A Stereo Upgrade to Learn From

In 1994 I made a very costly mistake, I had some extra money burning a hole in my pocket and decided to buy myself an in-dash CD player and Polk speakers for my Ford Explorer. As I was picking out the CD player the salesman made me an offer I couldn’t refuse on a Polk subwoofer that was about to be discontinued. I left the vehicle with them and it was ready later that afternoon. The system sounded awesome but now I recognize what a costly mistake that stereo system was because it forever changed my appreciation for car audio.

In 1996 I found myself with a hard decision to make, I had just driven a Z3 for about a week (dealer loaner) and I really wanted one. While struggling with the decision if I should stick with the Explorer or go for the Z3, the upgraded stereo system almost kept me in that Explorer. However the allure of the BMW Z3 was just too much for me, so in October of 1996 I took delivery of a 1.9 liter BMW Z3.

The stock stereo lasted until February of 1997, with spring weather approaching I decided it was time to upgrade it. Once I had upgraded/fixed the stereo in that Z3 I was pleased with the sound. It didn’t have the deep bass my Explorer had, but the system was very powerful and clean. It could be heard with the top down at highway speed and always sounded great.

In 1998 I had another decision to make, BMW had just released the new 3.2 liter M roadster and the allure of a new muscle bound version of my Z3 was just too much to pass up. I sold my 1.9 Z3 to a friend and purchased the new 3.2 M roadster. The M roadster came with a much better stock stereo system than the original 1.9 Z3 came with. This new HK (Harmon Karmon) stereo was much cleaner and better sounding, in fact I had actually decided that it was “good enough” and didn’t need to be upgraded. I drove around with the stock HK system for three months and never even added a CD player to it.

However the stock HK system suffered a set back when I got to hear my old 1.9 Z3’s stereo system again (I see the current owner about once a month at a poker game). I had forgotten how much better and cleaner the stereo could sound. Top up or top down it didn’t matter because that system had enough power to be heard. The desire for a better stereo and a CD player in my 3.2 M roadster had infected me.

As fate would have it another M owner that I keep in touch with on a regular basis got a deal with a stereo manufacturer to be a show car for a/d/s/ stereo equipment. On almost a daily basis I got to hear the ongoing saga of what they were doing to his car, what kind of equipment they were using, what speakers sizes were fitting into the various locations. This was just too much for me to bare, I decided to start looking into upgrading/fixing the stock HK stereo system. The first step was to figure out as many details as I could about the stock HK stereo system.

Researching the stock HK stereo system

For the 1996, 1997 and 1998 model years every BMW Z3 came stock with the same head unit, regardless if it was an HK stereo upgrade or the base stereo (starting with the 1999 model year BMW started using a different head unit which will not be covered in this article). This common head unit is an Alpine made AM/FM/WB/Cassette unit. It has some nice features like weather band radio, built in theft deterrent system, speed sensitive volume, and the ability to control a trunk mounted BMW CD changer. The stock radio is pretty plain to look at but it blends in to the dash well and shares the same common orange lighting as the rest of the dash. On the downside, the FM reception on the unit is well below average and the tape player ranks right up there with names like Kraco.

Z3’s that have the HK stereo have 10 separate speakers hidden around the cockpit in various locations.

In each of the side door panels there are two speakers, a 1″ 4 ohm tweeter and a 2″ 4 ohm mid-tweeter. These two speakers are running on the same 25 watt, electronically crossed over, amplifier channel that provides a 1.5Khz to 20Khz signal. Some inline crossovers further split and control that signal so that a 1.5Khz to 3.5KHz signal drives the 2″ speaker and 3.5KHz to 20Khz signal drives the 1″ speaker.

On each side of the Z3, down by the driver’s and passenger’s feet there is a single 5 1/4″ 2 ohm speaker in the kick-panel. Each 5 1/4″ speaker is driven by its own 25 watt, electronically crossed over, 100Hz to 1.5KHz signal.

Directly behind each seat is a 3″ speaker that receives its own electronically crossed over 25 watt, 200Hz to 1.6Khz channel.

And lastly there are a pair of 5 1/4″ speakers in a subwoofer enclosure in the center of the console behind the driver. Each speaker in that subwoofer enclosure is receiving an 40 watt, electronically crossed over, 80Hz to 100Hz signal.

The HK amplifier is an eight channel amp that BMW claims is (6×25 and 2×40). However to reach those power ratings BMW had to overdrive the amp to an outrageous 10% Total Harmonic Distortion (THD). To benchmark this amp using aftermarket amp rating standards would probably reveal less than half the power that BMW is claiming. The amplifier is hidden in the trunk behind the lump on the passenger side towards the back.

HK Amp Wiring

M Roadster, 3/98 build date

J1 12-pin AMP connector

Pin Function Wire Color

1 12V red/white

2 on/off white

3 ground brown

4 ground brown

5 RBLO+ blue/purple

6 RBLO- blue/gray

7 LFLO+ yellow/red

8 LFLO- yellow/brown

9 RFLO+ blue/red

10 RFLO- blue/brown

11 LBLO+ yellow/gray

12 LBLO- yellow/blue

J2 26-pin Siemens connector

Pin Function Wire color

1 RB- IN blue/gray

2 RB+ IN blue/purple

3 LB+ IN blue/black

4 LB- IN yellow/brown

5-7 n/c n/c

8 RFHI+ yellow/red (LTwtr)

9 RFHI- brown/orange (LTwtr)

10 LBHI+ yellow

11 LBHI- brown

12 RBHI+ blue

13 RBHI- brown

14 RF- IN blue/brown

15 RF+ IN brown/black

16 LF+ IN yellow/red

17 LF- IN yellow/brown

18-20 n/c n/c

21 LFHI+ yellow/green (STwtr)

22 LFHI- yellow/brown (STwtr)

23 RFHI+ blue/brown (STwtr)

24 RFHI- blue/green (STwtr)

25 LFHI+ yellow/blue (LTwtr)

26 LFHI- yellow/gray (LTwtr)

J3 6-pin AMP connector

Pin Function Wire color

1 GAL IN black/white

2 SPATIAL n/c

3 SUB LO n/c

4 GAL OUT n/c

5 SUB OW n/c

6 SUB HI n/c

Notes:

J1 connector has the thick gauge wires

pin numbers are labeled on the connectors

Function is as labeled on the HK Amp circuit board;

RBLO+: Right Back Low-freq speaker positive

n/c: not connected;

STwtr: small tweeter;

red/white: red wire with white stripe

Knowing these details about the HK stereo system helped me in planning a better stereo system. Figuring out what to keep and what to replace is like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. You have to identify each piece of the puzzle and make sure they fit with the other pieces. Putting this puzzle together is more difficult than most cars, because BMW uses some non-standard equipment. The trouble starts with the stock head unit. It would appear that BMW knew what they were doing when they had Alpine make both the head unit and CD changer. Both units are only compatible with the other, so if you want to use the BMW CD Changer, you have to use the BMW head unit. Or if you want to keep the BMW head unit and play CDs, your only option is the BMW CD Changer. The other “non-standard” part of the radio is that it sends a 5 volt signal from the Alpine head unit to the amplifier. Not very many aftermarket amplifiers can accept inputs in this range forcing upgraders to either limit their choices on a replacement amplifier or to use a line leveling device (also referred to step-down converters).

