The Update

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One of the things about new cars that’s inarguably fantastic is how they sound. Not their engines, of course. For that you need an old car – one without catalytic converters and with a carburetor!

Nothing fuel-injected will ever sound better than the sound of a big a four barrel’s secondaries opening up. Listen my children and you shall hear . . . the sound that makes the entire Persian Gulf stand up and cheer!

But nothing that’s old can match the sound of a new car’s audio system. We have come a long way in that department.

It’s not just the sound, either.

New car stereos usually have Bluetooth capability – which means you can wirelessly pipe your music into the stereo from your phone or an iPod and that way avoid listening to the radio – and three commercials for every song. Most are set up for SiriusXM, Pandora and other streaming services, too – so you can listen to your playlists and genres rather than their commercials.

It also means no more lugging around a case of CDs.

And the best part is, you don’t have to buy a new car to get it – or get rid of it.

I just installed a new audio rig in my old truck, which came with what was a not-bad stereo by the standards of 2002.

By today’s standards, it sucks dead toads – the audio equivalent of an 8-track player back in the ’90s. No Bluetooth – because there was no Bluetooth back in ’02. That means listening to whatever’s on the radio – which is mostly commercials – or dealing with my CDs.

If the CD player still worked.

And the four crappy speakers are really three -because the driver’s side door speaker is blown.

So I decided to treat myself to an update. A modern audio system with Bluetooth and (cue the Emperor from Star Wars voice) many other things besides.

Including an amazingly low price.

As opposed to a very high price for a new car with a great audio system. Including the cost of ASS, driver “assistance” technology and “connectivity” to the Clover Hive Mind.

I’d rather just have the Bluetooth and four good speakers.

Which I got for about $250, all in. This for a rig that’s superior to the rigs six figure luxury cars came with back in ’02 and competitive with what they come with today. Mine even has the groovy cool ambient mood lighting thing and a USB charge port – something no high-end car had back in 2002, when my Nissan was new.

While cars wax expensive, the price of electronics wanes – probably because there are far fewer regulatory compliance fatwas afflicting the consumer electronics industry. Result? A stereo that would have cost $1,000 ten years ago costs a third of that today.

That’s pretty cool.

Also cool – if you still like your CDs – is that many modern aftermarket audio rigs are available with a CD slot, in addition to the Bluetooth/streaming capability – giving you the option to listen to either.

Something else that’s cool is the easy install – one of the few do-it-yourself things you can still do yourself. Suppliers like Crutchfield – which I mention not because they’re paying me but because I buy stuff from them and can recommend them without reservation – sell direct-fit replacement audio systems that integrate with your car and do not require hacking up the dash.

Or the wiring.

One of the things about old cars that wasn’t good – back in the day – was having to splice into the factory wiring harness to get a modern stereo to work. Back in the day being the ’80s and earlier. I put a “modern” stereo tape deck – remember those? – in my ’76 Trans-Am back in the ’90s. It took me several days to figure out which wires to cut – and which not to cut.

The new stereos come with color-coded and plug-and-play harnesses. Just match up the red to red and the green to green and the yellow to yellow (and so on). Then crimp – and plug. The process takes maybe 15 minutes. A chimp could do it.

I know, because I did it!

Speaker install is just as easy. Because what you order is made to fit your car. If it’s not an exact physical fit, Crutchfield will supply any necessary adapters and hardware as part of the deal.

You need nothing except the will to do it – and not much bucks – and a strong desire to avoid a new car in order to get one of the things that’s very good about new cars!

Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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39 COMMENTS

  1. That USB “charger” may be an actual input for a flash drive fulla audio.

    I installed a straight from China Android head unit specifically trimmed and wired for my newish car. Steering wheel controls, rear camera and 3 USB ports. 256 GB of audio library on tap via Media Monkey’s “Folder” mode. The car was the last year for a stick shift in that model and no driver “aids” or engine wierdness features. Spent a bit more than you, but I’m worth it. 🙂

  2. I have always liked high-end audio systems and have had a few. Funny thing about my old Malibu, when the engine was turning close to 8K, the exhaust was howling, esp. when the dumps were opened, I never thought about a sound system. I used to have a “blurb” in the system sometimes when the alternator spun so fast it would shed the cooling fan. I had a few dings in the hood…….from the underside. After I knew what that sound was, it didn’t bother me as long as I didn’t smell coolant so all I had to do was get out my spare cooling fan and replace the one with vanes missing. It was the kind of sound system that made everyone within earshot quit listening to music. Those were the days…..my friend….we thought they’d never end…..and they did continue for decades for “some” of us.

