Please Help: High-End car audio

Firstly, I hope those word aren't an oxymoron. I've got all Focal drivers with a Soundstream amp. I bought an eclipse head unit and in-dash changer and hate the sound. Its not bad, but for as much as I spent, I'm not happy about it. It just sounds thin and unlifelike. The factory cd player through the spkr-line level adaptor didn't sound that much worse. If anyone has any experience with some head units in the car that really sound nice I'd be appreciative. The most I can do is exchange the Eclipse gear or try an sell it. Is Nakamichi about the only other one? And just how bad are the tuners at the expense of a good cd player. My home system is a fanfare tuner with all Van Alstine gear. I don't expect my car to sound that good, but at least musical. And I won't buy McIntosh, too expensive and ugly.
Personally I love my Pioneer head unit. It is a single CD player, and I run my front speakers (5 1/4" infinity Kappa 2-ways) off the head unit power. I run a pair of Infinity Kappa 6X9 (3-way) off of bridged alpine amps (100 wpc out of one amp to one speaker) and I run an alpine amp to a bandpass box. I run the 6X9 and the sub off of a pioneer EQ (the older thin style) but I just use that to control the sub power (and it has the sub cross-over and EQ controls just for the sub itself. With the balance set just right it really rocks. I have heard alot of others, but the combo of Pioneer Equipment, Alpine amps and Infinity Kappa speakers is great! I think Infinity Amps would sound great too, and there are some great deals as alot of them are being dis-continued.
I should add that I am 32 years old and it is not a "thumping" system, just good quality sound at HIGH volume.....
I've experienced some excellent results with Alpine headpiece; won 1st prize at Car Wars. This is not an all-noise rig either, very musical, loud & clean. Mix of ADS & Nakamichi speakers & crossovers; 750 watts RMS, +130dB SPL (I was not onboard during this measurements phase of the contest!).
If you haven't already the best thing you can do is have your door panels treated and maybe and floor if you're willing. The spray on stuff is more effective than Dynamat for door panels, but Dynamat will work well for the floor. Treating the car will smooth out the tonal balance and curb the slightly aggressive tweeters Focal uses. If you still have a problem with thinness, check out the Nakamichi head unit or look in to swapping your Soundstream amp for a McIntosh. McIntosh gear is warmer and fuller than most other brands. Good Luck
I agree that the Soundstream is part of your problem. To put it simply "they ain't what they used to be". I moved away from them to Orion and have never looked back. The one that I am most surprised by is a fairly new company, Xtant. They are very impressive in biuld quality and are easily configured to about anything you can imagine. Eclipse is a pretty good head unit therefore I do not beleive your problem lies there but you could have a bad unit. I personally use the higher end Clarion Pro Audio head unit and wouldn't trade it for the world. It now resides in its third car and I have no plans to replace it. Just my two cents, hope it helps.
I would recommend auditioning different speakers and amps. The Eclipse head units are great. I have an Eclipse head unit, Eclipse amp and Eclipse components up front w/ some JL Audio 6x9's in the rear. I wanted something that sounded great but no sub. I have had the system for almost a year and have received numerous compliments from other audiophiles.

I auditioned the focals when I was purchasing my gear and the salesman really pushed them but I stuck w/ the eclipse components because they sounded much better to me (despite all of the reviews I read to the contrary). Even the salesman was suprised at how great the system sounded once it was installed.

Good luck.
Like several others who have posted, I've had good sound from my Eclipse head unit (tuner w/ single CD). It's used as a preamp only, I've got a Fosgate Punch 400 supplying power to Diamond Audio speakers.
Buy a used Lexus ! They have awesome stock stereos. I've never heard a really good 'custom' car stereo implementation.
I bet your problem is the head unit or amp. I just picked up a Sony ES CDX C-90 and WOW! The reason is digital to analog processing. The CD just has digits on it and you can't listen to numbers you have to convert them to sound. The C-90 uses 4 Burr Brown chips that's what McIntosh uses in their home units. It makes a huge difference in depth and detail of sound that no normal head unit could match. Watch E-Bay for one they come up sooner or later at better than the $1200.00 list price. Also it could be the amp I like PPI very clear. The Focals are good speakers you're just feeding them bad processing.
Speaking of Lexus, they've got a new one out that has a 100% Levinson sound system. The Levinson folk were on board from the early design stages of the car and have even included specially treated seats and such for their acoustic properties. By all accounts, it is meant to be quite special (though I surely haven't heard it, nor do I ever expect to...). Point is, assuming you're not about to go out and buy the car to get the stereo, Levinson might have some gear and some technology developed (though who knows whether it is available other then through Lexus) that may be worth looking into. I'd be curious to see whether the stuff is available other than for cars that were specifically designed for it...
Sorry to whoever I offended, thanks for the negative feedback, you made my day.
A few years ago (1996), I had a great car stereo that came close to achieving an audiophile's ideals. It had an alpine head unit and digital time alignment processor feeding. I had 10 Dynaudio speakers in the car and had custom pods built for ideal positioning of the tweeter and dome midrange. The digital time alignment processor was used to independently delay the signal coming from the left pods and midbass to give good imaging, even in a car. I had all Xtant amps and an Xtant parametric eq (necessary in a car environment). The parts for the system cost about $10k and the installation was another $7k.

