In part two of this multi-part article on upgrading your vehicle’s audio system, we explore the installation process. A decade ago, a full-featured audio system in your automobile meant AM/FM with a CD player … no longer! New cars ship with built-in GPS, digital tuners, sophisticated displays, and a multitude of features. Once we decided on an upgrade to the Pioneer AVH-4100NEX in-dash receiver, the next step was installation. Thanks to the hard-working team of Mike Fusto and Mike Janney at The Sound of Tri-State, we followed the installation of the Networked Entertainment eXperience (NEX) in-dash receiver - obviously capable of so much more than your grandparents’ car radio.
We have a 2003 Honda Odyssey. It was the perfect vehicle for parents of two young boys. At the time we bought it, it came standard with an AM/FM radio and only a cassette player, so we opted for the addition of a built-in CD player. This might not seem important, but it is; the dash was designed for a dual-height system, which meant that the 4100-NEX fit perfectly into our existing dash with no modifications. Older vehicles often mean easier retrofits.
The two Mikes of The Sound of Tri-State in Morton, PA – manager Mike Fusto and installer Mike Janney - specialize in a wide range of installs, from simple upgrades, as well as outrageously tricked-out systems for both cars and motorcycles. In our case, we had two goals. The first was to keep the look as stock as possible, and the second was to keep expenses down, because there is a limit to how much expense we could justify adding to an older vehicle.
The Pioneer AVH-4100NEX was indeed a good match for our vehicle. Its dual-height form factor meant there was no need to modify the existing dash plastics. The starting point was to make sure we were using all the proper components. This included the AVH-4100NEX, a set of TS-A 1605C two-way 6.5” front speakers complete with tweeters and crossovers (rated at 350w max), and a set of TS-A 1675R three-way 6.5” speakers rear coaxial speakers (rated at 300w), and to connect a smartphone Pioneer supplied a set of USB cables, one was a USB extender cable, and the other a USB to Apple Lightning cable.
Our capable installer, Mike Janney then checked the universal mounting kit, mounted the unit to the dash panel, which also provided a nicely finished bezel around the unit. There are some vehicles with dedicated mounting kits, but many rely on tailored universal kits; our Honda was in the latter category. Mike unpacked the AVH-4100NEX, and then in a few quick seconds removed the van’s center dash plastic panel, which held the controls for the air conditioning and heater switches. The plate fit in with tabs, no screws needed. It was surprisingly simple to just pop it off. Then he removed the old system. We wanted to hang on to the original car stereo; should we replace the vehicle, we’d be able to put the old unit in and keep the NEX unit, knowing that the resale value of an older-model car wouldn’t really be affected by the addition of the new system. The next step was to wire the new harness to the old wiring. Once again, Mike carefully noted the wiring diagram, and adapted the new plug to the old cable, then he plugged it into the AVH-4100NEX to make sure it powered up properly.
At this point, the next step was to adapt the mounting kit to the vehicle, which meant trimming tabs, testing the fit, and tweaking till perfect. The next steps were where things got interesting. An external microphone needed to be mounted with the wiring routed to the unit, tweeters need to mounted in the unused tweeter wells just under the windshield, and a safety interlock so prevent the DVD player from working while the car is in motion, along normal connections such as the antenna. Mike routed wires, up, under, behind, so that they were invisible. The rear speakers took him almost no time at all – using the existing wiring, with the same dimensions, that was the simplest aspect of the installation.
The front speakers were a bit more work since it meant not only replacing the existing speakers in the doors, but also finding a place to mount the small coil-based crossovers for each panel, and then run wiring up and under the dash to emerge at the tweeter wells. Then Mike used metal tape to fashion a bracket in the small grills to hold the tweeters. Once he completed the brackets, he attached the wires, tested the audio, and then snapped the assembly back into place, maintaining the stock appearance, but providing much better than stock sound!
Mike worked a few hours on the system, slowed down no doubt by my asking questions, and taking photographs. Since I had installed my own car stereos over the years, most of it made perfect sense, but this installation brought the bar higher. Mike’s attention to detail was evident in the pride his work reflected. And he graciously allowed me to really clean all the plastics, switches, and crevices on the plastic parts before reinstalling. I don’t think the ventilation switches and controls have been this clean since the day it was manufactured! Once the wiring was in place, and speaker grills put back where they belonged, it was time for testing.
I should interject that at this point I made a mistake by not reading the manual ahead of time, and I encourage anyone considering an upgrade to read the manual to let the features to sink in. First off we tested the radio, and programmed some stations into memory. Then we went to the System Menu to set the system to Android to work with my Samsung S5, adjusted the graphic equalizer, and compared and contrasted the audio signature. Normally we just use systems in a Flat EQ setting, but I discovered that the tweeters really emphasized the high end, while the system, lacking a subwoofer, needed a bit of bass boost. The resulting EQ rolled off the high end, stayed flat through the mid-tones, and had a bass boost in the bottom register.
We were able to utilize the external microphone with the smart phone function, and Google Maps worked great on the large screen. Another nice feature was that the phone stayed charged as long as it was plugged into the system. I was curious how the ability to play high-resolution FLAC files from HD Tracks would work, so I loaded up a Kingston SD card with a few recent titles, and put the card into the slot located next to the DVD slot in back of the display. I selected SD on the input menu and instantly Keith Richards, The Grateful Dead, James Taylor, and the newly remastered David Bowie box set were filling the van.
From an audio perspective, the sound was open and airy, even driving the system hard at high listening levels. This resulted in a solid soundstage, with little evidence of clipping. It was clear that Pioneer’s work with their well-respected home theater receiver line was paying off for their auto customers. Curiously, I found the audio from the SD card FLAC files a bit brighter than comparable audio from CDs, or HD Radio. The new tweeters are only a couple of feet from the driver or passengers listening position, so the separation of the high frequencies was immediately apparent. The different EQ options were helpful, since you can set the listening position, which allowed me to tone down the left side, and boost up the volume on the passenger side. This was great when I was driving alone, and it was easy to create a preset for having more passengers in the vehicle.
Is this installation something a do-it-yourself weekend mechanic could accomplish? From the technical standpoint, it’s doable for someone who can follow instructions, search out training videos on YouTube, and more. But, a professional installation is dependent on both instructions and experience, and from watching Mike Janney snake wires, fashion custom brackets, adjust and tweak the fit, our recommendation is to let a professional do the work. Swapping speakers is easy, but the rest takes experience and knowledge, or else you really could stand a serious chance of damaging your vehicle’s interior, or electric system.
One option that we will cover in Part Three of this story is the addition of a backup camera. In newer vehicles, we take the inclusion of a backup camera as a standard safety feature, soon to become a requirement by the government, while most older vehicles lack them. Some companies’ systems (i.e., Magellan) offer an add-on back-up camera that plays through specific models of their GPS systems. However, many drivers use the GPS in their phones, which don’t have the back-up camera feature. Having a large display permanently mounted in the dash displaying the back-up camera's coverage might be one of the most compelling safety features of upgrading your vehicle’s audio receiver.
Harris Fogel & Nancy Burlan, Posted 11/8/2015
For more information on the Pioneer AVH-4100-NEX in-dash receiver visit: www.pioneerelectronics.com
For more information on the Pioneer TS-A 1605C two-way 6.5” front speakers visit: www.pioneerelectronics.com
For more information on the Pioneer of TS-A 1675R three-way 6.5” rear coaxial speakers visit: www.pioneerelectronics.com
For more information on HD Tracks High Resolution Audio Downloads visit: www.hdtracks.com
For more information on The Sound of Tri-State visit: www.soundoftristate.com