Mobile Entertainment Magazine Online – Oct/Nov 2000
Systems: In-Dash DVD in Acura NSX
A surround-sound theater-on-wheels from Charlotte, NC
FOR MANY PEOPLE, MUSIC has always been an essential part of the driving experience. But these days, as just about any entertainment option in the home is also achievable in a vehicle, video has become more and more prominent in making trips more pleasurable for passengers.
With that in mind, consider one Danny Fairchild of Charlotte, NC. Fairchild, 39, was intent on constructing a full-blown mobile-theater system in his 1994 Acura NSX in part because he’s been a longtime home-theater fanatic. "I build home-stereo stuff for fun," explains Fairchild, who works for his family’s business, W.R. Fairchild Construction Company. "It’s just a hobby. I started back in the 1980s. A buddy and I would get ScanSpeak speakers and build cabinets for them. And we’d build crossovers for them, too. I’ve also built speakers for my own home-theater system." At first, Fairchild had no intention of installing such an elaborate A/V system in his car. "Shortly after I moved to Charlotte, I came across the NSX," he recalls. "It was always my dream car. The price was right, so I bought it." His relationship with the NSX’s factory stereo, however, was on the rocks shortly thereafter.
"I’m used to better systems, and I didn’t like the stock system," he admits. "I had a system from a previous vehicle with a five-channel amplifier, an 8-inch subwoofer, and a Panasonic CD player that I transferred to the NSX." That system remained in the car until Fairchild had the NSX’s engine upgraded at Speed Styles in Indian Trail, NC. He had them add a HKS SuperMega Flow intake, a Clutch Master Stage 1 racing clutch, DC Sports stainless-steel headers, and a RSR stainless-steel exhaust system. The stock wheels were changed to SSR Integral A2 wheels (16 x 9 inches in front and 17 x 9 � inches in the rear) wrapped with Yokahama A520 tires. Additionally, a Wings West body kit was added to set the NSX further apart from the already small crowd.
Speed Styles happens to share a building with Competition Audio, a car-stereo installation shop, and while the performance mods were being done to the NSX, Fairchild met Competition Audio owner Scott Boyd. "Danny had a basic system," Boyd recalls, "so I suggested an upgrade: build some speaker pods for tweeters that would be located on the dash. It just snowballed into a big install from there."
Fairchild was determined to furnish his ride with a full-bore mobile-entertainment system complete with 5.1-channel surround sound and a DVD player. Never mind that the NSX is a space-tight two-seat sports car; once Fairchild decided to redo the whole system, he set his sights on creating the world’s fastest-moving Dolby Digital and DTS-equipped theater system.
"I wanted a mobile-theater system because I hadn’t seen one done in a vehicle like the NSX," Fairchild proclaims. "I figured that if it could be done in an NSX, it could be done in any car." The complexity of the system would be a challenge for most installers alone, but Boyd had an even bigger task at hand because he had to fit it all into the relatively diminutive NSX. So how did he do it? Glad you asked.
Because the NSX is a mid-engine design and has two trunks-one in front, one in back-Boyd began his space-exploration mission in the front of the car, where the front trunk houses the spare tire, battery, and braking system. "The spare tire was basically useless because of the bigger wheels on the car," Boyd notes, "so the spare came out."
The extra room allowed him to replace the factory battery with a pair of Optima D750 Yellow Top models. The Yellow Tops are secured in two steel battery trays and a custom frame made out of 16-gauge steel tubing, which Boyd bolted to the stock aluminum skid plate. The frame also serves as a support for a full tool kit that sits on top of it.
Boyd supplemented the factory 4-gauge charging lead with a second 4-gauge power wire. "The factory didn’t fuse the main lead, and I left it alone," Boyd affirms. However, he added fuses to the aftermarket wiring. Two Lightning Audio 100-ampere blade fuses are mounted beside the batteries; one protects the supplemental power wire running to the back of the NSX, and the other was added to protect the factory fuse block.
SWITCHBOARD: A custom trim panel flush-mounts the Panasonic DVD player in the glove box.
The rest of the system’s power-supply components reside in the engine compartment. Lifting the rear windshield and then a factory cover accesses the NSX’s engine. Next to the stock alternator is a four-position Lightning Audio fuse block. "We only use three fuses," Boyd clarifies. Each Maxi-fuse protects one of the system’s three amplifiers. To keep the batteries fully charged, a solar panel from a bird feeder that Fairchild once used to feed quail on his farm was installed on the top of the engine cover.
