Saturday, November 2, 2013

Phlatman & Bobbin Episode 3 – The Car Audio Caper

In a moving car...somewhere…far, far away...

In this episode, our hero Phlatman tries to explain to his trusted sidekick Bobbin why it is important to tweak your car’s audio system. Phlatman, being a facts and figures guy, looks at the numbers and tries to correlate what he sees and hears to what is measurable striving to find the most linear frequency response possible regardless of operating band. Bobbin, a bumbling off-the-wall pimple-faced juvenile who thinks that iPods and ear buds are the bomb, explicitly trusts Phlatman to share sonic truths with him so that one day audio crime will not pay! Donning capes and masks so as to not reveal their true identities while risking getting laughed out of vinyl record stores, our masked marauders are on a continuing crusade to demystify audio subjectivity with supporting scientific data in the never-ending quest for the flattest audio line possible. Their new capes and logo should give them some chances to meet new people and get a few dates while broadening their focus to things beyond audio gear.

Phlatman was truly shocked when Bobbin drove him in his new car to the doctor’s to get the wax removed from his ears. Boasting about his new factory car stereo, Bobbin cranked the volume knob sharply to the right and said, “Listen to this Phaltman…I think you’re going to be impressed!”

Earth shaking booms and ear-splitting shrieks emanated from the rear of the vehicle and Phatman covered his already wax-clogged ears. “What the heck is that?” he exclaimed turning Bobbin’s proud broad smile into a mystified frown.

Reluctantly, Bobbin returned the listening volume back to where one could heat themselves think.  “What do you mean? This rig cost me an extra two grand and the salesperson assured me that it was the state-of-the-art…”

Phlatman paused trying not to offend his trusted companion; a select choice of words would undoubtedly be appropriate so as not to hurt his feelings. “This sounds like crap! You got took and you should be the one going to the ear doctor!”

As neutral as ever, Bobbin took this criticism with stride and tried to understand what obviously Phlatman was really trying to say behind his pointed attack. “So what did you not like about my system?”

“First, it was way too loud. With the possible exception of a Grateful Dead concert, louder doesn’t necessarily translate to better. Your amps were clipping and that drives me nuts faster than anything else about any system. When an amp clips, the distortion rises exponentially and to me the resulting sound turns into sheer noise destroying what could have been a pleasant experience.”

“So I should turn it down?” Bobbin said with a puzzled look on his face. Bobbin liked it loud and when he let his other friends listen to his rig, they always enjoyed it at that sound level.

“That’s a really good start. You must realize that loud sounds are fleeting and your hearing is for your life. If you want to hear equally as well when you are 40 as you do today, you must temper the level of loud sounds to which you are exposed to save your hearing.”

“You mean that my hearing will deteriorate with age?”

“What…er, I mean, yes. As you get older, you lose the ability to hear very high frequencies and by not exposing yourself to loud sounds, you can extend what you hear longer in your life.”

“My buddy Nick cuts trees with his chain saw all day long without ear protection and he seems to be fine. Are you sure?”

“Taking care of your hearing today will give you years worth of pleasure. Your buddy Nick s in for a real surprise in about 10 years. Trust me on this one.”

"Leaping Lizards, Phlatman. Is this really that serious? I mean, I like to rock out and listening to loud music makes me feel better."

"Bobbin, my dear friend, I am doing you a favor by pointing out this dilemma."

"Some kind of favor, going without loud tunes…and what else is wrong with it?

"Bobbin you must understand something and that everything makes a difference when it comes to audio perfection. The weakest link in the chain keeps you from reaching audio nirvana. Your car stereo focuses on volume and a lot of it. The sound while emotional is not realistic and harmful to your hearing."

"How so, oh great wise guy?"

“Do me a favor…honk your horn for me.”

“What the…OK. Here goes.” A blast of air horns billowing out a rendition of Dixie filtered in through the closed windows.