So when you are planning your upgrade, consider the BMW head unit and BMW CD changer one unit. You either use both or neither. On top of that, if you’re going to stick with the stock head unit then you have to limit your aftermarket amplifier to ones that can accept 5 volt input, or budget for a couple line levelers as part of your upgrade. See why I say this is like putting a jigsaw puzzle together?

Putting the Puzzle Pieces together

Certain parts of my new stereo system puzzle fell into place quickly. In my previous Z3 I had used Boston Pro series 6.4 component speakers. They worked so well with the odd acoustics inside the Z3 that they were the first piece of the puzzle to be locked into place. At the time I was shopping for stereo equipment Boston Acoustics was starting to place advertisements for their new 6.5 component speakers. They weren’t available yet but plenty of stereo places were putting the 6.4 component speakers on sale to clear the shelves and get ready for the new 6.5 models. I have no idea what the new 6.5 speakers will sell for but the 6.4 speakers were normally in the $400 range, on sale you can find them in the sub $300 range.

The Boston Pro Series 6.4 speakers almost fit without modification. However the speakers did come in contact with the plastic kick panel that installs over the speaker. The solution proved to be simple, a protruding plastic ring was sanded down on the back side of the kickpanel. This provided the extra room necessary to properly install the 6.5 inch speakers.

The next piece of the puzzle involved a new device that I had no experience with. Alpine had a product they were calling Bass Shakers. Alpine was saying that these Bass Shakers could be installed under the seat and they would trick you into thinking you were hearing low bass sounds when what it was really doing was just creating the vibrations associated with low frequency bass sounds. It sounded pretty far fetched to me, but the local stereo shop set up a demo with one of these shaker things mounted to a wood box. The demonstration let you listen to a stereo and step on and off the wooden box to “feel” the difference. It was very strange to be tricked like that but sure enough, when I stepped on the box it really did seem like someone turned on a subwoofer somewhere. I still wasn’t fully convinced of this products capabilities inside a Z3, so I posted my Z3 Bass Shaker question on the BMW roadster message board. It turned out several had not only felt the Bass Shakers before, a few had even felt them inside a Z3. Once I got the virtual thumbs up from a few individuals I started shopping prices on the internet.

After a little research I found out there are a few different Bass Shaker models available. A company by the name of Aura actually makes these devices and offers two different models, the Bass Shaker, and the Bass Shaker Pro. The pro model is physically bigger, heavier, and handles more power which results in more “shake”. I believe that Aura also makes Bass Shaker Pros under the Alpine brand name. Down deep I think the Aura Bass Shaker Pro and the Alpine Bass Shaker are actually the same product, but the Alpine salesman was telling me his version was slightly larger when I was trying to get him to price match on the Aura Bass Shaker Pro. However I think I basically just paid extra for the Alpine name. On the internet I found the Aura Bass Shaker Pros for $180, but I ended up paying just over $200 for the Alpine brand.

To install the bass shakers, the seats needed to be removed. Initially the installer said I would need to take the Z3 back to BMW after the installation because removing the seats would set off the SRS light on the dash. However Larry Nissen (BMW Certified Tech) told me how to remove the seat without setting off the SRS light on the dash. The secret is to never put the key in the ignition. Every time the key gets put in the ignition it triggers a self test that will notice the seat is missing and turn on the light.

My attention then turned to the stock BMW subwoofer. Under the stock conditions the subwoofer seemed to do well up to a point but then it started buzzing and thumping. I removed and dissected the HK subwoofer to see how the thing worked and what could be done to improve it. It was too hot to be working out in the garage so once it was removed I took the subwoofer inside and using some old crossovers I had hooked it up to my home stereo system. (Note: one of the speakers gets wired backwards, reversing the positive and negative wires so the two speakers will work together by pushing in the same direction at the same time even though one is facing the opposite direction).

I was actually quite shocked at what happened, suddenly the bass got much cleaner at high volume, the muffled-buzzy sound was gone. What I learned is that the HK sub still has its limits, but if you give it a good clean power source it actually does pretty well. I could tell that this upgrade was going to get expensive so I decided to stick with the stock subwoofer. As long as I can get a good, clean, power source for the sub it was going to be fine for now (but maybe the subject of a future upgrade). Vibration was really my only concern with the stock BMW sub, especially if I was going to start sending it even more power. I had already found a fault with the rubber porting tube, so I knew I would have to secure it better. But I also suspected that I should invest $20 into some vibration dampening material in an attempt to cut down on the amount of buzzing and rattling the plastic components make as a result of the subwoofer.

I then started looking at those tiny speakers behind the seats, I just wasn’t sure what to do here. It was obvious the current speakers were not worthy of being part of this new stereo system, but what could replace them. I had seen what a/d/s/ did in their show car in regard to rear speakers and liked that solution. But one quick check of the rapidly depleting budget made this decision a little easier. I decided to physically leave the stock speakers in place, but they would not be hooked up to anything. The budget played a big part in this decision, I decided to give up rear speaker sound fill in order to save some money right now. If the desire for rear speaker sound hits me in the future I will deal with it then. However if possible, I should attempt to plan my amplifier selection so I could add rear speakers at a later date if I choose to do so.

There were two pieces left to the puzzle, the CD player and the amp. I went back and forth on the CD player. On one hand I could spend $500 on the BMW CD changer, mount it in the trunk and stick with the stock head unit. This option has many advantages such as retaining the speed sensitive volume, and weather band features on the stock head unit. It also would maintain a totally stock look to the stereo system which is practically a stealth mode shield against car stereo thieves. On the other hand spending the same $500 could get you a much better in dash CD player installed which would probably sound better and offer tremendously better FM reception. The hangup on the in dash option that eventually led me to choose the overpriced changer route was purely cosmetic. It seems the trend on aftermarket stereos now is to add lots of flashy multi-colored light displays. But what I really liked is how that constant simple orange display lights up the dash at night. I didn’t want to break up that look so I choose to purchase the BMW trunk mounted CD Changer. I’m not sure if I made the right decision here, but I figured I could sell the changer at a later date and install an in-dash CD without loosing too much money.

About a week after taking delivery of the CD Changer one additional fact came to light that might have led me to choose an in-dash player if I would have know about it ahead of time. The BMW CD Changer now has two different mounting location possibilities. I had only seen the side mounting location in the Z3 and assumed that is where the CD Changer would be mounted in the M roadster. However now there are some rumors that BMW is mailing me an M Mobility system that will fit in roughly the same area as the side mounting location making me either relocate the CD to a less desirable location (pictured) or remove the nice gray flannel cover around the CD changer. If the M Mobility kit ever shows up I’m probably going to wish I would have gone the in-dash route.

