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8-30-2017, Mobile Electronics -- I hope you enjoyed last month’s article looking at the manufacture and design of loudspeakers. I also hope you reviewed the previous article where Andy provided some basics on audio for us. This month we move forward with Andy showing us the basic necessities of tuning. Hold on, though, this ride might be a little shaky. Andy goes after things that I have heard said many times, and things that I have said before. What I suggest is keeping an open mind and be willing to learn from this industry veteran.

Let’s see what Andy is sharing with us this month.

Andy Explains

I’m going to commit heresy right here at the beginning so we can get beyond it as quickly as possible. This is really easy. Understanding why it’s easy isn’t so easy and I’ve provided some of those explanations in a previous article and in countless Facebook and forum posts.
System tuning isn’t really optimizing, it’s troubleshooting. If it was about optimizing, then we’d all be able to provide pretty good performance by just hooking stuff up. Anyone who’s serious about autosound knows this isn’t the case. This isn’t about taking what you have after it’s hooked up and making it a little better in 20 minutes. This is about a realization that once the product is hooked up, the job is only partially completed. Tuning a system isn’t an add-on or an extra service we provide for our favorite customers, just like programming an alarm for a particular car isn’t an option.
I hear the following statement all the time after listening to cars when I visit shops: “Not bad for the twenty minutes I spent,” and it makes me want to drown myself in the bathtub. What if you were demoing a recent security system installation for the guy from the company that makes that system and at the end of the demo in which nothing worked properly and several features weren’t enabled, you said, “Not bad for the five minutes I spent programming it”?
This isn’t about doing a better job. This is about finishing the job.
If you only have 20 minutes to finish a job in which you’ve spent a week making panels, upholstering them, adding lighting and accents, running wires and arranging them for FB photos, you’ve spent two hours shooting, then two things need to change: 1) you need to bill more time to finish the job and 2) you need a more efficient and predictable process for tuning. That’s what this article is about.
Before we go there, I want to talk about a couple of other statements I hear too often. The first is, “sound is subjective”. This is often proffered by people who, in a discussion about audio principles and their application, are suddenly out of their comfort zone and are looking for a quick exit. The idea that some customers prefer more high frequency content or more bass, a well-defined image or more spaciousness at the expense of image definition doesn’t mean there are no rules. A stereo system is, by design, supposed to do specific things and in order for it to work, some stuff just has to be right. Once you get those things right, changing the system performance for your customer’s preference is straightforward.
The second statement is, “I listen to everyone and I use all of those tips and tricks when I tune.” This is dangerous if sound quality, speed and predictability are important. If you’re an enthusiast working on your own car, then experimentation is part of the fun. Experimentation on a customer’s car is just a money pit.
Tips and tricks are tools. Many of them work, but they don’t all work in every situation. Knowing when to deploy them is important. What if you had one of those giant Snap-On tool boxes and all that was inside was a set of screwdrivers? You know how to use screwdrivers so you bought those. You’d have a lot of other drawers to fill. What if a bunch of people from every tool manufacturer and even some DIY guys give you a new tool every time they stop by. Every time someone gives you one and says, “this one is magic, you should try it to see if it works,” you put it in the drawer. Then, when you encounter a situation in which your screwdrivers don’t do the job, you start pulling other “magic” tools you don’t understand  out of the box to try them? Is that a process designed for success? Is success even likely?

Tips and tricks, shortcuts and workarounds are good for experts. You have to know when to use them and what they do or else they’re just a barrel of monkeys likely to make a big mess. The usefulness of tools depends mostly on the user’s understanding of what they’re for and how to use them. If the guy who gives you one can’t explain why it works and when to use it and you don’t know either, then it isn’t a tool. It’s a monkey.

Read the rest of the story HERE.

2-21-2017, Mobile Electronics February Issue -- In the last article I talked briefly about my history with Porsches. We then began to look at a recent build I worked on at Simplicity In Sound. The build was for a Porsche 911 that was going to be in the Arc Audio booth at the 2016 SEMA show. When the car arrived at Simplicity In Sound, it was in fairly stock-looking form. It was evident that quite a bit of time and detail had already gone into the planning and execution of the build so far. The engine was an incredibly beautiful work of art. An appealing mix of carbon fiber and copper plated or painted pieces were used on the rebuilt engine. Taking a peek underneath the car, it looked like the entire underside had been treated with the same level of detail. Everything was completely clean and either painted or in a stock, refurbished form. It was hard to believe the car was 26 years old. 

