DIY Audio: SLK “Stealth” Stereo install - Mercedes Benz SLK Forum

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#1 Old 01-06-2014
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DIY Audio: SLK “Stealth” Stereo install

In a previous thread I started a write-up of my DIY Custom speaker Panels that I was designing to bring better sound to my R170 SLK.(You can see that thread here).


During the course of that project everything morphed into a bigger redo of the entire audio system in my SLK and so as to offer some insight, as well as document my own processes for others to hopefully learn, or garner their own creative solutions I am starting this new thread.

Being one that tends to be rather long-winded, I will forgo the history lesson and not bore you all with stories of my youth and the various other builds I have done over the years. Bottom-line, I am a reformed Car Audio fanatic who despite growing up and moving beyond my days in the mobile electronics industry; I still enjoy tinkering in the garage every now and again and felt my little roadster was overdue for an upgrade. This is that story.

For the sake of brevity I will try and break things up into a useable and useful format. This thread with serve as the introduction to the project and will be the place I post progress and pictures of things as I go. It will also serve as a jumping off point to individual DIY threads for specific aspects of the project should someone be more interested in a specific element or aspect of things.

While this list may grow, I will have four main DIY’s affiliated with the project:

  1. DIY Audio: BT Install (Custom trim panel in place of cup holder)
  2. DIY Audio: Custom Kick panels for speakers
  3. DIY Audio: Custom Speaker panels (doors)
  4. DIY Audio: SLK Subwoofer solution
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#2 Old 01-06-2014
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DIY Audio: SLK "Stealth" Stereo Install

Design Goal

The goal of this project is to get the best possible sound into the SLK without compromising the aesthetics of the interior as Mercedes designed it, as well as add some functionality and amenities; which were either not available in 2002 when these cars were new, or were not purchased on the car by the previous owner when they ordered it.

Secondary to the above elements is that I want to retain as much of the cargo and passenger space as possible. Since space is at a premium already, I intend to limit what modifications I make in the trunk.

Beyond these elements everything and anything is on the table, below is what I am planning on incorporating in to my build as far as features and design elements, this will more or less be my own score card to be compared when I am done and see if I can successfully make the modifications that I want.

  • Audiophile quality source unit w/ both CD and Multimedia capability (IPod, USB, etc)
  • Hands free (Bluetooth) Telephone
  • Audiophile Quality speaker system (3-way separates up front, with small subwoofers behind seat)
  • Power the system with no more than two 4-channel amplifiers and no external processors
  • Build custom speaker pods using doors and kick panel areas
  • Incorporate custom area behind seat to hold equipment (incl. power operated wind-screen) – all of which shouldn’t effect leg room for passengers under 6ft tall
  • Factory match materials (leather, etc.) to original material (as close as I can find on a budget)
  • Incorporate a motorized wind-screen into the enclosure/structure behind the seats
Obviously I do not expect to accomplish this all at once and the project will be ongoing and may take several months (or more). Since I drive this vehicle on a fairly regular basis, all work much be done in a way that I can easily put the car back on the road in short order. Some elements I am unsure how to accomplish, but will turn to the forums and my fellow SLK’ers to offer me inspiration and motivations when I get stumped, specifically the motorized wind-screen idea. I am unsure how that will go, but it is an idea I have been playing with for a while and will develop in the posts that follow.



Above is an early mockup of what I am planning on doing and some of the components I was/ am planning on using. Obviously as I move forward, due to space and other limitations things may change. As I move into the next couple of post, I will discuss each element of the project, along with chosen, or proposed choice of components. Some of which I already have from years of collecting car Audio equipment for other projects.

Please hold off on your comments a little longer and give me a couple more post before you start your comments and feedback, thanks.
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#3 Old 01-06-2014
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Now that we have laid out our plan, it’s time to get at what we are here to do; break a car apart and start installing audio equipment.



Before I jump into the first project, you all need to know that what I see in my mind’s eye seldom is what my hands produce. I have long since suffered from that ageless affliction of my ideas and aspirations far exceed my abilities, so while I have the best intentions to end up with a super clean and OEM looking install, the best laid plans have a way of changing.

