Is your car audio system upmixed or just mixed up?

Is your car audio system upmixed or just mixed up?

What is Upmixing?

The block diagram above shows a system for creating surround sound from a 2-channel source.  Known as “upmixing”, this was once the preserve of the home listening environment. We have seen many similar systems employed in executive saloon cars over the years. As we all know a car is a very audio unfriendly environment due largely, to the placement of speakers. Specialist car audio companies involved in the design and development of aftermarket car speakers, put a lot of work into trying to negate the problems of placement by providing speakers with a wide dispersion characteristic. However, these tend to cost way more than what is achievable with the paltry budgets made available by car companies.

Car manufacturers prefer to buy high quantity items from the “bottom shelf” as it were and then spend money trying to make the car sound good with processing. We have seen a dramatic increase in cars featuring multiple speaker positions in order to provide more engaging sound by providing a surround or ambience effect. This has become a boasting point amongst some car owners who we hear exclaiming; “my car has 9 speakers!”  as a way of justifying the £3K plus they have just spent on the latest popular branded car dealer upgrade.

Does Speaker Quality Matter?

It is well known that treating the area behind a speaker can improve performance radically and apart from maybe the odd small square of bituminous material on metal panels, we see little or no evidence of this being exploited. Having heard some of these multi-speaker “upmixed” behemoths, I completely get the quest for better dispersion of sound however, such systems still seem to want for better quality speakers. The difference in materials and construction and design of a decent pair of speakers like Audison Prima for instance, is worlds apart from the plastic and paper aberrations employed by car manufacturers. These differences are even more clear when comparing sonic performance. I have yet to hear such a car upgraded with better speakers on the multiple speaker system but would have thought that this would take performance to new levels, particularly if coupled with some proper sound treatment? It may also show flaws in the processing and speaker placement that are not evident with the standard squawkers.


What Happens If You Are Unhappy With Your System?

When owners of cars using an upmixing strategy are unhappy, the usual solution involves completely bypassing the factory system. The reason for this is that the processing employed will be specific to the speakers used as standard and may not get anything like the best out of upgraded ones. Instead, a specialist aftermarket installer such as a FOUR MASTER, will take the original 2-channel source directly from the head unit or MOST buss if available, and use an aftermarket processor such as an Audison bit, to ensure that the new speakers are optimised for position and performance.

The whole “surround” thing is we feel, a bit of a red herring. If a good stereo image and soundstage can be established at the front of the vehicle centred on the middle of the dashboard for passenger mode or directly in front of the driver in “selfish” mode there is often no desire to have sound coming from behind, above or below unless the listener likes to listen to movie soundtracks including dialogue.

Our recommendation as always, is to not tick the upgrade box when ordering your new car and visit your FOUR MASTER instead where you will get a much more pleasing result and a smaller bill!

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