Because your car should sound good too

Nice FYI piece here. Maybe one of you might just attempt this. And if you didn't know, now you do.

First is a Tube Pre-Amp. Yes, for cars. It's called - Critical Mass Tube Pre-Amp (P2-GTX)
Seems to be a pretty good piece.

Next is their high-end four channel amp. It's called -
Critical Mass JL UL-A4x350 (Class A Amplifier)

That last one retails at $11k. So, neeedless to say I won't be auditioning it anytime soon. Anyone else care to do the dirty work and tell me what I'm missing?
THere are other options if you know what to choose from. Special mention are Genesis amplifiers, Arc Audio, Soundstream reference.
The harder part is the limited choices for upstream playback components, the common Alpine could be bettered by Denon , though it is so rare.
I never use car audio cables. The really standout ones that I used in car audio applications is transparent cable. Not all home audio cables make it though as the upper models with the supposed more body tends to exagerate much on the midrange warmth to the extent of having a nasal quality, probably the interaction of the speakers to close to a boundary or panel. I have used harmonic tech prosilway to no success as well as the notable van den hul's D102. Both of which are the warm side of things.
And don't believe in the shielding issue. As I have used DNM successfuly, and no noise . I have documented and kept pics to interested car audio afficionados.

BTW, long before JL came into the scene in the subwoofer part in home audio, it was no surprise they would eventually upset the likes of velodyne, rel . Remarkable sounding JL that very few can keep up.
There is only one car, there is only one system for that car.
I had no idea Naim was doing that for Bentley. Now I want a Bentley. :-)

Goroi... The only thing I never got to try in my cars is high-end cabling. I'm still wondering what a good cable would do for it. And shielding or no shielding, I've never had noise in my installs so I'm not concerned. Just need to find a HU worthy of being installed. I wonder if I can find a smashed up Bentley in a junkyard and pull that HU. Ha! In my dreams.

Thanks for the responses.
Good car audio is a wonderful thing, so please count me in for interest on this topic.

In my 30 years or so of this hobby, a Nakamichi 250 and bi amped a/d/s 2001s gave me some of the most enjoyable and "musical" audiophile experiences - and that was about 30 years ago.

Since then, car audio seems to have gone mostly downhill, other than the wide variety of neon accessories, trunk mounted subwoofers and other freakish, pimp my ride trends.

Indeed, your car should sound good too.

So let's hope there are some good products out there.

Room tuning for cars could be another interesting topic.

If I could still hear the engine faintly, I would like an otherwise quiet Porsche GT3, with say, tube amps and British mini monitors.

Quite a few years back a friend of mine sent me a picture of the dash panel of a car from Japan. It was meant to make fun of me being into audio more than he thought I should. Wish I could find it to share, nice wood dash with a pair of Telefunkens glowing behind a glass cover and below it a reel to reel open tape machine with reels that looked about 3 or 4 inches across. He thought it was funny, I wanted one!
Cwlondon... Unfortunately you are right. Car audio is, for the most part, about gimmicks and accessories now. And neon. Neon! What in the world does neon have to do with car audio?! Kids just want the boom. They don't even care about sound quality. Half the time they don't even have the highs plugged in or running and only the subs are operating. It's the classic "Hey, look at me" and then people like me say... Well, we don't need to get into that.

It's also pretty bad when you start guessing the state license plate by the rattle it makes. And it shouldn't even rattle. But these are the same people who don't understand the concept of dynamat. If only we audiophiles were the primary market. And I've heard the Alpine F1 Status HU and I really don't care for it. Too much processing and too digital sounding. I want a real HU. No gimmicks. Just a high-quality transport that feeds a DAC right below it (double din of course) and a 24/96 capable USB connection on the back of the DAC. That way you can use your iPod too along with your CDs or harddrive. There's a hundred places for that.

