A Problem With DSP

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As few as 10 to 20 percent of car audio dealers are comfortable working with digital signal processing (DSP) equipment in the car, said suppliers.

DSP is the future of the industry, allowing the integration of aftermarket products into newer vehicles and the ability to make them sound better.  But many dealers aren’t jumping on the bandwagon.

Those in the field training retailers every day find  far too few dealers can tune a car with DSP.   Nick Wingate of Orca Design & Manufacturing believes only 10 percent of dealers are skilled in using DSP and Ken Ward of Educar Training says the figure is about 15 percent. Jay Small of Custom Plus Distributing pegs the figure at less than 20 percent and  Jamie White of Opus Marketing, believes it’s closer to 40 percent.

DSP is furthering a split in car audio that has been growing for years, said Ward.

“The emerging split between integrators and merchants happened in home audio and now it’s happening in car audio. DSP is making the split more apparent.”  He added, “Talk to specialists like JML Audio. They are comfortable with this technology, but retail merchants are not, partly because their technicians are less skilled and because some treat installation as a necessary evil.”

DSP is one of the hardest categories to teach in training classes because it demands hands on use.  “It requires understanding of the definitions, owning certain types of equipment, and repetitive training.  The guys doing well with it are working with it on a daily basis,” said White.

But there’s good news on several fronts.

First, dealers are starting to seek out training.  White said a recent session Opus held along with Ken Ward sold out in minutes. Ward said a free class at a West Coast dealer show that failed to attract participants a few years ago was full this year.

The steep learning curve also has its advantages for those who accept the challenge.  It gives the retailer an advantage over others in his market who can’t handle DSP.

Some believe DSP may be more ‘Internet resistant’ than other car audio products. “DSP is confusing and it’s hard to sell that on the Internet.  When brick and mortar has to compete with Amazon, people buying these things would be very confused and would ultimately have to come to see a specialty dealer.  That kind of pushes people back to brick and mortar and that’s the plan.  It hasn’t been out long enough to see that yet, but that’s the hope,” said Dave Bran of the  Audio Connection, MD.

Still it’s a hard row to hoe for product trainers and tech support reps.  Wingate said, “DSP scares most dealers, in my own personal view.  When you start talking about identifying what comes off the OEM amplifier I see the look on the faces. ‘I have to have an oscilloscope, an RTA and then figure out how to sum it together or use what’s there?’” he said.  “When you say computer it gets worse.  Less than 10 percent understand fully what’s going it.  It’s getting better… If someone down the street knows how to use it, and you don’t, guess what… you’re going to be left behind.”

Then even once the back of the shop is comfortable, the front of the shop may not know how to sell DSP.   “At the end of the day all the customer sees is a black metal box that costs whatever amount of dollars. They have no clue what it’s really doing and that’s what the dealer has to explain and justify the price,” added White.


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  1. I agree that if you can’t/don’t know how to use/sell DSP, you won’t be around much longer. It’s absolutely necessary in today’s world to be able to use a DSP if you plan on selling aftermarket audio.

  2. This isn’t a DSP problem. This is a problem with understanding the basics of audio. Basic audio filtering isn’t new–crossovers and equalizers existed long before we were able to do this digitally.

  3. No kidding… it’s a day to day battle. Put the time in to get profits out of it. Many software apps have a simulation mode. Read what you can on it, dive in!
    It’s a shame when you cant read. It’s even worse when you don’t read!

  4. This is kind of like the auto mechanic that can’t service fuel injected vehicles. It’s 2018 . . .

  5. I see this all the time. Seems like our shop may be the only one in our area that actually has the tools and experience to sell, install and tune dsp properly. I get clients in every week with estimates from other shops that are still replacing factory head units in new cars and trying to do it with the cheapest parts possible. Can’t tell you how many of them are surprised when we show them how it can be done while keeping their OEM head unit. And when you mention ANC or factory EQ’s they all say the same thing – “None of the other shops even mentioned that.” It is amazing to me that shops that have been in business as long as some of them have don’t know about these things.

  6. message received. in the past we have focused on high quality speakers and amps that have
    closely matched rms power levels. time for more.

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