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From Fri Nov 28 10:16:04 1997
for <>; Fri, 28 Nov 1997 10:15:58 -0800
by with ESMTP
id CAA27034; Sat, 29 Nov 1997 02:15:48 +0800 (SGT)
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id CAA22189; Sat, 29 Nov 1997 02:15:44 +0800 (SGT)
Date: Sat, 29 Nov 1997 02:15:44 +0800 (SGT)
From: Justin Chan <>
Subject: BMW E36 3 Series Coupe Stereo Install (long, WOB)

Dear All,

Here's the lowdown on my just-completed stereo upgrade.

Started with: Blaupunkt Car 202 5.25 Coaxials in kickpanels and reardeck. My Asia-spec E36 does not have speakers in the door panels. Head unit is a Blaupunkt Barcelona RCM 83 hooked to a 10CD Changer.

Unchanged: Head unit, rear speakers and CD Changer.

Removed: Blaupunkt Front Speakers

Added: MB Quart 215.03CX Two-way Component Speakers, Rockford Fosgate Punch 400.4 Amp, Pioneer TW-SX75A Powered Bass Tube.

I was dissatisfied with my stock system. It lacked bass punch, had poor separation of mids and no noticeable highs. The location of the front tweeters in the kickpanels robbed the system of proper staging and imaging. Front imaging was possible with use of the fader and decent bass and highs by using the bass/treble knobs, but far from satisfactory. There was noticeable distortion at high volumes, particularly on rock music.

Not to spend too much. To achieve good separation. To get good bass and good imaging and staging. A good looking install. Totally revertible to stock. ABSOLUTELY no drilling required.

I decided the front speakers had to go. I chose MB Quarts because they had a reputation for being "bright". I was still going to install the tweets near the kickpanels, but not within the panel itself. I wanted them outside, mounted on a bracket on the kickpanel, pointed up at me. The reason was because there was no proper mounting place on the dash, I did not want to use the plastic triangle on the doors. I feared that the speakers would be playing out of phase if too much distance was put between woofer and tweeter. So I wanted the tweets near the woofers but with line-of sight to me. Custom kickpanels were available from one local installer at around $250 but I couldn't afford them. So the stock panels were used. The tweets are mounted just under the dash on either extreme, pointed up and towards me. Discreet, but nice to see the MBQuart logo peeking out at me so I can "show off" to my friends.

Next, a good amp to power them. The MB Quarts are capable of very high level performance (I considered also Bostons, Dynaudio and Focal; I rejected the Bostons because the audition showed good performance for rock but not so impressive for jazz; Dynaudio and Focal were beyond my budget. Ditto with Image Dynamics which came into the local market about a month after I bought the Quarts). My mind was made up for the Quarts and Amp (Fosgate Punch 400.4) when I visited which sold me both the speakers and amp for under $700. The Fosgate puts out 50 W at 4 channels into 4 ohms but is rated far below what it can actually generate; closer to 80-100 W RMS. Other amps I considered were a/d/s and Cadence. Cadence has no local dealer here; I only located the a/d/s dealer after I bought the Fosgate amp. But I have heard only good things about those brands. The fourth and fifth brands were Orion and Hifonics, but the dealers here were selling them way out of my budget. As I said, usdealer made the sale with the low prices.

Thirdly, on the day before the install I decided I needed bass. Originally I hoped to buy a third amp in due course and hook up a pair of Kicker 10s or perhaps MTXs. This would have involved a large enclosure, or if I bought Kicker freeairs, cutting the rear deck. The amp, to match the Fosgate visually and sonically, would have been a Punch 200.2. BUT, this set-up would have cost me close to $1000 more, not to mention needing new power cables, a fuse distributor or at least a power distribution block, custom building a new amp board etc.

I settled for a bass tube, mounted in the trunk. Originally hoping for the SAS Bazooka powered 8 inch woofer, I settled on the Pioneer TW-XS75A. It is also an 8 inch woofer mounted inside a bass-reflex box. Built-in amp puts out 60W RMS. It has adjustable gain, an internal crossover from 50Hz to 125 Hz, reversible phase shift: the basics. Comes with power and ground but NO RCA cables (annoying). I chose the Pioneer because of price (about 2/3s that of SAS) and availability (calls to 6 shops revealed the stock was non-existent or low).

Deciding where to mount the bass tube was troublesome. Because I need to access my spare tire and also because I wanted to maximise space, I chose a less than optimum solution: lying sideways across the car behind the rear seats. I realise that pointing the port to a corner in the rear might have been better, but the layout of the BMW trunk does not allow this. The tube, 19 inches in length, would not fit neatly to either side,resulting in a major waste of space, and in any event, if fitted on the right side would have blocked access to the tire well. Incidentally, Pioneer does recommend the sideways installation as optimum, I have my doubts.

