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E-xtraordinary Car Stereo Install

144193 Views 205 Replies 43 Participants Last post by  3fish
Hello. I'm new here. I was referred to here by Sheniferous.

Yesterday my car stereo installer and I started the install for on my Element. Here is the system we are installing:

Before I go any further you need to know something. I own a stereo store. I have for 20 years. We sell and install home stereos, car stereos and custom home installation products. I met Sheniferous on another board, that one heavily moderated. If you tried to sell something there, you'd get stopped in a moment's notice. I like that rule. While I have sold stereo equipment to friends I have met over the Internet in the past, I would strongly recommend you buy from your local independent retailer. They could use your business. It's a very tough market today with the big box (Best Buy, Circuit City et al) and Internet sellers out there. Plus you could benefit from your local independent shop's service and knowledge. Don't worry about price. I can almost guarantee you that they will be competitive with the best price you can find out there from a legitimate, authorized dealer. We retailers have to be. I matched a Crutchfield price on some Polk home speakers yesterday, giving a guy a $200 refund. Buy your stuff from your local independent, not me.

I also have to admit I consciously gave up knowing everything I could know about car stereos a half dozen years ago. My jobs for my store are specifically the home installation, advertising and ownership duties. A man who I have known for 10 years is doing most of the installation work. I am actively participating in the system design although he is doing a lot there, too, on a minute by minute basis. :) I will ask him if he wants to get involved here. No promises.

It is my intention here to take you through the installation process in this thread. I will be describing the install and showing you what we are doing with pictures. I am conscious of those with dial-up connections so while I'll post a picture or two here, you'll see most of my pictures through links to a image hosting site.

Hopefully the install will take a week. I am not optimistic. These things never take just a week.

Back to the system. The centerpiece is the Eclipse AVN5435. It is has navigation built in and will play DVDs, CDs and supports Sirius satellite radio. As I am already an XM subscriber, we will be installing a Delphi XM Roady2 instead. Of course the Eclipse head unit will play video - with the parking brake on :cool: (that's the only way we install them). It is a touchscreen. The navigation is all on one DVD disc, and as it has both a DVD and CD slots, I can listen to music while the nav is working. I like a CD changer, too, so we will be installing an Eclipse CH3083. Not shown on the system diagram is an Eclipse BEC104 back up camera that will cause a picture to immediately appear on the deck's display when the car is put into reverse.

I didn't want to lose the car's aux input, so we will be installing a Peripheral SS2P RCS switcher (bottom of the page) that will automatically switch from the XM to what's coming in through the aux input jack when there is signal.

The rest is Kicker. I went with two of Kicker's KX series of amplifiers because of their sound and size. They will fit perfectly mounted to the underside of the rear seats. We will leave the umbilical of cables connecting each amp long enough for the seats to swing up to the sides. Short of disconnecting the amps - not that tough a job - I will lose the ablility to take the rear seats out. That's no big deal to me. I did it once to prove I could do it. I like keeping them in. I should be able to still tuck in the seat's foot when they are up. The amp's thickness is not much more than that so I won't really lose any cargo capacity.

I am leaving the car's factory amp location empty for now. It is saved in case I decide to put a 15" driver in the spare tire well and I need to add another amp. :grin:

The amps are a Kicker KX350.4 amp powering the mains and a Kicker KX600.1 amp driving the single 8" sub. This is too much power for the sub but it will be nice to have the headroom and it would be perfect for the 15. :grin:

(I have linked to online retailer sites here as Kicker's own site won't allow me to hot-link to specific pages.)

The fronts will be Kicker's best components, their SS series, the 6.5" 04SS652. The rear speakers will be their RS components, with the tweeter mounted coaxially, the 05RS652.

We are getting most creative with the sub enclosure. The installer is mounting a single Kicker L5 8" square woofer, their 05S8L5, dual 4 ohm with the voice coils in parallel for a two ohm load, in the factory location. I know, I know. An 8" woofer won't fit in there. It will after we get done with it. We are creating a fiberglass build out - finished in painted surfaces, factory plastic and vinyl - in that location. We are using a Kicker L5 woofer instead of their better L7 as the L5 needs a smaller box and space is a premium. Our build out will obviously be bigger than the factory location and we are talking about continuing it into the center floor mounted console. That would solve a multitude of problems. One, it would give us a bigger box. Two, on the very top of the box, just below the shift lever, we will mount the XM Roady2. It will be both handy and visible there. Three, I can move the cup holders forward. They are useless with the optional center armrest/storage compartment installed in the car. You have to reach backwards :rolleyes: to grab your drink with that compartment flipped down for use. Four, we could extend this build out back to the parking break area to give us a mount for the CD changer, sticking up between the seats.

