Road Signs--Private Show (Automotive audio commentary, by Ivan Berger)

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I experience the Consumer Electronics Show as two different expositions, one public and the other private. My public CES is the vast, diffuse show I experience when I'm actually there, with new information reaching me so fast that it blurs into incoherence. Having only 38 hours of show time in which to see a sizable portion of the 1,400 exhibits is like speed-reading our October Equipment Directory.

My private CES takes place in my office, when I sort out the boxes of press releases and spec sheets I've shipped back, and recreate the show-this time coherently-from them.

Not much newsworthy car stereo emerged from the public blur. This came as no surprise, since most car sound products are introduced in January for the summer installation season. But the private show produced more than 11 pounds of car-stereo information-hardly a dry well, if not all worth passing on.

What should have been the most significant development took place off the show floor, where the EIA's car audio engineering subcommittee met to set new interconnection and specification standards. The subcommittee did set a uniform color-code standard, so that installers will be able, in a few years, to confidently assume that a green wire on a Brand X unit goes to the same place as that on a Brand Y. Output levels and input and output impedances were also standardized (500 mV output for a tape level of 250 nWb/m at 315 Hz, 1 kilohm output, greater than 10 kilohms input).

---Blaupunkt's prototype CD player

However, there was no agreement on plug standards, which means that installers will have to fabricate or buy adaptors every time they make up multi-brand car-stereo systems. According to subcommittee chairman Pat Hart, of Yamaha, most of the manufacturers on the committee already do make equipment whose connections match a European 8-pin DIN standard, but only for sale in Europe. Apparently, they'd rather use a separate system for the U.S. than take the chance that some of their customers might mix brands without having to work extra hard at it. When I heard that, I suggested to Pat that all makers agree on one connector and pin-out system that nobody now uses, so that no manufacturer would gain a competitive advantage from standardization; compliance with the standard could entail supplying extra-cost adaptors as well as incorporating the standard connector into products. This, Pat replied, had already been suggested ... and shot down.

----Yamaha's YCD-1000 loads CDs in cartridges.

On the specification front, EIA power specs will now be obtained after a 15 minute warmup at 1 watt into 4 ohms.

Frequency response limits will be the system's ±3 dB points and will be specified for both 120and 70-µS tape equalizations. Wow and flutter will now be specified as "±% peak DIN," with weighted-rms disclosures optional.

S/N ratios will be measured at the standard output levels, and tape speed will be measured at a supply voltage of 14.4 V d.c. Standard test tapes have been agreed on for measuring separation and some other things.

The most widely expected development was that droves of CD players for automobiles would be available for sale late this year or early next. In alphabetical order: Alpine's 5900 should be available about now, for $600; Blaupunkt's should be here in early '86; Delco may be putting players in some 1987 GM cars (and Ford may have them for some '86 models); Fujitsu Ten has no price or delivery date, yet, for its SD-110 (jointly developed with Toyota); Grundig (not at the show) should have a player soon, for about $500; and JVC has a prototype under wraps which may be in the stores before the year's end. Also, Kenwood's DC-9 should be available, for under $660, by now; Kraco plans to have a $300 unit out next year, and Mitsubishi's CD-100 should be available already. Pioneer's two models (one for Centrate systems, one for regular Pioneer installations) are available now, for $550 and $600, respectively; Sanyo will have a player early next year; Sony's two models ($699 with FM/AM tuner, $600 without) came out last year, and Yamaha's YCD-1000 should be out about now, for $499.

There is more, here, than a laundry list. Already, manufacturers are seeking ways to differentiate their car CD players from other companies'. Fujitsu, for example, seems to be positioning its CD unit as part of a component system, with separate tuner, cassette player, equalizer and power amps (complete with spectrum-analyzer display on the front-channel amplifier); since component car systems have never been too popular here, I expect that strategy to change. Kenwood's CD player has a 20-dB mute button-a feature even more useful in the car than at home.

Mitsubishi is downplaying its CD unit to talk player systems, packaging the player either with a 50-watt (25 per channel) amplifier/equalizer for $700, or with an AM/FM/cassette receiver and a four-channel, 100-watt amplifier for $1,000. I saw the latter installed in a Mitsubishi car with controls in the steering wheel, like the one mentioned in last month's column, but no one I asked could tell me whether those controls worked the CD or not.

Pioneer is pushing vibration resistance with a fairly exciting film of their player running in a four-wheel-drive Toyota truck bouncing over the desert (driven by my quasi-namesake Ivan "Ironman" Stewart). Sony seems to be the only one, so far, to offer a combination tuner/CD unit. But JVC intends to follow, probably with its second rather than its first model, and Kraco's prototype had a tuner, too.