Has2be... you must find this picture. ;-) We need to teach these newbs (and by newbs I mean every kid in the car audio scene that hasn't a clue) what car audio really is about. And I have much respect to whoever installed those tubes and the reel-reel deck. Even if it was a complete joke.
Money is tight right now, but I do more hours of listening in my car (Subaru 2004 Outback wagon) than at home, unfortunately. The car's audio is all stock, including an in-dash 6-disc changer, and component 6.5" speakers in the front and rear doors. There is an oval "subwoofer" mounted in the deck, although for the life of me I cannot tell if this woofer does anything, and it is not adjustable separately from the head unit's bass control. I find the in-dash changer is a must. Swapping out CDs while negotiating the curves and high-speed congestion of the Garden State Parkway is too risky (and I got pretty good at it in my previous car, too).

So, since I won't change out the head unit, what do you car-audio gurus suggest I do, one step at a time, to get better sound in the car? Remember, money is very limited.

I know how important quieting the cabin is to better sound. I was assuming that Dynamating the doors and roof would be the first thing to do. Note that most of the noise in this car comes from the road/wheel wells, with some wind noise from the windshield. The engine (the 6-cylinder) is reasonably quiet unless I floor it. Can you Dynamat the wheel wells to reduce road noise?

I will soon need new tires anyway,and General makes a model that seems to be very quiet. Like a true audiophile, I don't care if it hydroplanes or skids at 10 m.p.h., as long as it is quiet! Sooner or later, I'll own Generals.

Circa 2001 I bought a new Porsche, and wanted to upgrade the stock audio system.

Like any self respecting Audiogoner, I would normally get obsessively involved but was busy at the time and therefore deferred to a "high end" car audio guy in CT who recommended new speakers and amps, while keeping the stock head unit which he thought was very good.

Well a couple of thousand bucks later, it seems that the stock head unit did not even have line level out to the amps! So it all sounded absolutely terrible to me, and not even close to my 1978 Nakamichi a/d/s system - I really couldn't believe how bad it was.

For an incremental improvement, I had another dealer install a newer Nakamichi head unit, which was fairly simple, CD+radio, no pimp my ride lights, EQs or DSP - I believe it was a 2002 Nakamichi CD 400 which appears to be available online for < $200.

The simple presence of line level out to the power amps (duh!) made a huge difference.

So could be worth a look, subject to whatever else is available (or not available) from the peddlars of subwoofers and neon.

Others have recommended Butler tube amps, and Dynaudio (?) speakers. There was also a Milbert tube amp, but I never heard one and they were very expensive.
Bondmanp -

If you dynamat and want to do it it correctly, you dynamat everything. From door panels to trunk floor and lid, to roof and floor to wheel wells and firewall. Any panel inside the cabin and trunk that could be removed that has some room under it to place dynamat should be covered. That of course is for best results. And considering your vehicle, you are looking at more than $400 in dynamat to do it right.

Now, instead of removing all the panels more than once you may want the rest of your audio gear you are going to install handy so you can install it at the same time.

Now you said you don't want to remove the HU. I understand completely. However, I have done a few installs where the HU wasn't changed but the speakers were upgraded. Sometimes it actually sounds worse. You could try the higher-end cable route and replace your speaker cables. But I've never done that myself so I can't comment on the improvements on a stock system.

One thing you could do on a stock system to at least get bass you can control is get a splice box that taps off your rear speakers wires and gives you an RCA line-output for an amplifier. Then just make sure you get an amp with a remote level control that you can place in your center console or mount on the dash. Put one nice 10" Alpine Type R or a JL W6 in a sealed box and viola! Bass that won't interfere with your music that you have control of. You may be able to use your subwoofer wires and just disconnect that thing entirely. Up to you.

Total cost of all this would be approximately $1,200 if you install it. But it would be very quiet and great controlled bass. You might not mind your stock stereo after all. I've done a few of these installs before as well and I only received compliments. If you need any other tips you can always send me a message and I'll help out any way I can. Good luck
Has anyone heard the McIntosh car audio gear? Looks very interesting.
Spending a lot of money and time on car audio seems like a bit of a waste to me.
McIntosh HUs still have the some of their trademark sound. They do sound great. That is, if you don't mind spending the cash.

