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Good, Cheap, Compact, Light Car Audio

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Old 05-14-2018, 05:46 AM   #1  
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Good, Cheap, Compact, Light Car Audio

I would like this to be both a testing and a suggestions thread. I've had some success but it's not where I want it yet.

With modern tech there is good stuff available now that didn't exist/you wouldn't have thought possible 5 years ago (honestly I didn't think it existed now till I started looking).

What I'm looking for:
Something that sounds good. Good volume (with the cutout open and/or the t-tops out) and can hit bass notes well enough that you can feel them. The car is really my "race car" but I drive it on the street way too much which makes me care about these things. Since the car's primary objective is to go faster weight is an issue. I can not tolerate a proper sub box (bass heads read on, the current setup has enough bass that you can feel it when you can turn it up). I want Bluetooth for my phone and some other form of digital media (USB, SD card...). Some FM signal would be nice also.

Some of the current small home audio/bluetooth boards out there got me to reexamine this, since it's getting common for bluetooth + 50watt/channel RMS to exist in the palm of your hand in that market for sub $20. In a similar vein, newer "mechless" automotive head units exist that are crazy small and light that often come with BT and USB/SD. I was hoping that one of these could save me a few pounds, a cluster **** of wiring and a bunch of space over the current old Pioneer + ipod interface + aux interface + small alpine "power pack" amp:
https://alpine-usa.com/product/view/ktp-445u/


(A nice little amp, but with no interior, in the car behind the front seats it just doesn't keep up with the noise floor in the car)
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Old 05-14-2018, 05:52 AM   #2  
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Re: Good, Cheap, Compact, Light Car Audio

So what am I starting with/keeping?

The car is a TA that originally came equipped with factory subs/amp which are wired in parallel. I've previously ditched the sub enclosures mounted in the sail panels that someone prior to me bastardized with some sony explode 5.25" speakers, and made baffles to mount 8" Dayton Audio subs and some Pyle piezo tweeters. I also left the fiberglass baffles in the sail panels, added some sound dampening to the sheet metal behind the subs and filled it with some polyfill :


I originally had these wired to the rear channel, and the Pioneer head unit allowed me to decide if I wanted to power it with the internal amp or the rear RCA outputs and if I wanted to use it as a rear channel or a sub out.

I decided that didn't really make sense, especially if I still had the sub wiring in the car, so I re-wired them with the tweeters as a separate rear channel and the subs connected to the sub wiring:


I had some Polk Audio DXi460s 4x6" in the dash, some of the best sounding reasonably priced speakers I've heard in that size range, but the cones disintegrated in less than 2 years.

I decided to grab the 5.25" sony xplode speakers that were in the rear sub boxes and mount them up there. They're nothing special, they're ugly and sound a little bright but are otherwise OK:


Covering them up with speaker grills will likely help both the bright sound and covering up the obnoxious color.

The plan, find a cheap amp to power the subs (replace the stock amp) and then use a cheap mechless head unit to power the front and rear speakers. If I need to later add some proper rear speakers.
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Old 05-14-2018, 06:05 AM   #3  
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Re: Good, Cheap, Compact, Light Car Audio

I did a little digging and the sub amp proved pretty easy. After seeing this video and some glowing reviews I decided to set aside my prejudice against Dual and stuff bought at Wallmart in general and invested my $59:

It's really a nice little amp. Way overbuilt. Probably nicer than anything you could have bought for sub $150-200 5-10 years ago. The interesting thing is that it puts out just enough power that with the eq/gain settings just right I could just cause the cones in the subs to bottom, but most settings you still run out of amp slightly before running out of speaker. All in all, it's a good match. I ran 8awg power and ground, a fuse, some RCA's, and figured out that you could wedge it into the stock sub amp space in the dash:






Next to the original GM sub amp. If you include the bracket they are surprisingly close in size


Location for the original sub amp, it's tight but there's enough room there for everything and it doesn't overheat.