So now the only part of the puzzle left to put in place was the amplifier. A quick count of speakers tells me I need to power 6 separate channels

Boston Pro series 6.4 Component Speaker Set (Left – Front)

Boston Pro series 6.4 Component Speaker Set (Right – Front)

Alpine Bass Shaker (Left – Front)

Alpine Bass Shaker (Right – Front)

BMW Subwoofer (Left – Rear)

BMW Subwoofer (Right – Rear)

Picking the Amplifier

Choosing the right amplifier proved to be the most difficult part of this upgrade. Initially I choose a pair of amplifiers from Phoenix Gold new line of amps that were all chrome. The salesman showed me how Phoenix Gold’s QX4150 4 channel amp and the QX2100 2 channel amp could be mounted together and joined using this cosmetic piece to make them look like one big amp. We took the amps out and laid them in the trunk to see if they would fit. Sure enough they fit just perfectly, almost the entire width of the trunk. The band of all chrome across the back of the trunk looked really good too so I decided these amps were going to be the ones.

The Phoenix Gold amplifiers sounded really good, however they started overheating and shutting down after only 30 minutes of hard use. The stereo shop that installed the amplifiers diagnosed the fault to be the amplifiers and suggested trying a different brand.

The salesman suggested a more expensive Rockford Fosgate 360.6 six channel amp with the promise that it would not only run cooler but it would also sound better. This single unit six channel amplifier delivered 30 watts per channel so the overall output was lower however the salesman promised it would run cooler.

After the new amplifier was installed I found that the bass sound had improved (probably due to the rockford bass EQ feature) but the Boston Pros were not as clear and couldn’t get nearly as loud before distorting. It still sounded pretty good, but not as good as with the previous pair of Phoenix Gold amplifiers. The lower power of this amp didn’t sit well with me especially considering the additional cost and poorer sound quality, but I had resigned myself to accept it as long as this one didn’t overheat.

However after putting the Rockford Fosgate amplifier through a road test this amplifier overheated as well. After talking with Rockford Fosgate’s customer service they suggested that something was wrong with the installation. I returned to stereo shop to question the installer but they didn’t find anything wrong with the installation, and suggested I choose another amplifier. Since I wasn’t happy with the sound quality with the Rockford Fosgate anyway I started looking for another replacement.

At this point I was getting very frustrated and confused. Alan’s a/d/s/ show car was running nearly twice the power with his a/d/s/ P840 amplifier that I was with the Rockford Fosgate. And he was telling me his amps were cool enough to rest your hand on. I really wanted to just give up and retreat back to the stock stereo, but even this option had additional costs. In the end I decided to stop listening to advice from the shop that was installing the equipment. I did my own research and decided to try the same a/d/s/ P840 amplifier that Alan was using in the a/d/s/ showcar. This amplifier has 8 separate channels rated at 40 watts per channel. The amplifier also had full crossover control over each channel. With this much power and flexibility the new amplifier required a lot of thought and planning on how everything would be set up. I ended up setting the new amplifier up in the following configuration.

Channel 1&2 bridged: Source should be the front, left channel with the high pass crossover set at the lowest point of 45Hz. This signal would deliver 120 watts from 45Hz to 20kHz to the driver side (left) boston pro series 6.4 component speaker set via the boston crossover.

Channel 3&4 bridged: Source should be the front, right channel with the high pass crossover set at the lowest point of 45Hz. This signal would deliver 120 watts from 45Hz to 20kHz to the passenger side (right) boston pro series 6.4 component speaker set via the boston crossover.

Channel 5: Source should be the rear left channel with the band pass crossover set to drive the range between 80Hz and 100Hz. This signal would deliver 40 watts from 80Hz to 100Hz to the front facing driver in the BMW subwoofer.

Channel 6: Source should be the rear right channel with the band pass crossover set to drive the range between 80Hz and 100Hz. This signal would deliver 40 watts from 80Hz to 100Hz to the rear facing driver in the BMW subwoofer.

Channel 7: Source should be the rear left channel with the low pass crossover set to drive the range below 100Hz. This signal would deliver 40 watts from 20Hz to 100Hz to the driver’s side (left) alpine bass shaker.

Channel 8: Source should be the rear right channel with the low pass crossover set to drive the range below 100Hz. This signal would deliver 40 watts from 20Hz to 100Hz to the passenger’s side (right) alpine bass shaker.

Fighting Amplifier Heat

After installing the a/d/s/ P840 amplifier I was still having some amplifier heat problems. After discussing the trouble I was having with other people and with a/d/s/ I decided to give up on stereo shop that had been working on my Z3 *Earmark Car Audio in Dallas). Several other Z3 owners as well as a/d/s/ recommended I talk to Custom Sounds in Austin Texas. I eventually gave into my frustration and paid Custom Sounds to fix the problem.

What they discovered was that a couple of the speakers were wired out of phase, some line leveling (or signal knockdown) devices that were not appropriate for use with the a/d/s/ amplifier were installed, and in general the wiring was in their opinion “messy”. Custom Sounds cleaned everything up, wired the speakers correctly, removed the signal knockdown devices and also suggested installing some fans just for “overkill” to make sure I wouldn’t have any heat related problems. Taking their advice I had them wire a power source for the fans, however they were out of the particular Radio Shack fans they wanted to use so they took the time to show me how to add the fans myself.

On the way home I stopped by Radio shack. The fans were only $9.99 each and I picked up a plug as well so the fans and cover could be unplugged and removed if the need should ever arise. With four fans there is quite a bit of air flow directly over the amp. The fans are attached under the facade but blow air through the groves in the heat sink. It is a very productive setup, the fans are quiet and do not affect the sound quality.

While at Radio shack I also picked up a fancy digital thermometer that has two separate temperature sensors. I used this device to measure the temperature directly over the amp as well as in the corner of the trunk. After comparing these temperatures to those I took from other Z3s I’m ready to declare the heat problem resolved.

Six Month Update


Over six months have passed since this stereo upgrade initially began, and there are several things that have happened so I felt the need for a “six month update”. I will go into detail one issue at a time below but basically I’m happier with the stereo, but even more upset with Earmark Car Audio, the stereo shop that initially installed everything. At this point there is not much of the upgrade that was initially installed that hasn’t been uninstalled and reinstalled by someone else.

Amplifier Heat

This is no longer a concern for me, the a/d/s/ amp is running relatively cool with the help of the four additional fans. When I compared the temperature in my trunk to the temperature in other Z3 trunks during the homecoming convoy, I discovered that I am well within the norm. Most (stock stereo) trunks were cooler than mine but not by much, and any Z3 (with the exception of Alan’s) that had an upgraded amplifier were actually running hotter. I am happy to report that the a/d/s/ amplifier has never shut itself off even with extended high-volume stereo listening. The radio shack digital thermometer was very handy, during the homecoming convoy I was able to toss it into a different Z3 trunk every time we stopped for fuel. By the end of the trip I had a very accurate representation of what was acceptable and I was within that range.

