Mp3, usb and bluetooth in the classic: update for the classic car radio

Old radio – new sound

If you switch from your everyday car to your classic car, you can look forward to an exciting journey through time and an unfiltered driving experience. When it comes to the sound of the car radio, however, most people will quickly long for their modern vehicle.

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By Stefan Schickedanz/SP-X

Even small cars like the Mini Cooper with their standard sound system make car hi-fi systems from the last century look old. Not to mention the optional Harman Kardon with center speaker and double central basses under the front seats.

But not only the technical progress in the infotainment sector puts vintage car radios under pressure. Also the tooth of time gnaws particularly at the loudspeaker diaphragms and/or their suspensions. Regardless of the purist driving feel, this quickly gives rise to the desire for an update for the oldie. But that is not so easy. Anyone who uses tin snips and saws to lard the interior of his car with fat loudspeakers on the doors and shelves and thick power amplifiers in the trunk has the best chance of losing his H license plate – not to mention the sublime feeling of driving a classic car that is true to the original.

But there is a whole range of solutions. Most of them remain under the radar, because the car manufacturers, with their rich ex-factory range of top-class hi-fi systems from brands like Burmester (Mercedes, Porsche), Bowers& Wilkins (BMW, Volvo, Maserati, McLaren), Bose (Mazda, Cadillac, Opel) or Harman Kardon (BMW, Volvo, Kia) have thinned out the classic installer scene from the last century.

Rich offer

Surprisingly, there is still quite an abundant supply for cars like BMW’s first 3-series, which was designed for oval speakers in the format four x six inches (ten x 15 cm). Instead of the full-range speakers still available directly from the manufacturer (a four-pack for the openings in the footwell and on the parcel shelf costs around 82 euros), there are also technically more sophisticated two-way systems from Alpine (35 euros), Ampire (60 euros) or JBL (70 euros). This format was used by many car manufacturers at the time. Beside BMW, which used such loudspeakers also in the 5 series E12 and E28, it came also with VW, Fiat, Lancia, Nissan, Seat, Daewoo to the employment.

There are even more speakers that would fit into the standard installation slots in terms of height and width, but some of them are not suitable in terms of depth. This is due to particularly strong, large drive magnets, but also to widely protruding diaphragm suspensions or especially lush centrally placed tweeters. Then at least other, conspicuously protruding covers would be necessary, which already seems borderline for the classic car owner concerned about original appearance. Who does not go with its sweetheart to the installer – there are among them also on oldtimer specialized companies – should therefore absolutely make sure that he can exchange the loudspeakers if necessary. The Alpine SXE 4625 S could be used with the original connectors and screws in the BMW E21. However, on a Baur convertible, for example, the drivers hang directly on the cover. With BMW one can order however for 44 euro a set of four new covers.

Car radios for classic cars

These figures show that changing outdated drivers to fresh, modern transducers alone can’t work miracles: Even a Mini Cooper today comes with twelve loudspeakers, a multi-channel power amplifier and 360 watts of power. And the installation positions of the transducers in modern vehicles are chosen in early design phases to achieve optimum efficiency. So the developers manage to achieve a ten dB higher efficiency just by the optimal positioning of a loudspeaker chassis.

Once you’ve acquired a taste for it, you’ll probably quickly want more power and a subwoofer. Because the cars of the last century lack bass, which until the late 90s had membranes that were far too small for low frequencies. In these points there is a remedy. A fine address for this is Audiotec Fischer from Schmallenberg. They deliver their small but powerful DSP power amplifiers with the standard connections of many manufacturers for plug&play Play off. Because of their extremely high efficiency of around 95 percent, they emit so little heat that they can be installed piggyback on top of the car radio, provided there is enough space, for example. Thanks to the interface to the DSP, the sound of the loudspeakers can be precisely adjusted to the car interior using a Windows PC and special software from a specialist dealer. A five-channel power amplifier like the Match M 5DSPmk2 for 550 Euro can even drive a compact passive subwoofer from Audiotec Fischer. You could put it in the trunk like the Match PP 8E-Q (200 Euro), where it could be removed at any time after loosening a plug connection. Or you can sink it like the round Match PP 7S-D (220 euros) completely invisible in the spare wheel well at least in classic BMWs, which used a flat cover already in the 60s.

ÜBluetooth networking

The only question is how to get MP3 audio from your smartphone? Finally USB or AUX connections were not on board at that time, not to speak of Bluetooth. With a FM transmitter (e.g. Technaxx FM900BT, 30 euros) for the cigarette lighter socket, the cell phone user can transmit the music via FM on a free channel directly to the car radio and charge his device at the same time via the USB port. In addition, the device offers skip buttons and hands-free calling. The trick with the radio works pretty well. The sound possessed In the listening test, the Audiotec speakers provided a powerful, differentiated bass that SWR, BR and HR listeners can only dream of. However, the whole thing is very noisy on the right and often caused interference stress with local radio stations broadcasting on the same or a neighboring frequency, especially when driving overland. Cassette adapters for AUX or Bluetooth noise a little less, but cause certain problems with many tape drives and are nowhere near as practical as the FM transmitter.

If you are looking for a really perfect solution, you have two reasonable alternatives: Either install a smart digital power amplifier like the PP-62 DSP for 500 Euro and stream your songs directly into its DSP via the Bluetooth module available for 130 Euro. The bypasses then the aged, only to the news listening needed car radio for optimal sound quality. But the appearance remains completely original. Or you can go straight for a more powerful car radio. Beside offerers, who specialized in the restoration of looked for classics of marks such as Becker or Blaupunkt, there are also new commodity in the Vintage Look. Here you will always come across the name Ampire Electronics. The car audio specialist from Grevenbroich offers a whole range of ultra-modern head units with FM plus DAB tuner, USB and AUX connections and, above all, Bluetooth interface for less than 500 euros. The panels with the buttons can then be adapted by the vintage car owner to his piece of jewelry according to the era.

In the end, all these measures should not achieve the sound with stage imaging above the dashboard, as known from today’s multi-channel systems with more than ten speakers. But in terms of dynamics, balance and bass foundation, the old-timer with a HiFi upgrade can in many cases catch up with its descendants.

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