November 1, 2002
By: Douglas Lindqvist
I’ve wanted to upgrade my Z3 sound system for a while. I found that the stock system simply wasn’t good enough to support a convertible. I started looking around and came to MZ3.net and looked at Robert’s 1.9 (Non-HK) Stereo Upgrade. This article helped me A LOT during my search for a better sound system. Now was the time to see where I should get it done. The first place I went to was Audio Excellence. It looked very professional and some of my friends suggested it. I also went to Audio Extreme and Sound Advice but out of the three Audio Excellence was at the top.
I wanted to upgrade the front speakers first. I looked at JL Audio and was impressed by their clarity. I also wanted to get larger speakers and I ended up with 6 ½” JL Audio XR650-CS (with tweeters and crossovers).
I realized that I needed a much better amplifier because the stock amp (non HK) was pushing around 20-25 watts per channel. I decided to go with the Orion Cobalt CS200.4 (Which later changed to the CS500.5) I was also looking at the Alpine V12 models but their prices were too high.
Audio Excellence told me that I might be able to put 5 ½” in the rear to replace the 4″ speakers. This luckily didn’t work out and I got a free pair of 4″ speakers.
The installation took around 7 hours. I took it in at 9 am at brought it home at about 4 pm. I was very happy with this installation because everything seemed to go my way. First they tried fitting the 5 ½” in the rear. These didn’t fit so they decided to leave the stock 3 ½” in there. The install for the tweeters and XR650-CS went fine but the amp didn’t. They put the CS200.4 in and it blew my rear speakers due to a short. They gave me a CS500.5 instead and replaced my rear speakers with JL Audio XR400-CX.
So the price of the JL Audio XR525-CX was cut from the bill and I upgraded to 4″ rear speakers and a 5-channel amp for free! Total cost was about $750.
Turning up the new system loud would guarantee to make your ears bleed. All that was coming out of it was highs. There was more bass than stock but it wasn’t enough. I decided to get a subwoofer.
The first place I wanted to put one was in the trunk. I planned on putting a 10″ sub opposite the side of the trunk with the CD Changer. Audio Excellence told me that in front of the trunk was a metal wall separating the cabin from it. Porting to the cabin would have to go through the boot of the convertible and with the top down bass would be nonexistent. I also wasn’t too happy with the idea of cutting a whole in my BMW.
My other idea was to put an 8″ or a 10″ in the spot where the HK Sub is. My idea was similar to where the Dodge Viper has its subwoofer. Audio Excellence looked at the area (where my storage compartments are) and told me that it would mess with the structural integrity of the car because the roll bars came down into there. I decided this idea was a no-go also.
They came up with an idea that I was trying to avoid. They wanted to put the sub below the dash on the passenger side. They did this to a member of N’Sync’s Superformance Shelby Cobra. Even though I was disappointed because doing this would take up legroom I decided to go along with this idea.
They ended up making a custom box and putting a JL Audio 8W3 subwoofer in my car. This ended up costing $350 and took about 13 hours (11 hours one day, 2 hours the next). It turned out well and sounds amazing!
Is it worth it?
Yes, I think that it was worth it. I love being able to hear music without distortion at 60mph with the top down. It turned out to be much cheaper than I thought and sound better than I imagined. Even though the subwoofer installation took forever I think that having that extra bass really makes the sound fuller.
Pros – Awesome Sound, Not very expensive
Cons – Lost passenger legroom, No more stock look
Cost – About $1,100
In the continuing quest for better sound in a Z3, I decided to replace the stock rear 3″ speakers in my 99 2.3 with 4″ speakers, or possibly 4×6″. Model year 2000 and newer have 4″ speakers, so I knew that in theory at least, I should be able to fit a decent set of 4″ co-ax’s back there. The stock 3″ speakers are pitiful single paper cone drivers, “designed” for “filtered” midrange sound from the factory amp. I found their sound lacking, even annoying. They did not add anything to my audio experience. I am cheap, …..let’s say cost conscience,…… so I am always looking for more bang for the buck and aftermarket speakers have always provided more satisfying sound over stock OEM drivers. The first step was to see what kind of volume and interferences I had to work with. I popped out the little hatch, shown in first photo, but even with a flashlight it was difficult to get a clear view. The 3″ speakers are held in place by a threaded collar, essentially a giant knurled nut. If you take a large screwdriver and tap the knurls through the little hatch counter clockwise with a rubber mallet to start, it then unscrews easily. The speaker pulls out to reveal a circular hole with a chord (flat spot), that is supposed to prevent the speaker from spinning. This allowed a better view and some discouraging news as well.