Boston Pro 6.4 Speakers

I was disturbed to discover that the passenger side tweeter stopped working one day. It took nearly two months but a replacement was delivered at no cost. The speakers still sound great, but a recommendation is worthless at this point since the 6.4 model has been discontinued.

Alpine Bass Shakers

While my M roadster was on the lift at BMW one day I asked the Tech “what are those sheet metal screws”. He smiled at me and said “those are holding down your bass shakers”. I could feel my blood pressure rise as I looked at these inch long sheet metal screws ripped through the bottom of my M roadster. One of the screws had been bent (probably from a speed bump) and the installer hadn’t even put any kind of sealant around them to stop water/rust. The BMW Tech cut the screws off so they didn’t stick down quite so far and added some sealant but the damage had already been done. About a month later that bent screw finally gave up and the drivers side bass shaker shook itself loose and was now a bass rattler.

One weekend I ended up taking out both of the M roadster’s seats and then removed the bass shakers. I reinstalled the bass shakers using nuts and bolts and a generous amount of sealant. Once everything was reinstalled the bass shakers were working as good as they had ever worked, however my opinion of them has gone way down over the last six months. Their shaking affect is quite impressive when the car isn’t moving. However once the car is moving at more that 30mph the slight vibrations from normal driving seem to cancel out the bass shaker affect. Maybe they work better in other cars, but the sports car (stiff) suspension in my Z3 appears to make the bass shakers a poor decision.

BMW subwoofer

Finally some good news, for several months a/d/s/ has been using my BMW HK subwoofer to develop a upgrade kit. I haven’t received the finished product yet but they are telling me they have made some improvements to the stock enclosure and are now using two new drivers. I can’t wait to hear it in my car.

Rear Speakers

The desire for rear speaker fill has hit me, I’m going to hold off until I get the a/d/s/ subwoofer installed but I suspect I will be adding some rear speakers (myself) sometime this summer. I will probably work them into the same channel as the bass shakers or a/d/s/ sub via some external crossovers.

BMW CD Changer

The rumors about the M mobility kit and its interference with the side mounted CD changer were correct. To get them to fit in that location the gray flannel cover must be removed. It might be my imagination but the CD Changer also seems to be skipping more frequently. I’m starting to second guess my decision to keep the BMW equipment rather than get an indash CD player.

a/d/s/ Subwoofer

My HK subwoofer was rebuilt by a/d/s/ as a development project while they were evaluating the possibility of making a speciality kit. The product they created works very well, however it was determined that the stock HK amp was not powerful enough to truly drive the (now) a/d/s/ subwoofer with enough power to audibly tell the difference between the stock sub and the much improved a/d/s/ subwoofer. As a result of this, a/d/s/ canceled the project.

The individual within a/d/s/ that had done the research and development of the prototype replacement subwoofer got permission from a/d/s/ to build the subwoofers on his own for those HK owners that had also replaced the stock amplifier. However even that project was canceled with the news that BMW had a new HK subwoofer with the model year 2000 Z3.

So as it stands I have the one and only a/d/s/ prototype subwoofer. I do not have any details about the drivers, they were specifically unmarked so I can’t tell you anything about them from looking at them. All I can add is that they sound very good and its a shame the way things worked out.

DC’s Stereo Upgrade

Pros: Improved sound quality, increased power let you hear the stereo over the hi-way speed wind and road noise
Cons: Some trunk space is lost to the amp, permanent modification to the kick panels
Cost: $900 to $1000

So, thinking about upgrading that stereo huh? Well, you’re not alone. As factory systems go, the Roadster’s isn’t too bad. In fact, it would probably sound great if it wasn’t in a ragtop. Unfortunately, it is. Most people who buy this car will be satisfied with this stereo. Some will perform a minor upgrade such as a speaker swap, etc. The rest of us are looking for something a little bit more substantial. So, where do we begin? Well, if you’ve ever read “The Art of War” you know that the very first rule in conflict resolution is “Know your enemy”. So let’s take a look at the factory system in the M Roadster.

M Roadster Factory Sound System

AM/FM/Cassette/CD Changer Controller Head Unit (made by Alpine)

6 Disc CD Changer (made by Alpine also)

Factory amplifier

5.25″ speakers in the kick panels

2″ midranges in the doors

1’ tweeters in the doors

3″ midranges behind the seats

Two 5.25″ “subwoofers”

The major shortcomings of this system (in my humble opinion) are as follows:

With the top down and the car moving the stereo is pretty much useless.

The sound is muddy (lack of highs).

The maximum volume is inadequate.

The low frequency response is non-existent.

Having said that, let’s look at what the factory system has going for it:

The head unit and changer although labeled as HK are actually made by Alpine.

The head unit has SSV and a weather band.

The factory equipment looks “stock”, a great theft deterrent.

The front factory speaker locations are quite good (in terms of sound stage).

Okay, so what do we do about it?

Upgrade #1 – The front speakers

GOOD – Replace the factory 5.25″ midrange with an aftermarket 5.25″ midrange. This size speaker is a drop-in replacement for the factory speaker – no modifications necessary. The MB QUART QM 130-TX3 are an excellent choice.

Parts $130 – $150 for the pair

Labor $25 – $40

Benefit You will experience a cleaner, brighter sound with more usable volume.

BETTER – Replace the factory 5.25″ midrange and the factory 1″ tweeter with a good quality 5.25″ component speaker set including crossover. The 5.25″ speaker is a drop-in replacement as is the 1″ tweeter. You will not use the crossover included with the speakers unless you are adding an aftermarket amplifier (see Best). The factory 2″ midrange is left alone.

Parts $175 – $225

Labor $40 – $75

Benefit More highs, better sound stage.

BEST – Replace the factory 5.25″ midrange and the factory 1″ tweeter with a good quality 6.5″ component speaker set including crossover. I used Boston Acoustics 6.4 Pro’s. ($299, reg. $450)

The 6.5″ Mid/Woofer will require minor modification of the kick panel to get it to fit. You’ve got 2 choices here. You can remove the plastic ring on the backside of the kick panel and mount the entire speaker behind it.

Or you can cut a round hole in the kick panel and mount the speaker through it.

The factory tweeter should be left in the factory location and disconnected. The factory 2″ midrange should be removed and the aftermarket tweeter installed in its place using a simple bracket.

I suggest doing it this way rather than placing the tweeter in the factory tweeter location because you will experience better stereo imaging this way. It is kind of hard to explain why but I’ll try. You all probably know that the “sweet spot” is in the absolute middle of 2 speakers as opposed to being closer to one or the other. If the left speaker is 1 foot away from you and the right speaker is 3 feet away – that’s not so great because the right speaker is 3 times the distance away. But if the left speaker is 1.5 feet away and the right speaker is 3 feet away – that is much better because now the right speaker is only twice as far away. See what I mean? This is why I suggest using the factory location for the 2″ midrange – it eats up some of the disparity. Finally, you will be using an aftermarket amplifier with this upgrade (see next section) and you will be using the passive crossovers supplied with the component speaker system.

