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Do you have Stella on tap?

Sure, a more powerful amp in the Pioneer head unit will make the stock speakers louder.
Installing higher efficiency speakers would net the same result if all you want is more volume.
Powering the OEM speakers with more watts than they were designed for may increase distortion which is not desirable. The speaker wires may not be large enough for the added power which contributes to degraded sound. The life of an overdriven speaker is usually shorter.

Other than providing features; bluetooth, iPod integration etc and more amplifer power, I don't think a new head unit will "sound better". The frequency response and distortion of an aftermarket head unit is not that big of an improvement to the OEM. What you hear as better is more volume.

One of the tricks used by Stereo Salespeople (back in the days when audio store salespeople were paid on commission) when demonstrating audio gear was to have the volume of the unit you want to sell slightly higher. Not enough to really be able to distinguish the difference. The salesperson would switch back and forth between units and the customer would select the item with the slightly higher volume as being better sounding. A lot of crappy stereo equipment with high markup was sold in those days because of that tactic.

The music source can make a big difference. Uncompressed CD's and high bit rate digital music is probably the best. Everything else is compressed and or digitized to a low bit rate which is not the best sound.

My music has been converted to Apple Lossless and FLAC which yields "CD quality" at about 50% reduction in bit rate. MP3 and MPEG4 (iTunes) reduce music files by 75% to 90%
 

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The music source can make a big difference. Uncompressed CD's and high bit rate digital music is probably the best. Everything else is compressed and or digitized to a low bit rate which is not the best sound.

My music has been converted to Apple Lossless and FLAC which yields "CD quality" at about 50% reduction in bit rate. MP3 and MPEG4 (iTunes) reduce music files by 75% to 90%
Amen. One of my main hobbies is high end audio and I have a very revealing system at home. I have taken several of the young guys that thought that MP3 was 'good enough' (which it probably is in a noisy environment like a car) and played them the same piece of music from an MP3 file and from a CD quality file as well as fro Spotify, and they had no problem at all hearing the CD file beat the others hands down. I have a terabyte or so ripped to FLAC on my server (I don't like the restrictions Apple put on their files).
 
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Do you have Stella on tap?
This is mainly a Bitburger and Schöfferhofer household. :grin: (And, Stella is Belgian...)

Sure, a more powerful amp in the Pioneer head unit will make the stock speakers louder.
Installing higher efficiency speakers would net the same result if all you want is more volume.
Powering the OEM speakers with more watts than they were designed for may increase distorsion which is not desirable. The speaker wires may not be large enough for the added power which contributes to degraded sound. The life of an overdriven speaker is usually shorter.
I'm not using the amplifier in the Pioneer at all, in fact it's completely switched off. It's certainly not about more volume, though that is possible with the Pioneer, it's about the clarity of the sound at any volume. I haven't modified the stock amplifier or speakers, so it's unlikely that I'm overdriving anything.

Other than providing features; bluetooth, iPod integration etc and more amplifer power, I don't think a new head unit will "sound better". The frequency response and distorsion of an aftermarket head unit is not that big of an improvement to the OEM. What you hear as better is more volume.
I'm absolutely certain that the new head unit sounds better, and not just a little better, dramatically better. My plan originally was to upgrade the head unit and then follow up with the speakers and amplifier, but the improvement was so dramatic I didn't deem it necessary to go any farther after installing the 80PRS. The signal coming out of that stock head unit is muddled, low resolution, low clarity garbage. The invitation to come and have a listen for yourself stands.

The music source can make a big difference. Uncompressed CD's and high bit rate digital music is probably the best. Everything else is compressed and or digitized to a low bit rate which is not the best sound.

My music has been converted to Apple Lossless and FLAC which yields "CD quality" at about 50% reduction in bit rate. MP3 and MPEG4 (iTunes) reduce music files by 75% to 90%
Don't disagree. It's very easy to tell the difference between low and high bitrate compressed audio and uncompressed PCM audio.
 

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What exactly do you perceive as better?

I looked at the frequency response graph of a GM OEM head units pre amp and it is flat, meaning that the head unit passes the incoming signal exactly as recorded with minimal change to its output. The distortion at 4 ohms was minimal - less than .5% and signal to noise was 90 dB.

