Is This the Year of DSP?

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Audison tuning class by Automobility at CMA

Some industry members say that this is the year of Digital Signal Processing (DSP).  After years of dealer reluctance to embrace DSP, sales are increasing and attendance at trainings is up, said suppliers.

In general, DSP lets you tune the aftermarket system for optimum equalization, phase and time alignment, and it helps set crossover slopes and frequencies.

Some DSP devices let you “see” what processing is in a factory system, so installers can correct it before installing an aftermarket system.   As more cars come with pre-equalized systems, this is becoming an important feature.

Some dealers say DSP now an essential tool, and other says it’s not necessary yet.

Some retailers say customers won’t pay for the extra time spent tuning a car, while others say customers will gladly pay.

In all the differing opinions on DSP, people agree on this–DSP is complicated and requires training and commitment.

Here are a few other points:

  • The market has shifted from standalone DSP to DSP built into amplifiers.  Audison says its DSP/amp business has taken off in comparison to standalone DSP.  Techs like the idea of fewer components in a system.
  • There is a steep learning curve for DSP.  It takes training and then a lot of time practicing in the bay or on one’s own car, said retailers.
  • In the future, so many vehicles will have complex OEM systems that DSP will be a necessity to modify the system.

Mosconi DSP

The complexity of DSP has kept many dealers from embracing the category. But things are beginning to change and more dealers are taking on the challenge, said suppliers.

Take the example of Sound Warehouse, UT. Owner Dean Magnussen explains, “We had an extremely rocky start to DSP. We bought a first generation piece.  It came out 15 years ago and caused a lot of trouble.  It was hard to program and it didn’t work properly. We let down some customers and had internal strife.  A few years later, another one of our vendors came out with something.  Not only was the product premature it shipped with the wrong harnesses.”

Arc Audio PCM Pro
Arc Audio PCM Pro

But this year the chain is revisiting DSP.   Sound Warehouse took a crew of six employees to KnowledgeFest in Las Vegas.  They attended a six hour training on DSP by Ken Ward in addition to other training sessions.  Two additional techs were trained at sessions at the MasterTech Expo this year. “So now eight people are trained.  Everyone’s excited,” said Magnussen.  One of the Sound Warehouse locations has since successfully installed its first DSP system since the new training and the customer was happy, he added.

Freeman’s Car audio, NC says DSP has become an important part of its business.  Back around 2019, the company began attending Ken Ward trainings  as well as Orca trainings and workshops at MasterTech Expo.  “This year we had two of our guys do the MAX certification for JL Audio.  We keep investing in it and it’s become a major category for us.  We have lots of customers interested in it because we advertise it. They may see our post on a certain tech that is getting trained and then they request that that person tune their car.  Raising ticket prices is part of it. We have several guys that are really good at tuning.”

JL Audio VXi
JL Audio VX1000

Wall notes the process of embracing DSP was gradual. Freeman’s has seven stores and over 50 employees. The trainings were a little overwhelming at first.

Suppliers know this and are taking steps to simplify training. “DSP requires a strong working knowledge of audio basics,” said Jason Digos who until recently, was VP of MSC America. “You have to understand audio, the tools and software and how to get the basic things done before you can do these uber complex tunings… You can talk about all pass filters and people will nod their heads, but they don’t really understand what it is.  So at MSC we broke it down in a really simple process and took the time to explain all the terminology and build training simulators….”

Zapco DSP
Zapco ADSP-IV

Orca Design & Manufacturing, which sells Mosconi DSP is also offering a basic training class.  Said Nalaka Adikari, “I absolutely see, looking year over year, there are more and more retailers embracing DSP and realizing it’s the way of the future. It’s one of the necessary tools.” He said both attendance at trainings have increased and DSP sales have increased.

METRA-AX-DSP-X
Metra AX-DSP-X

Dean Beyett of Five Star Car Audio and the YouTube show Dean and Fernando has been teaching dealers about DSP for years.  Beyett said, “Technically every car you are doing needs some form of DSP.  DSP just gives us the ability to manipulate the sound so that the customer is happy.  So if you do a system and they come back and say, ‘I don’t like the way it sounds,’ in the old style, you would open the radio and manipulate the tone controls. If that is enough, great.  If they are still not happy then what do you do? With DSP, here’s a bunch of eq you can apply to a single speaker or a complete system.  That’s the motivation behind it.”

Phase and time alignment processing is already present in more than a hundred 2024 car models said Ken Ward of Elettromedia.

“I think it’s going to be more and more accepted in the future as radios in vehicles get rid of the old analog audio outputs and adopt some sort of digital stream output, whether its A2B or not,” said Garry Springgay, owner of Cogent Audio Labs, a premier testing facility for car audio.  “DSP will become a more mainstream thing I would say, within the next 5 years. ”

Kicker Key 200.4

As Mehdi Narimanian of Sound of Tri-State said, “We have no choice,” DSP is the future.

(We thank the many industry members that endured our questions for this article, most of whom, were not mentioned by name).

 

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5 Comments

  1. I would submit the limitation on this category is now less about the hardware, which has come a very long-way from early efforts, and the trouble-plagued launches by EM, among others, to the reality today where the ‘software’ options have caught-up, but the limiting factor is primarily ‘skill-set’ of the number of really competent ‘techs.’ The latest gen offerings from the core players in this space are all incremental steps in the right direction, but are far from perfect — though all of them will say they are. I suspect the DSP category won’t reach its zenith and true potential, until somebody manages to “nail” the ‘big red EZ button’ solution. There is no doubt that the tools are increasingly available, and that’s now tantalizingly close to reality, in the HT world, and ‘is on the horizon’ — but it will be a beautiful thing in 12V realm, when that day finally arrives…

  2. Rockford Fosgate launched the first car DSP (trunk-mounted) in the 1980s, followed, I believe, by Pioneer. What took so long?

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