Car audio over the years (past, present and future)

DeeInKY

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We had an 8 track in the big Oldsmobile. Dad and I enjoyed it. Mom wasn’t really into it. Come to think of if, she didn’t really play records on the stereo either.

For a while there I had a portable cassette player and a bunch of mix tapes that I carted around.
 

Rudy

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I used to take a portable cassette recorder with me on vacation, having taped a few hours of my favorite radio station at the time. That was in the pre-Walkman era, but I must have had some sort of adapter for headphones I plugged into it.
 

Harry

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One of my early experiments in homemade car audio was using one of those piano-key mono cassette players connected to an old single speaker from a portable stereo. I had the cassette player in the front with me, and ran a wire from headphone output to this speaker in the rear seat. It didn't have a lot of volume, but it worked. I'd make mix-tapes at home and then play them on the road.

Later on, of course, when my cars had in-dash cassette players, all of that was just a prelude.
 

Rudy

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With car stereo theft being an issue, Radio Shack used to sell slide-out mounts that you could mount your equipment to, and slide it out when you left the car. There was an under-dash mount, and a transmission-hump mount which I owned. I used to have a "stack" in my car, with the power booster, the cassette player and a Heathkit FM tuner (that unfortunately never worked). That only lasted until I got a cheaper in-dash radio (may have been a Clarion--I got it at Schaak Electronics), then upgraded that later on to the Sony.

Once I settle into a proper garage in the next few years, I should hook up some of this old equipment to make a garage system out of it. :D
 

DeeInKY

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Most folks I knew who had those removable components didn’t remove them much, but it was a thing there for a while to come back to the car and find a hole in the dash. :realmad:
 

DAN BOLTON

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Most folks I knew who had those removable components didn’t remove them much, but it was a thing there for a while to come back to the car and find a hole in the dash. :realmad:
Some players had removeable face plates, too...looked like the car didn't have a radio.

In the late '70's, Alpine car stereos were the hot theft item. BMWs had them, and it was very easy to steal them, because the battery cable was exposed just a couple of inches ahead of the left front wheel.

The best car stereo I ever had was one I had installed in my '96 Chevy Corsica. A Pioneer head unit, and two Infinity speakers with magnets the size of softballs installed in the rear package shelf. Didn't need a subwoofer, I could listen to Herb Alpert's Colors with full bass and no distortion. I did have to put a popsicle stick wrapped in an old dishtowel under the CHMSL to keep it from rattling like crazy. I could raise the trunk lid and supply a whole parking lot with rump-rattlin' beats, as long as I duct-taped the license plate to the deck lid.
 

Rudy

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I did have to put a popsicle stick wrapped in an old dishtowel under the CHMSL to keep it from rattling like crazy. I could raise the trunk lid and supply a whole parking lot with rump-rattlin' beats, as long as I duct-taped the license plate to the deck lid.
I did that in my '92 Civic. I had built a removable subwoofer enclosure (dual 10" woofers) that fit against the back seat and was powered by a 2x120w Sherwood amp. It rattled the license plate and shook the rearview mirror. The fun came when I put on a Stereophile test CD that had bass warble tones on it. I lived in a 1950 bungalow that had the typical 1½ car wood-framed garage. I'd put that CD on the warble tones, open the trunk, turn it all the way up, close the garage door, and listen to that poor garage rattle itself into oblivion. :D (Theoretically if I could have found the resonance frequency of the garage and played a solid sine wave at that frequency, it could have created some serious havoc.)

Part of my misspent youth, I guess. :laugh:

My Pioneer has the removable faceplate, although someone could still steal the head unit and buy a new faceplate. Or worse, tear the entire car apart trying to find if I've hid it somewhere. But given the, umm, aftermarket for those things, the thieves just want to flip them fast for a profit, and a missing faceplate pretty much says "stolen."

Most folks I knew who had those removable components didn’t remove them much, but it was a thing there for a while to come back to the car and find a hole in the dash. :realmad:
The worst part was the damage they'd do to the dashboard to remove the radio. Which cost more than the head unit they stole. My mother's aunt once had her '77 Delta 88 stolen when it was several years old, and the factory speakers and radio were stripped from it. That never made sense to me as I wouldn't think there would be a market for it. But given where she used to live, if someone could fence the radio and speakers for a "fix," it was worth it.
 

Rudy

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Rudy, actually, Acura still does the ELS thing, and as recently as a year ago, I had an Acura as a test vehicle with ELS and with the demonstration disc curated by Roger Nichols. In the big Acura (the RLX) you can now move above ELS to a Krell system which is astonishingly good.
Checking the Krell Automotive site, they are now providing systems to Hyundai. With the Legend (RLX) now being available in Japan-only, I don't know if they still use the Krell system over there or not.
 

Rudy

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Since I still own CD player-cars, I'm not as up on the latest technologies. Am I to understand that I can put a bunch of music files on a thumb drive and then play that in the car? What types of files do these things play? Can they play WMA?
Jeez I blew right past this one! 🤦🏽‍♂️

From what I've seen, all of them can play MP3. Most can play WMA. (Always check maximum bitrates for both.) A few might play AAC or WAV. (WAV does not officially support metadata, so track information may not be possible from them.) Aftermarket head units have way more flexiblity and can play lossless FLAC files, WAV, and the latest Pioneers (and maybe a couple of others) can also play DSF files (DSD rips from SACD).

