Mark Houlahan
Tech Editor, Mustang Monthly
December 1, 2002
Photos By: Courtesy of Manufacturers

Horse Sense:
The latest trends in mobile audio and video are satellite radio and surround-sound-capable DVD video. In the future, expect to see broadcast and satellite television added to the list of available choices.

We Mustang enthusiasts like our tunes as much as we like horsepower. While too much is just enough when it comes to tire-frying rear-wheel horsepower, the same can be said for audio systems. Electronic crossover, watts, and dual voice coils are to audio fanatics what horsepower, stroker, juice, and slicks are to horsepower junkies. Typically, when you come across a really clean Mustang with lots of horsepower, it will have an outstanding audio system in it as well. We often see in-dash DVD systems, multiple amps, a couple subwoofers, and so on, all nicely installed in custom enclosures.

Our goals for this article were to peruse the audio/video aftermarket, see what's out there that's Mustang specific, and then report our findings back to you. We surveyed some of the biggest players and got quite an eyeful of the latest technology for in-car audio, video, and navigation. After all, what's the fun in having a 500hp street car if you can't pop in the new Korn CD and crank it while you cruise?

Head Units
It was just a few years ago that the head unit, or receiver, part of the audio system was nothing more than an AM/FM tuner that also had the ability to play cassettes or maybe CDs. The basic functions-such as bass and treble adjustments-were covered, along with a few "premium" features including changeable display colors to match your factory illumination or a single set of pre-outs for an amplifier. How times have changed.

Today's head units have so many features and options, you could spend days figuring out what everything does. Not that that's a bad thing. In today's head units you will find built-in equalizers; bass enhancers; multiple pre-outs for front, rear, and subwoofer speakers; and the ability to play CD-R audio discs and even MP3 CDs. But that's not all. Many have motorized controls and antitheft features unheard of a few years ago. There's even the availability of head units with built-in DVD players and navigation systems. The choices are just about endless.

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Amplifiers
Amplifiers take an audio system's standard output and crank it up a notch, or even several notches. They come in many shapes, sizes, and power ratings. You can get a "mono" amplifier for a single subwoofer, or multi-channel amplifiers to drive front and rear speakers. You can even bridge amps to make more power. Amps are advertised with their ratings expressed in wattage by channel. An amp listed as 150x4 is a four-channel amp (meaning it can run four individual speakers) rated at 150 watts per channel. Just about all amps made today feature gold contacts for better signal quality, line level (for using speaker wire) and pre-amp inputs, selectable crossovers, and bass-boost circuitry.

Finding the right amplifier for your system isn't always easy. Do you want one amp to run the whole show, or maybe three amps (front speakers, rear speakers, and sub)? Today's amps also look much nicer than the simple metal box of yore. With decorative end caps, paintable covers, hidden wire channels, and so on, the amp can be as much of an interior accessory as gauges in your dash.

Don't forget about the physical size of the amp(s). If you want to mount it under the passenger seat, then you can skip all the big amps that are out there as they won't fit between the seat track rails.

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Speakers
One of the best upgrades for your audio dollars is to replace the speakers in your Mustang. Stock speakers-even the Premium Sound and Mach Audio-are no match for what's available in the aftermarket. Seeing firsthand how Ford's premium speakers used nothing more than a paper "whizzer" cone for a tweeter and a paper surround that easily rots, it's no wonder a nice set of aftermarket speakers can make a stock audio system sound so much better.

So where should you spend your hard-earned money? The main audio imaging in your system comes from the front speakers, whereas the rear is used as a "fill," so having a premium set of front speakers is usually the best place to begin. We're strong believers in using the same-brand speaker front and rear, but some people swear by certain models or options, so let your ears make the decisions for you. Direct-replacement speakers are the easiest to install as they simply bolt right in place of the stockers.

Moving up from direct replacements are component speakers, where the woofer (or midbase) cone is separate from the tweeter, allowing better imaging by placing the tweeter in the "sweet spot" for your seating location. Lastly, and the most technically challenging to install, are custom enclosure systems. With a custom enclosure the speakers are mounted in nonstock locations. This means extra mounting, wiring, or finishing will be required, but the look and sound will be incredible.