A while ago, I went to the Lexus dealer and listened to the ML system. It wasn't as cool to look at, but to my ears and memory sounded pretty darn close to that custom system. I'm sure ML is also using digiral soundfield processing in the Lexus.
First, a question; Who installed the gear ? Even great gear will sound lousy if not properly installed. Second , I think you need some professional help .i.e Peter Lufrano @ - he has helped many who seek real high end sound in a car and he carries the best gear. Very responsive to email.
FROM POSTER: Firstly, thank you all for the responses. To the last response: the audioshop I bought them at installed it. I figured I wouldn't mess with doing both the indash changer and the main unit, it took them about two hours plus it extended my warranty.

The Xtant stuff looks good. Orginally this whole thing was supposed to be cheap, I mean; the Focal drivers were on clearance for $129 a set (6.5" mids 6c211s1 polyflex with TN46 tweets), not a bad price by any stretch, and the 10" Focal sub was $60 11V5501, all new from Zalytron. Just a hair over $300 for all the drivers, I was havin fun for cheap. The little 5 channel soundstream amp was on closeout for $149 and it fit a cavity underneath my trunk floor above the spare tire perfectly so I gave up no cargo space and the installation was competely hidden. I figure 35 watts of reall power, not chip amp power, and 70 for the sub would give me musical level. At that point I figured I needed an aftermarket unit since I wanted something better than what was in the Honda (a factory cd player). However, the eclipse doesn't sound better, just different, and a different I don't prefer. And to address resulta4sures post-I couldn't agree more, its in the DAC. With my Van Alstine Omega IV I didn't even think about the $1,000 as soon as I put it in, nor with my Fanfare tuner. But the Eclipse isn't cuttin it. If someone wants them-I'm probabl willing to sell: 55430 head unit with 5962 in-dash changer, two days old. I'm guessing that I can't do anyworse so I might as well take my losses now and try a Nakamichi from a place that will let me return it. If the Nak does the job it stays. If it sucks, well then I'm toying with the idea of mounting my old Audio by Van Alstine Fet/Valve dac under the seat, finding a head unit with a coax digital out (sherwood makes one), and building a small audiophile grade kit preamp for the other DIN opening, I know the last option will definately work since that tube DAC sounds nice. It may just be my personal subjective tastes, but an EQ isn't the answer. Bits are bits to be converted over into an analog wave form. Anything other than the original signal is distortion. However, there is always the issue of what type and were that distortion is, and this is probably where some subjectivity comes into play and maybe why I don't like these units. Who knows, maybe it is the amp, but In my experience whenever there is an upgrade things as a whole sound better even though the limitations of another component may be revealed. I'll look into the Autophile.
From Poster again: The 55430 head unit was MSRP at $480 and since it was the last one of last years model they gave it to me for $400. As far as the changer, it was actually, from what I gather, was bought new and installed in a Tacoma pick-up and after two weeks the lady got a cavalier and it wouldn't fit, so she brought it back for an exchange and they couldn't sell it for new (so its two weeks and two days old). Its MSRP was $650, I believe, and I paid $350. I know I wasn't getting the best deal on the prices, but they were decent and I figured that surely the units would give me the sound I was wanting, while maybe not the best for the money. Plus, they were the only ones the really matched the dash in my car which was part of the attraction too, all the others looked so crazy (dolphins, changing colors, bright red trim). Installation was $70 plus parts and sales tax was a hair under $50. So if anyone is interested or knows someone who is feel free to make me an offer--unless something changes my mind. My dealer will give me an exchange or store credit, which is an option.
I am very happy with my Sony ES head unit/CD changer and a 50 watt x 6 channel Precision Power Amp (PPI) combo in my BMW 535i. It is dead quiet, even when turned all the way up (with no signal of course), which is very important to me. I hate hiss. I used Wireworld Orbit cabling throughout the car, which I purchased in bulk from Wireworld for $4 per foot. I believe this cabling is a big part of the excellent sound I am achieving. I am using Infinity Beta series drivers all around - 1 1/4" silk dome tweets in the door pillar (stock location), 8" mid-bass in the kick panel, 5 1/4" midrange drivers in the rear deck, and a 12" Beta sub in a sealed enclosure firing into the car through a ski bag hole behind the rear seat center armrest. The Beta series is now discontinued, but was their top of the line driver series (above Kappa), and only available from Infinity's "best" dealers (read: highest volume). Associated equipment includes Infinity's passive "competition crossovers" for the front stage speakers, (the 5 1/4" mids are run full range with their natural rolloff), a 1 farad stiffening cap for the amp, and Tiff fuse/power hardware. My suggestion to you is to explore new head units (Sony ES and Macintosh sounds like a good idea too) and upgrade your amp to a nice PPI or Extant unit. I'd stick with the Focals for now, and I'd also try some high quality cable like the Wireworld Orbit or your favorite brand shielded interconnect. Incidently, I am 30 years old, like accurate, deep & tight bass (not BOOMY), and my car system has won awards at sound quality competitions. I do NOT compete in the SPL contests - I am only interested in sound quality, not quantity! Good Luck on building your dream system!!
Ezmeralda11- I can think of several factors that might affect the sound:
1. Some head units provide a lower than typical preamp voltage that would definately affect the ability of the amp to provide great sound.
2. the $70 price for installation is a steal. We're talking 3 pieces of electronics, x-overs, and multi component speakers. I paid about $250 for install on my eclipse system which did not have a separate changer. Many shops would charge $70 just to install an amp.
3. The long IC and wire runs from dash to trunk and back would accentuate any problems there. I hope you bought and received (see #2) good quality here.
4. The amp is, IMO, another likely source of the problem.

