Text from Philadelphia and Detroit area newspapers.
Republished in about 220 newspapers:
Building the perfect car stereo system for an audiophile
Sunday, November 26, 1995
By Al Haas, Knight-Ridder Newspapers
When Earl Zausmer turnedon the $30,000 stereo system in his BMW 540i, four speakers rose from cavities in the dashboard, and a vibrant red laser beam came to rest on the right side of my face.
"Ideally, it should hit you right in the ear," Zausmer noted.
The purpose of the laser, he explained, is to make sure the sound is being delivered directly to the listener. Conventional stereo systems might bounce the sound off dozens of distorting surfaces inside the car before laying it on the doorstep of your tympanic membrane. But with the help of the laser, Zausmer's puts it right on the aural money.
That ability to put the music in the right place is part of the reason Zausmer's sound system is easily the best this layman has ever heard. It also figures in the way the system has been received by the experts.
Zausmer's system recently achieved the highest overall point total in sound quality at the International Auto Sound Competition Association (IASCA) finals in Dallas.
"For us audiophiles, the IASCA finals are the Olympics," observed a beaming Zausmer.
Zausmer, the head of a trucking company based in Havertown, Pa., is a boyish 42. He has been an audiophile since he was a truly boyish 15.
According to Zausmer, audiophiles don't just love music, they require it.
"Audiophiles are people who need music to calm their nerves. That's the way we are."
For most of his audiophiliac past, Zausmer's hobby has been building home sound systems. But in recent years, his avocation has taken an automotive turn. That makes perfect sense, since he spends so much time driving around the Northeast, calling on customers.
His interest in building an automotive system led him to the competitions, and an active role in the auto audio community.
The auto-sound community is a growing avocational subculture, according to Bill Burton, technical director at Car Audio and Electronics, which has a circulation of 100,000 and counting. The hobby is popular in this country, and big in Europe, Japan and Canada.
Like so many of his fellow travelers, Zausmer enjoys the social as well as the competitive aspects of the judged shows he enters. After the day's competition, for example, he and fellow competitors go out and have some fun.
"We don't go to bars and stuff like that, and our wives know that. We'll go out to dinner together and talk about stereo systems."
In the case of Zausmer's system, that requires a good deal of fat chewing.
The installation (audiophiles call it "the install") of Zausmer's system required about $30,000 and about 1,800 hours of professional help.
"We ripped apart most of the car," Zausmer recalls.
The process included taking off the front fenders and welding a set of 13-inch woofer, or bass, speakers in the steel structure behind each of the kick panels.
"The woofers are welded to the car. That's why you feel the bass notes through your feet. ... In effect, you're inside the speaker cabinet."
Fenders, doors, floors and roof were covered with 370 piounds of a special sound-deadening insulation made of asphalt and butyl.
Next, motorized little elevators were fabricated to lift $5,000 worth of high and midrange speakers from their "silos" on each side of the dash. The high-range speakers (tweeters) are B&W Silver Signatures, so named because their metal componentry is solid silver.
"When you work with silver, you get better sound," Zausmer said.
The speakers get their motivation from three amplifiers. One is a conventional Zapco solid-state unit that powers the woofers. The other two are Milbert vacuum tube units used to actuate the tweeters and midrange speakers.
Vacuum tubes are long obsolete, of course, having been replaced decades ago by transistorized, or solid-state, technology. But they persist in the world of exotic audio electronics, Zausmer says, because they "make a gentler, less harsh sound" than solid-state devices.
The speakers and amps work in tandem with two 10 CD players, one in the trunk, the other under the front seat. The whole system is tied together by a Sony ES control unit.
Since the sound-quality competitions also take installation quality into consideration, Zausmer lavished a lot of attention on detail. Housings and connections were handsomely machined from brass and aluminum. Everything possible was done to make the installation neat, safe, and pleasing.
Zausmer says original ideas, like welding the speakers to the car's front structure, added points to his score at the Dallas finals. So did his extensive efforts to make the installation as discreet as possible.
What also helped Zausmer was his considerable gift for tuning stereo systems. Tuning is the key to winning. It doesn't matter how good yours components are if you can't get them to work together properly.
Says Burton, whose magazine recently featured Zausmer's system: "Earl has a wonderful understanding of how to get what he wants."
Apparently so, because the results are pretty stunning. When he plays music for you in his car, he make it seem as though you are listening in an intimate room -- or a cathedral. And the sound is so natural, pure and precise. I could hear the trumpet player's fingers hitting the valves during one selection.
And the music is so wonderfully focused. It was as if the singers and musicians in the various recordings he played had carved out their own distinct turf on the dashboard.
Unlike some of his fellow competitors, Zausmer doesn't treat his champion like a show car. He doesn't trailer it to the shows and keep it locked up in the garage when he's isn't competing.
"If I have this great system, why shouldn't I listen to it?" he asks.
"I really enjoy listening to it when I'm on the road. And sometimes, when I'm at home, I'll go out in the garage, get in the car, sit back, open a book, and listen to music."
(c) 1995 Knight-Ridder Newspapers. Distributed by Knight-Ridder/Tribune Information Services.