“Really, Bobbin…where is your higher consciousness?...anyway, do that again and listen to how loud your horns are inside the car.”

Bobbin did as requested and sure enough…almost as loud as outside. "So you're saying my car stereo is junk?"

"Yes, Bobbin…very low-fi junk. The road noise that creeps in through the door panels causes you to crank it up to overcome that noise."

"So what do I do to get good sound from my car stereo?"

"Good is a relative term usually tempered by one's budget. Good to person A means under $100 and good to person B means under $1,000. The problem with designing a good car stereo is the amount of money you wish to invest. The biggest bang for the buck comes with reducing road noise so that you don’t have to turn it up so loud. With this you get a win-win scenario."

"So it's not so much the car stereo as the investment in sound treatment?"

"Right you are, Bobbin, as usual. You have been paying attention. Now where was I..."

"Bang for the buck…"

"Right. So instead of tossing thousands into bigger amps and speakers, toss tens or hundreds into lowering road noise. Sound treat the door panels, firewall, hood, trunk, basically anything and everything between you and the outside world."

“Would fiberglass work?” Bobbin remembered that fiberglass could be used inside of speakers as a good low-cost solution and thought that this also would apply.

“Unfortunately, no. The problem is that your car is exposed to the elements and there is just too much moisture retained by the fiberglass in the places it needs to be used.”

“So what is a good alternative?”

“There are quite a few on the market all work, but most of them have issues over time with the adhesive coming loose. But a product called HushMat will serve you well. It sticks to just about anything and doesn’t easily peel off, a good thing if you want to reliably roll your windows up and down.”

“Cool! Can I do this myself?”

“Yes you can. The real question is do you really want to or rather should you? Trained installers know how to take your car’s interior apart and put it back together without even knowing things were removed. You, on the other hand, have zero tools and zero experience and – well, you may get yourself into a pickle. I would advise going to a reputable high-end car stereo installer and having them do it for you.”

"Gee whiz Phlatman, I didn't realize that. Thanks for clearing things up."

"Now wheel down to your local high-end car audio salon and get something that helps you better hear what you have."

"Golly gee, Phlatman, where is episode two? And what was that reference to the Grateful Dead?"

"What? Let’s get to the doctor quick and get my ears cleaned. Step on it!"

Steigman's Blown Away Poster for the MAXELL Corp., 1980

Join us next time as Phlatman and Bobbin continue their never-ending pursuit of the straight line audio graph. You may find them in your local audio salon, arms crossed and frown faced, encouraging you to be very serious about the things you allow into your home theater. Until next time boys and girls, remember what Phlatman always says, "On the Eight Day, God created vacuum tubes..."

DISCLAIMER: Phlatman and Bobbin are purely fictitious characters. Any resemblance to any or all real people, politicians, lawyers, or super heroes living, dead, or otherwise is purely coincidental. The USDA does not certify this as 100% organic. These are professional drivers on a closed course: do not attempt to do these things by yourself. Seriously, cars cannot fly. No speakers, capacitors, inductors, wires, tubes, transistors, circuit boards, knobs, gauges, meters, test probes, graph paper, instruments, or electricity were harmed in the production of this thing-a-ma-bob whatchyamacallit. Your mother was right.
Loud noise is a major source of sonic discomfort, tinnitus, and eventual hearing loss. If you are seriously into audio, save your hearing…turn it down! Doing so can help you hear those amazing sounds much like you did when you were considerably younger. For more information on hearing loss, see the Hearing Loss Association of America, the Better Hearing Institute, and many others.

Yours for higher fidelity,
Philip Rastocny 

I do not use ads in this blog to help support my efforts. If you like what you are reading, please remember to reciprocate, My newest title is called Where, oh Where did the Star of Bethlehem Go? It’s an astronomer’s look at what this celestial object may have been, who the "Wise Men" were, and where they came from. Written in an investigative journalism style, it targets one star that has never been considered before and builds a solid case for its candidacy.

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