|Europe's leading residential technology trade magazine||Subscribe|
Trade Talk: Should Home Control Experts be Looking at Mobile Audio Too? (4/7/2012)
By Ajay Maisuria, Your Smart Home
The home control industry is not teaming with cost-no-object customers, and even rarer it seems, is the customer with loads of money and an educated ear. But when you do meet a customer with sound quality sensibilities in the home, is it worth talking to them about their car audio too?
When car audio really started taking off in the 1980s, it appeared that car manufacturers wanted a branded sound system to cost no extra money, not weigh anything and not to take up any space.
Have things changed? Well, there is a small but significant presence of 5.1 in production cars and this looks set to develop further given the vehicle manufacturers' quest to surprise and delight their customers. Having heard some of the latest offerings, it's evident that the 'no space' rule can often result in compromises through the use of tiny digital amplifiers that easily become strained at enthusiastic sound levels.
Unsurprisingly then, many car systems are ripe for upgrade, and even the most sophisticated systems such as the Naim products offered in Bentleys, can be improved (a starting point for the Naim system could be tweaking it away from Bentley's 'average customer' setting!) Other systems, such as the Harman/Kardon offerings in BMWs can be a disappointing sonic experience - car manufacturer interference with an audio company's vision is suspected here.
Car Audio Aftermarket Products
Car audio systems can often be improved with aftermarket products in the form of processors to hook up to the original head unit to form a bridge to high-quality amplification. Some of the better ones can be patched into the speaker outputs of any audio device including high-power systems. Some the processors' formats include Dolby D and PLII plus DTS, and they will perform automated interior sensing with a supplied microphone to time-align and acoustically equalise the vehicle, which also includes countering existing sound processing. The result is normally an improvement in stereo focus and the raising of the sound stage, plus a reduction of comb-filtering to improve intelligibility. The results can be truly impressive.
Ultimately, the key to good sound quality lies in the speakers used. These can make or break a system, and are the only components in the audio chain that have the inherently highest levels of distortion (even the cheapest digital amplifiers for instance, have tiny distortion figures in their continuously-rated power range). Speakers are also the final determinants of stereo focus.
The car audio aftermarket is also generously supplied with headrest screen systems and conversion interfaces such as 'TV on the move' (with questionable legality) for vehicles that automatically shut down front seat vision when the handbrake is released or speed sensors are activated.
The car audio aftermarket abounds with many A/V toys including 3G Wi-Fi modules and a lot of A/V iPad/ tablet integration. iPads moulded into dashboards have become big business in the States, and sometimes replace not only the head unit but some of the instrumentation and controls.
Hideaway digital radio tuners are available to fully integrate into original equipment and, if an aftermarket multimedia head unit is fitted, there are interesting iPhone integration possibilities. The latest exciting phone integration product for Android systems is MirrorLink. Developed by members of the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC), MirrorLink synchronises certified smartphone apps - wirelessly or via cables - with the screen and audio of a vehicle’s head unit.
It might seem that installing a decent multimedia system in a car should be simpler than doing so in a home, but touching a house won't cause it to electronically shut-down. The same can't be said however, of the modern car that's full of microprocessors and databus cables.
It doesn't happen often, but every time a bonnet or fuse cover is lifted on a modern computerised car, there is always a risk. Verified horror stories include an installer who had a franchise dealer threatening him with a GB£5000 bill to replace a main wiring loom that he had 'patched' into (with a 'down tools' action, leaving the owner without the vehicle).
Or how about the story of a newish GB£60k car having some simple A/V work done that coincided with an engine stop fault? Two weeks later, despite having two factory engineers flown in from Germany, the car was still not functioning properly.
At the serious end of the car system install business, some of the top mobile installation people have gone into residential custom install. Most of the car installers will say that in some ways it is simpler than mobile work, and certainly a lot less hassle.
The bottom line for residential custom installers on the other hand, is that car audio is a tough market, and hardly worth the learning curve. If your customer is leaning towards in-car gadgetry, put them in touch with a competent installer, i.e. someone with a website showing nothing less than top-level bespoke installs. And after that, it's probably a good idea to leave it to the experts and concentrate on improving the audio quality within the home.
Ajay Maisuria is the Sales Director for Your Smart Home Ltd, provider of smart home consultancy, design and installation services alongside operating one of the UK's leading home automation retail web shops.
| newsfeeds | subscribe
to newsletter | submit
a link |