Parts $250 and up

Labor $100 and up

Benefit Excellent clarity and imaging, low end much improved over stock system by use of dual 6.5″ mid/woofers instead of 5.25″ midranges. HUGE IMPROVEMENT!!

Upgrade #2 – Aftermarket amplifier.

Note regarding any of the following options. Installing an aftermarket amplifier is pretty easy in this car. The battery is located in the trunk and so is the factory amplifier. I stuck the crossovers that came with my Boston 6.4’s in the factory amp location.

I temporarily mounted the ADS P840 amp to the carpet with Velcro pending my decision regarding subwoofers in the trunk.

GOOD – Use a decent 2-channel amplifier to feed your new front speakers. I recommend a minimum of 40 to 50 watts a channel – remember…this is a ragtop. This amp should be able to accept “high level” inputs from your factory head unit.

Parts $199 and up

Labor $50.

Benefit Vastly improved volume and dynamic range.

BETTER – Use a multi channel (at least 5 or 6) to amplify your entire systems and bypass your factory amp entirely. 2 channels to your new front speakers, 2 channels to your factory rear speakers and 1 or 2 channels to the factory subs.

Parts $249 and up

Labor $50 – $75

Benefit Increased rear fill and improved low end. BE CAREFUL not to overpower your subs!! While most speakers fail due to too small of an amplifier being driven into distortion (and the distorted signal destroying the speaker’s voice coil), speakers reproducing low frequencies can be “overdriven” with too much power, clean or otherwise.

BEST – High current/high power multichannel amplifier (or multiple amplifiers). I used the ADS p840 amplifier ($565, reg. $699 or so). This is an 8-channel amplifier with built-in electronic, adjustable crossovers rated at 8 x 40 watts.

I bridged 4 channels to create 2 channels at 120 watts/channel for my Boston Acoustic 6.4’s in the front. Using the electronic crossovers in the amp (as well as the passive crossovers supplied with the speakers) I restrict the frequency response of these speakers to 65HZ to 20KHZ. By removing the lowest frequencies from these speakers, I prevent damage to these speakers due to overdriving. This basically means I can crank the volume up to ear piercing levels without worrying about damaging the speakers. 2 channels (at 40 watts per channel) go to the factory rear speakers and the remaining 2 channels (at 40 watts per channel) go to the factory subs. The factory amplifier is being used as a paperweight on my workbench.

Parts $399 and up

Labor $75 and up

Benefit With this combo (amp and front speakers) the sound stage and imaging is excellent and the volume is awesome. The only downside is that the fronts are so good that it makes the lack of real bass (20 HZ to 60HZ) all the more noticeable. Sighhhhhhhhhh…….

Upgrade #3 – How low can you go……

GOOD – Live with the improved low end from your new 6.5″ front speakers.

Parts $0

Labor $0

Benefit N/A

BETTER – A custom fiberglass enclosure in the passenger footwell with an 8″ subwoofer. This will improve the low end substantially (if properly designed) but will obviously effect legroom for your passenger. JL AUDIO makes some very nice subwoofers, as does KICKER.

Parts $150 – $200

Labor $250 – $300

Benefit Improved low frequency response. Your car won’t BOOM but you should have usable bass down to about 30 HZ.

BEST – Custom enclosure in the trunk firing into the cabin. This is the only way you will get truly mind-numbing bass response in the vehicle short of MAJOR reconstruction (i.e., modify kick panel to take 8″ woofer, etc.). Be prepared to have your baby out of commission for a few days (minimum), tolerate moderate cutting to port the sound into the cabin (probably not a good idea for those who lease), the loss of half of your trunk and a hefty bill at the end (at least $800, more like $1200). If you can live with these costs, you will enjoy the BASS that the rest of us can only wish for.

Parts $500 – $700

Labor $300 – $500

Benefit Truly awesome Bass!!

To be covered next time

Upgrade #4 – Rear Speakers

Upgrade #5 – Aftermarket Head Units

Upgrade #6 – Misc. (Stereo FAQ?)

Dinan Cold Air Intake for the 2.8 Z3

Pros: Performance, Sound
Cons: Difficult Installation
Cost: $399

After receiving the Dinan snorkel, I looked over the instructions. They looked very sparse and included no pictures and only one diagram.

As recommended, I read through the instruction before starting, and still could not glean what it was supposed to doing – even though I knew what the outcome was supposed to be.

The other part that was missing was a list of tools needed to complete the job. This is important with this install as the proper tools make it so much easier to complete the job in the small areas the snorkel fits in.

So, based on the provided instructions and a little help from the Baba, I was able to complete the job in a relatively short time – even though I had to take apart a good portion of my work to retrieve a wayward socket head.

Based on my experiences, I decided to write up some better instructions to eliminate some confusion I experienced, to input some tips that will eliminate the need for a second set of hands, and provide the much needed information left out of the Dinan documentation.

List of required tools:

Small socket wrench – recommend a small ¼ inch drive

Socket driver (screw driver type) – recommend a small one (¼ inch drive) with extension(s) to provide 6 inches or more of length

6, 8, 10, and 13mm socket heads

16mm open end wrench

Medium blade screwdriver

Small fine tooth saw

Conventions:

The instructions are oriented relative to you sitting behind the wheel of the car. Although you cannot install the snorkel sitting behind the seat of the car, this orientation is necessary.

Directions:

As with the Dinan instruction, I suggest you at least read a number of steps ahead of any step so as to “visualize” the next instruction before you start.

Remove the two 10mm bolts holding the factory air box from the front of the left fender.

Release the clamps from the sides of the Air Mass Meter.

Remove the factory air box by pulling the airflow meter from the air box and pulling straight up and slightly on the air box. The air box intake is stuck in a space next to the headlight, so remove slowly so as not to tear the foam cushion around the intake.

Disconnect 2 power connectors from behind the headlight assembly. Unscrew the turn signal light connector and remove light from headlight assembly.

Locate the four 8mm screws holding the headlight assembly. Below or behind each is a headlight alignment bushing. In order to maintain proper headlight alignment, you must keep these bushings in place while removing the screws. The bushings are a 16mm hex with a slit in each side. If you have open end wrench that you can fit on the bushing, it is best. Otherwise, locate the slit on the bushing and use the screwdriver blade to lock the bushing in place while removing each of the screws holding the headlight assembly in place.

Disconnect the horn power connector and remove the horn and horn mounting bracket. You will need to relocate the horn and its bracket. However, it is much easier to get to the horn mounting bracket bolt if you first remove the horn from the bracket. Re-assemble horn on bracket once removed.

Remove the lower left (remember orientation) bumper shock nut and use this as the new horn mounting bracket attaching point. Tighten the nut only finger tight as you may have to adjust the horn position later.

Assemble the K&N filter, the air filter bracket, the filter support bracket, the support bracket screw clamps and screws, and the filter clamp as shown in the picture. Tighten the filter clamp only enough to hold the filter in place. Place the screw clamps on the support bracket so that the small holes of the clamps are towards the middle of the support bracket. Attach the support bracket to the filter bracket with the supplied screws, but do not tighten.