Yamaha is the only maker I've noticed citing digital filtration and over sampling (though at 88.2 kHz, not the 176.4 kHz used in so many home units). Their car player is also the only production model, so far, to load CDs in cartridges-good protection, but a nuisance if your home player only loads un-encased CDs. (Yamaha plans to have a cartridge-loading home player this winter.) JVC will have a cartridge-loading car CD player, too-and possibly even a compatible one: Though JVC's cartridge is opaque and Yamaha's transparent, both have shutters which open to admit the laser beam. Both companies will supply a small number pf cartridges (Yamaha says five, and JVC doesn't know yet), with more available through dealers.

There are subsidiary CD developments, too. Surprisingly many people seem to be using portable CD players in their cars-a trend bound to accelerate now that Technics has announced a portable similar to Sony's D-5 but slightly smaller. Noting this, Jensen has announced that it will add audio inputs and 9-V d.c. outputs to some of its in-dash units later this year.

So far, no car CD player has appeared with an audio compressor to fit the CD's wide dynamic range into the car's narrow permissible-volume range. (Road noise buries soft sounds, but raising the volume to overcome it leads to ear-splitting loud portions.) So dbx's new home player has compression on tap, in part to allow taping CDs to fit mobile listening conditions.

The coming of car CD has speaker and amplifier makers smiling at the chance to sell "digital-ready" equipment. In this context, "digital-ready" just means "good," except for higher power-handling. But it's an excuse for people to buy better equipment than they might otherwise have sprung for, so I guess everybody wins.

Digital may also account for speaker literature's slightly increased emphasis on protection circuits this year. For example: Kenwood's KFC-1010 tweeter system (designed to match the new KFC-5050 woofer/midrange unit) features an automatically resetting protection circuit with an LED indicator, Jensen's new Power Amplified Speakers (with 20-watt amps and three switch able EQ curves) have thermal overload protection, and B & W's car-speaker crossovers have an automatic protection circuit called APOC. At the last show, the B & W MASS (Modular Automobile Sound System) speakers could be seen but not heard, as only mock-ups were on display.

This time around I could also hear them, and I liked what I heard. The MASS line now includes a very versatile tweeter, the LT40, which I did not see in January. Developed from the tweeter used in the Model 801 home speaker, this one comes in a surface mounted swiveling and tilting enclosure with a height just under 3 inches and a footprint a bit over 2 inches square. It should solve a lot of installation problems. At $99.50 each, plus $69.50 per channel for the recommended LX40 passive crossover modules, it's not exactly cheap, but there are installations for which it may be the only practical solution.

Kraco announced a three-way, 6 by 9-inch system, the TPS-693 ($119.95 per pair), whose cone midrange and dome and piezoelectric tweeters are mounted on a tiltable bridge to aim the upper frequencies where they're needed. Sanyo has joined the honeycomb driver brigade, with three flat-driver models ranging from the four-inch, coaxial FSP402 ($70 per pair) to the three-way, 6 by 9-inch FSP693 ($150 per pair). Kenwood's KFC-5050 midrange/woofer, mentioned above, also has a flat, honeycomb diaphragm.

Denon is using alpha boron for tweeters, a material already used in their MC phono cartridges. Fujitsu Ten's SG 1623, a 6.5-inch, coaxial, three-way system, uses a parabolic cone which reduces its mounting depth by about a half-inch. Even thinner are the SFI Sawafuji Dynapleat drivers, with flat diaphragms and flat magnets for a mounting depth of only about 1 inch.

Pioneer took the opposite tack, in a way, by introducing an 8-inch, rear deck-mount, three-way system, the TS 207 ($170 per pair). Sony now has a sealed-enclosure system, the XS-700 ($500 per pair), which will fit cars but whose construction also recommends it for marine use.

I noted four new entries in the car speaker field. Design Acoustics has its first mobile speakers, in friendly competition with parent company Jensen, designed to mount from either in front of or behind car body panels. ESB, from Italy, showed massive surface mount systems. Coustic, a new firm, introduced its first speaker line, and Trinity Loudspeakers showed systems with passive subwoofers for sports cars, pickups, 4x4s, RVs, vans, and other vehicles where ordinary car speakers won't fit.

It looks as if the rest of my private show won't fit into this column, so we'll leave the electronics 'til next month.

(Source: Audio magazine, Sept. 1985,)

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Updated: Saturday, 2016-10-15 5:28 PST