Big bass in a small-car world
Charlie Pastorfield writes about car audio for Crutchfield. Raised in Connecticut and the U.S. Virgin Islands, he graduated from the University of Virginia, but was having way too much fun to leave Charlottesville. After a long, beautiful career touring the East Coast from Boston to Atlanta as a professional guitarist (Skip Castro Band, The Believers), he married Emilie, had two daughters (Morgan and Emma), and got his first full-time job at Crutchfield. Still an extremely active musician, he's now a member of The Gladstones, a 4-piece group that plays just about anything, and Alligator, an 8-piece band that plays late 60's Grateful Dead.
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Gas mileage is a big issue with an ever-increasing number of people. A smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicle is great news for your wallet, but it can really create problems if you like maximum bass in your car. And, fuel efficiency aside, there are some vehicles (Jeep Wrangler, for example) that make it tough for the bass enthusiast just by virtue of their design.
So, how do you get decent bass in one of these problem vehicles without taking up most of your precious cargo space? Two solutions have become increasingly popular in the last few years: vehicle-specific enclosures and shallow-mount subs.
Custom-fit sub enclosures for your car
Vehicle-specific enclosures are molded sub enclosures that are designed to fit into your particular car without taking up much space. The manufacturer looks at each vehicle, finds the best spot for the sub, then creates the molded enclosure that allows you to get strong bass in your car while maintaining a factory look.
JL Audio, for example, makes a Stealthbox® enclosure for the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited that fits up against the passenger-side wheel well, housing a high-performance 13" sub that handles up to 600 watts. MTX has created a ThunderForm enclosure for the Honda Civic that puts a 10" sub up against the wall on the passenger side of the trunk.
Some vehicle-specific enclosures even come with a built-in amp, so you get space-saving, all-in-one bass solution. You'll find these enclosures available for a wide range of vehicles, including some unexpected rides, like the Smart fortwo, Mini Cooper, and Scion xB.
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For bass heads who are handy with tools, the shallow-mount sub opens up a whole new world of possibilities. For instance, Alpine's SWR-T10 10" sub handles up to 600 watts RMS, yet its unusual design keeps its top-mount depth to less than 3-1/4" inches. That means an inventive box builder could construct an enclosure that would house this sub under the rear seat of many compact automobiles, and get monster bass with no loss of cargo area.
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Subs in your car, not in the trunk
Another cool option: you may be able to fit two smaller shallow-mount subs in your rear speaker openings if you're willing to make some small modifications, like cutting a little bit of metal or building some brackets. For example, you might be able to fit 8" subs in the 6-1/2" openings in the rear of your vehicle.
Pioneer's TS-SW841D 8" sub is only a little over 2-1/2" deep, handles up to 120 watts, and works in "free-air" applications, which means it doesn't need an enclosure. You'll have to make a couple of adapters out of wood or plastic that allow the 8" sub to fit into the 6-1/2" hole by lifting it up a little, and you'll want to use a lot of Dynamat on the relatively thin metal around the speaker openings. You won't get the earth-moving low-end boom that you'd get from a couple of 12" subs, but you will get strong, powerful bass and you won't take up any cargo space in your car. If you don't want to modify your 6-1/2" speaker openings, Kicker's CompRT 6-3/4" subwoofer will drop right in most cars; it handles up to 150 watts, it's only 2-3/4" deep, and it's also suitable for free-air use.
One last option for the creative bass addict: Focal offers the Utopia Be® 5" subwoofer for the ultimate in "tight" bass. This unique sub handles 75 watts RMS, and it's only 2-5/8" deep. Imagine a couple of these little giants installed on your rear deck, or in a custom enclosure in your interior.
So, don't worry: you can downsize your vehicle and still satisfy your jones for great bass.