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Complex Audio Systems for Dummies

By Al Vinikour

One of the nice things about reviewing vehicles is that most of them are loaded up with almost everything the manufacturer offers. This includes power everything, leather everything and appearance packages everythings. But one of the real pluses is that they generally install their premium audio systems. That’s nice… FOR ANYBODY BUT ME! I don’t understand a darned thing about woofers (a name my wife calls hot dogs), tweeters, amps or anything else your average audiophile would be wowed by. And why is that you ask? The answer is two-fold: I’m from Indiana, and I generally only listen to talk radio

Some of my more Communist-leaning colleagues will tell you that what I listen to are my marching orders from the Fascists. Even if it is, it’s better for us than walking lock-step to Lenin’s theme song. But let’s forget politics for the rest of this article; other than perhaps sounding clearer to my untrained ears, which have been rendered all but useless after a lifetime of listening to the screaming sounds of a Pratt & Whitney JT-8 jet engine, I wouldn’t know the difference between a standard AM/FM factory radio and a $5,000 premium upgraded diamond-studded, Eustachian-tuned and platinum-knobbed entertainment system first developed on Uranus. (I’m talking about the planet, not a typo.)

The first thing one must realize is that I’m a senior citizen. When I was younger I seem to recall reading about a patent being awarded to a company who invented a ball-firing “fire stick” it called a “mus kit” or something like that. In any event, when I started listening to car radios they were called radios—not stereo systems, infotainment packages, etc. One had to wiggle the tuner back and forth to try to get a solid sound instead of fading and whistling. Few, if any, vehicles could bring in FM stations—and who would want to with all the “great” AM stations that all had Top 40 lists? Eventually, however, most auto manufacturers offered some sort of “gee whiz” audio. In 1958, Oldsmobile even offered an in-dash transistor radio that could be removed and taken to the beach, on a picnic or any other remote location. Of course, thousands of radio thefts tended to put a damper on this handy-dandy option.

Now the possibility exists to not only purchase audio systems with pop-up speakers, but the systems can be linked in with hyper-technical communications systems. I fully expect that someday soon all this will be tied in with your medical records so it will be possible for you to keep regular and get ED treatment while listening to “The Best of Isaac Hayes.” (Think about it.)

All this audio complexity is brought on by people not being satisfied with listening to words of wisdom from Dr. Laura, or Dr. Ruth or Rush Limbaugh or Jesse Jackson. Nothing special is required to listen to programming where you’re told what to think. But if you want to listen to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony like you’re sitting in your own private box at Carnegie Hall, you’re going to pay through the nose. And have you ever seen an audiophile deciding what kind of system he or she wants to order in a new vehicle? It’s like watching future doctors cramming for their anatomy finals. They may need to rent a warehouse to hold all the brochures, articles and personal recommendations to research all the various audio components available in cars and trucks. Deciding what missile to shoot up the keesters of a MiG doesn’t require the homework required to decide what amp and speakers to order when purchasing a new Scion.

My technical expertise ended during the heyday of the Ticonderoga #2 pencil and I’m not about to learn a whole new language to decide what audio system I want to buy so I can listen to Cigar Dave on a Saturday afternoon. Entire generations of people are being left behind because of advances in what are increasingly NOT being called radios. These are the people from the early-20th century who were first crawling around even before televisions were invented, elderly immigrants who have finally emerged from the shadows of Eastern Bloc countries, and don’t forget us remaining Civil War survivors. It will eventually get to the point that in order to hear words of inspiration and discussions of what’s wrong with society, there won’t be any radio stations to listen to; we’ll wind up going to some city park to hear the words of a sidewalk preacher belching out his philosophy while standing on a wooden box. Compared to listening to Grand Master Funk Flash Ice rap his crap through a 10,000,000-watt miniature speaker it might be a better choice. Who said you can’t go home again?

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