That being said, let’s get started (Below is a brief breakdown of the various elements and equipment that will go into the project).

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Equipment and Placement

Like I alluded to before, I am an old car stereo guy and like anyone with a bug like this we tend to hoard equipment regardless of whether or not we need it at the time we buy, or come across it. With the advent of eBay, I fear this is probably a bigger problem than any one truly realizes.

For me the heyday of car audio was in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s and while there have been great developments since, for me for my money some of the best equipment was made during this time frame. For me this is especially appealing, since our cars harken back to these same years, which basically means I am doing a vintage Y2k audio install in my 2002 SLK, in 2014.

Speakers

The speakers are the key to any system and regardless of what you are doing I always work on the formula that since they are what actually allows you to hear the music, then you shouldn’t skimp on these. The problem is in today’s market it is really hard to get good, quality audiophile grade speakers at a reasonable price.

I happened to have squirreled away some fantastic old school speakers by a German manufacturer known as MB Quart. From about 1989 through roughly 2002, MB Quart was owned and operated out of Germany and the quality of their equipment showed. I personally feel some of the best car audio speakers to date are their drivers produced between 1995 and 2000.

After about 2002, MB Quart fell into receivership and was bought by Rockford Fosgate and more recently by a lessor conglomerate and all their stuff is made cheaply and are not the same quality. I repeat, MB Quart sold today are not the same quality as what they use to be and they are no longer “made in Germany”…

Without going into a lot of theory, and stirring the pot on what works or sounds better I do not plan on doing a lot of explaining of my decisions here, but in the individual DIY’s I will go into more detail.

Source/ Head-unit

After the speakers comes the source unit, or head-unit as we called them back in the day. While not as early as most of the pieces in this collection, I will be using one of the last great Audiophile head-units on the market, the Pioneer DEH-P800PRS.




This head-unit is designed for music only, so no navigation or other apps to entertain those of a slightly younger generation. This is a no nonsense audio piece which is designed to get the most out of your music. This will be a music only system so I will limit my install to a radio, compact disc and Ipod/ USB audio connectivity.

While the Pioneer does offer external connectivity to BT telephone/ audio connectivity, as well as satellite radio I do not plan to use their solution. Specifically for BT since it is lacking compared to other products on the market, specifically the Parrot branded stuff (which I will address later).

Another great feature of the DEH-P800PRS is that built-in to it is a rather advance set of tuning and processing capabilities. Including Crossovers and time-alignment functions which will help fine-tune the system once installed. This will also minimize the amount of equipment I need to find space for in our little cars. Oh, and did I mention it also has a hand 30-band equalizer as well?

Subwoofers

Next we have the subwoofers which will augment the frequencies produced by the other speakers and fill the holes as it were down to what we monkeys can actually hear. The problem with subwoofers is they usually take up a lot of space, or the ones that don’t are in sufficient to do the job called on and leave us wanting for more, especially if you are accustomed to better than normal Home audio settings, like I am.

This is the part of the project that currently is giving me the biggest headache and will ultimate take most of my energy trying to work through.


Since this subject is so large, and will be so in-depth I will reserve the brunt of my plans for a separate thread..

Power/ Amplification

Finally we have my amplifiers, which will power the whole system. Not as old school as the speakers and newer than the head-unit I have two amps… one is a Hertz Audio HCP-4D, the other is a lessor Alpine MRV-F300. Both are 4 Channel amplifiers which the pair is what I need (I will have a total of 8 Channels I need power for), but I do not like to mix and match amps in a single system so will need to decide which one I want to sell, and replace out of the two.

The obvious choice due to quality, power and related is to hold on to the Hertz amp and sell the Alpine to get a second Hertz. The Hertz amps are some of the best amps out there and related to the famous Audison line of amps, they are made in Italy and power wise offer twice that of the Alpine. But that is a decision for another day.

-------------------------------------

There is obviously a ton of other things to consider when doing a project like this and a lot of things I will need to address as I move forward, but to keep things moving and to make this fun, informative and interactive I figure it’s time to open things up for comment.