The cables will be IXOS. We'll install an Optima battery and a one farad cap. A ton of Dynamat will be applied to the vehicle. Already in my E is a Python (DEI) alarm and remote car starter, the Python 1600 XP. As I am the guy who drives around with the windows cracked a couple of inches, and who inevitably turns off the engine with them still down, we will be hooking up window roll-up modules to the alarm's aux button so I can roll them up after I get out. :)

I also have to say I've found a bunch of tricks on this site by searching the archives. I would strongly recommend you do that, too, if you are interested in tricking out you Element. There is at least one great Dynamat thread that has caused me to want to Dynamat places I wasn't thinking about covering. I love all the little tricks I've found, like how to make the rear 12 volt DC outlet live. The knowledge I discovered cataloged by eMass will be invaluable. I clearly will benefit from a lot of folks earlier work and I thank you in advance if you are one of them.

I will add a trick of my own: a mod that will allow you to both power up an aftermarket car stereo without the key in the ignition or to have the system go on and off like normal. It involves a $5 Radio Shack switch and I've been doing it in my cars for over 20 years.

We stripped the vehicle yesterday. It is a shell with no inner panels, seats or floor. Half of the dash missing. I will be taking pictures today or tomorrow of the car in this shape and will post a few here shortly.

I hope you enjoy following along with this install. I'm looking forward to it a lot myself, almost as much as playing with the completed system.
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Man-0-Man - you know how to hype a project. I got wood waiting for this thread to develop! :grin:

Will your CD player play MP3 CD's?

I like the internal XM, but the display on the factory unit is lame.. its tough to navigate and browse the XM stations. My SkyFi unit was much better for that, but it was tough to mount. I wish there were a better option for built-in XM.

If I could find a touch screen Nav, CD with MP3 and XM with great detailed display and navigation, I'd buy it in an instant.

Thanks for your willingness to share this project with us!

blutch said:
Will your CD player play MP3 CD's?
It will play CD, CD-R/RW, DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, MP3 and DVD-Video.

Man-0-Man - you know how to hype a project. I got wood waiting for this thread to develop! :grin:
I am a stereo salesman. :grin:

Do you know how many stereo salesmen it takes to screw in a lightbulb?

Three, but that's today only.

outpost4 said:
Hello. I'm new here. I was referred to here by Sheniferous.
Just don't tell them where I referred you from! I've got a reputation here ya know? I don't wanna nerd it up or anything! hahaha :)

Awesome stereo system too!!!
I'm looking forward to your updates. I was looking at checking out one of those eclipse head units as well. You say it plays dvd+/-R, do you know for sure if that works for burning mp3's to a dvdr to play? I know some other dvd head units specifically disable that.
What does an empty Element look like? It looks like this:

This is a view of the inside of my car from the tailgate. You can see all the way up to the dash. The spare tire well is in the foreground of the picture.

You will find 22 pictures of my stripped Element at:

outpost4 2004 Element Stereo Install

That is the home page. Once you get there, click on the thumbnail of the picture shown above to go to the entire collection. You can keep clicking on pictures to make them bigger and bigger. The originals are 1475 x 980 pixels at 250 dpi.

Now specific answers to questions:

Sheniferous - don't worry. Your secret is safe with me. I want to be accepted around here, too, dude. :-D

bonanz - I don't know if it will play MP3s burned onto DVDs. I will try it sometime when it is completed and let you know. You've got me curious. I am a CD guy, though, myself. I hate losing sound quality, especially on a system of this caliber. MP3s have always sounded muddy in the bass to me. But, hey, I still buy vinyl. What do I know? :)

Discoveries so far:

(1) The factory amp is tiny! It will be interesting to fit another amp in its place if I go to the 15" woofer in the spare tire well. We stock a small digital Alpine amp that might fit but it will be tight. The factory amp is 270 watts, my ass. As my installer said, it might be rated 270 watts ILS. That is, 270 watts If Lightning Strikes. :roll:

(2) We haven't found any hidden spaces under the inner plastic panels. I was surprised. You usually find at least one place in a car where you can stash stuff between the metal body and the plastic panels. With the help of a BFH, I once hid a CD changer above a rear wheel well on an '89 Accord I owned. You can't do this with an Element. It is surprisingly tight inside.