STACK O’ THREE
The NSX's sloped center-dash console is home to the heart of the A/V system. A Panasonic CQ-DFX99 CD receiver replaced the factory head unit in the stock location. Below it is the control panel for the Panasonic CY-AC300 surround-sound processor, which replaced the factory ashtray and cigarette lighter.
The area above the head unit originally housed the stock climate controls, which were moved underneath the center console armrest to make room for a Panasonic CY-VM1500 7-inch widescreen LCD monitor. Boyd fabricated a custom fiberglass panel to trim around the equipment in the dash, and it was painted green to match the exterior of the car.
With the console already full of equipment, another location had to be found for the DVD player, a Panasonic CX-DV1500. Fairchild decided that it would fit best in the glove compartment, so Boyd fabricated a custom trim panel to flush mount it there. The panel also houses a pair of switches; one controls neon lighting, and the other allows Fairchild to change the in-dash display between the DVD player and an Accele "backup" camera mounted in the keyhole that enables him to see what’s going on behind his car.
MUSICAL CHAIR: A steel enclosure in the bottom of the passenger’s seat accommodates a Panasonic eight-disc CD changer.
The system’s final source is a Panasonic CX-DP801 eight-disc CD changer. A handy location in the interior was hard to find by this point, so to make space, Boyd ingeniously built a steel enclosure into the bottom cushion of the passenger’s-side seat to hold the changer. He then reupholstered the factory leather around it for a clean appearance.
With the interior filling up fast, Fairchild and Boyd next faced the dilemma of where to mount all of the speakers required for a 5.1-channel surround-sound system. The biggest speaker in the mix, a DEI Studio Series 3104 10-inch subwoofer, was actually the easiest one to position since the factory system provided a subwoofer in the passenger's-side foot well. Boyd utilized the room to build a new sealed enclosure out of birch plywood and fiberglass that contains approximately 0.5 cubic feet of air space.
Custom kickpanels were constructed to house a DEI Studio Series 3084 8-inch midbass on each side. Boyd molded the new kicks using fiberglass and medium-density fiberboard (MDF) so that they only absorbed 2 extra inches of foot space. He gained additional space by removing the thick carpet and padding behind the factory kicks. The top corners of the dash hold the fiberglass speaker pods that Boyd originally suggested as the system’s initial upgrade. Each pod holds a DEI Pro Series Plus 2032 3 �-inch coaxial. Boyd aimed the speakers forward toward the windshield to "give a wider sound," he says. To enhance the effect, he also positioned a DEI Studio Series 2013 1-inch tweeter in each of the air vents at the extreme ends of the dash.
In the center of the dash is another fiberglass pod for the center-channel speaker, a 5 �-inch midrange from a DEI Studio Series 3055 component speaker set that fires directly at the listeners. Another pair of DEI Pro Series Plus 2032 3 �-inch coaxials are used as the surround speakers. Boyd fabricated fiberglass pods and attached them to the back of the center console so that the speakers fire toward the rear of the car. They’re angled to reflect off the back window, Boyd maintains, "to diffuse the sound."
The power plants � a pair of DEI Directed 200 amplifiers and a single DEI Directed 150 amp � are in the rear trunk, on a two-tiered amp rack made of MDF and fiberglass. On the bottom shelf, the 200 pair are attached to vinyl-covered MDF panels surrounded by a painted fiberglass "tub." To form the tub, a frame was constructed around the amplifier panels and the top of the trunk. Boyd stretched polyester fabric between the frame and the amp panels to give form to the shape of the amp rack. Six Cyberdyne digital gauges � three measuring the amps' input voltage, three keeping tabs on each amp's temperature � were inset into the amp rack using sections of PVC pipe. Finally, Boyd applied several layers of fiberglass resin to the polyester fabric. After the fiberglass hardened, Boyd primered, sanded, and delivered the panel to Dave Rock at Collision Specialties, who painted it green to match the car's exterior.