The colors and materials used on the engine carried through to the interior of the Porsche as well. A simple blend of carbon fiber, tan leather and black accents created a timelessly classic look for the interior. The result was a car that had a classic, yet modern and somewhat race-inspired feel. It was hard for me to imagine how the car would change with the RWB conversion, but I was beginning to think that it was going to be pretty special.

Last month, we finished up with the basic enclosure. We are going to start this month by looking at the fabrication of the front trim plate, as well as the remaining pieces to finish the enclosure. Once that is wrapped up, we will move on to building the amplifier mounting frame system and the surfboard holder.   

Trim Plate Prep

I was pretty excited to build the front trim plate of the enclosure. I had a new tool (tool, toys, either one, right?) from Mobile Solutions that I was going to be using. I had seen pictures of people using the new Smart Frame System, the Axis Shape Creator, on Instagram. Now it was my turn to give it a shot and see how it worked. The set consists of a number of straight, arc, corner and connecting pieces. Each of the pieces have either evenly spaced holes, or notched slots. The pieces with the holes are the base pieces. The underside of the holes on the base pieces are chamfered. The chamfer allows a countersunk head bolt to be placed in it, flush. The bolt extends upward and one of the top pieces can be placed on it. The assembly is then secured with a washer and a generously sized threaded knob. The idea of the system is that the pieces can be assembled to create an endless variety of templates. By loosening the knobs, the whole template can be shifted to alter the shape with minimal work required. The knobs also give you something to firmly hold onto when cutting the template out using a router. A nice touch is the included storage tray for the hardware. Each washer, nut and bolt have a specific spot in the acrylic holder.

Read the rest of the story HERE.

7-26-2017, Mobile Electronics -- We are just starting a series on tuning that I am very excited about. First we had Ken Ward show us three simple steps to finding a good signal. I wanted to have him start the series because without a good signal, no amount of tuning can result in a great sounding audio system. Next, we had some fundamental groundwork laid out by Andy Wehmeyer. Andy shared with us some basic information on sound and how we hear it, and how the automotive environment affects that. Moving forward we will hear some more perspectives on tuning from a few other guest writers. The series will wrap up with an overview of multi-channel tuning by Andy Wehmeyer. Before we proceed further in that series, I wanted to take a break and give what you have read so far a chance to really sink in.

As the outside temperature begins to heat up, my mind and body remind me summertime is upon us. I can’t help but think back fondly on an adventure my wife and I went on last year with a wonderful group of people. Every year, Orca Design & Manufacturing sends a group of its dealers to France for a tour of the Focal factory. Last year I was able to go as a representative of Simplicity In Sound. As I do with most trips, I documented it with many photographs. I thought it would be fun to share the experience of the trip and some of the cool tech-related things I learned while there.

Jumping the Pond

The hop across the Atlantic was my second, so I had a general idea of what to expect. Thankfully, our flight was pretty uneventful. We touched down in France and were greeted by the smiling faces of Nalaka Adikari and Carrie Sahotsky of Orca. After a short bus ride, we were at our hotel and sitting down to a wonderful dinner. We were introduced to a few Focal employees and given an agenda for the next day. The first day was going to be a tour of the factory in which our plus-one guests were invited. The second day was to be a more in-depth factory tour and more technically oriented discussion. The plus-one guests were treated to a trip into Lyon for shopping.

The next morning, we had breakfast and took a short bus ride to the Focal factory. The factory is located in the beautiful town of Saint-Étienne. We started the tour by meeting Pierre Pérard. Pierre was our factory liaison for the next two days. I was captivated by Pierre’s passion for speaker manufacturing and the Focal culture. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the history of Focal. After a brief review of Focal, its history and culture, we moved on to the factory tour. 

First Impressions

Before I tell you about the actual factory experience, I wanted to share what I thought it was going to look like. Up to this point, I had never been to any speaker manufacturing facility. My exposure was limited to a few pictures I have seen of workers building speakers in the JL Audio literature. So, my thoughts were that we would be touring hundreds and hundreds of feet of conveyor belts that paused briefly at times for machines to complete their tasks on the belted product. I expected to see a few lab-coated individuals with clipboards walking around, making sure the machines were in proper order. What I found, though, was quite different. We entered the factory to see people. People either holding speakers, or parts of speakers. As we paused before going any further we were told that some of the machinery we would see was manufactured by Focal, specifically for a task unique to some stage in the building process. I was unable to take photographs of these proprietary machines. However, I was able to take photographs of many other machines, which I will share for the amusement of those of you who have never been to a speaker manufacturing factory.  

Read the rest of the story HERE.


12-volt expert Joey Knapp discusses the finer points of metal work and how anyone can master an often under-utilized aspect of 12-volt craftsmanship. 