The 8awg wiring, RCA's, the speaker wiring part of the original harness... all tuck under the dash trim panel.
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Old 05-14-2018, 06:24 AM   #4  
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Re: Good, Cheap, Compact, Light Car Audio

So first try on the head unit I decided, "The amp is a smoking deal, they have a head unit that gets good reviews... huh, maybe it's worth a try." Well that and it was $15 at wallmart (buy it online with in-store pickup, $20 if you just buy it)









I made a nice wiring harness for it (soldered and heat shrunk).

Initially, I was mostly thrilled with it, great sound, adjustable enough, I liked the tweeters as the rear channel, it filled in the stereo image and evened things out. It had a suprising amount of contol over your digital sources, but I did notice a few things that weren't perfect (but come on, $15):
  • the blue lighting was obnoxious/bright, and the blue lighting and white display don't match anything in the car
  • it wasn't as flexible in configuration as the Pioneer, but i think that as like a $200 head unit when I bought it years ago
  • there was no SD card slot. Only radio, BT, USB
  • radio reception was sketchy, but some of that was my antenna delete and amplified antenna setup in the car (you can see it under the amp in a few of the pics), but I ran the antenna to the rear defroster making it marginally better but still pretty bad
  • When playing from USB you lost the first couple of seconds from the track. I didn't notice it right away till something that I liked the beginning of came on and I couldn't hear the first note no matter what I did
  • Finally, and this is what got me to keep looking, on the first really hot 90* day the screen went blank and it stopped playing till you reset it a few times and when you did all your settings were gone. I'm not _positive_ that this was the head unit. I've had this happen 2 or 3 times with the Pioneer, but it was 2 or 3 times in the span of 5-10 years where it just lost all of it's settings, but it wasn't 3x in 15 minutes. I'm not really positive what is going on here (and don't really have any ideas what to look for)
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Old 05-14-2018, 06:47 AM   #5  
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Re: Good, Cheap, Compact, Light Car Audio

OK, try #2:



Amazon link, $21.99:
Amazon Amazon

The good:
  • Much better color, much less obnoxious lighting. Looked good mounted. Sort of a classic look
  • Much more power than the Dual (though that has significantly more power than the old Pioneer's "50x4 watt MOSFET...", the Dual really is loud enough if you don't use it to dive the sub)
  • uses the same seemingly standard plug that a lot of aftermarket head units use
  • has BT, USB and SD and navigates them well.
  • the display turns into a clock when you're not using it. I couldn't figure out how to get the dual to display a clock for more than a few seconds

The weird:
  • that standard plug- it's wired backwards of every one that I've ever seen (power connections are on the other side) so I had to make another nice harness for it
  • the #1 preset was one of the buttons around **** instead of in the row across the bottom like the rest of the presets
  • the menu timeout is VERY short, I mean if you're not in there and know what you want to do before you start it times out and goes back to being just the volume **** way too fast. It could be fine once you get things setup but it's a pain when you just want to play with it.
  • There is no F/R fader
  • The RCA outputs are just RCA outputs, full range, not adjustable, not F or R, play all the time. I'm not sure why they bothered with 2 if that's what they're going to do.

The ugly:
  • It sounded weird when I was trying to set it up, I played with it a bit and figured out that balance does something weird- balanced to the Lft, it plays highs out of the F Lft speaker (no lows, the main cone doesn't even move) and out of both rear speakers. Balanced to the Rt it plays full range out of the F Rt speaker, lows out of the F Lft. I wasn't able to make any sense of what it was doing
  • It caused an incredible thump out the RCA outputs powering down. Like enough of one that it will cause someone to jump the first time they hear it and I'm worried will hurt something.

I suspect that a lot of people that would wire this up to 4 speakers would be happy with it, they'd never notice the problems.

The question is how likely are the weird balance control and the turn off thump/pop to be a one-off problem? Do I try to get Amazon to replace it hoping that they're not all like this??? If it wasn't for the 2 "ugly" I'd be happy with it.
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Old 05-14-2018, 06:58 AM   #6  
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Re: Good, Cheap, Compact, Light Car Audio

For now the Dual is back in the dash.