The Directed 150 amp is similarly attached to the top level of the rack. An Orion DEQ30 digital 30-band equalizer is meanwhile attached to a motorized panel that slides out from under the 150 amp. Green neon mounted underneath the motorized panel highlights the trunk, and two more processors are hidden behind the fiberglass trim panel that forms the trunk’s back wall: a DEI Directed 204 three-way crossover that divides the signals for one of the amplifiers, and a Panasonic CY-AC300 processor that handles both Dolby Digital and DTS surround-sound processing.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
The mobile-theater system in Danny Fairchild's NSX has been a hit for one particular member of his family-namely, his 5-year-old son, Brandon. His wife, Albena, isn't as thrilled, he concedes, but she did give him the all-important "WAF": Wife Approval Factor. "I want to thank her for not biting my head off during this whole thing," he requests. Brandon, on the other hand, digs the rig almost as much as Dad does. In fact, maybe even a bit more: "I often find him watching a DVD in the car instead of in the house," Fairchild chuckles. Brandon, he adds, especially likes watching The Prince of Egypt and Pok�mon: The First Movie in the NSX.
The mobile-electronics bug has indeed bitten his son pretty hard at such a young age, for Brandon has asked if a system like his dad’s could be installed in his little ol’ Jeep Powerwheel. Now there’s a real challenge for Boyd to tackle.
SOUNDCHECK & VIDEOCHECK
AS I OFTEN WONDER if beauty really is only skin deep, I was anxious to see how Danny Fairchild’s gorgeous 1994 Acura NSX sounded on the inside. Fairchild brought his ride down to Atlanta and proceeded to show me around the controls. Then he relinquished the driver’s seat to me. Since he was ready to show off the video side of things, I jumped right in with an outstanding concert DVD, the Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over (Geffen/Image).
This disc is DTS-encoded, and the NSX had no problem dealing with it. I checked out "Hotel California" (Chapter 5) as a warm up, and immediately liked the clarity of the system. The Don Felder/Joe Walsh-led acoustic-guitar intro had a brilliant high end that imparted a great sense of presence and immediacy to this live mix. However, I didn’t hear the rear-fill separation that I wanted to from the surround mix; perhaps this was due to the small interior and tight placement of the rear speakers.
I skipped down to "The Heart of the Matter" (Chapter 8), an emotional, Don Henley-penned ballad. At first, this mix sounded tonally balanced, but I noticed some harshness in Henley’s voice. I hoped this was restricted to the center channel, but when the rest of the band joined in during the chorus, sibilance was evident across the front speakers. On the upside, the guitar strums were crisp and clean, with plenty of sweet string sound.
The Matrix DVD (Warner Bros.) has quickly become a standard for testing movie playback, so I switched to Dolby Digital mode and cued up to Chapter 29, the lobby shooting spree. The system neatly conveyed the sound of the gunplay; the bullets flying around were loud and piercing, and the shattering of the marble walls was quite realistic. The sound from the front speakers was very localized, with each shot coming distinctly from either the front-left or front-right speaker in each corner of the dashboard, without much information in between or from the floor-mounted woofers. Perhaps better channel balancing would overcome this flaw. The surrounds deftly handled the shell casings hitting the floor, however. The TV display looked great, with a sharp picture and vivid color, even when bright sunlight flickered through the trees overhead.
"Burning Down the House," Chapter 6 on the Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense DVD (Palm Pictures), was up next. This concert film doesn’t have a wide surround mix, but the audience was definitely coming from right behind me, as it should. Bernie Worrell’s synthesizer wash that opens the song had some nice surround movement, too. There should’ve been lots of low end, but when cranked wide open (where’s "11" when you really need it?), I still wanted more sub and bass impact.
Switching to two-channel stereo mode, Steely Dan’s Two Against Nature CD (Giant) was up first. The companion live-performance DVD (Image) features a very discrete surround mix, but I find the CD’s more traditional mix more to my liking. This pristine recording sounded somewhat bright, but the midrange was full and rich. In stereo mode, the sound was localized directly over the steering wheel, although the higher frequency background vocals showed wider imaging. An old favorite is "Mercy Street," from Peter Gabriel’s Shaking the Tree: Sixteen Golden Greats (Geffen). Larry Klein’s lush bass sounded warm and rich in the midbass range, and Djalma Correa’s crystal-clear triangle was clean and precise.
Overall, I appreciated the sound quality of this system, but always seemed to want a little more from it. But this is understandable, given the limitations of the vehicle’s interior space. Still, Danny Fairchild’s ’94 Acura NSX really is more than just a pretty face. Its racy looks are almost matched by its racy sound.
Leslie Shapiro is a professional audio engineer working in film and video post-production at VTA in Atlanta, Georgia. As a recording engineer, she’s worked with the likes of Gregg Allman, Eric Clapton, and Bob Seger, and is a voting Grammy member. She’s also a classically trained pianist, and, in her spare time, installs her own car stereos.
PHOTOS: JIM RAYCROFT