Nothing in the specs for the preamp would result in poor sound.

The science of audio is complex with the way our brain processes music and sound. What we actually hear is easily influenced by outside influences. I've been involved with A/B blind testing of audio equipment and most subjects could not differentiate between similar sounding gear. When subjects are non blind tested after reading manufacturers advertising or after they were asked to listen for certain tonal features, they tend to hear things that they were told that they would hear. The non blind test subjects tended to favor brands they already owned or chose equipment that were perceived as a higher tier brand. Remember the expensive "audiophile quality" speaker wires that were must haves and most of the subjects couldn't tell the difference between cheap zip cord and the expensive wire in double blind tests?
 

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Blue Tooth, Pandora, Navigation, touch screen, DVD...few other features other than better volume came with it too...
Driving with a girl recently: "You're playing a CD? You *burned* a CD? Does it stream? (I gave her a look at this point) Just how old are you???" ...young girls are so adorable

To get through college in style I owned a mobile audio and security shop in L.A. back when Viper Alarm was new. I used to hang out with Darrell Issa, judged IASCA, dragged in factory vehicles to sound offs, oh the parties, spiffs, and booze. I had 100's of T-shirts. Yeah, I'm old!

My 2003 Vue has a cherry sound system that was cheap and easy to setup. However, my 2008 Sky reminds me of trying and trying for years to get my VW Cabrio in L.A. to hit hard. Best solution was to board up the trunk access behind the back seat and put in two 10's with a Carver M120 running bridge-mono, each. Rear seats got 3 1/2" drivers in the panel with satellite tweeters at each upper rear seat corner, firing forward (or rear passengers would lose one ear's hearing). Doors got 5 1/4" with satellite tweeters in the doors. The tweeters, doors, and rear panels were driven by a single Carver M240.

The car totaled out at (RMS) 240w to each 10" and 60W to each corner of everything else. The 10's were Kicker free air's, 3 1/2's were Kicker, the 5 1/4's with matching tweeters were Polk Audio (super voice clarity), the rear tweeters were, hah, Magnadyne.

When I bought my Sky last year naturally I had fantasies about applying all the hard lessons learned in setting my my old Cabrio, but...

...I figured out it has the Monsoon system. I decided to only change the speakers, excluding the sub. I like the OEM look, don't want to deal with the systems integration they do these days, and the sound is acceptable. My Cabrio had a ton of hacking, chopping, laying of power lines and signal coax, and all the attendant debugging and fine tuning. I'm just not up for that again. Rather spend that time enjoying using the car, and save on the hassles. I can always "go Cabrio" on it someday if I like. :willy:

That said, I must agree that changing the speakers to the Infinity Kappa series (appropriate name!) only improved sound moderately. However, the Kicker 3 1/2" 2-ways I put in the rear panel made a big difference in imaging. Probably more sensitive, and, the addition of those tweeters helped.

The one problem I had was the inability to crank the volume of the amp anywhere near clipping on MP3 CD's. I solved this by increasing the dB of my MP3 tracks with a s/w tool called MP3Gain. It sets a parameter in the MP3 files rather than re-processing the track itself. Then, I noticed that I can increase the dB setting 6db higher for playback in my Vue (Pioneer MP3 player) than in the Sky's OEM player. The Sky will make clipping sounds at the pre-amp end at any volume setting. This kinda tells me the DAC's in the Sky's player aren't "as good" in some way, but that's not my area of expertise so I can't be more specific. I just bun CD's for both cars at the lower level so I don't need to produce two sets.
 

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...the monsoon amp seems to have a pretty clean sub cutoff around 100hz and is super easy to EQ since there aren't too many variables in it.
I've always wondered! Thanks!

It'd be great to get full specs on the amp the Monsoon system uses. I've been told it's about 300w total (RMS), but no breakdown as to power per channel. Also, I've only been told there are passive crossovers in it, but not if they're 3dB, 6dB, 12dB or at which frequencies they crossover.
 

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If anyone is interested...I have the Cobalt USB radio sitting in my garage...it will give u a total of 2 amps of sound...enough to rip your speakers....pick up only.
 

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What exactly do you perceive as better?