(3) The doors have a double skin. We've started putting on the Dynamat and the installer discovered that he was applying Dynamat to the inner skin of the door. There is a second outer skin, the one you see from the outside. He speculates there are two skins because there is no B pillar. The two layers of steel are needed for structural rigidity and strength. Sounds good to me.

Next group of pictures: Dynamat and speakers.
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I'm not sure what your plans for this install are but....

I for one would love to see someone with your know how, time, and materials do a practical nice sounding unique element install.

What I'm getting at here is that one thing I see over and over is a stereo is installed, and the usability of the car is gone. Some people can remove a sub box and then they can haul stuff or whatever, but that just dosn't count as "useful" to me.

I've dicussed several options with friends and local instalers that included such ideas as...

1. Installing a 12 or 15 in the spare tire well, but not lossing the ability to load anything on top of it. IE: retaining the stock floor.
2. Mounting amps to the back of the front seats. Leaving the ability to still lay them flat.
3. There is a ton of room on the ceiling, use it!
4. Keep it as stealth as possible.
5. Keep something in the factory subs place because bass upfront is oh so nice.
6. How come I never see any build outs?

Please don't take this as an attack, it's more of a request.

And, thanks for your time. It's nice to see someone willing to share.

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Originally Posted by beatpusher
one thing I see over and over is a stereo is installed, and the usability of the car is gone.
I couldn't agree with you more. Much of this is covered in my opening post but let me address your issues specifically.

1. Installing a 12 or 15 in the spare tire well, but not lossing the ability to load anything on top of it. IE: retaining the stock floor.
Plan B in my install if I'm not satisfied with an 8" sub in the factory location.

2. Mounting amps to the back of the front seats. Leaving the ability to still lay them flat.
I'm doing it slightly differently. I'm mounting them upside down to the bottom of the rear seats, leaving the ability to fold up the seats up to the sides. To his great credit, this location was suggested by my installer.

3. There is a ton of room on the ceiling, use it!
You think like I do. Before my installer suggested they both be mounted between the front seats, the CD changer or the XM Roady2 almost made it up there.

4. Keep it as stealth as possible.
The front sub box will look different and there will be a touchscreen in the dash, but that's all you'll see.

5. Keep something in the factory subs place because bass upfront is oh so nice.
Exactly what I'm doing. I'll have an 8" square Kicker woofer, usuable cup holders, my XM tuner and an 8 disc CD changer in a build out that will flow out and down from the dash.

6. How come I never see any build outs?
I'll document the build out of the sub box but the other common build out in cars, for door or kick panel speakers, is unnecessary in the Element as the doors are so freaking deep. As long as it is 6.5" in diameter and you are willing to cut out the water shield on the door panels, you can put almost anything in there.

Please don't take this as an attack, it's more of a request.
The thought never crossed my mind. As I said, you and I think alike. Thank you for your interest.
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Speakers and Dynamat are going into the car:

We are adding Dynamat to most every metal surface on the inside of the vehicle. Double layers are going on the inside of the doors. It should lower the road noise down dramatically. I saw a Dynamat spec sheet that said the road noise was lowered by 18 dB at one frequency, which is a huge amount, just by installing Dynamat in the doors of an Element. Plus between the weight of the speakers and the Dynamat, the doors now feel like they came out of a vintage Cadillac. The rear doors are now probably 10 pounds heavier, with the front doors maybe twice that. When you rap on them they sound dead with no ringing and they make a huge "chunk" now when you close them. One thing I didn't like about the E was that it felt lightweight compared to previous Hondas I've owned. Not any more. :)

I've updated my picture gallery with pictures of the Dynamat, rear speakers installed and a few more of the empty vehicle. The "new" and "updated" tags on the site are on a 24 hour cycle, so if it says "new" or "updated", it is. The updated pictures aren't labelled; only the collection is marked. They are #10 and #23 in the "Empty Element" collection.

Note the twelve screws that attach each rear speaker. The Kickers use a cast basket rather than the typical stamped metal one, and with the dozen screws, they are in there solidly without warping the basket. When you screw down normal speakers you can see the basket warp around the screws. Not here. A black sealant, universally nicknamed "monkey poop", was also used to secure the speaker, insuring a tight baffle with no air leakage around the speaker to cancel its bass.

