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Kicker Key 180.4 Review (DSP Car Amplifier)

JRS

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This. I've seen plenty of vehicles turned into rolling sub enclosures with a small cutout for som50eone to drive it to the show... but I can't remember seeing the guy that was proudly displaying his ruler-flat FR charts and discussing how much effort went into damping the modes that were the most unruly. Seemed like half of the guys basically have a frequency response of 10Hz to 60Hz... and anything higher than that is just panel vibrations. ;)
No those are the guys wanting you (or more likely the ladies of a certain age) to think that they have a good system. The guys with the good sound do not as a rule make a habit of broadacasting--windows closed to keep out road/traffic noise, and have great, clean and smooth response to the teens (easy given cabin gain), with maybe some goosing in the 30 to 50 range, after all we are all human. And more often than not the installs are stealth--no reason to advertise the goods when people will gut an apt for the wire. But they are out there.

I had but a passing fancy for a decade or so during which I put together three rigs that sounded far better than the average audiophile home system, given the constraints of a cabin, and all for under 1500 in goods. That was during a time I commuted a bit; there are many young folks who were/are spending as much time in their cars as an apt or home, and would rather put their sound system there. It shows. The 1990's and aughts were likely the peak when it came to the insane amount of money being spent. IIRC there were at least two monthly glossy cover magazines in circulation that advertized gear, reported on competition and deserving installers, and reviewed gear of course. Not sure these days as I mentioned it was a blip of my life where I had occasion to put in three rigs over the course of seven years. But I was just like most audiophiles--more or less contemptuous of the rolling woofers and the abominable taste in music. And then my eyes were opened, and I thought this is really cool. I mean after cars became computerized, and hot rodding faded away, where was the energy and the enthusiasm gong. Well I'd submit that it exploded in the form of car audio and marked one of the more interesting technical revolutions during my lifetime. Now we have gamers with their zero latency everything and super cooled and overclocked processors.

It really is an embarrassment of riches when kitting out a car install. Check out the goods from Focal here. Used to be that they sold freely to the home DIY market, not so much anymore unless you want to buy an ensemble intended for car use. And when it comes to new cars and factory installed, these aint your daddy's caddy. Huge money is at stake with these contracts--certainly enough to send some serious life blood back into a company.

Things do seem to have been shifting somewhat back toward IEM's and headphones or desktops with modest sets of separate electronic stacks (vs a conventional hifi system many of us had in college and beyond. So there's some hobby enthusiasm, even if it's rolling op amps. But yes, high end car audio is definitely a thing, and as I said in a recent psot, some of the best audio I have heard in the past 20 years has been in a car. It's different; there is no way to lay out a soundstage like one can at home. It's more of an immersive experience when done well.
 

JohnBooty

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I believe IASCA is the most active in the US.

It's not particularly surprising to me. I spend a lot of time in my truck between driving and writing reports. My "mild" SQ build sounds better than my Revel M16 and Rythmik subwoofer in my home theater (before room correction), but it also cost much more and now has me chasing a parasitic draw. DSPs have both raised the floor (in OEM installations) and raised the ceiling on how vehicles can sound.
Oh, I should clarify. It's not surprising to me that car audio can sound great. I know it can, and I've heard it.

Stock systems are surprisingly good these days even on modest cars. Car manufacturers realized that for a tiny cost in materials, they can greatly increase their car's appeal to consumers. As we know from ASR and our own experiences, even modest gear can sound pretty good with a little DSP EQ assist.

For non-audiophiles (so, 99.999%) of the world their car is the only place they've ever heard a halfway decent sound system, aside from the movie theater. And even movie theaters seem like they may be on the way out....

But, what surprised me was that you made it sound like the competitive scene was ever about SQ. I thought the competitive scene was all about decibels.
 

Walter

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But, what surprised me was that you made it sound like the competitive scene was ever about SQ. I thought the competitive scene was all about decibels.
The competition scene was already well underway when I became interested in the 90s, but I believe SQ competitions actually came first. I seem to remember that "dB drag races" were originally just an exhibition only event, with no scoring, but I'm not 100% certain.
 

brandall10

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That's about where my system came in at. So yes. The minidsp dirac live unit, even though being a pain in the ass work environment, does all the heavy lifting for front state imaging and tonality. In the way it does "black box magic" that changes dramatically from one measurement set to the other it reminds me a lot of the MS-8.

I'm sure people get as good or better tunes out of the dayton audio or helix DSPs if they're skilled enough at tuning.

Is that for the full system (speaker upgrade + sub) as well, or just the electronics portion? I know pretty much nothing about the current state of car audio.
 

JohnBooty

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"Our" car used active crossovers, time alignment, and PEQ, all tuned by math, ear, and TS parameters. If we'd had access to a measurement system and knowledge of the Harman curve, we would have certainly used it, and probably dominated the scene.
That's amazing to hear! Thank you for sharing that. I had assumed that in those days, there'd typically be at least be some kind of measurement gear involved, even if it was "only" looking at an SPL meter during tone sweeps.

Also: love the Deathtöngue avatar!
 

Walter

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It really is an embarrassment of riches when kitting out a car install. Check out the goods from Focal here. Used to be that they sold freely to the home DIY market, not so much anymore unless you want to buy an ensemble intended for car use.
We were using Focal home audio drivers in our car, and except for their subwoofers, they were bargain priced compared to car audio brands (or complete Focal speakers). I remember when Focal first came out with speakers for automotive use--they were considerably more expensive and did not sound as good as the home drivers, but were perhaps a bit more rugged. When a trip back to the USA 10 years ago got extended considerably due to my mother's failing health, I could not tolerate the sound of the stock radio in her 1999 Camry (with less than 60,000 miles driven!!). I purchased a Pioneer head unit with iPod control and a pair of Focal separates that were on a close out sale for some ridiculously low price on Amazon. I then picked up an iPod with a broken screen on eBay, filled it with music, and mounted it in the glove box. The whole system cost less than $400. The installation took one afternoon, including cutting the holes for the tweeters. The hardest part was disassembling the dash sufficiently to attach a back strap for the head unit. I could not believe how good it sounded--probably 85% as good as our competition car from a decade earlier, at a tiny fraction of the cost and time. I'd gotten such a good deal on the system, when I pulled it out to sell the car 9 months later and put it up on eBay, I actually made a small profit. I think I still have the iPod somewhere.
 

H-713

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Okay, I've got tube amplifiers that make more power with less distortion than this thing... AND they glow in the dark.
 

billmr

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I got one of these new in the box at my local Value village for $7.99 a few months ago.

I was going to throw it into my kids e36 bmw along with whatever random speakers I have laying around. one channel of his stock amp does not work and bmw is known for crappy speakers.

It has to sound way better, and seriously in a normal old car environment considering the dsp how bad could this amp really be?

or should I just sell it on some auction site

thanks
 
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