NOTE: Completely ignore the 2 holes in the air filter bracket. They are never used. I spent quite a time trying to figure where these attached.

Insert the filter assembly into the area just behind the fog light so that the bent part of the filter bracket mates with the lip on the frame rail and the curve of the air filter bracket fits to the contour of the curve of the wheel well.

Align the upper hole of the air filter support bracket with the bottom of the hole on the lip in front of the wheel well and attach in place with the second support bracket screw. Tighten both support bracket screws.

Align the lip of the bend part of the air filter bracket with the lip of the frame rail and attach with the 2 supplied clips.

Adjust the horn so that the power connector can be re-attached and re-attach the horn power connector. Tighten the nut holding the horn bracket in place.

Locate the mounting bracket on the left fenderwell below the airflow meter. If a hose is attached, remove the hose from the attaching clip and remove the clip from the mounting bracket.

Fit the airflow meter support bracket to the left side of the airflow meter. Align the holes at the bottom of the airflow meter support bracket with the bracket on the fenderwell and attach with supplied 6mm bolts.

Secure the airflow meter support bracket to the airflow meter with the long wire tie. Secure the hose formally attached to the mounting bracket to the airflow support bracket with the shorter wire tie.

Slip the #36 hose clamp on the reduced end of the silicone hose and slip the reduced end of the silicone hose to the airflow meter. Tighten the clamp.

While supporting the filter from the bottom, loosen the clamp around the air filter enough to fit the bottom end of the carbon fiber tube into the filter open enough so that the clamp will securely hold it. Fit the carbon fiber tube into the filter opening and retighten the clamp.

Slip the #48 hose clamp over the end of the silicone hose. Slip the end of the carbon filter tube well into the silicone hose and tighten the clamp to hold the tube in place.

Cut the headlight adjuster flang(es) as necessary to allow the headlight assembly to fit in the mounting area with clearance between the headlight adjuster and the carbon fiber tube.

Refit the headlight assembly into position and secure with mounting screws. Ensure the alignment bushings do not move when re-mounting the headlight.

Insert turn signal light into headlight assembly and secure. Re-attach headlight power connections.

Check all connections for tight fit

Review

So, how is the new air snorkel? The extra air the 2.8 gets makes a big difference (particularly when coupled with the Dinan chip). The engine response better and the stock exhaust has a much better tone…particularly when above 3.5K rpm and under load (read, romping on the gas).

An upgraded intake is a definite plus to any Z3. However, at $399, the Dinan intake is a bit pricey for what you get. Particularly since the filter does not open to the outside air. There is probably a better way to make modifications to the existing intake to provide the extra air the engine craves. I have been considering a couple designs myself and plan on keeping the Dinan intake if just to have a comparison should I fabricate a different design myself.

Wot Guv’nah? ‘Nothah Bleedin’ Project?!?

I know there’s a BMW first-aid kit (51-47-8-163-269) but a few things about it didn’t suit me right. Without any dedicated place in my trunk for it, it’d likely make itself known rolling around back there every time I’d find some corners to attack. It also looked a bit bulkier than I liked. Oh, I’m sure it’s probably outfitted with damn near everything short of a defibrillator..and a nice lawyer-approved Roundel embossed on the leather case…but I’m just looking for something that’ll hold the occasionalBand-Aidd and alcohol wipes for minor scrapes and cuts. Anything more serious and I’ll warm up the PPO medical card.

I filed away a mysterious part number that’s supposed to be a bracket (51-47-8-398-906) for the first-aid kit, but never went to check if this was for the Z3 and if so, where it would take up trunk space. Since manufacturer information was typically sparse and suggested dealer prices are high, I wasn’t about to reward the behavior with a purchase. I struck out to add a practical boo-boo kit to the Z3 — my way…

For this kit I’d suggest obtaining the following items:

Compact first-aid kit. The one I found at Target measures 4″ × 6″ and might’ve cost around $6. It contains a light smattering of adhesive bandages, sponge dressing pads, knuckle bandage, alcohol pads,antisepticc pads, sting relief, iodine packet, adhesive tape roll, gauze, latex gloves and aspirin tablets — all in a sturdy plastic case with better hinges than most kits in this category. I’ve enhanced this kit with some junk-mail samples of PepcidAC, Tylenol and allergy tablets. I’d like to round this out with a quality pair of fold-up metal scissors and some zip-loc bags (medical waste).

Someone told me to look for a liquid bandage. Sounded neat. I found something called New-Skin — antiseptic liquid bandages. These were sold as a box of ten small individual 1.0ml packets. I replaced five of the first-aid kit’s old-tecBand-Aidsds with the New-Skin packets. The New-Skin liquid is supposed to congeal to form a protective barrier against further infection. This appeals to me because traditional Band-Aids would take up 3 inches to protect a 1 inch spot and wouldn’t always stay put.

A package containing 30 inches of each side of Velcro®. (Generically known as Hook & Loop fastener) Look for the sew-on plain-back version. Don’t get the peel-off adhesive-backed version.

And lastly a needle, some thread to match the Velcro and a pair of scissors.

Since most of you will find different-sized kits in your area, I’m only going to emphasize the procedure and omit measurements. I trust you all are competent enough to adapt and extrapolate your sizing without bugging me.

Up on the top right corner of the trunk (behind the driver’s rear wheelwell hump) is a spot begging to be used. I dare say the trunk molding is such that it was meant for something. I’m not sure what the three cut-out ovals are for, but it was a primo opportunity for a fastening point.

I fished a piece of Velcro® through the two middle slats successfully. This tells me I found a suitable mounting point. My first-aid kit was light enough where it’d never cause any weight-related damage to the spot. Now to fashion a Velcro harness. This would secure the kit onto the slats in a manner that allowed quick and easy access. The Shortcut Crowd is probably wondering: ‘Why go through the pain and just simply try to Velcro® the kit to the semi-fuzzy carpeting?’ If you somehow find that to work, congratulations. I, however, don’t consider that secure enough. A few bounces & corners and the carpeting will likely release.

The Velcro® harness I’ve made looks like a sideways “T” when laid flat. It requires stitching together two areas — three if you want to get fancy.

The pieces overlap and get stitched in the manner shown. The “Hook” strip feels harder to the touch. The “Loop” strip is softer and fuzzy. Both strips have a useful and useless side. Pay attention to the orientation of each strip. It would help to look ahead in this article to see how each piece serves it’s purpose. This should allow you to cut the appropriate-length piece. Once you finish the first two critical stitches, that’s it! The project now only needs to be mounted. Start by wrapping the cross-arms of the “T” over and under the boo-boo kit. These tips should overlap and Velcro together.

The long body stem of the “T” simply goes around the box, fishes itself behind those carpeting slats, and comes back around the other side of the box. Tighten up any slack here before Velcro’ing the Hook surface over the fuzzy cross-intersection. The third fancy stitch can be done to the very end of this “T” stem. Fold a half inch of the very end back under itself to cover a bit of the Hook surface. Stitch this closed. This creates a grip tab to start pulling from.