In the coming months I will keep this thread going by post my progress in fairly general terms, along with pictures and updates along the way. For the more intricate details or specialized aspects of the project that I feel, or you suggest might be useful to others in a more separated format, I will pull things out and do a separate thread. Hopefully I can do this without garnering the displeasure of the moderators…. let me know if this is not the best way to do these things, but I am of the mind that since these are specialized forums for one car and I seem to be entering unchartered territory here, it makes since to document it and post in a way that it can be useful to others.



That being said, “Let’s ‘crank’ this mother up”…..



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#4 Old 01-06-2014
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DIY Audio: Slk "Stealth" Stereo (Update 1/8/2014)

Update #1:

I thought I would take a quick moment to do a simple update of the project as a whole. This thread from now on will be the placeholder for the whole project and from now on will be where I post general updates, I will only do a quick overview and post a few pictures of the progress. Check back however since I will be linking out to the more specialized "DIY" threads as I get to that portion or the project, and or get around to writing things up.

As you may have figured out I am not doing the write-ups in real time and may have finished some of the work not yet discussed, so some pictures may seem out of sequence.

The biggest thing to do was break the car apart to start getting access to various areas of the car and take measurements.



One element of the whole install is to make as much of it reversible as possible, should I or the next owner want to return the car to stock. Part of that came in when I was wiring up the Pioneer.



I followed the advise from BSK and used the VW wiring harness. I took some extra time and prepared my wiring so they were secure, neat and would last.



One small side project I did, was changing the display of the Pioneer Head-unit. It is an OLED type, which does give you the option to change the stock Blue color to White, but I wanted mine to match the amber of the rest of the dash, so I took some amber colored plastic film and placed it over the display.



One of the areas I will be working with are the kick panels. I removed the factory panels and started taking measurements and see what sort of space I would have when I started building things out.





I recently started one of the side projects in taking our OEM cup holder and making a place to mount the display for my chosen BT telephone kit. (Parrot MKi9100).



I will be pulling out some of the tools of the trade and doing something special with the face panel. Something that I hope looks as good done as I am envisioning.





Stay tuned for more updates coming soon.....

(thread is now open for comment)

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#5 Old 01-15-2014
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DIY Audio: SLK Stealth Install (Update #2)

Update #2:

I just wanted to offer a quick update to things. I have now posted the DIY, or really build log more than anything of the panel I made to hold the Parrot BT kit in the center console. Here

I am still waiting on my vinyl to cover it, but it turned out pretty good and the parrot will over more features than would the Pioneer (voice control for one).



I also took the time to get out all the speakers that I will be using. Basically I have multiply sets of some older MB Quart drivers that I will be using. Its interesting that back in the day, different series used the same drivers.

We'll have four 5.25-inch woofers, two 4-inchs mids and a pair of tweeters.



As a side project I started looking at the subwoofer installation. I am contemplating multiply options, one of which is the area under the passengers footwell.



There is a cavity that works out to roughly half a cubic foot, which is enough airspace to install a sub, but will require relocating some electronics and a lot of fiberglass work which I can not really start until spring due to the cool temperatures in my shop (no heat).



I had an old woofer in my shop that I thought I would see how it fit. It is obviously not what I would use, but it shows that you could fit a 10-inch sub down there if it was one that could handle being in a smallish box. I prefer to use a high quality smaller speaker and getting more volume out of the space.



For now we are on hold pending some warmer weather and a decision on how to use the equipment we have.

...more to come later.

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#6 Old 01-24-2014
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I figured it was time for a weekly update on this project. This week didn't see a lot of progress to be honest, since I was waiting on some parts and had a job interview that had me preoccupied.

The BT console as I am calling it has new vinyl and I should have some pictures posted this weekend. I have removed both seats again and this past weekend installed some Dynamat Extreme sound deadener to the back wall of the interior. I hate to admit it, but there is a noticeable different in volume levels with the top up. I was impressed to say the least.

I am expecting a shipment from Austrialia this weekend with my taut flex paint to redo my interior panels. I spent last Sunday stripping all the old paint off of the center console and glove box door. I am not only upgrading the audio system, but am freshening the interior. I also ordered new LED bulbs for the dash to be done the same time I have the dash apart to do the tautflex paint.