Cars are exceeding difficult to get right, everything is even more application specific and there is little if any opportunity for a meaningful audition. However, I would see if you can get the dealer to swap out the amp, and double check on cabling. I would recommend ADS amps, but they will cost at least double what you paid.
3. The amp could have a significant impact on sound.
From Poster to Swampwalker: The amp and speakers I installed myself, the $70 was for both indash units (the changer and the cd receiver). The eclispse claims a 5V preout on my unit which should be sufficient (the one above it had an 8V preout). I've noticed most others start at about 1.8 or 2v and top of at around 4.5v. Now I don't judge the units solely on that number, but I should have enought output (not to mention the amp does have gain to accomadate weaker signals). The interconnects are 16ft runs of Lightning Audio Strike series. The interconnect and speaker cable are down the passenger side and the power and remote lead are down the driver side. At this point I still don't know what to do. To me the sound is "stuck in the drivers" if you know what I mean. It doesn't have that ethereal quality where a sound sounds like its coming from behind the tweeter or something, there's not much air or ambience.
From poster: If its of any consequence the amp is mounted on 3/4" particle board which is then mounted to the metal floor, so its not touching any metal (it even has the rubber sleeves for the screws). All connections are simple crimp on spades. Mids are running full range and tweets have there lows filtered via a 12db high-pass crossover (which I had to build, single coil and cap, I did all the soldering). Speaker cables is 16gauge radio shack. I figured if nothing else, since it wasn't the best amp in the world, give it a little help by lowering the overall resistance giving it slightly better midbass control for a couple of bucks. I don't know if the Nakamichi is the ticket.
Ez- You're right, the 5v output should be sufficient. Sorry, I can't say much about sound being "stuck in the drivers". My Eclipse set up (w/eclipse speakers) is in my Jeep Cherokee with a rack and box on top. At 70 mph, sometimes its hard not to drive the 50 wpc ADS to clipping. But when I'm stationary, it sounds pretty good, tonally. But I'm not looking for imaging. One issue might be where the drivers are mounted. I have the mid/woof in the standard front door cut out and the tweets on an angled surface mount provided with the eclipse, on the kick panels facing up toward the driver. Anyways, I would try swapping out the amp first to see if it helps. Should be easier than re-doing the head unit.
Swampwalker is right. An increase in output isn't going to help, and mounting location and the quality of the installation are paramount to the sound. Partnered with a 35watt pioneer and BA pro 6.5s, I too have an Eclipse. My tonal balance is weak right now (xover needs adjustment), but the imaging and soundstage is as much as you could expect for this price range. Ezmeralda, from how you have recently described your sound, it really seems that it is a problem with your speakers and/or amp. Maybe a defect, maybe bad mojo. I'd go to a couple of car audio places and have them check it out, especially if this is the first time you have mounted seperates yourself.
Thanks for all the support/advice, at this point its basically see if I can trade them in for something else, or get money back and maybe pay a restocking fee. The 6.5" mids and 1" tweets are mounted on the rear deack in the factory 6*9 openings. I was going for the factory look and so they are hidden under the factory grills firing into the rear window. The front 6.5" are mounted in the door panels where the old 6.5" were and the tweets are mounted on the sills at the top of the door where the side mirror is on the other side. I didn't mess with angling them, I figured just getting the tweets up there would be a step up from anything stuck down in the door. The guy at one of the other car audio places in town thought it sounded fine and said the whole installation looked better than what was in his car. When I asked my sister to listen she described it as "tinny and everything sounds on top" (which I agree with). It was my first component driver/ext. amp install, but I had done other cars in the past. I'll admit the amp isn't the best in the world, but I figured any power amp, and especailly this one, would give better sound than any in-dash chip amp. And on the same token any decent componenet drivers w/ an ext. X-over will sound better than some coax's. And it all did, things just went wrong at the head unit. For the same, if not less, money as the eclipses I could get an Audio Alchemy DLC, a power invertor, and a sherwood unit with a coax output to run into my tube dac and come out with better sound by far. Its more elaborate than I wanted and I'm still tempted try Nakamichi. Whatever ends up in the dash can't sound any worse than what I have now. The factory unit, even with its noise, had more body in the music. I expressed my concerns to the dealer and they are going to look at it monday, they want to try a new amp in, but I don't want to spend more money on an amp. I'll bring in my home audio DAC, transport and preamp and run them through to see how much difference the front end makes.
Help is spelled as ' PPI' in high-end car audio. Art series ones. I don't know if these are discontinued but you can always get in the used market. They areworth every penny. In car EQ and sound delay is a must. How powerful is your battery/alternator?, Install a capacitor to store power.
PPI is not making any new products and the art series have been discontinued for about 3 years now, however if you are lucky enough to find them they are very good amps. PPI is not making ANYTHING at this time and there last creation amps had beaucoup problems so stay clear of them. Also worth mentioning are the Audison Thesis series(they are no longer imported) if you could find a HR-100 buy it plain and simple it is the best car audio amp ever. The HV sidici and the HV trenta are also terrific amps if you can find them. There was also mention of eclipse stay away from used eclipse and this has nothing to do with ESN, some models from year to year have tons of problems and eclipse is less then accomidating with any problems you have. That is not to say they will not take care of it but it is not uncommon for 10+weeks of turn around time. Currently I have a out of production Clarion deck and zapco signal proccessors and amps(comp. series of course) with focal drivers and custom made passive X-overs. Yeah I do know a thing or two about this stuff my best friend owns I respectable/successful car stereo shop. So I have seen/heard just about everything. Best of luck and if you have any questions feel free to ask :-)tim on that note I am liquadating my car system and everything is going cheap(I bought at wholesale and am willing to take a loss) most of the stuff is new sealed in the box if any one is interested send me an email and I will give you the specifics.
Ez: I strongly recommend that you get your home gear from the house and drag out the extension cord and replace the head unit with your home stuff. I would also hook up the front speakers to your home 2 channel amp. These two tests will tell you where the bad sound is coming from.