There’s a bunch of stuff in there…the seat belt retractor, the structural steel for the roll hoop and the re-enforcing cross member that goes across the vehicle. The steel is a problem because it is so close to the plastic trim housing. This limits where the speaker can be placed, because either the driver basket or magnet will hit something. Depth is about 2 ½”, but variable because the housing slopes. In addition, the 3″ speaker opening is located far to the outside, because the tiny magnet does not interfere with anything. It is actually easier to install a new speaker if you have NO rear speakers; ie. you can cut a new hole farther inboard without worrying about the existing hole showing beyond the coverage of the speaker trim/grill.
Luckily, 4″ speakers are strange creatures, many appear to have grills with trim that increases the coverage area. This was critical in this case; if the trim were any smaller, it would not have been possible to mount the speakers and avoid interference, and still cover the existing opening. The last photo shows the grill coverage outline (courtesy of dirt sticking to Armorall……will stop using that stuff!). I looked at installing a 4×6 speaker, but quickly found that only Blaupunkt 4×6 seemed to come with grills! The other manufacturers assume you are replacing an OEM installation and do not include them. I was not impressed with the Blau 4×6 specs, so I decided to go 4″.. Based on listening and a car audio store recommendation, the speakers I installed were Pioneer TS-A1086. They had nice plain black grills, and once I dremeled off the Pioneer name and made a P-touch label that spelled “BMW” to put in its place, it really looked stock. They have a cut out requirement of 4 1/16″, and a magnet diameter of 2 3/4″ . The trim and grill actually covers a diameter of about 6″.. I also looked into installing Infinity 452i speakers which are a “plus one” 4 inch size; ie the cone is 30% larger for the same cutout. It has a magnet that is ½” larger in diameter and ½” deeper, so it would be trickier to fit, but has a rubber surround, silk tweeter, and higher power handling capability. It would be easier to install the 452i, if there had not been any rear speakers. And since they were out of stock at the time, I went with the Pioneers. My cutout (from the outside edge of the hole, closest to the measuring point) ended up being 3/8″ vertical down from the upper trim piece end that starts the groove (leaves about 1/8″ left in bottom trim piece TO the groove) and 1 5/8″ horizontal from the center trim piece. This allowed the magnet to clear (actually JUSTS touches the carpet over the cross member), the speaker trim to cover the old opening, and still contain the plastic cut within the lower trim piece. I was afraid that cutting into the upper trim piece would cause the assembly to be too flimsy and buzz or rattle. There are also some interference issues, if you feel up under and into that area. The upper and lower trim pieces snap together, and I wanted to try to avoid breaking that connection for aesthetic and structural reasons. The plastic is thick, about 1/8 to 3/16″ and is ribbed on the backside for more support. I used a Dremel tool with a cutting blade that resembles a tiny circular saw. It cut through the plastic like butter, but it is CRITICAL that you tape the surrounding area, as it is VERY easy for the saw to jump and instantly mar the surface for good. It is easier to work the saw with the seats removed but I actually only removed the driver side; once I had my measurements I did the passenger side with the seat moved all the way forward, but then I also have a flexible extension that really helps…YMMV.
