High(er) end stereo without a head unit - Team Camaro Tech
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post #1 of 12 (permalink) Old Apr 27th, 15, 07:40 PM Thread Starter
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High(er) end stereo without a head unit

Over the past year or so I've stumbled across a number of threads talking about how to add a "decent" sound system to a first gen. I had more or less the same goal - I have a set of Bowers and Wilkins towers in my living room so (understanding that the first gen Camaro is a terrible listening environment and knowing that the best sound in my car will always be its exhaust) I still wanted to do better than what I saw out there. My car is certainly not original but I try to keep the modifications subtle and vaguely classic appearing (at least to the non-gearhead eye). This meant I did NOT want to cut the dash and I definitely didn't want subs in the trunk. I don't like the restoration radio options - I think they're pretty crummy sound quality for the price they're asking; understandable given the production cost and limited market but I think I can do better. Anyways, I opted to install a digital-to-analog converter (I used a cheap one, may upgrade to an iStreamer someday if this dies or I don't like it) wired to an amplifier and speakers in all four corners. The original AM radio is still in the dash wired up to the center dash speaker. If any of you guys are contemplating it, this is how I accomplished the job:

Parts:
Screamin' Performance kick panels (great quality parts! Needed a little enlargement of the speaker opening to fit the Focals and their grills didn't fit over the speakers, but with minimal trimming and then using the focal grills around the Screamin' performance mounting rings, it worked well)
Focal 165AS 6 1/2" two-way components in the kick panels
Focal 690AC 6"x9" coaxial speakers under the package tray (they fit below without cutting the package tray metal)
JL Audio XD400/4v2 amplifier (75 watts RMS x 4 channels; chose this because they make great amps, it's Class D so it's physically small with minimal heat and low power draw relative to sound quality/volume, and because they build in a connection for a remote volume control which eliminates an extra device in line with the low-level preamp input)
JL audio remote level control (controls the amp's volume remotely without adding a volume control in-line)
iSimple Jamlink DAC/iPhone connection
BlueSea SPST toggle switch, 12V DC LED, and Dual USB charger socket (the last is unrelated to the stereo, just an add-on; the reason for using BlueSea is just because their parts are consistently good quality)
Assorted wires and connectors
Dynamat on the floor, package tray, quarters, doors
QuietRide heat shield insulation over the dynamat

Wiring/Installing it:
Amp Power: I ran 8AWG with a 40W Maxi Fuse inline from a BlueSea marine bus bar on my radiator support that serves as my main power distribution point. It runs to a firewall passthrough connector in the opening left by my speedo cable (converted to Dakota Digital and no longer need a cable) then more 8AWG under the dash, down the inside of the R kick panel, through the wire run under the passenger sill, and exits under the passenger seat.
Amp Ground: Attached to the center console bracket (confirmed it was a good ground with a multimeter before placing it)
Speaker wire: Front components have a crossover two-sided taped into the kick panel space right above the lower door hinge, wire runs through the under-sill gutters to the seats where they just run under the carpet to the amplifier location under the passenger seat. Rear coaxials are more or less the same idea.
Bracket: Built a bracket out of angle aluminum, painted it black, and hung it from the ashtray screw holes under the center stack. It houses a power switch, remote level control, iphone connection, LED indicator, and an extra BlueSea systems USB charger (because why not?)
Control circuit: Ran a small gauge power lead from a ignition-switched circuit in my fuse box. It goes to one pole on the toggle switch as well as the BlueSea USB charger (I want the charger to be live whenever the ignition is, not just when the radio is on). The other connector of the SPST toggle switch goes to everything I want to turn on whenever the power switch is on. Namely, the power lead of the DAC, the power lead of the indicator LED, and the turn-on lead for the amplifier. The DAC, the indicator LED, and the BlueSea USB charger are all grounded to the mounting strap for the stock radio.
Other wiring: A phone cable connects the JL remote level control to the amp (it's a digital control, not just a pot to attenuate the input) and I ran dual RCA wire from behind the dash to the amp.

Things can could be done differently: I probably should have hid the switch and connectors inside the ashtray to be less visible. I was getting tired of staring at a pile of parts and decided to press on with what I can build with limited fabrication resources. I'm OK with how it looks. Also could have hid the amp either under the dash (if I had pulled the AM radio and put in a block-off plate) or in the trunk (the mounting options there just didn't excite me). Finally, most people investing in this kind of sound would have added subwoofers. I just don't like seeing a big box in the trunk and the 6x9's produce enough bass for me; I don't want my trunk rattling.