I looked at the frequency response graph of a GM OEM head units pre amp and it is flat, meaning that the head unit passes the incoming signal exactly as recorded with minimal change to its output. The distortion at 4 ohms was minimal - less than .5% and signal to noise was 90 dB.

Nothing in the specs for the preamp would result in poor sound.
This is typically German way of thinking. :grin: "The data suggests that it passes the signal exactly as intended and thus it is perfect!" (Even if it actually isn't ideal!)

It's hard to put "better" into words in terms of audio quality, but the bottom line is that the 80PRS provides a clean signal and the tuning controls to dial in the sound perfectly to your taste. This includes a pretty brilliant "Auto EQ" function that establishes baseline equalization and time alignment settings using a microphone (attach the microphone, start the program, shut the door, and it does the rest) as well as a 16-step equalizer and high pass filter with slope and amplitude adjustment in passive crossover mode--which is what I'm using because it is just plugged into the stock system. I do realize that there are passive crossovers built into the system already, but I've tuned them a little farther than the stock setting to dial down the base in the front channel and get a clearer sound in the midrange from the front woofers.

With the clean audio processing and these controls on the 80PRS I was able to get the system sounding superb. It's almost as if a team of sound engineers from Monsoon (or whatever) carefully designed the amplifier and speaker system using high end tuning equipment, and then a separate team decided, OK, great--now let's just take this garbage off-the-shelf head unit that we pulled out of a Malibu, didn't tune at all, has a 3 band EQ (with an unreadable screen in sunlight, to boot!) and slap it in there to save costs. You can unlock what's actually a pretty decent system with the 80PRS.

And, believe me, my plan was to not spend long with the stock system before replacing it all with a fully active crossover setup with a new amplifier, tweeters, and woofers. It turns out that it just isn't necessary for any comfortable (or even mildly uncomfortable) listening volume.

The science of audio is complex with the way our brain processes music and sound. What we actually hear is easily influenced by outside influences. I've been involved with A/B blind testing of audio equipment and most subjects could not differentiate between similar sounding gear. When subjects are non blind tested after reading manufacturers advertising or after they were asked to listen for certain tonal features, they tend to hear things that they were told that they would hear. The non blind test subjects tended to favor brands they already owned or chose equipment that were perceived as a higher tier brand. Remember the expensive "audiophile quality" speaker wires that were must haves and most of the subjects couldn't tell the difference between cheap zip cord and the expensive wire in double blind tests?
I don't doubt this at all, but I promise you, it's not a placebo effect. The difference isn't subtle, it's dramatic. I wish you were here so you could give the system in my car a listen.
 

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When I bought my Sky last year naturally I had fantasies about applying all the hard lessons learned in setting my my old Cabrio, but...

...I figured out it has the Monsoon system. I decided to only change the speakers, excluding the sub. I like the OEM look, don't want to deal with the systems integration they do these days, and the sound is acceptable. My Cabrio had a ton of hacking, chopping, laying of power lines and signal coax, and all the attendant debugging and fine tuning. I'm just not up for that again. Rather spend that time enjoying using the car, and save on the hassles. I can always "go Cabrio" on it someday if I like. :willy:
No one on here believes me (except Robo) but you don't need to rip the car apart or change speakers to get the Monsoon to sound good. Buy a Pioneer 80PRS and get the Axxess Basix integration kit to connect it to the car and keep your chime without getting in between the HU and the system, do a little bit of tuning, and you'll be amazed. I can send you the settings I'm using in my car if you like! Though, if you're using the Infinity drivers you'll definitely need to dial it in for your setup.

:cheers:
 

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I have been eagerly watching this thread since it started and I have to say that at this point I’m just as confused as when I started reading it! With all the technical stuff aside if I could be assured that if I just changed the door speakers I would hear an improvement I would be happy with that. I agree with a previous posting that if I did change the head unit it’s more apt to be stolen and the thieves would go right through the convertible top to get it!
 

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No one on here believes me (except Robo) but you don't need to rip the car apart or change speakers to get the Monsoon to sound good. Buy a Pioneer 80PRS and get the Axxess Basix integration kit to connect it to the car and keep your chime without getting in between the HU and the system, do a little bit of tuning, and you'll be amazed. I can send you the settings I'm using in my car if you like! Though, if you're using the Infinity drivers you'll definitely need to dial it in for your setup.