The pictures are pretty self- explanatory. There was a very noticeable increase in clarity and volume with the new speakers, even hooked up to the stock amp. I ended up running dedicated, unfiltered speaker wires directly from my Toronto head unit under the center console to get full range (for a 4″, anyway) sound, which sounded MUCH better than the stock amp connection. Even firing into the back of the seats, they are so close to you that they provide significant “top down” midrange and high sound. I find the stereo sound similar to that of wearing headphones; it is as if you are “in” the sound, not “in front” of it. Some people don’t care for that…I like it. Another idea to try instead of the Infinity co-ax’s, would be to use a 4″ component set and locate the tweeters up and outboard in the upper trim unit for better separation and directionality. I found the Pioneers to be a significant upgrade to the sound system for very few dollars. Now if I can just find a way to put in a powered subwoofer and lose no legroom or storage space……..
|Pros:||Unimaginable sound improvement, Maintains factory look|
|Cons:||Limitations in sub woofer design is prevalent in terms of frequency response|
|Cost:||Professionally Installed at $1500|
Anyone who has visited the Z3 message board has come across many discussions and complaints about the stereo system in the Z3. One would think that for the money (and the fact that its a convertible) it would have a decent sound system. My ’98 roadster came equipped with the Harmon Kardon upgrade which offers a few more speakers and the infamous sub-woofer system. I like having the BMW head as it has a proper fit and finish to the rest of the interior, and helps keep an untouched look to curious passers-by.
Upon reference of a good buddy of mine who is an absolute nut when it comes to auto and home theater systems, I went to CAPS Audio which is an operation run by two brothers, Danny and Frank. They exclusively handle car audio for the Ferrari dealership down the road. (check out pg. 3 of their photo gallery!) After a preliminary visit, Danny gave me the plan of action: We are going to open up the car and see how the stereo is arranged, I offered Robert’s “A stereo upgrade to learn from” which seemed to spell it out to me, but that was not sufficient. “I’ll tell you what you have, then we can figure out what we can do.” Hey, what can I say, the man is thorough and I don’t pretend I could do their work. He explained in great detail about how proprietary the BMW systems were and that if the project either became too costly for me, he promised to reassemble the system to a level that BMW would not know anyone had touched it.
The design constraints were as such:
* Keep the factory head unit as I like the matched looks to the rest of the dash and provides a “stealthy” approach towards the stereo upgrade. Since I separately purchased the CD unit, I felt even more committed to this. If I could have started all over, I would consider an alternate head unit that would match up nicely.
* Minimal trunk (what trunk?) obtrusion. I actually attempt to use it.
* Keep the factory speakers, but drive them with clean power. I felt that the sound system was acceptable for almost all driving, the speakers are fine (with the exception of the sub). The only time where I was dissatisfied with the performance of the stereo was when driving at highway speeds with the top down. I could hear the amplifier weaken after 20 minutes down the highway as the factory amp would start warming up, and the bass became easily distorted. Notably absent was a full range of sound under these driving conditions.
* Some sort of flexibility towards future applications, in case I should want to redo the entire car. (Not for a long while)
After some time they had figgered it out and offered to install the following (You can see that I obviously went with it.) The installation of two amps as such:
# The red one is a Sony Xplod which drives everything but the subs. 40Wx4 Ch, 4 Ohms at 0.04% THD, 5 Band ±12dB Adjustable Equalizer, 50/200/800/3.2k/12.8kHz Frequency Centers, Level Indicator LED’s, Regulated MOSFET Power Supply, F & R 50-200Hz Variable Hi/Lo CROSSOVER, Recessed Control Panel with Clear Cover, Separate RCA & Speaker Inputs, Peak Power 80W X4Ch, Signal to Noise Ratio 100 dB, Fan Cooled, Gold Plated Terminals and RCA connectors and a power level meter.