Things that could be done cheaper: Could have used cheaper speakers (Focal are kind of high-end) or a cheaper amp (it's not cheap to build a really good Class D amp and JL is one of the better ones - if I was willing to accept higher power needs, bigger amp, and much more heat, there would have been many cheaper options available). Also could have used a set of 4x6's in the stock kicks rather than the Screamin' Performance ones but I've always regretted using cheaper parts from a fitment perspective.

Pictures below. Feel free to ask any questions!
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1967 RS driver with a 327/210... but now with an M20, HEI, AAW harness w/ halogens and relays, Dakota Digital, Moto-Lita, TMI interior, and a few other toys
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post #2 of 12 (permalink) Old Apr 27th, 15, 08:13 PM Thread Starter
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Re: High(er) end stereo without a head unit

Edit: It goes without saying that when I said "40W" fuse I meant "40A." Oops. Also, I wouldn't advise doing this unless your charging system has been upgraded to an internally regulated alternator capable of some decent amperage.

1967 RS driver with a 327/210... but now with an M20, HEI, AAW harness w/ halogens and relays, Dakota Digital, Moto-Lita, TMI interior, and a few other toys
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post #3 of 12 (permalink) Old Apr 27th, 15, 08:22 PM
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Re: High(er) end stereo without a head unit

Very nice writeup and very detailed! I put my amp behind the ash tray and saved my glovebox. I also had my original 37A alternator upgraded to a 80A internals, still with an external regulator for that stock look.

Here is mine https://www.camaros.net/forums/showthread.php?t=232097

Kevin


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post #4 of 12 (permalink) Old Apr 27th, 15, 08:35 PM
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Re: High(er) end stereo without a head unit

Nice job it looks good. How does it sound? I mounted my amp to a piece of plywood that I attached to the back of the sheet metal behind the rear seat . You can't see it unless you stick your head in the trunk. I do have a sub in the trunk and like the sound but I may make a different box that fits up in the space closer to the spot where the amp is. I like your solution too.

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post #5 of 12 (permalink) Old Apr 27th, 15, 09:30 PM Thread Starter
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Re: High(er) end stereo without a head unit

Thanks!

Kevin - I like your writeup. I considered the behind the dash placement for the amp but declined just in case I need the space later for an EFI ECU. I really do like that, though; much cleaner install!

Larry - To my ears, the sound is amazing! Super clean, good volume, reproduces everything extremely well. I know some people argue that 6x9's are an inherently flawed shape for a speaker cone and introduce distortion; I can't hear it, at least with fairly quality ones like these. I know Focal makes much more $$$ speakers but I just can't imagine better sound. I suspect the bass could be filled in more but at the moment, I'm pretty happy with it as-is. Not worth adding a sub to me.

Actually I'm most impressed by the iSimple Jamlink. The rest of the components are high-end and are, honestly, working as expected for quality components. That part is simple and fairy cheap; the fact that it isn't letting the system down is impressive. I've heard rumors of durability problems but it's easy to swap out if I need to; just pull the glovebox out and swap in a different DAC.

1967 RS driver with a 327/210... but now with an M20, HEI, AAW harness w/ halogens and relays, Dakota Digital, Moto-Lita, TMI interior, and a few other toys
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post #6 of 12 (permalink) Old May 1st, 15, 09:25 AM
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Re: High(er) end stereo without a head unit

Very nice! I just bought a whole system and waiting for it's arrival. I think i went a little over board on the kit? JL 900/5 amp, JL 10" woofer, 4 Focal 164 flax speakers and the whole tray package from The LLC shop out of Florida. I like were you mounted the crossovers....did you screw those in? It's been 30 years since i last installed a stereo system..so it will be slow going with a lot of research.