:cheers:
OK, I'm interested in this as a project. I read the installation instructions for the AX-GMLAN11-SWC. Does this interface only use high-power outputs from head units for input, or does it take pre-amp level output as input as well?

I'd like to get away from CD's and use a thumb drive or SD card for source. Bluetooth to my phone is a distant second as a source as I don't like "phone dependency". I want the car to play music from its own loaded source. I tried to find such a HU on Pioneer's website but don't see one. Can you recommend a head unit?

Also, please send me your settings!
 

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I have been eagerly watching this thread since it started and I have to say that at this point I’m just as confused as when I started reading it! With all the technical stuff aside if I could be assured that if I just changed the door speakers I would hear an improvement I would be happy with that. I agree with a previous posting that if I did change the head unit it’s more apt to be stolen and the thieves would go right through the convertible top to get it!
I've been doing this since the 80's and it used to be known that you changed speakers first. My Sky is the first car where I did that and the improvement a so mild that I thought "huh?" I'm no audiophile, I'm a boom-boom party car guy who's only ever used industrial grade connectors. So, all I can say is that my Sky, with the quality speakers, just doesn't sound "crisp" like my Vue (with a Pioneer HU). If the Sky Monsoon amp is OK then it comes down to the head unit. I'm willing to give it a try to see what happens. So, in time, maybe I can come back with a definite answer for everyone. :cheers:

As for the theft aspect, I'm just glad I don't live in L.A. anymore!
 

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ZPM, this is the one to get (from a USA reseller): Pioneer DEH-80PRS There are newer units on the market, but if your primary concern is sound quality, stop searching because this is the one. (Take a look at the reviews on that site if you don't believe me.)

The 80PRS has an SD card slot, though typically I use the Bluetooth connection to the phone for convenience of loading new music, building playlists, etc.

For the integration kit, I have an Axxess BX-GM3 which provides the connectors and handles the chimes with its own internal speaker. I'm not using the amplifier in the 80PRS (in fact you can disable it completely to reduce signal noise) and I soldered RCA connectors onto the "speaker" connections on the harness and then connected them to the 5V preamp outputs on the Pioneer for a direct preamp connection all the way through. You'll need to get the RCA pigtails separately. The interface box doesn't get in between the HU and the amplifier at all.

I just took a quick look at the Axxess site and it looks like the BX-GM3 has been discontinued and replaced with the AX-GMLAN11...which seems to be functionally the same thing. You basically need it to keep your chimes, your retained accessory power, and to give you a handy wiring harness and connector to make installation easy. You'll also need the ASWC-1 if you want your steering wheel controls to work.

I will get some photos of the settings on my 80PRS next time I'm in the car. I don't have mine setup for mega bass, but it's easy to dial it in to the point where it's unbearable if that's what you're into.

Looking forward to hearing how it goes for you...you won't be disappointed!
 

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Thanks for the pre-amp advice. I'd hoped that was possible. No worries, I've got several soldering irons, miles of shrink wrap, and a heat gun. I keep telling my female friends "that's not a hair dryer" so they don't get balded.

The install instructions for the AX-GMLAN11-SWC go over connecting and programming the interface to work with the steering wheel buttons. They must have brought the ASWC-1 functionality into the interface.

Can you give me some advice on what mounting kit to use? I used to go with Schosche but that was last century, literally!

Also, thanks for the pictures of the settings.
 

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Looking at the Axxess web site it looks like the AX-GMLAN11-SWC is for retaining OnStar, and must be getting in between the HU signal and the amplifier to provide that--I'd definitely avoid it. The non "-SWC" model just does the basic functions like the chimes and the RAP, but you're right, it will require you to buy the steering interface separately.

It's probably still cheaper too--when I bought the BX-GM4, IIRC, it was about 40€, and another 40€ for the steering interface, which is less than the ~200€ OnStar kits, which are useless to me and only introduce signal noise, anyway. If you look way back in my post history you'll find me complaining about how they introduced noise and were running my battery down in under a week of being parked.

For the mounting kit it looks like I used the Metra 99-3302.
 