I also started working on the subwoofer enclosure which will mount in the passengers foot well. After removing the factory Bose amp and relocating a control module and wiring. I have enough room to install a shallow-mount 8-inch woofer, or a really good 6.5-inch subwoofer. I have a lot of work to do here and will update as I get further into it.

This project as whole is a long term one so bare with me on some of my progress. It is my hope that I can provide some insight into what is actually in our cars as far as space and room to work when it comes to getting good sound and maintaining useable space.

...more soon.
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#7 Old 02-01-2014
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DIY Audio: SLK Stealth Install (Update #3)

Here is another quick update. I've been having problems with my camera so pictures don't do justice to the progress, but I am nearly done with the subwoofer enclosure. (I will post pictures of it later). It turned out pretty good and I have roughly a half of a cubic foot of space for the woofer (.5 cu ft). For those that have worked with subwoofer installs themselves, this is a good amount of space and almost any 10" or 8" subwoofer will work in this volume, I however am doing something different.

As part of this install, while the car is apart I decided to refinish all of my interior panels. I ordered the Tautflex from Australia and must say it is awesome, finish is spectacular. Prep is a bear however.



I wanted to get a clean surface so stripped all of the old stuff off. Working for only a couple hours a day, and with it being only 50 degrees in my garage (30 outside) it took longer than it probably would have on a sunny 75 degree day.

I also started preparing my cabling. All my wires will be shrouded with wire braid, both to protect and add a more OEM appearance. This is the 4 gauge power cable that will be run from my battery to behind my seats for the amplifiers.





I also started preparing my kick panel pods. If you recall, I will be doing custom door pods to hold my mid-bass drivers, but the midrange and tweeters will be in the kick panels, and will comprise of a 4" and tweeter.



I first had to make some cut outs. I went with a more tear-drop shape so they would better fit in the space needed. I glued the tear-drops to an extra set of OEM kicks I got off of a salvage car and then wrapped it in grill cloth and painted on fiberglass resin



You can see the shapes are taking form. I will need to apply body filler and smooth things out before wrapping with vinyl and installing.



Here are the kick panels during the test fit. The sub enclosure is actually lurking behind the floor as well, but more on that later.

I am hoping to get my camera fixed and share some pictures of the sub enclosure progress. The next big parts of the project once I am finished with the above will be the amp racks, revisiting the original door panel project and a little something special I have in mind to make a motorized windscreen.

More to come
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#8 Old 02-10-2014
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Not much new progress to report, but I did get the subwoofer enclosure made and fitted into the passenger foot well. I am however, having a problem fitting a 2" x 12" port into such a small enclosure, but such challenges are what make the fabrication so much fun.





I also started working on the area behind the seats. These are the forms I am working on which I will build the rest of the amp and equipment racks off of.



Hopefully I can start showing some real progress very soon. At this point it all looks like a really big mess I know. Other than the kick panels very little looks like anything that would come from MB or any reputable company, but hopefully that will change.

...stay tuned
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#9 Old 02-17-2014
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I haven't had a chance to upload all my pictures from the work I did this past weekend, but I did have a shot of the lower half of the amp rack that was finished this weekend. Next will be designing the upper portion and covering in vinyl, although there is ongoing work still with the other facets of the system that I will update soon.
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#10 Old 02-18-2014
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Update # 5:

In my previous post I showed the work so far on the subwoofer enclosure and the area behind the seat within which will be housed the two amplifiers and related wiring for speakers and power. The sub box pictured is now finished and despite some challenges with the port tube… you try fitting a 2”x12” port into a box that only 8” x 15” baffle. Not a fun prospect, however thanks to some elbows and creative piping we have our baffle mounted and enclosure secure.



I had hoped to report that I was done with the subwoofer system and all that was left was to install the panel that would have served as the false floor and protect the speaker from heavy feet. However, I ran in to some issues which have facilitated my going back and starting the subwoofer system again, but more on that later.



The next big area I turned my attention to was behind the seats. The SLK has limited space here and despite my only being 5’ 11” there is not a lot of room when the seats are set in the optimal positions to mount equipment, more or less do so and make things look like Mercedes had intended it to be there.