Yesterday I also decided to add orange accent neon lights inside the vehicle and an orange LED underbody kit. Yeah, baby! :-D

Next - more speakers and wiring.
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Man am I lovin' this. Excellent job. One question: There are skeptics out there that say mounting an amp upside down is not good because the heat does not dissapate well, causing overheating. Has this been a problem in your experience. I ask because I also, do not want to give up the floor space to mount my amps.
Whoa, looks weird all stripped out, can;t wait to see the final product too!

I was messing around on google and found this image-

I can't wait to get my own Element so I can customize it!
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Welcome Outpost!

Awesome head end choice!

As long as Shen and you didn't meet at a NAMBLA meeting or "adopt a terrorist" allah foundation you are welcomed here. Other then that, say hello to "Carnivore" internet tracking software.

Did you lose the ability to remove your rear seats by mounting the amps under them?
If you can remove the seats, how do you utilize the truck for hauling Home Depot sheetrock or dog crates?

What brands of home theatre equipment do you carry?

My system is a simple Kenwood MP3 head end, Infinity speakers all around (including tweeters) and an 8" solo baric sub in a home made (ugly but functional) looking custom semi-recessed cabinet in the stock sub location.

IMO, anything more then one 8" or 10" sub could lead to overwhelming base when compared to the mids and highs. I approach my car audio similar to my home theatre audio. I do have 2-12" powered subs for my home theatre in a 12' X 25' room. The E is about the size of my closet.
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Originally Posted by djclay
Man am I lovin' this. Excellent job.
Thank you. I'll pass along your regards to the installer, who I have decided to rename the Supreme Engineer.

One question: There are skeptics out there that say mounting an amp upside down is not good because the heat does not dissapate well, causing overheating. Has this been a problem in your experience.
It's probably not the best idea to mount them upside down but I think we can get away with it for a few reasons:

(1) The Kicker amps don't allow for much venting through their tops anyway.

(2) When I really rock on the system, if I have a problem with the amps going into thermal protection and shutting down, I'll just fold up the rear seats. Then the amps will be nice and exposed to cool air.

(3) We are mounting the amps on aluminum stand-offs, separating their bottoms from the seat's bottom, allowing for air to pass all around the amp.

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I mounted 1-400x1watt cheapo pyramid amp (subwoofer dedicated) above pasenger side rear wheel well. This helped me maintain 90% utility. I can't fold the back seat up out of the way anymore because of this amp (can still remove it). Thus I rated 90% utility with my system.
I suppose your amps are too large to fit under the front seats? A lot of people put them there i've seen.

BTW this is a great post :)
Originally Posted by Nat
Welcome Outpost!

Awesome head end choice!
Thank you. I agree.

As long as Shen and you didn't meet at a NAMBLA meeting or "adopt a terrorist" allah foundation you are welcomed here.
Thanks. We met at a site populated by people no more dangerous than your average dork. Don't tell anybody, but Sheniferous is officially a geek. :D

Did you lose the ability to remove your rear seats by mounting the amps under them?
Without disconnecting the amps, which takes 5 minutes and isn't that tough, yes. I will be able to swing them up to the sides like normal.

If you can remove the seats, how do you utilize the truck for hauling Home Depot sheetrock or dog crates?
I borrow the company van. :)

What brands of home theatre equipment do you carry?
Yamaha, Denon, Polk Audio, B&W and Sony video are our big ones.

Oh, and bonanz, yes, the amps are way too big to fit under the front seats. :)
My E is evolving rapidly. It won't be long now until most of the work is done. The subwoofer and tweeter build outs will take a while longer but at least my car won't be in parts spread all over our installation shop. :grin:

A number of smaller issues have been taken care of first. My picture gallery has been updated to show these. Specifically:

(1) My installer, the Supreme Engineer, had to add speaker spacer rings because of the depth of the front speakers. The picture linked to here is out of focus but you can still see they are made out of 3/4" MDF and that the Supreme Engineer used a router to make them. You could use a jig saw. Even with the rings on the front door speakers the door panels and grills, with a little modification, will fit back on.

(2) We've started to run the cables. You will see we both followed the factory bundles and ran our own. Most of the cables in this vehicle are by IXOS, a new company to us. The speaker wires are braided. I've run into this before and it should be great for rejecting RF noise.

