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Kicker Key 180.4 Review (DSP Car Amplifier)

amirm

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Kicker Key180.4 four channel car audio amplifier with built-in DSP and auto equalization. It was donated to me by a kind member and costs US $220 on Amazon including Prime shipping.

The 180.4 comes in small but sturdy package:
Kicker 180.4 Review four channel DSP Car Amplifier.jpg

A multi-pin plug at one end terminates in four RCA jacks. On the other side, a much larger one provides power and speaker outputs. A bunch of DIP switches set various settings such as bridge mode, EQ, compression, delay, crossover, etc. A microphone input is provided for auto-correction. I did not get a chance to test any of this functionality and focused on pure performance of the amplifier itself.

Kicker 180.4 Measurements
It did not take any time for the amplifier to stabilize (this is a highly zoomed graph):
Kicker 180.4 Measurements Warm up four channel DSP Car Amplifier.png


So I moved on to our usual dashboard:
Kicker 180.4 Measurements four channel DSP Car Amplifier.png


Yuck! We have lots of distortion peaking up to -60 dB. Average of all amplifiers tested is about 79 dB SINAD and here, we fall short by huge 20 dB.

Noise level is not anything to write home about either:
Kicker 180.4 Measurements SNR four channel DSP Car Amplifier.png


Crosstalk falls in the same category:

Kicker 180.4 Measurements crosstalk four channel DSP Car Amplifier.png


Frequency response shows class D amplifier filter interacting with the load and causing peaking in the audible range:
Kicker 180.4 Measurements Frequency Response four channel DSP Car Amplifier.png

Not good.

Power is modest but it is what you expect in this small package:

Kicker 180.4 Measurements Power into 4 ohm four channel DSP Car Amplifier.png


At least it matches spec which is unusual in car audio world:
Kicker 180.4 Measurements Max and Peak Power into 4 ohm four channel DSP Car Amplifier.png


8 ohm load naturally lowers output:

Kicker 180.4 Measurements Power into 8 ohm four channel DSP Car Amplifier.png


Stepping through different frequencies shows sharp rise in level:

Kicker 180.4 Measurements Power vs frequency into 4 ohm four channel DSP Car Amplifier.png


I don't think I have seen such poor performance at 10 kHz before.

Multitone results were completely wrong and I could not make sense out of them so I am not going to post it. But you get a sense of it in the above test.

Conclusions
Performance of the amplifiers in 180.4 is horrid. It is what I expect a $50 amplifier to provide. So this better have one heck of a DSP subsystem to make up the cost difference.

I love the functionality of DSP+amplifier but need to see a better implementation to recommend the Kicker 180.4. Disappointing.

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As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

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respice finem

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What a turd. Probably fine for a tactile transducer if it costs $50,-.
Or for a sub which will double the distortion anyway. Actually it's a pity, because the concept of DIY DSP amplification for a car is nice. Probably too good to be true in this price category.
 

GWolfman

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Was actually thinking of one of these DSP amps for my kid's car... anyone know of any that'll actually be worth it?

I agree, Yuck!
 
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martijn86

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Was actually thinking of one of these DSP amps for my kids car... anyone know of any that'll actually be worth it?

I agree, Yuck!
Maybe you can find a second hand MiniDSP C-DSP-6x8? Or the MiniDSP PWR-ICE125 for a DIY plate amplifier + DSP?
 

Walter

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No surprise at all. The very best Kicker products I ever encountered were mediocre, and most were complete junk like this. Their subs 25 years ago when I was heavily involved in car audio were the epitome of one note bass. They must have a great marketing department.
 

JayGilb

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No surprise at all. The very best Kicker products I ever encountered were mediocre, and most were complete junk like this. Their subs 25 years ago when I was heavily involved in car audio were the epitome of one note bass. They must have a great marketing department.
As long as that one note vibrated the trunk of your car, it was all good in a lot of people's opinion.
 

JayGilb

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Yep. I hated it. The rise of SPL and the waning interest in SQ is what caused me to lose interest in car audio competition.
I helped my son install a large system in his car and told him that I refuse to let him drive some rattle box, so we put a combination of acoustic insulation and expanding foam in his car. Big SPL, but no rattling whatsoever. It made the inside sound very tight and controlled.
 