    • Hi Aych,

      Yup; this is why CD players are still pretty common on the aftermarket and even in new cars. Many people still like ’em (unlike, say, 8-track players).

  3. The plug and play stuff usually comes from the better and more expensive retailers like crutchfield. Unless of course now the aftermarket stereo manufacturers are in that game too. It has been quite some time since I did audio work. The last time I simply got the harnesses adapters with the stereo and speakers and then soldered up the stuff and when came time to install just plugged it all into the factory harness.

    • Hi Brent,

      I was very pleasantly surprised to find out how inexpensive this upgrade is. My Sony receiver and a set of nice JBL speakers set me back just under $250. For that I now have sound quality and features comparable to the systems that come standard in $30k new cars. If I’d spent $500 or so I’d have something at the same level as what comes in a new E-Class or Lexus that stickers for $50k.

      Not a bad deal, that.

      Can you imagine what cars would be like if – like electronics – they weren’t mutated by endless government rigmarole?

  4. Nice upgrade on your truck there, Eric! I like how you made it look as factory as possible. I did the same thing in my 2004 Ford Ranger. I called up Crutchfield and the advisor I talked to on the phone was very helpful. I had no idea what to buy, and he not only steered me in the right direction, but got me a whole deal with a nice Pioneer system. For a small fee they also did the wiring on the harness adapter for me, so all I had to do was just plug the new unit in. The factory speakers in my truck were garbage paper cone things like your truck had. I replaced all 4 speakers with the Pioneer’s, and what a huge difference. I had to some some slight modification to fit the new head unit, because it was taller, but narrower than the old Ford factory unit. In the end, it looks factory. I wasn’t going to do it unless it looked nice and factory. For some reason, people will buy the crappy single DIN sized units, and put that stupid filler plastic thing underneath to fill in the gap. Why not just buy the proper 2 DIN sized head unit? Anyway, I think the whole setup cost me about $250 or so. Was a steal! It is nice to have hands free calling and be able to stream Pandora or listen to the The Tom Woods Show podcasts while on long drives!

  5. Ahhhhhhh………nothing like the sound of a Quadrabog! First, you get that deep throaty lag, kind of a like a warning sound that says, “Here it comes!” and then the fun begins. Should have removed that air cleaner gasket though. Oh well, at least they’re cheap.

  6. My 2006 Infiniti came with an unexpected feature : it rips CDs to internal storage. And if the record is older than the car it’s pretty good about knowing track info. I like it. Wish I had all my CDs anymore.

  7. Sweet! Hate to bust up your moments ear shattering of joy, but it won’t be too long before liberals want to limit the decibels available to be absorbed by your eardrums. You know, for safety and all that as well as control of your environment. You will only get to experience pleasure when they decide to turn on the machine.

  8. Ahhhhhh, the good ole days, circa 1980. Crank up that cassette deck through the 6X9 Sparkomatic speakers in the back. Pick up your girlfriend, and well……..you know.

  9. Yeah, that Q Jet does make some amusing noises.

    the two most amazing sounding engines I’ve ever heard up close and personal were these:

    1967 Jaguar E Type, race prepared engine, saved the big valve 3.8 litre cylnder head (larger valves and bigger, smoother ports in and out) but bolted that onto a 4.3 block. BIG dome pistons for about 9.5:1 compression ratio.
    Tossed the three two-inch SU carburetters, reolaced them with handmade inlet manifold, six straght smooth tubes, each with one 38MM sidedraft Weber. Velocity stacks on each, gulping from a LARGE cold air box which had an amply sized duct heading out front to take the cold air from inside the cowl, rammed into it by the speed of the car through the air. The exit side of the head carried large diameter stainless tuned and grouped tubes, smooth curves, each set of headers feeding a three inch pipe and carrying all the way to the tail. VERY radical camshaft, when throttole applied this thing would eagerly accelerate to its 8500 RPM shift point and made a roar the ike of which I’ve enver heard except on the track. Those six HUGE Webers with the wide open oortas and big valves belted out a sing that was amazing, the howl of the twin exhaust playing counterpoint. Sitting in the right seat, one category of sound ahead, the other astern, the two keeping perfect time, was memorable, despite the extreme pressure forcing my head into the headreast with surprinsg pressure as we accelerated from zero to 85, still in second, in the space of one short block.