The plan was to make a custom amp rack and design it to look like it could have come with the car, I will add some artistic elements to it when I get to the next stage but the first big step built and will be the foundation for the whole project..

That base for the panel is a fiberglass mold made of the rear bulkhead of the car. After wrapping the area with aluminum foil and masking tape I made a mold of the back wall and cut it so as to leave room for the center console. From there I can build my amp racks and cavities for wiring off of and hopefully get the look I am going for.

My first attempt didn’t turn out very well, mainly due to the material I used to form the shape. They say grill cloth or nylon stocking worked the best when forming such shapes, I can attest that just because it looks like grill cloth doesn’t mean it will work. Whatever I had, wouldn’t even allow hot glue to stick to it to hold it down, so the first attempt was a fail.

For my second attempt I went back and remade the outline of my amp rack, previously I had used some heavy picture matting board, which is great since it can be cut and bend to any shape, but bad in that it won’t always support the shape you want when it gets wet with resin.

The second attempt I used some old MDF forms that I had left over from a Home speaker project. These CNC’d forms should work great as the outline for the cutout for the amps, two stacked on top of each other make for only 1.5” so we will also gain some space off of the previous designs 2.25” sides. The entire panel is only 3 – inches at the deepest part.

I next made the contour of the outside edges (nearest the center console and center of car) using the before mentioned picture matting paper. I then wrapped the entire thing in grill cloth, stretching it very tight to get a form. I then installed the panel in the car and after covering the door jam with tape. I glued the grill cloth the edge of the door jam so it would contour into the door area. I then applied fiberglass resin and this is what I ended up with.



Once I had the basic shape, I applied body filler and spent the lion’s share of my time getting it as smooth as possible before covering in carpet, which I found that is a good match to the oem.






Now with the carpet installed we get a better idea of what things will look like and what sort of space we have as far as leg room.





Having the above panel installed highlighted some problems with the subwoofer enclosure and now has pushed me to remake the one I had done. Reason being is leg room in the passenger’s side of the car was not what I had hoped for and further evaluation of the previous enclosure showed me I could have done things a little better and actually get a shallower box, but maximize the needed volume of said box, and ultimately get a bigger enclosure space.

I am currently reworking this enclosure and will highlight the process in a stand-alone thread similar to what I did on the other sections of this project.



That is today’s update, the next step after reworking the sub enclosure is to move to the doors and get back to my original project log of building custom door panels for the first generation SLK. After that we can start wiring things up and finish off the cosmetics, including the area behind the seats.

…more to come
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#11 Old 02-25-2014
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I'm still piddling away on the project but not much new to report. I did remake the subwoofer enclosure and this one turned out perfect and it fits a little better with no leg room loss and the requisite .45 cu feet was found. I did start the upper console (picture below) but I will withhold any further comment until I get it to a point that it actually makes sense what I am doing.

I am changing my picture upload format since I am reaching the max on my photobucket account. From now on I will be uploading few pictures but will be doing so through the forum and make sure they are ones that count.

Time to straighten up my garage...
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#12 Old 03-03-2014
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This past weekend I took a three-day'er and spent most of the time on the DIY Stealth Audio project, as I am keeping track of the number of "billable" hours that I am spending on this project. This weekend saw me hit the 75 hour mark for the whole project, which equates to probably 200 hours of actual time spent on this endeavor. Having worked in the industry for a short time, I do know that you can't bill clients for every single hour on a project. You guys can figure out what even the 75 hours worth of labor would cost one to reproduce such a project. My mechanic gets $100 per hour, and my home A/V installer gets $85....

Anyway, I spend the whole weekend working on what I am call my beauty panel. This is the piece that will finish off the work behind the seats. It is purely cosmetic, thus the beauty moniker.

I still have some work to do to get it ready for vinyl, but as you can see in the pictures below it is coming along.

I will post more pictures soon.
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#13 Old 03-03-2014
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Lots of work but very impressive! It's gonna be like you are sitting in a pair of headphones when you are done
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#14 Old 05-04-2014
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German needs german audio

It's been a while since I offered an update. The last couple of months have been nuts at work and I haven't had 15 minutes to myself in several weeks. This weekend that all changed and I got two solid days to work on the car (about 15 hours total) and ladies and gentlemen; we have music!