# The Silver is an Alpine Flex4 which drives the subs exclusively. MAX POWER (EIAJ), 75W x 4 (4 Ohm Stereo), 180W x 2 (Bridged 4 Ohm), RMS Continuous Power (Watt) (at 14.4V, 20-20 kHz): 4 Ohm Stereo (0.08% THD) 30W x 4; 2 Ohm Stereo (0.3% THD) 40W x 4; Bridged 4 Ohm (0.3% THD) 80W x 2, S/N Ratio 100dBA, Frequency Response (+0, -1dB) 10-50kHz, 4/3/2 Channel Operation, MOSFET Power Supply, DC-DC PWM Power Supply, Double Buffered Pre-Amp Input Circuitry, Discrete Pre-Amp Stage, Darlington Bi-Polar Outputs, STAR Circuitry, Duo (Beta) Feedback Circuit, Solid Copper Bus Bars, MultiMode, Top Mounted LED Power Indicator, Fixed Crossover (HP/LP), Continuously Adjustable Gain Control, Both sides Terminal Layout, Gold Plated RCA Input Connectors, Speaker Level Inputs, Gold Plated Power Screw Terminals, Gold Plated Speaker Screw Terminals, Noise Elimination Coil, Non-Fading Pre-Amp Output
As well, I required a few crossovers and the infinity Kappa crossovers were suggested. I have heard the Kappa series for home audio, so I felt confident in their suggestion. The crossovers were installed in the tower section where the original amplifier lived.
The installation took almost 10 hours from end-to-end. They cranked it out! I would walk back and check on the car on occasion to see the progress of the install. Danny was a little nervous about me looking over their shoulder, mentioning something about people being nervous about seeing someone rip apart the car, well hey if I could, I would have installed it myself! I did my best to stay out of their way so that they could complete their job.
Of course, this installation was quite timely and thus costly, as they spent quite a bit of time adjusting and tweaking to the oddities of the BMW system. It was pointed out that to me that I was taking a more expensive route in terms of my installation due to this, but they were both willing and capable of building to my wishes. Also the quality in their work is quite impressive.
Here’s a close-up of the wiring work.
Result: WOW! I had some expectations on how the system would sound, but DAMN! I never expected it to sound so great! This baby behaves like a Z3 should, with plenty of clean power for your entertainment.
The Test: Two days later, I put the car to the test with a trip to Syracuse and back (about 600 miles altogether) to add to it, I crammed every last inch of trunk space with stuff for the weekend journey.
Outcome: No Problem! It was wonderful to be able to hear the music so well while driving with the top down! I notice that I spend more time adjusting the bass & treble since the amps are capable of overdriving the subs if I don’t pay attention. The other thing I notice is that the speed sensitive volume has different nuances to it, as it seems to be adjusting the bass amplifier only – which probably has a lot to do with why I keep adjusting so much. I pulled from the instructions from Message Board Archive on adjusting the sensitivity of the amplifier will make that adjustment. Notably, the limitations of frequency response in the sub-woofer is present, but what it does handle is amazing. I’m sure that one-day, its day shall come for replacement.
Overall, I am excited with the outcome and performance of the stereo. If you have the opportunity to catch up to me on a cruise, you’ll be able to hear it for yourself. You won’t believe its the OEM speakers!
The bass is noticeably better. I purchased a pack of 5 square foot pieces which was enough to do the whole job. Eastwood’s 1-800-345-1178 item number 52105 $19.99. Each square foot weighs aproximately 10 ounces. About 3 pounds added weight substracting the scrap.
– From the Dynamat Literature –
Dynamat Original is a Styrene-Butyadine-Rubber based and Pressure Sensitive Adhesive Backed, Heat Bondable, Sheet Metal Vibration Damper. This product is made to conform and fuse to automotive body surfaces such as floor pans and doors. Product shall be die cut to shape and placed onto the body surface after sheet metal cleaning operation and prior to the paint system (typically at the sealer application operation) or on painted panels. Adhesive side is smooth, giving complete contact with the underlying surface without any air pockets of channels. Both material and adhesive can withstand temperature ranges between -30C to +177C(-22F to +350F) and are highly resistant to aging.
The acoustic loss factor ‘n’ is used as a measure of ability to damp structure-borne sound. It states how much vibrational energy (in steel sheets, for instance) is converted into heat rather than sound. For constructions containing several layers, the combined loss factor ‘n comb’ is used. The theoretical maximum loss factor is about 1. An undamped steel panel 1 mm thick has a loss factor of roughly 0.001 at 200 Hz. Damped with Dynamat Original the loss factor would be about 0.16 at +0C(32F). Multiple layers of Dynamat Original can be used to improve sound daming still futher.