Mobile Electronics, March Issue, 3-30-2016 -- In the last edition of Tech Today, we looked at an amplifier installation. The installation was a little different because the amplifier was installed onto the roll cage of a car. In order to address the parameters of the build, which specified that it needed to be securely mounted, not too heavy, and minimalistic, I chose to make the amplifier-mounting frame out of metal. It is very common to use wood as a substrate to mount amplifiers to. I think everyone who has ever installed, for even a short amount of time, has installed an amplifier on some sort of wood. Wood is not always the best choice. In the case of the amplifier-mounting frame for the roll cage, it wasn’t a possibility. A wooden frame, in that instance, would be either too bulky, or not strong enough. That is why metal was chosen to construct the frame. In that article I mentioned an upcoming article on using metal in installations, and here we are!

Many, many years ago, I remember reading an article about one of the more prominent car audio shops of the time in one of the popular car audio magazines. The article talked about the facility, the sales staff and the fabrication team. The fabrication team consisted of specialists in the areas of fiberglass, plastic, wood and metal. As a teenager just getting his feet wet in the car audio industry, I wondered what area I would end up being a specialist in. Was I going to be a wizard of fiberglass? Would I become a master carpenter? Would fiberglass be the medium that suited me best? Would I become skilled in metalwork? The answer was that I would have to become all these things, and more. During the “car audio heyday” it might have been possible to specialize in one area, but from my experience, those days are far behind us. Now, to be successful, we have to be masters of all of those abilities and many, many more.

This article is intended to help those of you who aren’t familiar with metal work to get a cursory look at metal, what it's like to work with it, and the practical applications for it in the field of mobile electronics. It is very important to note that I am not a “metal master”. I am a guy who has learned what he needs to know about metalworking to get him to the point that it can be successfully used to make things. Many of you might have seen the welding meme floating around the Internet with the little boy. It reads, “My dad says using a grinder to make a weld look good makes you a ‘grinder,’ not a welder”. That could be an accurate description for me. I have some welds that look great, and some that aren’t as attractive. I make sure all of them are suitable for the project’s needs, though. It seems that the majority of the things that are welded in our field have something attached to them, so even pretty welds would need to be ground down, most of the time.

If you are a fabricator who has yet to begin his or her journey with metal fabrication, hopefully you are anxiously reading for more information. If you are a shop owner, you might possibly be thinking: “I hope my guys don’t read this and start bugging me for money to buy metal-working tools.” Hopefully not, but if so, let me share a story with you that could change your view. A few articles back, I wrote about some iPad dash overlay pieces I had been building for a credit card company. We have built a number of them, and it turned into a welcomed, yet unexpected, source of income. The opportunity to build those all came from a job that required welding. Another large corporation had contacted us about building a freestanding display, which would require a very sturdy frame to support the weight of the display. The scheduled time for the project was very short, which would dictate all of the work would need to be done in-house. Had I not had the tools and ability to weld, we would not have been able to take that job. In turn, we would have not gotten the additional iPad overlay jobs either. So, I encourage both owner and fabricator to make the move to add this very valuable skill to your arsenal.

Let’s look at some of the benefits that metal fabrication can bring to the realm of mobile electronics. I am going to share some of the different projects which I have incorporated metalworking into. These are just a few examples to let you see how beneficial metalworking can be. 

To read the rest of the article, visit the digital issue HERE.

Mobile Electronics May Issue, May 10, 2016 -- In the previous article we discussed adding bass to an audio system and the challenges that go along with that. We zeroed in on the footwell enclosure, an often overlooked option for adding bass to a car with limited space. Now let’s look at construction of a footwell enclosure. We are going to look at a build from start to finish in a BMW 135i Convertible. As we discussed in the last article, convertibles can be excellent candidates for footwell enclosures. This car was a perfect example.

We had the client’s permission to cut the carpet in this car, so it was time to do a little reconnaissance. I took apart the necessary trim pieces so I could pull back the carpet in the footwell area. Typically, removing the passenger kick panel trim and a fastener or a clip or two will let you pull the carpet back. If the carpet is very difficult to pull back, and you know you have all of the fasteners removed, there is a possibility that it has a large piece of foam attached to the back of it. That was the case in this car. While it is more of a headache initially, the space the foam takes up ends up paying dividends in available airspace. Once the carpet is pulled back, make sure there is nothing in the area that would hinder you from using that location. I haven’t run across anything yet, but always look. You never know what you might find. At this point I usually decide how the carpet will need to be cut. In the case of one of the NSX enclosures, I was able to cut two lines in the carpet and have it lay flat. In the event that the enclosure was ever removed, the carpet could be repaired. I don’t think it would look perfect, but both cuts were in molded corner seams, so it wouldn’t be too bad. For this car I cut out a conservative area of carpet and foam. The foam ended up being even thicker than I initially thought!