    The other was also,strange “concidence”? I think not)from 1967, a Porsche 911 T, Stromburg carbs sold off and replaced by the Weber Triple Choke units from the S and Carrera variants, the stock high miles engine simpl having the cams replaced with the Carerra spec lumpy version, exhaust left in the stock Euro configuration the works fitted. That car as well had its shift points at 8500 RPM, the pressure holding my head back against the seat was stounding and acceleration almost unbelieveable. Main difference is ALL the sounds in the Porsche came from behind.

    I do not hear any engines making such sweet sounds these days.

  10. Sounds glorious 🙂

    I tell you what in my humble opinion beats it.. a ZZR1100 on full song at 100mph plus. The sound of that thing snarling and coming on cam between your legs is something few noises can match. Except a straight piped supercharged AMG 5.5 of course 😉

    • VFR-750F downhill, off power at about 4500rpm. A burble that tingles your spine. My 460 F350 makes a pretty pleasing sound at about 4200rpm WOT too.

  11. My brother was parts manager for a BMW dealership back in the 80’s and got me a Blaupunkt FM stereo cassette unit that I installed in my ‘75 Dodge Dart. Had the best sound for a car stereo I’d ever heard at that time. I pulled it out before junking the car and set it up in the basement, still works great for playing my collection of cassette tapes which are mostly recorded radio programs.

  12. Give me the music of a big V8 with a carb in front of a 4 speed any day. Music is for the Lexus LOL.

    Interesting fact: The temperature of the air/fuel mixture under a carb and in most cases all the way to the intake port is about 45 degrees F. Engine Masters did a test on this following John Kasse’s study on it. Apparently evaporative cooling is the reason. As the fuel and air mix the charge gets very cold. This is less so on fuel injected engines which is why you see racers “icing the intake” on the fulies.

    Did you see all that raw gas pouring into the secondaries? Amazing and really cool! Thanks E.

    • that is because of the energy it takes to vapourise that liquid fuel after the carb mixes the liquid fuel with air. It is also interesting that the COLD gaseous state of the fuel/air mix is also more dense.. because cold.

  13. Pioneer makes double-DIN head units that come with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Instant smart stereo and navigation system. Some models will even use steering wheel controls or have remotes that can be mounted on a steering wheel. Now, I know that most people ’round here don’t want any of those telescreens in their vehicles, but I do prefer having audio controls on the wheel, especially when listening to all songs on shuffle.

    Or you can go the home brew direction and build yourself a car PC, which has gotten much easier with the introduction of the Raspberry Pi and cheap touchscreens.

  14. Anyone that can throw the chicken bones and get a quadrajet running right is a witch and should possibly be burned or tied to a stone and thrown into the pond to see if they would float. I suspect we would also find rendered pig fat in the glove box and you would claim it was only for a balm and not an ingredient for a potion.

    Quadrajets are very good, but the electric choke versions were only good for flooding your ride in cold weather. I dried many plugs before I gave up and converted it to a manual choke. EFI FTW!

    • Hi Anon,

      Gen X’ers, too! Anyone over 30 today probably bought a CD back in college or high school. I still have a bunch. I don’t listen to them anymore but I intend to transfer them to digital. I think – so I have been told – that the sound quality is “deeper” but then I heard the same about records before CDs!

      • The sound quality is not deeper. Each instance of removing the information from it’s intended format results in slight degradation. It sounds “deeper” because you don’t have the mechanized hum of the player. Tape, which I’m sure as a boomer you remember, actually reproduces the highest quality close to life sound. The machine makes noise though. Test this by having having the speakers in a different room. Tape is a far superior format to digital, cd’s, and especially vinyl. Millennial 1, boomer 0.

        • eric

          I reread what you wrote and realized I misunderstood it (I’m dyslexic). You meant that CD has a richer sound than MP3? Because if so, Boomer 1, millennial also 1?