So there you have it; a useful, compact, sturdy boo-boo kit personallized to your needs and occupying a spot in the trunk you’d otherwise never use. If it weren’t for the $5 box of liquid bandage packets, total project cost would be $7.50.

Don’t plan on taking up razor blade juggling? No problem, you can probably find other things to keep in this re-claimed trunk space…emergency CD wallet? snack box? ammo? ant farm? Hey, it’s your space.

Notice: The author assumes no liability nor offers any guarantees your project will go as smoothly or result in the same improvement or usability. Attend a qualified first-aid and CPR class to ensure you administer proper aid to yourself or others. All known issues have been laid down in the clearest manner possible. Despite this, the amount of redundant e-mail sent to the author is expected to be substantial. Not all questions will be answered…some might even get laughed at.

banner advertisement

Did You Know Your ’96 Roadster HAD a Stereo?

Let me preface this entire article by admitting I’m no audio-maven…far from it. The true audiophiles out there can save themselves from wasting any time by skipping this article. I have a good grasp on what you expect, and it’s far different than where my meager goals will lead you. I would HIGHLY recommend following the efforts of gutsier enthusiasts like Robert Leidy, Alan Riley, Phil Ehlen, and Brian Powell.

Now that they’ve left, I suspect there are a number of you out there who, like me, have this overpowering preference to live with what you have…to make lemons out of lemonade, to accentuate the positives and ignore the negatives. Maybe it’s due to hearing of the horror stories of audio freaks who’ve ripped out their entire stock system only to be saddled with untraceable audio whine, botched installations, and the multi-thousand dollar price tags for a system that could be better spent on a fancy home theater. Maybe the the idea of letting some unfamiliar shop monkey rip into the interior cutting, testing, and sparking all sorts of wires makes you far nauseous than any weak stereo. I have owned my ’96 1.9L since September and have avoided cutting into it in any way. My audio needs were enough where having an audible stereo with the top up was sufficient. My system is full factory stock with consists of a speed-sensitive/theft-deterrent head unit, door panel tweeters, kick-panel mid-woofers and factory amp in the trunk. The HK upgrade wasn’t available at the time of my order and even if it were I’m not sure I would have ordered it without having heard the difference. In fact, I still haven’t spent any appreciable time evaluating a HK-equipped Z3. (All you HK comparison seekers can leave now too) Although upgrades like the CD Changer and rear speaker upgrade became available at better prices than the dealer, I still opted to stay stock.

After all this time, I think I can sum up the existing ’96 setup. The system sounds fine (to my amateur ears) when the volume is moderate and the car is quietly parked. The moment the car’s in motion, the sound is drowned when competing with wind noise. Cranking up the volume when tooling around town can only be done to the point at which 25% of the music peaks are legible. Any higher and all that’s being turned up is mud as the speakers begin distorting…a likely testament of the grossly inefficient amplifier and speakers. In addition, the ’96 setup presents the driver with a wall of sound from the front. Without rear speakers, there can be no immersion of sound. At highway speeds with the top and windows down, there’s no reason to expect any sound from the stereo. At best, I can distinguish a legible 5% of music peaks. Any more volume cranking and it’s all garbage from thereon. The whirr of tires from highway traffic was a death blow to any hope of legibility. There wasn’t much point to pursue the factory upgrades under these conditions.

This didn’t faze me much as most of my driving was off the highway. Once on the highways, I’d be preoccupied visually scanning for state troopers in the horizon anyway.

During a recent road trip with the top up, a friend attached a portable CD via cassette adapter to the roadster’s head unit. Until now, I knew the BMW CD Changer was supposed to be an improvement to the overall system, but couldn’t imagine by how much. The portable CD showed me that the system COULD sound better than it did…and that part of the blame rested squarely on the crappy FM tuner. Yes, I know that CD offers better sound, but I could hardly believe the fidelity I had been missing all this time in listening only to the FM tuner. I would equate this sound to enjoying music in your living room with throw pillows pressed against each ear. The tuner simply did a horrible job at detailing the highs and lows. I now knew that there was room for improvement without confronting my aftermarket concerns. It definitely involved adding the CD Changer as I was willing to abandon FM radio, but the full potential of that $523 investment wouldn’t be realized without also improving the speakers.

Calvin Jennings had mentioned the improvement he got when replacing the kick-panel speakers with ones from a company called MB Quart. I checked out their website and brochure. This Obrigheim, Germany company’s mobile speakers have won the majority of IASCA World Finals since their US arrival in 1987. Even more appealing was how their brochure mentions specific applications, like BMW, and how certain MB Quarts “can drop right into the existing speaker cut-outs…” Physical fit was one thing, but I knew nothing about the OHM (resistance) rating, how changing it affected the system, and whether doing so was foolish. Nonetheless, Calvin mentioned they dropped right in, so I investigated further.

Speakers 101. The gap between the audiophiles and no-nothings is a wide one. I was clearly in the latter category as I immediately came across vaguely familiar terms like coaxial and component. In speaker design, sounds do not come from one single speaker. In a two-way setup, highs come from tweeters and the rest from the woofer. With a three-way setup, there are tweeters, midrange and woofer speakers all working in unison. Coaxial speakers have tweeter and woofer mounted on a single unit. You can see how the tweeter is often suspended above the woofer. In a Component setup, the tweeters, midrange and woofer are separated and installed in different locations according to the car’s design. Your ears can distinguish where tweeter highs come from directionally, but woofer sounds are vague and thus can be located anywhere.

The ’96 Z3’s design has a woofer (or mid-woofer) in the kick panels and the tweeter/midrange located in the door grills near the side mirrors. This is clearly a component setup. Removing the door panels to access these tweeters has been known as a major pain. I reasoned that typically, volume-cranking distortion was heard on the low sounds, so let’s see what replacing just the kickpanels would do.

This meant sticking coaxials (woofer AND tweeter) down there was inappropriate. Trying to do so would mean we don the cap of stereo design engineer, and based on who should be reading this it’s out of our expertise! I needed to look into buying the large speaker from a component setup. Luckily, MB Quart does sell things separately, and what I needed in the Z3’s kickpanel was the MB Quart QM 130 TX3. This is listed as a 5¼” (130mm) component midrange loudspeaker.

Calvin mentioned the QM 130 TX3 cost $89 each. I stopped by a local electronics/appliance store and salesman Mike Blanchard offered them for $74 apiece. Their new mobile electronics room is a gee-whiz experience. I’d recommend stopping by if you get the chance. Check out their PC-controlled switching and price quote system. After waiting nearly a week for a special order, I was ready to proceed with installation.

For no particular reason, I chose to start at the passenger’s side kickpanel first. Each panel is held in place by a plastic cam. Use a simple flathead screwdriver to turn this 90° in either direction.