Determining Factors

With the carpet addressed, it was time to bring the subwoofer in the car. Now I had a good idea of what I was dealing with. The main goal at this point is to determine how far out the enclosure will have to be molded to fit the subwoofer. Check with the client to see what their expectations are when it comes to subwoofer orientation. I had a client that wanted the baffle for the subwoofer to be completely perpendicular to the floor. I was not very excited about this, as angling the baffle gives the enclosure more of a factory look. We always have to keep in mind that it is the client’s car and not ours, and sometimes what they want isn’t what we would want! This BMW was really a best case scenario. The subwoofer fit almost completely in the cutout area. The enclosure only had to extend the footwell area about an inch and a quarter. Now that I had determined roughly how far out the subwoofer would have to be, it was time to get to work.

Read the rest of the story in the May issue of Mobile Electronics, HERE:

Tech Feature: Amped Up by Joey Knapp

Amplifiers are a key component to a great sounding audio system. I believe amplification is even more important in the mobile environment. In a home audio system, there is a very low environmental noise floor. Because of the low noise floor, a marginal amount of power is needed to provide good resolution in the audio playback. In addition, home audio speakers are much more efficient than their mobile counterparts. The automotive environment is very different than the home environment.

Amped up

Even a parked car with the engine turned off is susceptible to much more external noise than a home. Cars don’t have the benefit of dense building materials, heavy insulation, or double-pane windows. Starting the engine in a car will typically raise the noise floor in addition to adding a bit of tactile distraction. We own cars to be able to drive them. Whether for utilitarian purposes, or for enjoyment, at some point most every car will be moving. That movement brings in a whole other realm of noises to the vehicle cabin. Wind noise and road noise are two of the biggest enemies to a low cabin noise floor. Sometimes soundproofing can help address some of these issues, but they will never disappear completely. So, to have a great sounding audio system in a vehicle, an amplifier is paramount. Amplifiers help increase the signal level to overcome many of the typically present automotive interior noises.
Over my many years in car audio, I have installed hundreds of different amplifiers. The amplifiers have ranged in output from a few watts per channel, to thousands of watts. The locations in which the amplifiers are installed are usually narrowed down to the floor of the vehicle (whether the trunk or under a seat), under a rear deck of a trunk (leaving the trunk space useable), or the side or back panel of a trunk. Recently, though, I had the opportunity to install an amplifier in a place I had never before installed one. The location was the roll cage of a car.

Read the rest of article by [Clicking Here]



11-21-2016, Mobile Electronics -- In the last issue, Joey Knapp provided a detailed look at the composition portion of the photography presentation that he, (2016 Installer of the Year) Matt Schaffer and I presented at KnowledgeFest 2016 in Dallas, Texas. In this article, we are going to take a look at how a camera works and provide some insight into balancing shutter speed and aperture to create amazing images and different image effects.

The Digital SLR Camera

We are going to focus on an SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera for this article. While you can certainly use a point-and-shoot or phone/tablet camera to take great photographs, there are occasions when you want more control over the image you are taking. A quick note on ‘what to buy’ if you are camera shopping. Once you take a picture, in most cases, you can never go back and capture that exact moment in time again. So capture the most resolution and detail you can. Shoot your photos in Raw format (if available) to capture more dynamic range (dark and light portions of the image). You can always throw away unnecessary information and resolution in Lightroom, but you can’t create it from nothing if you didn’t capture it. So, go big. You won’t be disappointed.

Taking a Photograph

A DSLR camera has an image sensor at the back of the body. The (interchangeable) lens focuses light coming from the object you want to photograph onto this sensor. When you look through the viewfinder to compose the image, light from the object is reflected upwards by a mirror into a five-sided glass prism that outputs the image to your eye.

When you press the shutter release, the mirror flips up and allows the light from the object to be passed to the image sensor. The pixels on the image sensor record the amount of red, green and blue light. That information is processed by the camera’s computer and stored on the memory card. If you are thinking to yourself “wow, that’s really simple,” then you are right. Taking a picture is simple.

Controlling Light

To capture an image, we need to ensure the image sensor on our camera stores the right amount of light information to accurately reproduce the image. Think of this like setting the gains on your amplifiers—you want to get loud, but not distort. We control the amount of light the sensor captures in two ways—by adjusting how long the mirror is held up, and by adjusting an opening in the lens.