As I just wrote on another forum a half hour ago, automakers assume all of us stream from Spotify through Bluetooth. 🙄 (Which is about the crappiest sounding combination possible. Spotify is lossy, Bluetooth also uses data compression...anything through that combo sounds terrible, I've found.)
 

Harry

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I believe I've committed to hanging on to the CD players in the 2007 Maxima a while longer. A little jerkiness in the driving and a couple of "Service Engine Soon" lights have prompted me to seek help from the dealer where the bad news is the 14-year old transmission was throwing bad codes. The only solution is a transmission replacement, so it's in the dealership awaiting parts and lots of labor.

I can't see spending a lot on a new car as I just don't drive all that much or that far any more in my car. It's basically used to run to the store or to a food place to pick up lunch. When I get an oil change these days and they put one of those 3000 mile stickers in the car, it's typically been a year before I hit that mileage.

So for the price of a few big car payments, I'll hang on to this car, which I'm told is in otherwise great shape.
 

Rudy

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That's the best move, really. If the rest of the car is still sound, no sense in getting into another four or five year string of payments. I've seen videos of cars that were "mechanically totaled" and sent to the salvage yard since it cost way more to fix than they were worth. If the price differential were that much, I probably wouldn't bother either. But in my area, we have to be aware of damage from road salt over the winter. Even if everything is running well mechanically today, a major repair could happen before major rust damage causes a car to become inoperable. (Mainly, suspension parts separating from the subframe.)

My oldest car just got too difficult to work on, with fasteners rusting in place, and structural damage becoming an issue. Yet I can't complain--I had 13 years of no car payments, and nothing more than scheduled maintenance and wear to deal with. Even replacing the exhaust wasn't too bad--it probably cost me a couple of $250 car payments to replace everything. If it were rust-free, I'd probably have kept it running longer--parts are still readily available.
 

Mike Blakesley

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I took a test drive of the new Ford F-150 the other day. When I got my '16, it had the Sony sound system (the top-of-the-line available from Ford). Now they have gotten in bed with Bang & Olufsen, and from the brief test drive, it appears to blow the Sony right out of the water. The salesman told me the cab has 18 speakers in it, and 2 subwoofers. (I can't remember if the "18" figure includes the subwoofers or not.) I was wishing I'd brought some Sergio with me -- I have found that the Equinox album makes a really great demo for an audio system. Sergio's small combo really bring out the strengths and weaknesses of the system. Anyway.... now I want one. :)
 

Rudy

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There were a lot of problems with the newest F-150. (Made the local news since Ford was hiring in non-union labor to do all the repairs--they had hundreds parked on a lot downriver, waiting for service, before they shipped them out.) I'd wait a couple of years on that one. 😉

The "subwoofers" in manufacturers' systems are anything but subwoofers--that implies solid, extended response below 40-50Hz and most factory car subs don't get much below that (which misses the lowest fundamental notes of a bass guitar). It's just a marketing gimmick. If it were a true subwoofer, it'd reproduce the 16Hz tones of a full pipe organ or at the very least, get down to about 27.5Hz (based on a low musical note that I have in a few recordings). Just a pet peeve of mine. They really need to be truthful and just call them "woofers" as that's what they are. One of my cars raved about a "subwoofer" when it was nothing more than a plastic box beneath the seat that thumped and hummed, tunelessly, to make up for the $2 plastic speakers in the doors. It produced sound, but I wouldn't call it "music."
 

Michael Hagerty

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Checking the Krell Automotive site, they are now providing systems to Hyundai. With the Legend (RLX) now being available in Japan-only, I don't know if they still use the Krell system over there or not.
Krell is gone from Acura now that the top-of-the-line, apart from the NSX sports car, is the MDX. I just had the new MDX (a 2022) model and the ELS system is terrific.
 

Michael Hagerty

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Jeez I blew right past this one! 🤦🏽‍♂️

From what I've seen, all of them can play MP3. Most can play WMA. (Always check maximum bitrates for both.) A few might play AAC or WAV. (WAV does not officially support metadata, so track information may not be possible from them.) Aftermarket head units have way more flexiblity and can play lossless FLAC files, WAV, and the latest Pioneers (and maybe a couple of others) can also play DSF files (DSD rips from SACD).

As I just wrote on another forum a half hour ago, automakers assume all of us stream from Spotify through Bluetooth. 🙄 (Which is about the crappiest sounding combination possible. Spotify is lossy, Bluetooth also uses data compression...anything through that combo sounds terrible, I've found.)

Cautionary note: Playing music off thumb drives is only as good an experience as the internals of the head unit. I found that it was so glitchy going from car to car (a problem admittedly unique to reviewers), that I chose to simply use the "local files' option of Apple Music and Spotify and load them there. Doing that eliminated compatibility issues.
 