69 X-44 Camaro, slowly upgrading to my liking...Hmmm, i guess i'll never be done
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post #7 of 12 (permalink) Old May 1st, 15, 09:47 AM
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Re: High(er) end stereo without a head unit

Here's the link to the kit i bought for installation:
http://the-shop-llc.myshopify.com/collections/all

69 X-44 Camaro, slowly upgrading to my liking...Hmmm, i guess i'll never be done
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post #8 of 12 (permalink) Old May 1st, 15, 11:31 AM
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Re: High(er) end stereo without a head unit

Wow, that is really pricey and speakers are extra?? I think I have less than $400 in mine, which includes the speakers, amp and radio (mostly ebay finds)

Kevin


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post #9 of 12 (permalink) Old May 1st, 15, 11:44 AM
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Re: High(er) end stereo without a head unit

Quote:
Originally Posted by dondb View Post
Very nice! I just bought a whole system and waiting for it's arrival. I think i went a little over board on the kit? JL 900/5 amp, JL 10" woofer, 4 Focal 164 flax speakers and the whole tray package from The LLC shop out of Florida. I like were you mounted the crossovers....did you screw those in? It's been 30 years since i last installed a stereo system..so it will be slow going with a lot of research.
Don't worry Don. I'm only a 12 pack away.


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post #10 of 12 (permalink) Old May 1st, 15, 11:50 AM
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Re: High(er) end stereo without a head unit

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian_P View Post
Thanks!

Kevin - I like your writeup. I considered the behind the dash placement for the amp but declined just in case I need the space later for an EFI ECU. I really do like that, though; much cleaner install!

Larry - To my ears, the sound is amazing! Super clean, good volume, reproduces everything extremely well. I know some people argue that 6x9's are an inherently flawed shape for a speaker cone and introduce distortion; I can't hear it, at least with fairly quality ones like these. I know Focal makes much more $$$ speakers but I just can't imagine better sound. I suspect the bass could be filled in more but at the moment, I'm pretty happy with it as-is. Not worth adding a sub to me.

Actually I'm most impressed by the iSimple Jamlink. The rest of the components are high-end and are, honestly, working as expected for quality components. That part is simple and fairy cheap; the fact that it isn't letting the system down is impressive. I've heard rumors of durability problems but it's easy to swap out if I need to; just pull the glovebox out and swap in a different DAC.
How are the highs and mids up front?

I have the Screamin' Performance kick panels but went with Alpine Type R's, 6.5 components up front and 6x9 in the rear. I'm not impressed with the Alpine's, never been a fan of their speakers. I have Focal's in my daily driver and like their sound, but I've also had really good luck with the Infinity Kappa line. I'm thinking about trashing the Alpine's and upgrading to something a little better. Just wasn't sure if it was the speaker placement or the components I used. Each set of speakers has its own amp with plenty of clean power, so that's not the issue.


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post #11 of 12 (permalink) Old May 1st, 15, 12:33 PM Thread Starter
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Re: High(er) end stereo without a head unit

Brent - the highs and mids are excellent up front! Very crisp and clear, more than enough volume for me. No idea if they're enough better than a set of Alpines to justify the cost, but when I listened to all the speakers at a Car Toys near me, the only ones whose sound I liked were the Focals and the Infinity Kappas. The location doesn't seem to be letting them down at all.

Should probably mention, with the Screamin' Performance kicks, the S.P. grilles are a tiny bit too shallow for the Focal speakers. I mounted the speakers into the S.P. mounting rings with a tiny bead of strip caulk/dum-dum around the rings, then pressed the Focal grilles into the strip caulk. Perfect fit, well retained, and probably a lot easier to pull out than the grills that came with the kicks.

Don - Ha, I hear what you're saying about going overboard. I seem to do it every time I dig into a new project on the car. Re the crossovers, I just mounted them with the really heavy-duty 3M double-sided foam tape. They're pretty light and the tape is solid. Can't drill into the metal there without coming through into the door jamb. Re the install, just run adequate sized power and ground, plus maybe upgrade your ground straps from the engine to the body. The car audio guys get as excited over cable metallurgy as we do over camber gain or cam specs but once you wade through that stuff, the install actually isn't too hard.

1967 RS driver with a 327/210... but now with an M20, HEI, AAW harness w/ halogens and relays, Dakota Digital, Moto-Lita, TMI interior, and a few other toys
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post #12 of 12 (permalink) Old May 1st, 15, 07:36 PM
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Re: High(er) end stereo without a head unit

LOL...Brian that's exactly how i feel...after i made the purchase i said to myself ...what the heck am i doing????? but as i had a discussion with Brent...i really like my music and i can't take my money with me plus the economy really sucks and i'm trying to help

Brent....i have all the beer you can drink for the help....plus an extra room you don't have to drive

69 X-44 Camaro, slowly upgrading to my liking...Hmmm, i guess i'll never be done
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