Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Now Hear This

I love music. Most of what I like, most people don't like. I'm okay with that.

There are exceptions, to be sure. James Taylor is still in the mix. Heart. Cat Stevens. Yes. Bruce Hornsby. Elton John. But soon we'll diverge, I promise.

Willy Porter anyone? Jethro Tull? Wanna take a crack at some Marillion? Why is it that progressive rock never gets its own night on American Idol? Dolly Parton but not Ian Anderson?


Last weekend between little league and the seemingly endless downpours I got the new audio system into the rig. Not entirely new, actually. The head unit is a hand me down from my brother-in-law. A year or two ago he opted to upgrade to a full satellite dish/dvd/navigation unit on his mini motorhome as he spends much of the year on the road. Someday, someday.

For now, I get a nice Pioneer CD player with lots of flashy LCD action on the faceplate. More importantly, it is a huge upgrade from the 20-year-old Panasonic two-dial tape deck with variable tuning. By variable, I mean what it says on the dial is variable from the station actually tuned in.

Installation isn't a difficult process, but it is a bit of a pain in the tail. 80s and 90s toyotas of this vintage were still made with things like phillips head screws and regular bolts. And the plastic is heavy enough that any big Irish mule like me can push it around pretty hard without much fear of snapping anything.

There are good step by step instructions available on the web, which are very helpful. The underside of the dashboard basically comes off in three pieces: the glovebox and right speaker housing; the knee-panel under the steering wheel, which houses the left speaker; and the center console. The center is the trickiest of the three, only because the last two screws that hold it in place are hidden under the heat and AC controls. Removal takes some gentle work with a screwdriver to pry off the faceplate before the whole panel snaps off.

The best part about the project aside from the sound of the new system is the opportunity to get more GUNK out of the rig. 20 years of dust is a lot (how it gets up in behind there I don't want to know) and it took a decent amount of effort with a dry paintbrush to get all the little bits of debris out of the crevices in those panels. A little bit of Armor All on the tip of the brush helps too, but only with the last bits. NEVER start the process with a big spritz of Armor All or any sort of cleaner or you'll be digging dust mud out of those little corners for an eternity.

As with the new speakers that we installed early on, the new stereo fit in fairly easily. A new plastic mounting bracket (online for about 8 bucks) makes for a tidy finished look and all the wiring from 1989 matched the schema for the new deck. I wish I could thank the original owner of this Sunrader for keeping ALL of the documentation including the original Panasonic INSTALLATION manual. The opportunity to verify the wiring scheme saved me a ton of time fishing through everything and meant I could just swap in the new harness in a few minutes. AND it worked on the first try.

Because the factory speaker mounts in the cab only hold a 4 inch driver, there isn't much low range to be had. I thought about cutting holes for bigger speakers in the doors but just couldn't get excited about it. Behind the drivers seat, there is a gap between the luan covering the outside wall of the shower and the edge of the cutaway truck cab. I'll get a picture posted up shortly. At about 8 inches wide, this is just enough room to mount a subwoofer, so I did.

10 bucks on, so if it is crud I won't feel too bad. The Pioneer head unit has a line out pair of RCA jacks on the back and I happened to have a 20 year old 18W (yeah, 18 Watts, not 1800 with a pulsing purple light like the ones at Best Buy) Yamaha stereo car amp. The great thing about this amp is that it is only about 3 inches by 6 inches. PERFECT.

I used a piece of poster board to create a template of the space between the edge of the truck and the plywood lip on the coach. From that, I cut a piece of 1/4 inch plywood, cut one port for the speaker and a smaller one for the wiring, and mounted the lot in the back of the cab. In a perfect world I probably should have figured out a way to make it more airtight, but I can still put some insulation in behind the speaker later if it needs it.

The amp fits easily above the speaker on the back wall. Four screws.

So in it goes, wired up and hooked up and voila, a whole new dimension of sound for the rig. The one downside of the little amp is that it is OLD and it isn't bridgable. That means I only have one channel of bass signal going through it, not both. Oh well. Only I will know.

The two Kenwood speakers are fully mounted in the back of the rig too. Poly cones on a 6.5 inch driver, with center mounted mid and tweeter. SUCH an improvement from the old paper-cone Panasonics. Wow. 40 bucks on Amazon for the Kenwoods. I think the whole outlay for the new system, not including the hand-me-downs of course, was less than 75 bucks including some new cables. HUGE improvement.

Now... Time to crank some Heavy Horses.

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