Walter

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I helped my son install a large system in his car and told him that I refuse to let him drive some rattle box, so we put a combination of acoustic insulation and expanding foam in his car. Big SPL, but no rattling whatsoever. It made the inside sound very tight and controlled.
Yeah, the competition car I worked on had over 200 pounds of sound damping. Not ideal for a car that was originally bought for its handling, but great for eliminating squeaks and rattles. The only problem was that no matter what we did, we could never get first place--two years of second and third place finishes, often by razor thin margins, got frustrating, especially when we were not losing to the same cars each time. Part of the problem was that it was a daily driver rather than a dedicated competition vehicle, and had to sound good in both front seats and keep a usable trunk. Now I have a Honda scooter and only hear car audio when riding in my business partner's Jaguar--which given his taste in music, I usually request he turn down to background levels, anyway.
 

BostonJack

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Yeah, the competition car I worked on had over 200 pounds of sound damping. Not ideal for a car that was originally bought for its handling, but great for eliminating squeaks and rattles. The only problem was that no matter what we did, we could never get first place--two years of second and third place finishes, often by razor thin margins, got frustrating, especially when we were not losing to the same cars each time. Part of the problem was that it was a daily driver rather than a dedicated competition vehicle, and had to sound good in both front seats and keep a usable trunk. Now I have a Honda scooter and only hear car audio when riding in my business partner's Jaguar--which given his taste in music, I usually request he turn down to background levels, anyway.
My auto problem is the opposite: Scion FRS which purposely lacks about 150 to 200 pounds of sound dampening to save vehicle weight. Lots of road noise, especially with snow tires. Audio system is the "bespoke" option, which is fine, given any improvement would only be audible when parked. Car is remarkably solid at 100k miles.
 

JRS

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Yep. I hated it. The rise of SPL and the waning interest in SQ is what caused me to lose interest in car audio competition.
That was insane--I lost interest as well. There was a time when I thought that American youth was back in the ingenuity saddle with dazzling car audio sound that rivaled the SQ of a very high end home system with parts that often cost a small fraction of their home counterparts, i.e. DSP, active with excellent drivers from Focal, Dynaudio, etc. (Given the dearth of similar home audio gear, for a bit I used a PSU from a computer to drive a DSP system).

Still one had to admire the single minded, if perverse, pursuit of a goal leading to 180 dB SPL. :eek: By contrast the Saturn V moon rocket that knocked birds right out of the sky hit a mere 150dB. Oh and admire the bank of 1 Farad caps.

My installer's car had the best of both--a very sweet sound via RTA EQ'ed system at normal volumes, but still able to hit 130dB gracefully. And the imaging was to die for as he had removed the front seats, and had a six foot long steering column that could be easily detached for vigorous sexcapades in the backseat.

Now tuning isn't with better carbs and headers, or DSP and custom fabricated enclosures, but seems to be of the rolling op amps or chilling overclocked CPU's type. How far we have fallen.
 
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brandall10

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Steve Irby, the CEO of kicker was a friend of my late grandfather. Got to stay at his home and tour the Kicker factory maybe 30 years ago, shortly before I got into audio myself. Stereotypical southern gentleman, man of god type. Everywhere we went in Stillwater people seemed to know him... it was evident that he was able to grow his business in part due to the power of his personality.

While clearly a wealthy guy, didn't get the sense that he was anything approximating an audiophile and the way he talked about his products from an engineering sense was more about power and fitment than finesse. The fact that this measures so poor does not surprise me.
 
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peniku8

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Where is the user voting? I want to express how much I'd recommend this product!
getting out torches and pitchforks
 

Walter

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That was insane--I lost interest as well. There was a time when I thought that American youth was back in the ingenuity saddle with dazzling car audio sound that rivaled the SQ of a very high end home system with parts that often cost a small fraction of their home counterparts, i.e. DSP, active with excellent drivers from Focal, Dynaudio, etc.
At least in my area, there were very few youth interested in the sound quality aspect. They were all into boom. The SQ guys were mostly in their 30s and 40s.
 
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