I still need to finish up some cosmetic items, specifically the beauty panel that will top of the amp racks and go around the roll-hoops, and I have delayed implementation of my custom door panels for a while and have tossed a pair of 6.5" mid-bass drivers behind the stock door panels, but the kick panels are done and in, and the amps were installed, all my wiring run and everything powered up for the first time this afternoon.

When I get some time, I will sit down and actually talk about what I did and why, but for now here are a few pictures...
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#15 Old 05-26-2014
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After many months we are finally nearing the end of this project. Over the long weekend I made the finishing touches of the top portion of my amp rack and rear parcel shelf. I still have a few more things to finish up, including making a vinyl covered panel that actually fits over the amps and hides the wiring a little better, but that is a story for another day.

I am also very pleased with my interior freshening that I did as part of the install. Between the Tautflex and the matched vinyl the car looks nearly as good as it might have when it rolled in off of the ship.



Below are a few shots I took this afternoon after cleaning the car up and going out for a drive. I am again very pleased with the match of the vinyl and the interior refreshing, but the audio system sounds pretty good as well.










Above the amp on either side is a fuse block and ground for each amp. I ran a 4 gauge cable from the battery to the fuse/ground blocks an 8 gauge to each amp for power and ground.


Any one who might know a little about that other German car manufacturer, specifically the E46 might recognize the rear seat storage compartment that was used as my storage compartment in between the seats on my R170. While it doesn't offer much in the way of storage, it does give me another place to put my sunglasses and a few other small items, plus I think it just works.

The next and final installment will add a pair of covers that fit over the amps and mate up with the vinyl panels that are shown here. The top portion of each amp will be all that is visible when the seat is folded forward, giving a much more finished look to the whole install.

So how does it sound? We;;, I am very pleased.... while the Hybrid Audio I6sw won't wake the dead it offers a good solid bass to a very small cockpit. The 6.5" mids in each door bring everything together below about 250Hz, and the 4-inch mid takes over the vocals and midrange above that all the way up to 5,000 hz, where the Tweeters kick in and offer crisp accurate highs. With less than 400 watts on the mid and tweet and another 380watts between the low frequency speakers, this system has the potential to get very loud, but since I have tuned it for sound quality, longevity and dynamics it seldom will be played anywhere near its max.

Well, I hate to run.... but its time for a cruise in my newly restored 2002 with one awesome audio system.

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#16 Old 05-26-2014
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Excellent job. The integration of the rear storage compartment into the back wall is superb






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#17 Old 09-27-2014
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After living with this system for more than six months I remain extremely happy with the sound, however have grown more concerned with the compromises that were made in legroom and functionality of the car. So in the coming weeks, watch for revisions to the system. While the original intent of this thread was to highlight a "stealth" audio install, the final product seemed to move away from that. The revised edition will put more emphasis on "stealth" and allow my passengers to regain a little more seat travel.


more to come.....
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#18 Old 03-24-2015
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While it has taken me nearly six months, I am back at the rework of this 'stealth' stereo install. As I mentioned in my previous post, having lived with the previous install for a while I realized two things; that with big honking cabinets behind the seat for amp, etc. the system wasn't stealth, or practical for passengers or long trips.


So over the last six months, I relocated the subwoofer from the footwell to the trunk and moved the amps to the footwell. The amps are in a custom rack designed on the original floor barrier that the oem Bose amp mounted to and the subs are in the spare tire well.


I will post pictures when I get them uploaded.

I still need to build a false floor for the trunk to cover the enclosure, but am now addressing issues with sound quality and the biggest issue is vibration in the doors from the 6.5" midbass drivers, everywhere else the system works and sounds amazing. I am revisiting my custom door pods to address this and will post more later.
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#19 Old 04-17-2015
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What unit did you remove to install the new stereo? I really like the look of it. It matches our "old school" interior.
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#20 Old 04-18-2015
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It was a Becker out of a first generation Boxster. Was a nice unit in the day, with Nav and auxiliary input. But the nav couldn't be updated and maps/directions were from 2003 and aux input was only audio input, no device control (ipod). It did look really nice though, but just didn't have the features I use
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