A custom board was built. I have the BMW in-trunk non-slip mat; so that was used as the template. A carpeted board cut to the shape of the trunk, around 16 or so inches in depth and running the whole width of the trunk just behind the rear seat, was mounted directly onto the mat. On the left side of the board the amp was strapped on. No nails. On the right side, the amp was mounted directly onto the board with screws. They sit side by side. The widths of the components was great. The Rockford is about 9-10 inches; the Amp is 10.5 inches. With some clearance on either side of the amp for wires, the widths matched up.

Wiring was neat: the "RCA" side of the amp faced the front of the car. The RCA cables run from the head unit plugged straight in. Preamp out on the same side of the amp was used to run the signal to the powered amp. The power/ground side of the amp faced the rear of the car, conveniently near the battery. I used 8 gauge Stinger Pro power cables for the Fosgate and Pioneer's power cable for the Subs. The Amp is fused within a foot of the battery and attached to the trunk liner with a velcro strip so no screwing involved. The amp board sits right on the trunk mat and does not move at all even though it is not screwed down - it works by gravity and because the mat is "anti-slip".

All wiring is concealed by a "box" which covers over the amp, with a square cut out in the center to reveal and cool the amp. The Fosgate end-caps were not used (shame). The side of the board facing the subs on the left was contoured to the shape of the subs, which is irregular. Final result looks very neat. I can still use my split-fold seat if I put things in over the amp (no music).

Gain adjustment for the Fosgate is simple - just fold down the rear seat and adjust with a screwdriver. For this purpose, that side of the box facing the rear seat has a false cover which can be flipped up to reveal the gain controls. Adjusting the subs involves unstrapping it, shifting it a little to the side so that it is no longer flush-joined with the box, and pulling it out a little and the controls are revealed.

Because I kept my Blaupunkt head unit, I needed a DIN out. A gold plated DIN-to-4 channel RCA cable cost me about $20, original from Blaupunkt. Blaupunkt's voltage is very low, maybe between 0.8 and 1.5 v so I would have liked a new head; but this stays for now. I'm eying the Fosgate heads because the LEDs are red/amber to match the BMW illumination. Also 5 v output and on one unit, up to 13+ v!

I considered and rejected line-level converters as the signal source because of much appreciated advice. Thanks guys - you know who you are.

I used Stinger Queen Series RCA Cables from the head to amp. I considered Monster 201XLNs but these cost $20 more for a set and I had to buy them from someone other than my chosen installer. I decided after consultation that the Queens would do the job. They did. There is very little induced noise, except at listening levels where you would strain to hear the music. I believe this is called white noise? Once piped out to normal levels, the noise disappears or is covered over. A true audiophile would revolt, but I don't seriously believe the Monsters would have eliminated that problem. For one, my DIN-RCA Adaptor, the very head of the system, was not shielded, so the noise may have already been in the system. Going to a head unit with direct gold-plated RCA outs may solve this.

The RCA Cables were run down the left side of the car. As the power cables ran from the back, there was little or no problem with overlap or proximity causing alternator whine. However, there was still slightly perceptible whine - more of this later.

RCA Cabling from the Fosgate's preamp out to the subs were Stinger Venoms. Used just the 1 and a 1/2 foot length. As any induced or alternator noise would not have come through the subs anyway I think this was ok. Venom is double shielded too but no gold tips.

Speaker wires. On my installer's recommendation I chose Van Den Hul Cleartrack wires. VDH is very well known for home audio. I chose them because comparing them to the Stinger Pros, the looked better - in overall appearance and construction. They are OFC and Halogen-free cables. They come in a four-cord so the wiring is very neat - they are also flat and do not bulge out at all. They run from the trunk all the way to front where they split into two two-cord wires. Rear speakers were done with Stingers as they were just for fill and the lengths involved did not pose a threat in my view.

Using the Fosgate X-cards, I set the fronts at 80 Hz, the rear fills at full range, and the pass-through (pre-amp out) to the subs at full range. The subs itself is cut off at below 70-90 Hz (the control is a variable knob with "50" on one side and "125" on the other - it is near the middle, off center closer to the 50 than the 125). I go by ear.

The front stage is much improved. The MBQuart and the new tweeter location finally gave me clear separation of the instruments and some semblance of imaging. So far on the 12 discs I have tried out, I have been able to "see" the music fairly well. Percussion and kick drums are OUTSTANDING. It's like being there yourself.

Rear fill. I'll have to ask my next rear passenger. Sorry!