Polk Audio is a name synonymous with quality speakers. The company has made home and mobile audio speakers for many years, and its speakers can be found in some of the most demanding home and mobile systems created today. In 2001, Polk Audio teamed with legendary Italian automotive-accessory manufacturer MOMO to design premium after-market car speakers, as well as this year's second-generation Polk/MOMO speaker system. The Polk/MOMO speakers are available in a 6.5-inch component system with two raw subwoofers and two pre-enclosed subwoofers. The MM6 system features Polk's Dynamic Balance technology with a 1-inch tweeter and passive external crossover and MOMO-designed grilles. The raw subwoofers are available as 10- and 12-inch models and are designed for small enclosures (0.66 cubic feet and 0.88 cubic feet, respectively). The Polk/MOMO subs are designed with aluminum baskets, air-cooled voice coils, and aluminum-plated cones. These same subs can be ordered in Polk/MOMO enclosures built from 1-inch MDF and 1/2-inch-thick, curved Plexiglas. The grille of the sub is designed after MOMO's new Quasar II road wheel. Polk Audio also has a full line of direct-replacement speakers and component systems to complement its high-end Polk/MOMO lineup.

Tsunami is a relatively new player in the world of mobile audio, being around for just a couple years, but it has an impressive lineup of direct-replacement speakers, component speakers, subs, amps, wiring, and more. The company's new DB Competition Series subwoofers are its new babies, and there's a sub for just about any level of performance. Starting with the DB8 midwoofer, the sizes increase with the DB12 and DB15 subs (DB15 shown). All of the DB Competition Series subs are dual-voice-coil designs, but the serious bass-a-holics need to look no further than the DB12 or DB15. Both of these subs include a cast-aluminum frame; 200-ounce stacked magnets; a 3-inch, high-temp voice coil; and a multicell, Kevlar-reinforced cone.

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Digital Music
One of the biggest innovations to come along in recorded music history has been the digital revolution and the term "MP3." MP3 stands for MPEG1-Layer 3 and is an audio codec that compresses digital recordings. This allows for literally dozens of songs to be "burned" onto a single CD-R disc. Made popular on home computers and college networks everywhere via file-sharing programs, MP3 files have drifted out of the house, first with portable MP3 players and now with audio head units that either play MP3 encoded CD-Rs or even "rip" MP3s right from your own audio CD to a hard drive housed within the head unit. And, there's digital music hardware that you can add to your existing gear as well.

So what's best for you? That depends on the level of audio upgrades you're completing. If you have a recently upgraded system, the add-on approach may be your best bet. If you're planning to purchase a new head unit, then you'll have to decide upon one that can play MP3 CDs, or, if you want, to keep your music stored within the head unit. How you compile your MP3s at home may even have a factor in your choices. If you are computer savvy and can burn your own MP3 CDs, then you might only want a head unit that can play MP3 discs. If you have no idea what an MP3 is, but you like the idea of keeping your music in your car, then one of the hard-drive models might be more to your liking.

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Wiring
None of your shiny new audio gear is going to make a peep without the proper connections. Using 22-gauge wire to power a 150-watt speaker set, or using a 12-gauge power wire on a 300-watt amp, is just asking for poor sound quality and maybe even some smoke to go along with it. When installing new audio gear, there are plenty of high-quality wiring alternatives to help with the work. Some of the most popular wiring accessories are adapters that allow the use of factory wiring connectors for speakers and head units to minimize or eliminate cutting of any factory wiring. This is the perfect answer to anyone who leases a car.

Also high on the radar are amplifier wiring kits. These all-inclusive kits include amp power wire, ground wire, RCA patch cords, turn-on leads, and fuse protection circuitry. The kits are typically designed for certain amp loads, so it's simply a matter of choosing the correct installation kit for the power level of the amp you wish to install. It couldn't be much easier-unless the wiring company came out and installed it for you!

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