Anyone have any suggestions what else to try?
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Old 05-14-2018, 07:54 AM   #7  
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Re: Good, Cheap, Compact, Light Car Audio

This was covered recently in another thread, you could try those suggestions.
This thread seems to be similar to what you are looking for
https://www.thirdgen.org/forums/car-...r-no-hvac.html
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Old 05-14-2018, 07:17 PM   #8  
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Re: Good, Cheap, Compact, Light Car Audio

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Originally Posted by scooter View Post
This was covered recently in another thread, you could try those suggestions.
This thread seems to be similar to what you are looking for
https://www.thirdgen.org/forums/car-...r-no-hvac.html
Sort of but not really. He's looking for something completely hidden and doesn't seem to care about sound quality or digital sources, he literally just wants to listen to some FM talk radio.
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Old 05-14-2018, 09:51 PM   #9  
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Re: Good, Cheap, Compact, Light Car Audio

I have a cheapie mechless unit in my truck and also have weird problems.
I think it has to do with the crappy connections to the removable faceplate.
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Old 05-14-2018, 11:01 PM   #10  
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Re: Good, Cheap, Compact, Light Car Audio

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I have a cheapie mechless unit in my truck and also have weird problems.
I think it has to do with the crappy connections to the removable faceplate.
Yea in this case I neither have removable faces and the harnesses I made for them are, well about as good as they get, soldered with marine heat shrink (stuff with glue in it). I doubt that it's a connection problem.

Interestingly I found one with the same PN as the last one but it has an ISO connector on the back of it and the RCA's are different- 2 are generic audio RCAs, the other 2 are labeled as backup camera/video:
https://smile.amazon.com/Stereo-Blue...t_sims?ie=UTF8

It really has me wondering since if that one worked correctly otherwise I would be keeping it...
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Old 05-14-2018, 11:11 PM   #11  
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Re: Good, Cheap, Compact, Light Car Audio

I bought that same dual receiver and I like it so far.
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Old 05-15-2018, 07:31 AM   #12  
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Re: Good, Cheap, Compact, Light Car Audio

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Originally Posted by LT1/TA View Post
I bought that same dual receiver and I like it so far.
Honestly, if it wasn't for how bright the blue lighting is I wouldn't be looking for something else. The only other thing that I listed that is at all a deal breaker with it is the weird, screen going blank and forgetting the presets deal, but that could be a few different things, mostly not related to the head unit (and I need to check them out but if I find another head unit that isn't as obnoxious bright and it goes away then great...)

The Dual stuff seems to be really nice, ESPECIALLY for the price. The amp has been flawless, overbuilt if anything, and I would recommend it to anyone, and the head unit seems well designed, reasonably well built and sounds great, I would strongly recommend it to anyone that the bright blue lighting isn't a problem for.
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Old 05-15-2018, 07:47 AM   #13  
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Re: Good, Cheap, Compact, Light Car Audio

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Originally Posted by 83 Crossfire TA View Post
Sort of but not really. He's looking for something completely hidden and doesn't seem to care about sound quality or digital sources, he literally just wants to listen to some FM talk radio.
I wasn't sure if you wanted to eliminate the head unit. I know there were some other recommendations in there for that. I mean light and audio are kind of antithesis of each other the way you're doing it. Are you trying to shave ounces/pounds?

You can really achieve what you want with just an amp and a modern smartphone, so why go with a headunit at all? That would cut more weight than anything else. Hence the reason I suggested the other thread. Even goes into telling you that you can get FM through an Android phone. There are also amps that have bluetooth connectivity.

Cheap and quality really don't go together either, so I am not sure what you're really trying to achieve.
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Old 05-15-2018, 04:19 PM   #14  
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Re: Good, Cheap, Compact, Light Car Audio

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Originally Posted by scooter View Post
I wasn't sure if you wanted to eliminate the head unit. I know there were some other recommendations in there for that. I mean light and audio are kind of antithesis of each other the way you're doing it. Are you trying to shave ounces/pounds?