Dynamat Original is used as treatment for metal panels, partitions, ducts, doors, bins, panels, etc. in railroad cars, buses, automobiles, and ships. It is also used for ventilation ducts, relay cabinets, steel furniture, sink units, office machine, computer equipment, machine tools, and for many other purposes.
Dynamat Original should be cut to the desired size and shape before the backing paper is removed. It may be cut with scissors, knife, or die. Remove dust, grease, moisture, and other foreign matter from the application surface. Peel off the backing paper. The simplest application technique is to bend the pad slightly and attach it along its shortest edge. The pad is then pressed firmly into place, preferably with a roller for larger pieces. This reduces the risk of leaving air pockets, which reduce the sound damping capacity. The temperature of the pad and application surface should not be below room temperature during fitting. Heating the material before applying is strongly recommend, and increases flexibility, strechability, and adhesion.
One of the reasons I got a 2.8 instead of a 2.3 was the “premium” Harman Kardon stereo system with “upgraded” speakers. Granted, it wasn’t the ONLY reason, nor was it the PRIMARY reason, but it was A reason. I have to admit that as far as stock sound systems go, I’ve heard worse. But I’ve heard better, as recently as the day I got my Z3, which is when I turned in my 1998 Ford Expedition Eddie Bauer with a Mach 460 stereo system. Without getting too much into an acoustics argument, the Harman Kardon system, well, how can I put it….. SUCKED.
I am not an audiophile. I am not a music hardware nut. However, I do enjoy my music, and I like it loud and I like it distortion free. The first clue that the HK was a POS was the rattling of the subwoofer enclosure. However, through my “investigation”, I found out that the HK amp was “tweaked” to produce 10% harmonic distortion. Now, I am not an audio engineer, but for something that is usually measured in FRACTIONS of ONE PERCENT, 10% cannot be good. Cranking the volume up supported this conclusion. The distortion was there, and life sucked.
The Amp has GOT to GO
In one of those fits I am famous for (hey, the car cost me quite a bundle with all the stuff I put in it, so I WAS frustrated), I took it to the folks at Tampa Bay Audio Sound, and they hooked me up with a couple of brand spanking new Alpine amps — an MRP-F306 and a MRP-F406.
Alpine MRP-F306 4 channel amp
MAX POWER (EIAJ)
75W x 4 (4 Ohm Stereo) 180W x 2 (Bridged 4 Ohm)
RMS Continuous Power (Watt) (at 14.4V, 20-20 kHz): 4 Ohm Stereo (0.08% THD) 30W x 4; 2 Ohm Stereo (0.3% THD) 40W x 4; Bridged 4 Ohm (0.3% THD) 80W x 2
Alpine MRP-F406 2 channel amp
MAX POWER (EIAJ)
90W x 2 (4 Ohm Stereo) 240W x 1 (Bridged 4 Ohm)
RMS Continuous Power (Watt) (at 14.4V, 20-20 kHz): 4 Ohm Stereo (0.08% THD) 40W x 2; 2 Ohm Stereo (0.3% THD) 60W x 2; Bridged 4 Ohm (0.3% THD) 120W x 1
Why two? Trunk space was a prime concern (or lack thereof), so any of the premium solutions that ate up trunk space were unacceptable to me. No 1000 watt amps for me. I wasn’t looking to win a BOOM BOOM competition, just clean, distortion free, loud music. Simple.
The Alpine MRP-F356, a 5 channel amp, would have sufficed, but it was BIG. The F406 fit nicely into the space the HK POS amp fit (marked by the red circle in the middle picture below), and the F306 was fitted vertically neat and tidy on an L board on the other side of the trunk with virtually no loss in trunk space.
