LABOR & LABOR : APPLES & ORANGES

LABOR & LABOR : APPLES & ORANGES

As a retailer, we are shopped daily for the best price on a particular product. We are often shopped for the best price on the installation of those products as well. I will demonstrate in this blog entry that unlike a Pioneer video headunit, all installations are not created the same. The subject of this comparison is a late model Mercedes Benz E55 AMG sedan. Our client originally had all of his equipment installed at another Sarasota retailer, and left satisfied. Why wouldn’t he? To be honest, when we got our hands on the vehicle, it sounded great.
The car has a Clarion headunit and Phoenix Gold speakers, amplifier and a pair of Rockford Fosgate 10″ subwoofers. Our store doesn’t sell any of that equipment, but it is still all good quality gear. The reason that we encountered this vehicle was because of a small problem after the installation. After getting the car back, the Airbag light was on in the dash, so the client took the car to have this fixed. The dealer was unable to clear the light, and that is when the concern came in. The dealer, who is familiar with our work and has complete trust in our ability, brought the car to us to see if we could find where the other retailer had caused this fault that would not go away.

After a quick look through the installation which seemed OK on the surface, we found numerous problems behind the scenes, and provided an estimate and redesign of the audio system. After seeing examples of our work and the testimony of the dealer, we began work on rebuilding the car. I have a soft spot for European cars and I really did not feel that the original installation lived up to the image of an AMG Mercedes. Without selling the client any new equipment, we changed everything else to make the car look better, sound better and work better.

Original amplifier installation

The first problem we found right away was the amplifier installation. With the car totally assembled, no one would know what is happening behind this trunk panel, but that doesn’t make it right. The amplifier is a Phoenix Gold 1300.5 5-channel amplifier that runs the speakers in all four doors and the subwoofers. In this case, the amplifier is screwed into the block of wood you see behind it with two screws and that is all. The block of wood is not mounted to anything, the whole thing is more of a wedge fit, I cannot imagine this is how Mercedes would have done it if they wanted an amp there. You can see a pair of noise filters dangling from the amplifier as well, which were only needed because the signal cables used on this installation are the cheapest wires on the market.

Original Fuse Holder

Whenever we add an amplifier to a vehicle, there is a fuse inline that protects the battery from explosion in case there is an accident where the battery cable becomes pinched. The rating on that fuse is important too. The fuse needs to be big enough to allow the power needed by the amp to flow through it, but not needlessly big that it will not serve its purpose in an accident. The Phoenix Gold amplifier is 1300 watts, and can easily consume 120 amps of electricity when played hard. The fuse in this installation was only 60 amps, which creates a bottleneck limited the current flow to the amp and its potential.

Here is a view of the package tray behind the back seat of the E55. This looks pretty good on the surface, and I have to say it is some of the best fabrication work I have seen from this retailer. However, some serious corners were cut during their installation that do not make this worthy of the vehicle. The surrounding panels in the car are all gray suede from the factory, but this new package tray panel is wrapped in black speaker box carpet. The suede panels that are on either side of the tray originally tuck into this tray, but those locations were covered over and the suede panels were simply smooshed to the side. All three of the headrests for the rear seat were permanently removed to fit the box for the two Rockford subs that is suspended from the package tray.

This is the view of the enclosure from the trunk. In principle this is a great way to funnel all of the sound from the subwoofers into the car and eliminate trunk rattle, but not with these subwoofers. This is typically done with shallow woofers so that the enclosure is only 2-3″ thick, this one hangs almost 9″ from the rear shelf, and makes it very difficult for storage. Again, the wrong color carpet is used to wrap the box and raw metal is exposed above the box.

Here is the body of their box separated from the package tray. It is also separating from itself. The numerous layers of wood that are stacked where the subwoofers were mounted were not glued to each other, only nailed. There were leaks between the layers, and anyone can see how sloppy the holes cut for the woofers are. This box with the subs weighed in over 60lbs, and was hung from the package tray by a dozen wood screws. The package tray is only a 1/4″ piece of wood, and would likely not survive the weight and vibrations forever.

This is the radio installation. Like many vehicles, the factory radio is ergonomically shaped to the dash and requires a mounting kit to make an aftermarket unit fit properly. This is the dash kit made by Best Kits, the same one we would use. Some parts of this kit were cut off, then glued back on, and there are several gouges from screwdrivers on the kit. It just looks terrible.

Here is our radio installation. We took this beaten and battered dash piece and brought it back to life. We also made it an exact fit to the Clarion radio with fiberglass filler, then applying a texture and repainting.

Here is the process where we created a new package tray for the E55. This one incorporates the Mercedes star as part of the grille over the subwoofers. We used aluminum mesh to match other accents in the vehicle, the correct AMG suede and finally the center piece of the trim is a charcoal acrylic shape that keeps the car looking classy and really pops. We also reshaped the sides of the tray so that the factory pillar covers now fit as they were intended by Mercedes.

You have to look closely to see the Phoenix Gold amplifier hiding in there, but it is. Bolted securely to the structure of the vehicle, the amplifier is easily accessible, but will no longer fall back and forth in the fender.

Finally, this is the view of the completed trunk. Our new enclosure for the subs is twice the size of their box, but because we made better use of the space available, almost the entire trunk is still usable. Also, the enclosure we built was first modeled using the best computer programs, something that allowed our enclosure to play 6 dB louder than their box. 6 dB is substantial, otherwise they would have to add six more subwoofers or 1500 watts of power to get that much more output. We were able to do it with physics and good planning.
This is not a unique example, we encounter a similar situation almost every week. Before you trust someone to put your vehicle under the knife, ask to see detailed examples of their work. We can show you this level of detail on over 100 vehicles, and no one else can. For 2011-2012, SRQ Custom Autosound was recognized as one of the top 50 car audio retailers in the nation. Owner Ryan Pepsin was also recognized as one of the top 15 installation technicians in the country.

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