The speakers you got from Zalytron are built by Focal but are not the best Focal makes for the car. On the other hand it is probaly not the speakers that are the source. It is probably the mounting & location of the drivers.

Please preform the above tests so we can then recomend new electronics. BTW older Honda's heads were from Alpine and were pretty good cassette decks! I think the CD units may be from Clarion. (I could find out if you care)

Ez- If the 6.5s are low in the door and the tweets are up high near your ear, that could be a big part of the problem. You will loose most of the bottom. Vis-a-vis the head unit, I will say that I have had a Nak, Alpine, and Eclipse. The NAk was better than the Alpine, but both were casette only. The Eclipse is CD only, so hard to compare.
I have done some checking. Untill just a couple of years ago the Honda used a Alpine built head unit. It has a plug on the back that a special din (like?) cable can be atached that provides a preamp level out and it is BALLANCED. This might be the ticket to the sound you crave.

I also agree with Swampwalker about the position of the drivers
From Poster: The unit reads "Matsushita" on top. The guy at the Honda dealer mentioned alpine built them, I didn't know if Matsu owned Alpine, they do panasonic and technics. I'll look on the back again, but memory only recalls the antenna hookup and then the big pin connector/harness. But it didn't sound that bad of the spkr-line level adapt. Its a 97 Accord.
go to They have great variety of high end car audio equipment.
Marsh the link goes to a page that clames to hold the domain name...what is my problem
Sorry is!
By the way I have been told that there is not much difference between Mcintosh and Clarion, since they are owned by clarion. But, I dont know how much truth there is that. And, i would call the store (the autophile) and ask them for their opinion.