The guys at Tampa Bay Audio Sound configured the F306 to supply only highs and mids, and the F406 to supply the bass (using a simple switch on the amps themselves).
Now, with this came some good news and some bad news. The good news was that the highs and mids sounded better, cleaner and crisper at high volumes. The HK amp was clearly very deficient in this regard. The bad news? The subwoofer popped, Bad. Of course you genius!!! A subwoofer rated at 30W was getting juice from the F406 which can pump up to 240W!!! Ok, so of I went into the quest for a new subwoofer.
The Quest for a Subwoofer
Putting a subwoofer in a Z3 is like trying to fit an elephant into a Jetta. Reading some more articles at MZ3.net and the Z3 message board I learned of many options, including custom enclosures and Bazooka tubes. None of these options sounded good to me (literally and figuratively) since the Z3 trunk is sealed and the lack of air put a serious cramp in the boom of the subs. Drilling holes in my brand new Z3 was DEFINITELY not an option for me, so on I went trying to find another solution.
I took apart the subwoofer enclosure (thanks to Robert Leidy and his article on Dissecting the HK Subwoofer) and took it to the folks at Sound Advice. They hooked me up with a couple of Boston Acoustics 5.5 ProSeries woofers (I had to pay for two whole kits which included tweeters and crossovers, which sucked) and installed just the woofers it into the Z3 subwoofer enclosure.
Something tells me that I could have gotten off a LOT cheaper than $400, but at that point all I wanted was a functional subwoofer that would fit in the stock enclosure. Money was not an issue (never is until the bill gets here… 🙂 I plugged the enclosure back into my Z3 and… Voila!
Ahhhhh, nice, neat tidy bass. Cool. I cranked up the volume all the way and it was now the tweeters and midranges distorting — the sub was cool as a cucumber. It was a good thing I padded all the contact points as specified in the Z3Bimmer.com Subwoofer Rattle article, since the extra bass would have certainly worsened the rattle problem. Once the proper insulation was installed, the rattling disappeared.
I cranked down the gain on the F306 a notch (to NOM setting) since I don’t listen to music that loud anyway (it was really hurting my ears at that point) and I reached a happy compromise — $1,000 later. 🙁
Upgrading the Front Speakers
With new amps and a new sub, the remaining speakers started to get on my nerves. Having seen the poor quality of the speakers I removed, I wanted the rest of those POS speakers out of my Z3 pronto!!! After reading several messages in the Z3 Message Board, I learned that to remove the tweeters on the doors, I had to remove the door panels. All of a sudden, the tweeters started to sound good to me. Nahhh, I didn’t need to replace THEM (wimp).
So I turned my attention to the kick panels in the front. An article in MZ3.net showed how easy it was to do, so I did the logical thing… took it to the folks at Tampa Bay Autosound to do it for me. 🙂
They replaced the front speakers with a couple of Rockford Fosgate 5.25″ coaxial 2-way speakers. Yes, I know, the stock speakers were component speakers and had no tweeter. However, I am the guy who turns the treble all the way up anyway, so a pair of extra tweeters didn’t bother me. And since I am not an audiophile, I had no clue what this would do to the sound balance in my car (ignorance is bliss…)
Actually, they sound pretty good to me. I can crank the sound up more, but the tweeters in the doors pop a little bit at the highest volume. Darn. I guess I’ll have to remove those door panels after all. Maybe some other day, but not today… 🙂
Upgrading the Rear Speakers
Turning my attention to some easy-to-replace items, I focused on the rear speakers. Removing the covers revealed a couple of 4″ component speakers (again, no tweeters here). Removing the covers was relatively easy. On the Y2K 2.8, the speaker grills and covers are held by five plastic tabs. You can pop a little door on the base of the roll hoops and you will see the top tab holding the cover to the plastic wall of the car. With a long screwdriver you can push down on that tab and pop the cover off.