With the panel now unlocked, wriggle it out by first undoing the catch area shown by the arrow. There is a plastic extrusion that’s held by the door sill cover. The rest of the edges are simply wedged in place. Pay attention to which edges come out first though, as you’ll probably need to reinsert it in reverse order when you’re done.

Meet the factory stock kickpanel speakers. These are held in place by four screws. Use a 5/16th socket to remove the bolthead screws.

Remove the four screws and the speaker simply drops loose. As King has indicated in the past, the wires from the amplifier to this speaker are coded blue/red and blue/brown. The positive wire is held in place by a 5mm connector. The negative by a 3mm connector. Disconnect them to complete the removal.

A visual inspection of both speakers clearly show the reason why decent speakers cost what they do. The factory stock unit is manufactured in Germany by Nokia Audio Electronics. In addition to computer monitors, Nokia has been known to supply Mercedes Benz with speakers. Looking at this unit, I find it appalling that BMW gave these things the thumbs up. The cone looks to be composed of cloth laminated with some sort of slightly-tacky material. Other markings indicate 4 ohms and 40 watts. The MB Quart’s cone is smooth and feels stiffer. Its markings say 4 ohms and 40-100w. The depth of each unit is noticeable. At this point I decided that even if there was ZERO sound improvement, I’d never reinstall the factory ones.

A small hiccup arose when I saw the MB Quart tabs were each one size higher than the factory tabs. After an hour of weighing out what to do, I decided to cut and replace the factory connectors. The reasoning was that moving the connectors up from 3mm & 5mm to 5mm & 6mm respectively would STILL allow the factory speaker to be reinstalled for whatever reason, and more importantly, bring the connector sizes up to aftermarket norms. (a presumption) Luckily, I had the salesman throw in a handful of 5mm and 6mm connectors.

This was a MUCH simpler process than I figured it to be. Cut off the old connectors and stripped ¼” of jacket material to re-expose the wire, slipped on new connectors and crimped their collars to the wire. No soldering was necessary, but I did it anyway to obtain a gorilla-strength connection. I also slipped a piece of heat-shrink tubing over each crimp area to prevent excess moisture and corrosion. To be on the safe side, attach the uncrimped new connectors to the MB Quart tabs to check their fit.

The MB Quart’s bracket ring can ingeniously be flipped to provide two mounting depths. I chose the depth that positioned it deepest. I connected the freshly-prepared factory wires to the MB Quart tabs and mounted it into place using the old factory screws.

Replace the kickpanel by working it back into place. It might be easier to remove that plastic cam and reinsert it after the panel’s in place.

I placed a work light in the driver’s footwell, but made sure to have it sit atop a sheet of metal to prevent the work light housing from burning the carpeting. The kickpanel is molded to the footrest. Start by removing the hood latch handle. This will expose the plastic locking cam underneath. Turn that 90°. To simplify the kickpanel removalloosenen the panel covering the pedal sets.

…this is because there’s a catching clip at the top of the footrest. The pedal set panel doesn’t have to be removed, jloosenedened enough to get uncaught from the kickpanel’s footrest. Also notice the right side of that footrest has two plastic blades that sit inside gashes in the carpeting.

Again, pay very close attention to how this panel comes out. In addition to watching the clip and blades, you’ll need to clear the spot where the hood latch handle was. Once the panel’s off, remove the stock speaker and replace the connectors with attention paid to crimping the larger 6mm connector to the positive yellow/red wire. A 5/16th socket was used to reach the bolthead.

With the new connectors on the MB Quart speaker, put everything back together. Replacing that kickpanel proved trickiest of all. Patience will ultimately be the key. Be sure the footrest is pushed far enough to the left where those plastic blades will seat back into their respective carpet gashes. Use your fingers to feel your progress.

With the kickpanel in place, turn the locking cam, replace the hood latch handle, and lock down the pedal set panel. The project is complete!

So now comes the $148 question…how does it sound? Knowing that cranking the stereo up with the car parked won’t tell the tale, I struck out for the nearest highway. Instinctively, I turned the stereo up to the normal threshold level…a 270° clockwise twist from dead silence. Whoa! What’s this? I think I hear lyrics. I further turned the stereo up and headed into a wolfpack of cars deliberately seeking the sound of tirewash. YES! Music! I could feel the footrest vibrating from the MB Quart’s bass…if I ever turned up the old speakers to this level, all I would get was distorted mush…no thanks to the old crappy coated fabric cones. Will this new setup ever bdistortingoring? Yes. But unlike the old system, there is an appreciable span of volume travel with the top down, with the windows down, at highway speeds and amongst the din of tirewash where you can hear the music and lyrics with far greater detail than the old system ever hoped to give at 35mph with the windows up. This volume limit is where it will hamper the attempt at conversing with your passenger.

On my second run, I hooked up a portable CD Player to the head unit via cassette adapter to give me an idea what a future CD Changer upgrade will be like. WOW! These speakers go even further to show how night & day the move away from the FM tuner is. I had to readjust my bass/treble levels to tone down the shininess I never heard before. Listening to the clarity of the Cranberries’ “Dreams” with the top down was the reward for a job well done. This cassette adapter may have added more volume as I heard more volume even though I didn’t touch the knob. When I ejected the adapter, the volume from the FM tuner was lower. I’m not sure if this characteristic will occur when I get the BMW CD Changer. Finally, the last step I am looking forward to investigating is how adding the factory rear speaker and amp upgrade will improve things. The new amp supposedly delivers a hair more power in addition to the rear channels, but I don’t know by how much. And no one’s mentioned if those 3½” rear speakers are a coaxial type. Based on my new experience with MB Quart, I might look for an equivalent 3½” replacement when it comes time to add the factory rears. Having a rear set of speakers ought to provide a satisfyingly immersive experience. This modest approach to upgrading will position me where I’ll be able to hear at least 85% of the music at top-down cruising speeds and know that I haven’t lost any storage space or given passing thieves a hint there’s actually something worth stealing underneath those panels. I’m certain the audiophiles can show me how their $4000 setup differs from mine; how their fidelity can reveal Pete Townsend’s breathing during the faint guitar riff in “Who Are You”, or how the wife can feel them returning home by the ground tremors. Despite that, I’m sure I’ll remain happy with this simple, inexpensive, not-too-invasive upgrade. Guess I’m just an underachiever.

Items you’ll need to gather for this modification:

Two (2) MB Quart QM 130 TX3 midrange speakers

Flathead screwdriver

Phillips head screwdriver

Crimping pliers

5/16″ socket

Two (2) 5mm crimp connectors

Two (2) 6mm crimp connectors

Four (4) one inch segments of heat shrink tubing or electrical tape

Compact work light

Long Term Update:

The speakers featured in the article may no longer be available

Notice: The author assumes no liability nor offers any guarantees your upgrade experience will go as smoothly or result in the same improvements. All known issues have been laid down in the clearest manner possible. Despite this, the amount of redundant e-mail sent to the author is expected to be substantial. Not all questions will be answered…some might even get laughed at. Journalistic integrity ofarticlecticle has been backed up by theBaba. Send all complaints to him.

banner advertisement