How long the mirror is held up is called the exposure. This is measured in seconds. New cameras have exposure times that are adjustable from as fast as 1/8000 of a second up to ‘as long as you hold the shutter release’. Each step is a doubling or halving of the previous—so 1/4000, 1/2000, 1/1000, 1/500 and so on.

Controlling how much light passes through the lens is called adjusting the aperture. The aperture is controlled by a multi-element iris in the lens. The adjustment is called the f-stop. Each stop is a doubling or halving of area from one step to another. The stop number itself does not directly describe the amount of light coming through the lens. A large opening is a low number—some high quality lenses can open up as wide as f1.4 and close down as small as f22 or more. How wide the lens will open is often directly correlated to the cost of the lens.

Read the rest of the story HERE.

Mobile Electronics October Issue, 10-26-2016 -- KnowledgeFest 2016 Dallas has come and gone. This year’s event was great! KnowledgeFest has always been a time for me to learn some things, reconnect with old friends and network with new friends. In all of these areas, this year did not disappoint. The classes I attended were all very informative. It seems that each year the classes get better and better. I went to classes on the owner, management and installer tracks. As usual for me, one of the biggest challenges is deciding what classes to attend. There are only so many training hours available, and it always seems like there is an overlapping of interesting classes. I am thankful we have an event with so many training options that picking which to attend is a challenge! 

This year held a little more excitement for me. With the exception of sitting in on a training with Ken Ward once, I have never presented at KnowledgeFest. Earlier this year, I was approached by David MacKinnon about presenting a session on photography. In addition to my job at Simplicity In Sound, I also work for 1sixty8 media. At 1sixty8 media, one of our premium products is the build post. One of my duties is to select the photos that the clients supply for use in their build posts. As a result, I see hundreds of build photos per month. The majority of the photos I see could look much better, with just a little bit of work. I thought this would be a good opportunity to share some tips on making car-related photographs better. As David and I worked on how to split up the session, Matt Schaeffer and I were also having a discussion about some photography-related topics. In the discussion, KnowledgeFest came up. I told Matt that David and I had submitted to teach a session this year on photography. Surprisingly, Matt was planning a photography session, too. We decided to combine our sessions.

As we talked more about our presentation, it seemed that each person had their own strengths. I wanted to discuss composition, David wanted to outline the basic fundamentals of photography, and Matt wanted provide an introduction to Lightroom for post-production work. The three parts together would make a very useful class, so we proceeded forward with this plan. Due to travel issues, our class was moved to the last day, at the end of the day. In addition to the scheduling changes, Matt left early so he wouldn’t miss the birth of his child. Our session was taught in a different order than we planned. I thought covering some of the key points would be beneficial as a reference for those who attended. For those who were at other trainings, this will give you the opportunity to see what you missed. To add to the realism and immerse yourself in the experience, please note that I speak in a slight southern accent, so I encourage your inner dialogue to use the same when reading this!

This article will be broken into two parts.  The first part, which I am writing, will cover composition and some of the theories on good picture-taking. The second part will be split between David and Matt, and they will cover photography fundamentals as well as using Lightroom. Hopefully, these articles will serve as a great tool to help you take better pictures and make more money with them!

Read the rest of the story HERE.

The Magic of Carbon Fiber

Expert installation technician Matt Schaeffer reveals how carbon fiber can change the game for even the most challenging of fabrication jobs.

Foreword by Joey Knapp

Words by Matt Schaeffer

I hope you liked our series on building a false floor. I think Bing did an excellent job breaking down the process of installing equipment into a spare tire well. For the right client, that is an excellent location to fit audio gear, and still keep the functionality of the trunk/hatch space.

In this article, we are going to be taking a look into using carbon fiber in our installations. Admittedly, I don’t know too much about carbon fiber. I recently completed an installation in which I had to machine and clear coat some carbon fiber pieces. I kind of cheated, though, and used pre-made sheets of carbon fiber. We are going to learn how to make pieces using real carbon fiber cloth.

When I decided this needed to be the next topic for an article, two people came to mind as guest authors. The first was Junior Ngim of Sound Innovations in Union City, Calif. I have always followed Junior’s work on Facebook, and was fortunate to meet him during a visit his shop a number of times when I lived in California. Junior makes a number of carbon fiber accessories for cars, and does a great job integrating carbon fiber in his installations. The second person I thought of—and the guest author of this article—is Matt Schaeffer. Like I do with Junior, I have followed Matt’s work on Facebook and Instagram for quite some time. Matt does incredible work. In addition, he makes some really great videos highlighting his work and techniques. He has one such video on laying carbon fiber. To provide insight on the subject, Matt agreed to share his steps for creating and finishing pieces in carbon fiber. Let’s see what he has to say. Click here for the full article.

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