny knack of completely dominating any and every competition scene it becomes involved in.

ENTER THE MATRIX With an introduction like that, one could be forgiven for asking where a company with such a quiet reputation would choose to go next. The answer is ‘upwards’, of course. So when a handful of persistent manufacturers began closing the gap on its considerable performance lead, Brax retreated to the lab for a year or two in order to perfect its new

Matrix series of drivers. We reviewed the Brax component speakers in our issue before last, and they epitomised all that is awesome about car audio. Given how they performed, wouldn’t it just be the duck’s nuts if Brax produced a subwoofer to complement them? Well it does. A vast improvement over previous subsonic fare, the Matrix ML10 subwoofer is designed to work harmoniously with the aforementioned components, filling out the bottom octaves with complete competence and aplomb. However before we gallivant off talking all things music let us first visit the physical design, as is our custom. At this stage only the ten-inch variant is in production, though we live in hope of a larger arrival. No matter: this 346cm² cone comprises a meticulously profiled diaphragm including a dust cap that’s constructed from a

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AUDITION

paper-pulp core, retained for its natural sound and unremarkable mass. This is then coated with a material Brax calls ‘MicroSphere’. MicroSphere is essentially a lightweight yet incredibly strong polymer coating embedded with hollow 75µm micro-ceramic spheres, and when we say ‘strong’, we’re not delivering a mareting spiel — this coating is similar to the sintered ceramic material used on the latest evolution of aircraft engine blades. This combination of cone and coating not only improves the stiffness (a superior Young’s Modulus) and inner damping, it also keeps the moving mass down to 89g. Holding the top edge of the cone concentric is a butyl rubber surround sporting a special parabolic profile allowing for long excursions whilst maintaining axial and radial accuracy. This is aided by a strong polycotton spider which spans the gap from the frame to the cone bottom where it meets the voice coil top retainer cap. Both these elements work together harmoniously to provide exceptional fluidity and free movement to the tune of a 35Hz resonance frequency and 87dB sensitivity, and because of the considerable lack of moving mass the suspension system allows the driver to reproduce frequencies extending far into the mid-bass region, from 18Hz right up to over 500Hz. Residing within is a 65mm Kapton former which holds the tightly wound 33mm-high quad-layer four-ohm copper voice coil in a very precise location for the densest regions of the magnetic flux. This allows the magnet to exert its influence over much of the coil throughout its 12.5mm Xmax. Contrary to popular opinion, getting the neutral or static voice-coil position just right is no straightforward task. Because music is a constantly changing combination of sinusoidal waves, the voice coil is constantly moving position when playing; one cannot simply stick it right at the centre. So Brax paid particular attention to where the coil resides in relation to the aforesaid magnetic force courtesy of that

TECH SPECS

BRAX

MATRIX ML10 SUBWOOFER TYPE: 10” single voice coil subwoofer CONTINUOUS POWER HANDLING: 600 watts continuous, 1200 watts maximum FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 18Hz – 500Hz IMPEDANCE: 4 ohms COST: $1499 CONTACT: Dynamic Audio WEB: www.dynamicaudio.com.au

As good a sub as we’ve ever heard

Clean, tight and deep

It’s for music, not SPLs...

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the scales at 7.6kg. So you won’t need to make your enclosure resemble a coffin to handle its girth. On the instructions provided Brax recommend an enclosure volume of 28-litres sealed, and while there is always a little compression factor equated into that it’s not far off the mark. With a little modelling I settled on a sealed enclosure volume of 29.44 litres, which returned me a QTC of 0.707 and group delay of 4ms across its reproduced frequency range.