Unsound, if done right it is far from a waste. Most of the time it is a waste because people do not put the right amount of time, money and energy into it and always get sub-par sound and then blame it soley on the gear. So your statement, while true to a point, is only valid with those that take the cheap route. I've heard a few mobile audio stereos that sounded nearly as good as the $80k reference system at my local home audio dealers sound room. Of course they'll never sound as good due to space and the overall environment but you certainly can get close.
I don't mean to take the joy away from others, but between ambient noise and the near impossibility to get a proper speaker/listening position, it almost seems like an unattainable quest. Perhaps with digital "room" correction things might work better than I've experienced?
Probably, Unsound.

While I get why people want good music in their car- who doesn't? - I think there's a limit. Can you 'critically listen' while driving? For that matter, should you be?

My Alpine deck and factory speakers sound good enough for me. If I had a car that I knew I would keep forever or close to it, I'd seriously look into a McIntosh system. It would probably look great in my father's '71 Mercedes 280 SL convertable. Hanging out on July 4th and watching fireworks with the top down and a Mac system playing would be pretty cool IMO.
Oh buddy, if I'm "critically" listening while I'm driving then I'm not driving. That's worse than driving drunk. That's simply not a good idea. But a terrible sounding stereo or sub-par doesn't even deserve attention so it has to be decent for me.

And one thing on listening locations, and quite a few HUs have this option (but makes music sound terrible for passengers) is timing correction for your listening position. You can adjust each individual speaker to output at a different time. Worked incredibly well with my last Alpine HU.

Unsound, you take no joy away from anyone with your opinions. They are very justifiable opinions at that. And very happy you chimed in to voice them. Just remember, you can't take car audio to the extreme you do with your home audio gear because there is no comparison no matter how much you spend on your car. And at that, you are absolutely correct.

It's just the small effort to take some of your pride and joy with you wherever you go. Makes the journey that much more enjoyable.
The best car audio I ever had (or heard) had mini monitors on the rear deck, firing towards the front of the car, so reflections were minimized, at least compared to the usual routine where speakers fire directly into the rear window, front windshield or into the seats or footwells.

So perhaps it is the usual car speaker orientation which challenges most systems before they even have a chance.

Thoughtful installers I have talked to about this have recommended tweeters and/or midrange drivers mounted in custom fiberglass pods - either near the dashboard or sometimes in the footwells - which can then fire more on axis towards the driver. Bass, obviously, is less sensitive to placement.

But whatever the challenges, I totally disagree that ambient noise kills the possiblity for good sound.

Not to mention the fact that many cars are quieter than my house on most days, ambient noise might limit the possibility to discern low level detail, but it does not affect many other qualities and characteristics that can be clearly heard through the noise.

Which do you prefer: 1) ambient noise + high fidelity + clean power or 2) ambient noise + low fidelity + clipping?

That argument is like saying iPod electronics are only so good, so you might as well wear cheap ear buds and compress to MP3.
Thanks for the suggestions, Tiggerfc. First of all, I should have mentioned that I have neither the time nor the ability to do any installation myself. The good news is that there is a local mobile audio shop that I have used in the past and highly respect and trust. Also, I live in a neighborhood where I would be uncomfortable with anything visible besides an all-stock appearance, so outboard subs are out of the question. I have located an oval car woofer that might offer some improvement over the stock woofer in the rear deck, provided it was properly amplified.

As for the factory HU (I think it's a Panasonic), I have heard good things about the units made by Alpine and others specifically for the purpose of using a factory HU with outboard amps. Also, the DSP units, while I would not want one in my home, seem to make sense for a car environment. So, I would look at these units eventually as well.

But, business is really poor these days, so everything audio (except listening) is on hold. I will have to do it in steps, but a full Dynamat application will likely be step one.

As for the merits of improved mobile sound, I know there are limits to what can be achieved, and I know that focused listening is mostly impossible while driving. But, as I mentioned, I do spend about 75 minutes a day commuting by myself, so I'd like to increase the enjoyment I get from listening to music while I drive. My $0.02.