Bass. This really improved. Not depth-charge bass; but on certain tracks, including Annie Lennox's "No More I Love Yous" and the "Interview with a Vampire" title track, REM's "Everybody Hurts" and Aztec Camera's Stray Album, which I chose because I knew from home audio that these tracks lost their basslines in the car, the bass "came back" with a vengeance. Nice, subtle, caused the seat to tremble solidly, but without blasting me out of the car. I may set the frequency a little lower as I perceive too much percussion coming out of the rear.

A final tune-up in the works this weekend. Anybody know where I can get a good reference disc?

Very slight turn-on and off pops. Solutions are welcomed.

I think - alternator whine. Very high pitched whine which increases with engine RPMs. Only detectable on music which has lots of gaps of silence; jazz and light music. I may have to ask my installer to re-ground the amp. I noticed that it is there with the CDs but not the Radio - does this indicate anything? Possibly my CD changer is not well grounded? Again, solutions welcomed. It's not the RCA/Power wire thing, the RCAs are from front to back, the Power from way back to not-so-way back. They never meet. Only the Subs power crosses over the Amp's pre-amp RCA leading to the sub itself, but as the frequency is set so low, this should not pose a problem.

Front tweets now a little too bright. I may attenuate the signal by 3 Db as the MBQuarts allow this on the X-over.

When the trunk is open, I can perceive a GREAT DEAL of rattling around the subs. I imagine this is my rear deck or other misc stuff in the back. Bimmer owners will know the plastic housing for the rear lights etc may rattle. Inside the passenger compartment, though, I hear nothing. I think the rattling is fairly high pitched and doesn't pass through the rear seats, or if it does, doesn't reach me in front. Is this normal?

Cost (in US Dollars):
Amp $455
MBQuarts $269
Shipping for above to Singapore $200
Pioneer ($300) (can be bought for $220 in the US) Speaker wires $65 (about a dollar a foot - ouch!) RCA Cables $100 (for two 20 foot Stinger Queens and one 1.5 foot Venom) DIN-RCA Adaptor
Amp board $90 (a steal, really)
Labor $50

Free: Ground wires, Power cables (and of course the head unit, CD Changer and rear speakers, which came with the car).

Total Cost: $1550

My own ratings, bearing in mind what I paid (not IASCA standards, mind you!) Component quality (performance, feel, comprehensiveness of instructions, ease of setup and install) 8/10; Cabling (convenience of disconnection, neatness, visual effect) 7/10; Finish (board construction, speaker mounting) 8/10; Sound Quality 7.5/10; Professionalism 6/10. The last one gets a low rating because of the on/off pops and the slight alternator whine. These are the only impediments to what I would otherwise consider a perfect (in terms of value for money) system.

Please e-mail me if you have solutions to my problems.

Thank you to EVERYONE who helped me in any way. I'll field any questions, take flames, criticisms etc privately.

To everyone who couldn't care less about car audio, sorry for the WOB. But I now have one more reason to take the long way home.

To those of you who appreciated this, my own personal experience taught me it can be rewarding to do your own research and think through your own install, even if you are not up to a DIY. Choose your components based on your music preferences and budget. Make sure you read up so you know if your installer is crooking you or doing a bad job. Know your system's limitations. Don't expect the world - but know what to expect. And finally, for the week before the install, listen to the same CDs over and over so you can tell the difference.

Justin Chan
1994 BMW 318is Coupe M42
M-Technik Sports Suspension
M3 Air Dam & Mirrors
Racing Dynamics RGR Wheels
Original BMW Euro "Clear" Lights All 'Round M-3 Style Door Rubbing Strips
Black Leather Interior including gearshift, s/wheel and handbrake BMW Individual Chromeline Trim
MK Carbon Fiber Trim
Blaupunkt Barcelona Head Unit, Rear Spkrs and CD-Changer Rockford Fosgate Punch 400.4 Amp
MB Quart 215.03 CX Component System
Pioneer TW-XS75A Sbassaver Powered Subwoofer Cabling by Stinger and Van Den Hul

To come: Racelogic's Switchlogic Transmission ($1000), Conforti chip ($100), Racing Sports Akimoto Funnel Ram II Filter ($175), MK/DC Heat Shield ($120) and more MK Interior Carbon Fiber Trim (ashtray covers and surrounds).

**This may be used or posted freely anywhere. I have no objections to the ommission of my name or e-mail address. All views are opinions only and not scientifically tested. Any faults or errors are my own. I am not associated with any of the companies I have mentioned or purchased from. I take no responsibility for anybody foolhardy enough to try to duplicate what I've done and to expect the same results.

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