        • The best quality audio format is analog tape running at 15 inches per second. Not very practical outside of a recording studio. Next down is probably a 24 bit/96KHz FLAC or SACD, although some may say that I have the top three flipped. Next would be Apple Lossless or Ogg Vorbis, depending on how much you hate the ghost of Steve Jobs. Or maybe “red book” standard CD, depending on how old you are. Then comes all the various “lossy” formats like Apple AAC, MPEG 3, and then finally at the bottom of the barrel comes the digital broadcast formats and Sirius/XM. Back when XM was a company and not an afterthought they streamed out at much higher quality than Sirius and manufacturers made receivers that sounded pretty good. Sirius was always crap and when they merged Sirius’ practice of jamming as much into the stream as possible won out.

          I still have about a hundred pounds of CDs that sit on the shelf. Most of them were picked up for $1-$5 each during the great record store bloodbath in the mid-00s. All of them have been ripped to variable bitrate MP3 and FLAC files for convenience. And I’ve bought a few 24/96 FLAC files and Apple lossless files online. They do sound incredibly good, when I’m sitting at home on the couch in a dark room and in the right frame of mind. Otherwise a waste of money. And most of the increase in quality is lost by people who can’t master, or the producer/A&R guy wants it to “punch” so they crank it up and don’t take advantage of the dynamic range. But once in a while you get some indie band or group that knows what the hell they’re doing and you can get some fantastic stuff.

    • I’m 32. I still have 3 packs of CDs in my passenger seat. I don’t listen to much digital music. I got “The Gereg by The Hu” CD for christmas from the boss lady.

    • I LIKE y CD’s. A lot. the sound is clean, propery balanced. The discs are quite portable, I don’t have to futz with “converting” them to some digital format, then muck about in some arcane menu to find the one I want to hear NOW. Just scan the shelves of the discs, find a title I want to hear, pick it upl pop it into the machine and punch play. The machine probably plays at leata half eozen disds a day and has since I got it in about 1990 at a Sally Anne for about five bucks.
      One of these days I’ll “find the time” to begin converting/transcribing all y old vinyl “Big Black CD’s” with music you cannot find any more on them, burn them onto CD’s, then sell the Big Back CD’s to some collectors becaue many of them are VERY collectable. Bill Monroe and his Boys from the late 1960’s and 70’s….. cant eve find that on CD these days, and its some amazing music.

      • Hi T,

        I’ve been told CDs (like LPs) produce better sound but I’m not audiophile – I just like music – and the digital seems okay to me. And the good news is it’s possible to buy a modern audio system with both Bluetooth and a CD slot!

  15. My $75 JVC deck with USB input was the best car audio purchase I ever made. I have three 16GB USB sticks in the console and switch them ever couple of months. Basically my entire music collection on 40GB. No skipping CDs on the washboard and potholes, no songs I don’t care for and it takes a month or two before the songs start repeating, long after I have forgotten when I last heard them.

    Some new(ish) technology is fantastic.

    Enjoy your tunes Eric.

    • Amen, Anon!

      A modern audio rig and an overdrive transmission and maybe TBI can make an older car modern in all the good ways – while avoiding all the bad things about new cars!

      • Uncle has made it impossible with regulation but we could have had ‘modular’ cars by this point.

        Most manufacturers have engine/trans modular units that the drop in whatever platform across their range of offerings. VW seems the most advanced at this.

        It would be so nice to have a standardized system of powerplant dimensions and mountings so we could pick driveline ‘A’ and snap it into platform ‘G’. Would make repair and replacement so much easier too.

        Instead we now have some models that share almost nothing compatible with the ‘same’ model made 8 months earlier.

        • People buy the sizzle, not the steak. They want different shapes and colors, not identical boxes. VW vehicles are remarkably similar and they only have a few models anyway.

  16. Good thing you had no low-flying birds on that run with the Screaming Chicken, they’d have been sucked into that gaping maw in a heartbeat!

    Yep, modern car audio has come a long way from the ’74 Vette AM/FM stereo I messed with once. Two pieces, 20 pounds, and maybe 10 W/ch if the alternator were up to snuff. Ditto the more or less standardized mounting, variations of DIN in multiples basically. Long way from an Alpine 7100 (wooohoo, that was cutting edge in 1979!)

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