You can really achieve what you want with just an amp and a modern smartphone, so why go with a headunit at all? That would cut more weight than anything else. Hence the reason I suggested the other thread. Even goes into telling you that you can get FM through an Android phone. There are also amps that have bluetooth connectivity.

Cheap and quality really don't go together either, so I am not sure what you're really trying to achieve.
The head unit gives me something to control that is fairly intuitive that won't get me into trouble like a smart phone. Mine doesn't do FM either, and these mechless head units are a fraction of a pound and reasonably cheap.

As far as light, compact and good sounding, I'm pretty much there. I'm happy with my sub amp/8" subs and the speakers seem to fill in the rest well (the SQ results with the Dual head unit are REALLY good, WELL past good enough). I just need to find the right head unit that doesn't do anything annoying and I'm there, done.

I'd love to know why almost all of these things use all blue lighting, and it seems like obnoxious blue lighting. I like blue, I just don't think it's practical in a car/doesn't match my car, and especially not bright blue, alternatively why does it seem like no aftermarket units do dimming?
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Old 05-18-2018, 05:50 AM   #15  
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Re: Good, Cheap, Compact, Light Car Audio

Well, I decided to order one of these to see if I find it more agreeable.
https://www.ebay.com/itm/112220158517

OK all the specs are better, but who knows, can you guess why I'm considering it:
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Old 05-18-2018, 09:48 AM   #16  
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Re: Good, Cheap, Compact, Light Car Audio

Well, it sure won't break the bank. No AM for talk radio, sports, and oldies? I couldn't do it.
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Old 05-19-2018, 09:33 AM   #17  
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Re: Good, Cheap, Compact, Light Car Audio

I hope it works better then the last one, the colors look nice. Hopefully it;ll pickup some decent radio stations.
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Old 05-19-2018, 09:38 AM   #18  
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Re: Good, Cheap, Compact, Light Car Audio

secondly 2 things, i wonder if bluetooth range is decent.. also see if theres adjustment for color brightness. some of these chinese units have crazy brightness that could distract , u know what i mean.
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Old 05-19-2018, 09:40 AM   #19  
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Re: Good, Cheap, Compact, Light Car Audio

thirdly,
remember the triangle. U can have good fast and cheap but not all three, glwt this build.
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Old 05-19-2018, 04:55 PM   #20  
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Re: Good, Cheap, Compact, Light Car Audio

Quote:
Originally Posted by DynoDave43 View Post
Well, it sure won't break the bank. No AM for talk radio, sports, and oldies? I couldn't do it.
Most of the talk radio that I've listened to in the last bunch of years has been on XM, I haven't found anything I want to listen to on AM for maybe 30years

Quote:
Originally Posted by Berlyn0963 View Post
I hope it works better then the last one, the colors look nice. Hopefully it;ll pickup some decent radio stations.
Honestly, if it wasn't for the obnoxious lighting on the dual I probably would just stay with that. The other things were just little things, and it sounds great.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Berlyn0963 View Post
secondly 2 things, i wonder if bluetooth range is decent.. also see if theres adjustment for color brightness. some of these chinese units have crazy brightness that could distract , u know what i mean.
Why is bluetooth range a thing? You sit about 6" from the head unit and you can't really get the phone more than about 6' from it without throwing it out the window, and at that point, well you have other problems.

And again, "Honestly, if it wasn't for the obnoxious lighting on the dual I probably would just stay with that." I have considered trying to open one of these things and dimming the lighting, they do seem pretty simple inside.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Berlyn0963 View Post
thirdly,
remember the triangle. U can have good fast and cheap but not all three, glwt this build.
But I want all 3... WAHHHHHH!!!!!

Last edited by 83 Crossfire TA; 05-19-2018 at 06:50 PM.
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Old 05-21-2018, 06:02 AM   #21  
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Re: Good, Cheap, Compact, Light Car Audio

So I think we have a winner, at least after about a day and a half of tinkering.

It came in this box:



I noticed that it was labeled a lithium battery after I took the picture. The weird thing is that it's the correct box, the foam packaging fits perfectly inside it.