WARNING: Do this at your own risk. I broke the little tab on one of my covers, although it didn’t seem to mind too much when I put it back. Don’t blame me if you brake your precious little Z3…. 🙂
I took my car over the folks at Tampa Bay Autosound and they hooked me up with a pair of Sony Xplode XS-F1020 4″ two-way speakers. We tried some SAS and some Alpines, but the tweeters wouldn’t allow the grills to be put back on. The Sony’s were a good choice since they had recessed tweeters which did not add anything to the size of the speakers themselves. No drilling or cutting of any kind was a goal of mine, not to mention a depleting budget made the Sony’s a good choice at $85 for the pair, installed. WOW!
Leave the Door Panels Alone
Which brings me back to the “popping tweeters” in the door panels. The folks at Tampa Bay Autosound put in some other kind of crossover that filtered out more of the mids and lows, sending more of the highs to the door panel speaker to address the popping sound. Seem like it took care of most of it. Only when I crank it ALLLLL the way up (and my ears start to bleed) do I hear some popping, but even at the loudest level I use it (which is doing 90Mph with the top down) they sound great. Besides, leaving those door panels alone is worth a lot to me… 🙂
BMW’s “premium” sound system is, in my humble opinion, disappointing. They could have done better.
However, this is the ONLY thing that I can find fault with in an otherwise very, very, very cool car.
In summary, this is what I did:
Replaced Harman Kardon amplifier with a pair of Alpine amps
Replaced stock subwoofer speakers with a pair of Boston Acoustic Pro Series 5.5 woofers
Replaced front footpanel speakers with a pair of Rockford Fosgate 5.25 two-way speakers
Replaced the rear speakers with a pair of Sony Xplode XSF1020 two-way speakers
Filtered out all mids and bass going to the doorpanel speakers
The choices in speaker brands were mostly driven by price and fit into the car. The Rockford Fosgate speakers cost me $85 for the pair plus $20 install fee, and the Sony Xplode cost me $85 for the pair, installation included. For that price, you can’t go wrong! The Boston Acoustics Pro 5.5, on the other hand, cost me $400. Too pricey.
The system as a whole sounds good to me. No, I will not be competing in any auto shows, but it sounds a heck of a lot better than the stock system, virtually no modifications to the car at all, and 99% of my trunk space is still available.
Before Look close the difference is subtle, but with the chrome surround around the stock stereo all the gauges and radio finally look like they belong together.
Its been bugging me since I first got the M, but MG Racing solves the problem with this $63.90 part.
Just like the chrome door speaker trim this chrome part uses the ultra sticky 3M tape to secure itself to the stock radio. There are two important things to remember when adding anything that uses this tape. The first rule is clean, clean, clean, clean… Using rubbing alcohol I cleaned the face of the radio and was surprised how much gunk I cleaned off. The reason for the through cleaning is so the 3M tape sticks to the radio and not just the dirt on the radio.
The second rule is to get everything hot, the glue in the 3M tape is activated by heat. I used a hair dryer to get the face of the radio and the backside of the chrome part really hot (almost to hot to hold). When the part is this hot the orange backing tape will start to wrinkle and peel a little. At that time take the tape off and C A R E F U L L Y line up the part before sticking it onto the radio.
I really like the look, but I think I got the part just slightly off center to the left (probably something only an owner would notice). The chrome part does have a top and a bottom to it, the bottom is thinner than the top so it will fit in the narrow area below the station selection buttons. The only downside I see to this upgrade is that it covers the tiny access doors you would use if you ever need to remove the radio.
|Pros:||Good Fit, Great Look|
Looking for a little more chrome accents for the Z3 interior? How about chrome trim for the triangle shaped speakers in the door. This product is similar to the wood dash kits that many Z3 owners have used. The chrome trim is really just chromed plastic with the patented ultra-sticky 3M tape behind it. Installation is easy, just heat the plastic piece and tape up using a hair dryer. Once the plastic and 3M tape get really hot (almost too hot to touch) the plastic chrome piece becomes semi-flexible and the tape gets really sticky. Peel off the protective liner off the back side of the tape, be very careful with alignment and just stick it on. I would recommend that you practice dry fitting the piece a couple times, because you don’t get two chances at this. I rushed my installation a little and didn’t get the driver’s side on as well as I would have liked too.