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Looking at the Axxess web site it looks like the AX-GMLAN11-SWC is for retaining OnStar, and must be getting in between the HU signal and the amplifier to provide that--I'd definitely avoid it. The non "-SWC" model just does the basic functions like the chimes and the RAP, but you're right, it will require you to buy the steering interface separately.

It's probably still cheaper too--when I bought the BX-GM4, IIRC, it was about 40€, and another 40€ for the steering interface, which is less than the ~200€ OnStar kits, which are useless to me and only introduce signal noise, anyway. If you look way back in my post history you'll find me complaining about how they introduced noise and were running my battery down in under a week of being parked.

For the mounting kit it looks like I used the Metra 99-3302.
Thanks for all the input. Part of what held me off on this was having to do all the research and guessing on unclear items. I'd like to maintain Onstar functionality so I plan to go with the SWC unit. Partly out of nostalgia because I was one of the original nine software engineers at Motorola Telematics that developed the system (Gen F1) in the late 90's, and part to keep the car as functionally as original as possible. Even though I may never actually subscribe to the service. However, I'll carefully research its getting between the HU and the amp, read your old posts, and talk to Axxess about it first. My impression is they would have corrected the faults you mentioned in the new unit.

Thanks again!
 

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Thanks for all the input. Part of what held me off on this was having to do all the research and guessing on unclear items. I'd like to maintain Onstar functionality so I plan to go with the SWC unit. Partly out of nostalgia because I was one of the original nine software engineers at Motorola Telematics that developed the system (Gen F1) in the late 90's, and part to keep the car as functionally as original as possible. Even though I may never actually subscribe to the service. However, I'll carefully research its getting between the HU and the amp, read your old posts, and talk to Axxess about it first. My impression is they would have corrected the faults you mentioned in the new unit.

Thanks again!
Since I imported the car to Germany it was never even a second thought about preserving OnStar since it would never work here anyway, but I would seriously consider how important it is to you before going with the more expensive (and likely signal noise-introducing) integration kit. If you ever really want to go back to stock you're not modifying the electronics in the car in any way, so you could just plug the original head unit back in. Does OnStar still even work for these cars? I feel like the cellular networks have really moved on since the mid 2000's...

You'll probably find it in my old posts, but back when I first started this whole effort I bought the Axxess integration kit that allowed you to use the pre-amp level outputs, but that kit would drain the battery. They later replaced that item with a newer version that claimed to fix the problem, but it needed a speaker-level input, I wanted to run the 80PRS with the internal amplifier disabled, and it just seemed ridiculous to amplify the signal, convert it back to line level, and then amplify it again. If I recall correctly that one ended up as more money in the trash. Around that time they released the "Basix" series which had it's own dedicated speaker for the chimes and turn signals and left my audio signal alone, and that was really the golden ticket for me.

Also, there is one last detail I just remembered--you will need to "make some space" behind the radio by means of removing some of the plastic behind the dash. I used a ~30mm wood drill bit to make a hole to allow the connectors to fit far enough back and the radio to fit flush in the dash. It's behind the radio and wont affect your ability to reinstall the stock radio at all.

Let us know how it goes. :cheers:
 

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Good points. I guess I can do without Onstar. It works but I'm never going to subscribe. Definitely, I want the preamp aspect. Thanks for the heads up on making more space. I'll get to work and report back!
 

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For what worit's worth, I was never able to get the SWC module to work in mine. The onstar and chime module wasn't bad though, only a few wires. I must have the old system, my setup definitely has a parasitic draw when the car is not on...been through several batteries now.
 

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For what worit's worth, I was never able to get the SWC module to work in mine. The onstar and chime module wasn't bad though, only a few wires. I must have the old system, my setup definitely has a parasitic draw when the car is not on...been through several batteries now.
The very first Axxess integration adapter I put in this car would flatten the battery in about a week--as in, totally dead, no crank, no lights, nothing. If you're still using that and you don't need OnStar, I'd highly recommend you get the updated non-OnStar model. It's cheaper than a replacement battery, anyway. :grin:

The ASWC-1 is a pain to get working the first time, but mine is working fully and hasn't lost its programming or given me any issues since I installed it. I even disconnect the battery during the winter months now and as soon as I reconnect it everything is as normal.
 
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