I ended up making another plug-in harness for it, here's a pic of what I mean when I say I make a nice harness for it, the left is the one for this head unit that has ISO plugs on it, the right is the Dual one, the one in the middle was the last unit from Amazon. I also have one sitting around wired to a Pioneer plug. FWIW, all soldered and heat shrunk with marine (glue lined) heat shrink, and I've worked out a pattern that I follow for the turn-on lead (I add a Y to each accessory, I put a female spade on the head unit side and male on the harness side, so I can keep piggybacking as much stuff as I want).

I plug it into the car and I notice an immediate problem- the left-hand channels are reversed, if you balance to the F it balances to the R and vice versa. So the F/R control actually controls diagonally.

WTF??? Seriously???

I check all my wiring (it's all color-coded, it's hard to screw up). I check to make sure that they followed the normal color standard, they did according to the diagram, I check the order of the pins in the connector...

This thing is really wired wrong, from the factory. WTF? Again??? (the last one was worse)

I open it up:


Well there is no way that some idiot monkey miss-wired it, the socket drops into the board only one way. So this thing is actually designed wrong, at least it doesn't match their documentation, supplied harness and the standard speaker pinouts. ARGH!!!


I ended up re-pinning their connectors so it was connected correctly. This is REALLY a ridiculous thing to have to do.



Anyway, if you guys have never seen inside one of these mechless units this is what they look like. Really not much inside it.

I didn't like the inductor and capacitors are just held on with their leads so I added a glob of glue to them all to keep them from breaking from vibration (no pic of that, you can use your imagination).



if anyone cares this is what it looks like in the dash. I made myself a custom aluminum faceplate/bracket (it uses the side screw holes to hold the radio in instead of those bendy cages), at one point it had a pioneer head unit in it that used an expansion interface to add an AUX IN and used RCA's for input, the reason for the 2 holes under the head unit.



Set to red it really matches pretty well. The pic is deceptive, it's actually very slightly redder than the rest of the lighting wherein the pic it looks lighter.

BTW, my SHO has "courtesy lighting" that lights up the floors with colored lighting with the lights on/running that I really like, so I grabbed an extra LED strip, tucked it under the dash and wired it into the dash dimming circuit and I have basically the same that dimms with the dash lighting.

I LOVE IT! It's funny how things like this can make you stupid happy when they are really almost totally unnecessary. Goes great with my porno red interior. Bom chicka wow wow

So far, Pros:
- Lots of different color choices
- Sounds good, very close to the Dual with some quick guess settings, I think I could get it to sound as good with a little tweaking. Honestly if I never get it any better then this I'll be fine with it. It sounds like a decent modern factory sound system (like my SHO has a very nice setup as part of the Synch system) that someone added a small sub. Just enough bass to feel, and loud enough that i can hear the music with the windows down and the cutout open and no interior in the back half of the car. I'd bet that it would sound GREAT for a sub $100 system in a quieter car, like I suspect that it's actually MUCH better then the SHO system but that car is really pretty quiet inside.
- the USB, BT... seems to work well, I haven't tried the SD or remote yet
- it actually has a MUCH more workable FM tuner, like as in using the rear defroster grid as an antenna it works better than the old Pioneer and the factory one in my Cummins. It took A LOT of screwing around to figure out how to set the presets :/

Cons:
- The volume **** is slippery and the only piece of chrome on the radio and my interior. I'm going to have to do something about it, I wonder how hard it is to pop it off without breaking something, they could have at least put a texture on it.
- stupid bar graph display, I think it might actually be random, not displaying the music. Why bother? I'll add the stupid logo here.
- the retarded factory wiring. Really, you couldn't get the wiring to match your wiring diagrams and the standard colors???

Last edited by 83 Crossfire TA; 05-21-2018 at 06:08 AM.
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Old 05-21-2018, 08:12 PM   #22  
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Re: Good, Cheap, Compact, Light Car Audio

I like it. It matches your interior and gauges well. Nice conversion harnesses.
Too bad about the mis-labeled wiring. But you corrected that.
For $26. (and China) you have to expect a few bugs.
I will be doing nearly the same as you.
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