As a general rule, I usually don’t care for the stick on parts if you can see the edges of the product or the 3M tape under it. But the location of the trim piece is in a recessed area that enables the thin plastic piece to fit into the indentation and blend into the interior without looking “stuck on”. The end result is a very clean and neat look. Only real downside to this upgrade is the price, its pretty expensive for what you get, but then again it’s a custom made piece especially designed for the Z3. This same company makes additional chrome trim pieces for the Z3 interior, this is one of the more expensive pieces but the quality and accuracy of the fit is very high. Check out their website for their fill line of chrome trim pieces for the Z3 interior.
I’m very pleased with the look, it’s just enough chrome to catch your eye and glimmer in the sunlight without being overly dramatic. Since most the the area around the chrome is black the majority of the reflection is black. Problem is, the additional chrome looks so good that it leaves me looking around the interior for other places where similar chrome trim could be added…. I think the radio is my next target, a chrome trim ring around it would look really good as well.
One other note: a couple weeks after installing these I had a tweeter go bad on me (the speaker behind the now chrome trimmed grill). I was worried that I would not be able to remove the grill because of the sticky 3M tape. However the chrome trim fit so well that it did not get in the way at all. I was able to remove the speaker grill with the chrome ring on it without any additional effort.
|Pros:||Easy Upgrade, Maintain Warranty|
|Cons:||Just a moderate upgrade|
|Cost:||About $40 (price depends on seller)|
Please don’t throw those HK amps in the dumpster!!
I’m not certain how it came up, I think it was Robert’s idea. He wondered if there was a way to use the vast number of Harmon Kardon amplifiers that have been removed during the stereo upgrades by members of the Message Board. The idea was to replace the stock amplifier with the HK amp. I volunteered to use my 3/96 production 1.9 Z3, one of the very early production cars. It does not have rear speakers or a sub woofer. The only stereo upgrade that has been performed on my Z is a set of MB Quart QM130TX3 5¼ in. front kick panel speakers. The improvement that these speakers made is chronicled by Carter Lee in his column here on MZ3 Net.
You will need a few hand tools to perform the swap:
10 mm socket
large flat tip screw driver or
trim panel plug removal tool
You remove the carpet trim from the front of trunk by removing the black trim plugs. Locate your amp: on early cars its located in the upper left front of trunk, on later cars it’s in the upper right front. Using the 10mm socket, extension, and ratchet remove the three nuts that hold the mounting bracket to the body. You then unplug the two connectors from the back of the amp. There are three 10mm nuts that hold the amp to the mounting bracket, remove these. Place the amp in a safe place. The installation of the HK amp is the reverse of the removal. This is an exact bolt for bolt swap, nothing to modify! Total time for this upgrade 30 min., a complete no-brainer! There is one remaining plug on the HK amp that remains unused, I am told this is for EQ changes related to the speed sensitive volume. But the amp works just fine without this connection (which is a good thing since older stereo setups don’t have this wire).
Now the results. Bass is much better, feels about 30% better. Measurement done by the bass-o-meter (my left foot on dead pedal). Highs are about the same. Tried increasing the treble but not much different from original amp. The most noticeable change is the lack of distortion in the upper volume ranges. The original setup would flake out at volume levels required at 70mph. The HK amp allows distortion free sound at speeds up to 85mph.
Is it worth it? In a word, YES! For those of us who are not the audiophiles this is a very cost efficient upgrade. In my case the hardest thing to do was empty the trunk. At the 1999 Homecoming there will be a new contest to go with the autocross, the POS Amp Toss, you can use it there. Now all you true audiophiles who have upgraded to an aftermarket system now have a market for your old amps, and we will have enough of the old amps for the POS Amp Toss at 99 Homecoming.
In an attempt to match HK buyers up to HK sellers, I recommend you post on the BMW roadster message board, Robert and I agreed upon a $40 price for the HK amp so I recommend you start the buying/selling negotiations there.