Michael Hagerty

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I believe I've committed to hanging on to the CD players in the 2007 Maxima a while longer. A little jerkiness in the driving and a couple of "Service Engine Soon" lights have prompted me to seek help from the dealer where the bad news is the 14-year old transmission was throwing bad codes. The only solution is a transmission replacement, so it's in the dealership awaiting parts and lots of labor.

I can't see spending a lot on a new car as I just don't drive all that much or that far any more in my car. It's basically used to run to the store or to a food place to pick up lunch. When I get an oil change these days and they put one of those 3000 mile stickers in the car, it's typically been a year before I hit that mileage.

So for the price of a few big car payments, I'll hang on to this car, which I'm told is in otherwise great shape.
My wife's eight-year-old Nissan Versa sedan just made it into the CVT recall, so it's now like new. With my review cars, she puts very few miles on it---she's just now creeping up on 50,000 miles.
 

Michael Hagerty

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There were a lot of problems with the newest F-150. (Made the local news since Ford was hiring in non-union labor to do all the repairs--they had hundreds parked on a lot downriver, waiting for service, before they shipped them out.) I'd wait a couple of years on that one. 😉

The "subwoofers" in manufacturers' systems are anything but subwoofers--that implies solid, extended response below 40-50Hz and most factory car subs don't get much below that (which misses the lowest fundamental notes of a bass guitar). It's just a marketing gimmick. If it were a true subwoofer, it'd reproduce the 16Hz tones of a full pipe organ or at the very least, get down to about 27.5Hz (based on a low musical note that I have in a few recordings). Just a pet peeve of mine. They really need to be truthful and just call them "woofers" as that's what they are. One of my cars raved about a "subwoofer" when it was nothing more than a plastic box beneath the seat that thumped and hummed, tunelessly, to make up for the $2 plastic speakers in the doors. It produced sound, but I wouldn't call it "music."
Ford is having launch problems on pretty much every new vehicle these days. My advice is the same as it was for GM---wait two or three years until they get the bugs worked out.
 

Harry

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I can't complain about 14 years and 98,000 miles, and hopefully Nissan's replacement CVT transmission will serve for a long time.
 

Rudy

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Krell is gone from Acura now that the top-of-the-line, apart from the NSX sports car, is the MDX. I just had the new MDX (a 2022) model and the ELS system is terrific.
Krell seems to be working with Hyundai now. Their cars are all over the Krell Automotive site these days.

Then again, Krell isn't the same company since they booted out Dan D'Agostino a couple of decades ago (an investor in the company forced him out)--they've turned to the mass market, similar to the decline of Mark Levinson Audio Systems (who met a similar fate--Levinson long hasn't been a part of his own namesake company but started the Cello high-end company to compete). Levinson, the company, is just another faceless unit inside of Harman International.

Cautionary note: Playing music off thumb drives is only as good an experience as the internals of the head unit. I found that it was so glitchy going from car to car (a problem admittedly unique to reviewers), that I chose to simply use the "local files' option of Apple Music and Spotify and load them there. Doing that eliminated compatibility issues.
That's why I get aftermarket equipment. The auto manufacturers build to a price point, as low as possible, and mark it up exorbitantly (especially when it has a perceived "premium" brand name on it).
 

Rudy

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I can't complain about 14 years and 98,000 miles, and hopefully Nissan's replacement CVT transmission will serve for a long time.
I watched a video earlier this week where the mechanic recommended having the transmission fluid changed ever 20,000 miles or so. (One of his cars is the Nissan "Cube.") The intervals on that transmission are too long. I wonder if a lot of these failures could have been prevented with more frequent changes than what the manual recommends.

I know mine (not a CVT) has a schedule for fluid changes (basically a 3 qt. drain and fill) but instead I change it every two or three oil changes, so, no longer than 30,000 miles. Cheap insurance, especially when I buy the fluid in bulk.

And never have a transmission "flushed." The quick lube shops are quick to push that service. I know for my cars, the manufacturer issued a TSB saying they should never be flushed, since the solvents in the flush are never fully purged, and that loss of lubricity can lead to early transmission failure.
 

DeeInKY

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I watched a video earlier this week where the mechanic recommended having the transmission fluid changed ever 20,000 miles or so. (One of his cars is the Nissan "Cube.") The intervals on that transmission are too long. I wonder if a lot of these failures could have been prevented with more frequent changes than what the manual recommends.

I know mine (not a CVT) has a schedule for fluid changes (basically a 3 qt. drain and fill) but instead I change it every two or three oil changes, so, no longer than 30,000 miles. Cheap insurance, especially when I buy the fluid in bulk.

And never have a transmission "flushed." The quick lube shops are quick to push that service. I know for my cars, the manufacturer issued a TSB saying they should never be flushed, since the solvents in the flush are never fully purged, and that loss of lubricity can lead to early transmission failure.
All those metal shavings in the case are what’s holding them together. :D
 

Rudy

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All those metal shavings in the case are what’s holding them together. :D
With really tired transmissions, that and the gunked up fluid are exactly what holds them together. 😁
 
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