PERFORMANCE

2kg precision machined magnet. This has been bolted to the rear of the solid die-cast basket (its material chosen for its magnetically inert properties), and the web fingers are designed to be robust yet as aerodynamically transparent as possible, despite the standing waves within its playable frequency range being long enough to prevent any real need for consternation. It’s just testament to how much attention Brax pays to the smallest of details. The cooling system has also undergone a considerable amount of development, with Brax testing everything from flow path and vortex control through to thermal radiation coefficients and other near unpronounceable terms. Twin cooling paths inhale copious amounts of air through numerous titanic perimeter vents, from whence the cool zephyr snakes its way around the voice coil and pole surfaces before being expelled through a generous 20mm pole vent, its cross-sectional shape specially designed to have near-zero compressional effect upon the driver. The cooling system gives the driver a continuous power handling level of 600 watts, and if you have the odd rush of blood to the head the suspension will allow for well over double that before machined back plate starts becoming a target. I’ll also mention that both input and output vents boast mesh coverings in addition to generous radii being machined upon all edges. This ensures the driver doesn’t chop like a turboprop at full song due to excessive cavitation. When it came time to construct an enclosure to suit the ML10 I was joyed to see the frame retains a standard 235mm mounting diameter. (If your sum experience of subwoofers is confined to mainstream brands then this mightn’t mean much. However when dealing with bespoke hig-end gear you’ll find many of them are either oddball sizes such as 11” or 13” or oddball shapes such as square or hexagonal, just to highlight those more infamous.) It’s not an overly heavy driver either, tipping

Kicking off the auditioning process I started out with a combination of 35Hz sine wave and correlated pink noise in order to attempt loosening up the suspension. I say ‘attempt’ because the inherent suspension design means it’s actually quite graceful right out of the box. Nor does its signature doesn’t change significantly post wear-in, and as you dive head first into real music you notice immediately the ML10 marking itself out as something very special. Even pre-tuning with a digital sound processor it sounds a whole lot more controlled and precise than, well, just about any other subwoofer I’ve ever heard, full stop. Of course your amplifier’s ancillary specifications such as damping factor and total harmonic distortion will play a role; however that doesn’t detract from the fact this subwoofer is noticeably one of the best sounding subwoofers on the planet. Very few subwoofers will sound half as clean as an ML10 in full stride, let alone rival it. Its bottom-end extension is superb when playing genres like classical, baroque, jazz, choral as so forth, easily reproducing notes reaching well into the deep subsonic regions without hint of struggle, despite its ‘10inch’ size. Reciprocal speed and accuracy is likewise beyond reproach; during those genres more dynamic such as metal, techno, dance and rock it reveals a simply astounding level of edge detail and lifelikeness. No matter what genre you’re listening too it reveals a level of precision, clarity and minute detail that simply needs to be heard to be believed. And before you write that comment off as one best left to the advertising brochure — let me reiterate how serious I am. In all honesty I challenge you to audition an ML10 in your car and tell me you don’t experience a whole side to your music’s bottom octave that you didn’t know existed.

CONCLUSION Accolades aside, I’ll finish with a small word of sage advice. If you’re looking to achieve a world record in sound pressure then perhaps look elsewhere. Brax didn’t design the Matrix range for that purpose. Instead the ML10 is designed to take subsonic sound reproduction to an entirely new level, providing a standard of accuracy and realism often desired, often boasted of in marketing, but hitherto largely unrealised. That’s a tough challenge, sure, but it’s one that Brax has well and truly conquered in the ML 10.


TROUSER FLAPPING BASS FROM UNDER YOUR SEAT

The word Euphoria conjures up images of a blissful and serene state, but in the case of our db Drive Euphoria EPS8 Subwoofer serenity is not what is first to cross your mind. Unless of course your definition of bliss is listening to your favourite tunes with real punchy bass. The EPS8 is a dynamically powerful subwoofer, which delivers true trouser flapping bass when you need it - all in a compact unit that sits comfortably under your seat.

FEATURES INCLUDE: 550 watts of Dynamic Power · Dual passive radiators for added bass · Adjustable input sensitivity · Low level RCA inputs · High level inputs · audio sensing remote turn on · Protection circuitry · P.W.M. MOSFET power supply and much more

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AUSTRALIAN INCAR #6-2017 - AWARDS 2018  
AUSTRALIAN INCAR #6-2017 - AWARDS 2018  

Australia's top 12V tests & tech magazine - 2018 AWARDS with full reviews - SUBARU WRX INSTALL - NEW REVIEWS: Brax, Focal, German Maestro &...