(3) I took a couple of pictures of the factory amp and sub for you folks. They aren't going back in my car - ebay, anybody? - but I though you'd might like to see what's in your E:

You can see how tiny the factory amp is. I tried to take it apart but I couldn't without destroying it so I stopped. I could still see enough to know that the power driving the main speakers in the factory system comes from a chip amp. In other words, it is no more than what you get with an aftermarket high power deck. Call it anything between 8 to 50 watts per speaker, depending on how much you want to lie. There are discrete output transistors in what looks like a push-pull pair to power the factory sub. This will give us some real power. This also is what I heard from my factory system. It seemed like the mains crapped out before the sub ran out of gas. The sub box looks acceptable if small. In some circles, a 6.5" subwoofer is an oxymoron. I was impressed on Honda's voicing of the system. Most companies would have turned up the sub, allowing it to boom away. The factory system doesn't do this. It is linear, with the sub well integrated with the mains.

Let me also compliment Honda on the factory deck. Do you realize it's been over two decades since I've seen a factory car stereo that terminated in RCA plugs? This is amazing. It is also just a car stereo. On other Hondas, things like the keyless entry and even the dome light are routed through the factory radio. Not in an Element. In other Hondas we've had to hide the factory radio under the dash when putting in an aftermarket car stereo so that the dome light still worked. What a pain in the ass! Because Honda is so aftermarket friendly with this car you can add just about anything to it. All of us who care about audio upgrades should write Honda a note of thanks. This is so unique. Thank you, Honda. :)

EDIT (4 days later): I was incorrect here. The factory deck doesn't terminate in RCA plugs although it does put out a line level signal that will drive either the factory or an aftermarket amp. This is still quite unusual but not the same as having RCA plugs already on it. I don't know what I was thinking here except I wasn't thinking.

Next: the amps, the deck and the end of Dynamat!
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Again thanks for updating us on your progress and answering my question. As luck would have it I blew my factory amp. If you are looking to get rid of the one you took out (if it still works) email me at [email protected].
I actually got to drive my E today! The stereo doesn't work yet and the driver's seat rocked on loose bolts as I drove with no air bag, but I wanted to hear the difference 120 square feet of Dynamat makes in a vehicle. Yes, we used that much. We covered everything with Dynamat. We even put two layers on the inside of the doors and above the rear wheels and axle.

The next picture shows you the level of coverage. You can see there isn't a spot on the wall of the spare tire well that isn't covered with Dynamat. BTW, these are the hands of the Supreme Engineer. :)

I have added a whole bunch of Dynamat photos to my gallery. They include more pictures of the floor, rear wheel well, spare tire well and tailgate. Look in the Speakers and Dynamat collection.

So, how does an Element covered in Dynamat sound? It's deceptive at first. The tire sing from the concrete roadbed and the clickity-clack from the road's expansion joints still come through, but after a while I realized a whole lot of mid-bass road and vehicle noise had disappeared. It was eerily quiet inside. Not only was the road noise much less, I couldn't hear the vehicle run at all. It was always tough before; now it's impossible. Today the car sounded a lot bigger. It always sounded small before. Not any more. Besides each door closing with a resounding "thud", my Element just sounds more substantial. I like it. At retail we used almost $700 of Dynamat but I got my money's worth. :) I can put the level of performance of the Dynamat this way: I inherited a '94 Mercedes E320 from my mother when she died last year. It's a very nice car. My E right now is much quieter than the Mercedes. :)

I also added to the Speakers and Dynamat collection some pictures of the front door woofers and the crossover location, which is under the two front seats. In addition, the Cables collection has new pictures of wires, including completed bundles under the front seats and the wires that are running to the two amps.

Speaking of the amps, they are done.

We haven't powered them up yet but they are mounted. I have created a new collection in my gallery, Amplifiers, which shows you their installation. You can follow the whole install, starting from the mounting board, though the mounting of the amps with the stand-offs to give us better cooling, complete with the wires run up to the amps inside a woven tube and the amp shrouds in place. I am very pleased how they turned out. About the only thing I still want to do here is add a cover on the bottom of the amp shroud. Because they are mounted upside down, you see the amps from a unique perspective when you look at them from the doors. You unfortunately see the wires. I think the Supreme Engineer can create two little pieces of plastic, one for each amp, that will cover up this area.

I'm starting to get real excited now. They system is coming together nicely. I have to tell myself to calm down. With the sub and tweeter build-outs remaining, plus a bunch of loose ends to tie up, it will be another week before the system is done. I can wait...I can wait...I can't wait! :grin:

Next - the deck.
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Dude, is your site down? I can't get to your pics tonight. i could yesterday.

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