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Discussion Starter #1
I was doing a search this morning, and came across a number of threads in the past year regarding the external amplifier used in the Premium Audio bikes, and found a lot of misinformation, most of it created by Honda and their marketing, and a lot of unanswered questions. I thought it was finally time to straighten out some of the confusion because as more and more of these bikes get out of warranty, owners are now looking at improving it.

The first thing that needs to be straightened out is the power output claims by Honda. Honda claims that the output is 80 watts per channel, and you have to understand right off the bat that this number is about as far from real life audio power output as it can get. I need to get a little technical here, but I will keep it in plain English as much as possible. This post is unfortunately long, but if you really want to understand this problem and not waste money, it will be worth reading.

There are many ways to measure power output. Some of these methods tell you a lot about the real performance of the amplifier, and some of them are completely meaningless. 20-30 years ago, when mfr's acted responsibly, power outputs were measured as a continuous power output, and they advertised the entire audible frequency range and distortion level that the advertised power level was achieved at. The measurement was also done with all channels driven at the same time. This is by far the most reliable and useful measurement to gauge power output.

Manufacturers of cheaper products cheated on this spec, by using a specific frequency, such as 1Khz, and measured the power output at a higher, unlistenable distortion level, such as 10%. This inflated the power levels and made the equipment appear to be more powerful, but at least they gave the full specifications. Using a single frequency usually doesn't affect the power output that much unless the amp has a serious performance problem, but the measurment at high distortion makes a huge difference in the measured output level, sometimes 2-3 times higher than it should be. You could still get some sort of useful information from it, but it really wasn't a true representation of the amplifier's power capability. You also could not use this spec to compare against an amp that was measured properly. It's like comparing a car to a boat.

We then started to see amps with most of the specs completely, or mostly missing. The product got nothing more than a power rating. This is what Honda gave us, and it doesn't say anything. It is just a number, nothing more.

As time went by, and amplifier designs became more efficient, the requirement saying that power output had to be rated as a continuous level was dropped, because a true audio signal is not a continuous power level. Amplifiers that could put out high power for short durations but would sag quickly were unfairly discriminated against. The reason behind the change is that for an amplifier to put out high continuous power output, it required a heavy, beefy power supply that could supply a large amount of continuous current without having the voltage sag. Power supplies like this were getting very expensive to manufacture, and were deemed as unnecessary for high fidelity sound. As a result, the term peak audio power became a common spec to be advertised, and it was sort of legitimate, to an extent. But that change opened the door for some serious abuse.

Fast forward to today, and all but the highest quality manufacturers pretty much ignore EIA recommendations now for power output ratings. (power output rating methods are industry recommendations, not legally binding.) Even high quality mfrs sometimes ignore the ratings system for their cheaper products.

Car audio (and motorcycle audio), is by far the most abused category of audio equipment, and nobody abuses it more than the vehicle manufacturers when marketing the OEM audio that is installed in our vehicles from the factory.

How do they get away with this? Well, they are usually not technically lying. They are just not telling you everything. You can make even a cheap amplifier put out some crazy numbers if you cheat, and then don't tell the buyer how you achieved the number, and unfortunately that cheating and lack of information renders the numbers meaningless.

The laws of physics say that it is impossible to get more than 22 watts of true audio power into a 4 ohm load from a 12 volt power supply at the amps rated distortion. That fact is not open to debate. You can't break the laws of physics. (The Wing uses 3 ohm speakers, which artificially inflates the output level a little bit.) Manufacturers of high quality amplifiers get around this limitation by using what is called a DC to DC converter, also referred to as a switching power supply. This power supply can boost voltage levels to whatever the mfr wants. They usually supply plus and minus voltages. I have worked on amps as high +/- 75 volts DC coming out of these supplies in very expensive amps. That is 150 volts DC rail to rail. You can just imagine that if the power supply could supply enough current, an amplifier like this would be capable of massive power output, all from a 12 volt battery. But the amp would also be extremely large and require very large heat sinks. Most affordable high quality power amps have power supplies in the +/-30VDC range.

Explaining the specifics about the 2006-2010 GL1800 amplifier

Does this mean that the Goldwing amp has a switching power supply? You would think so, but it does not. The amplifiers in the Premium Audio amp are fed straight 12 volts.

So how does Honda get away with claiming 80 watts? Are they lying? I want to say yes, but I can't. It is in my opionion however that it is blatant false advertising. I think that any advertising that misleads the customer is false advertising. But like other manufacturers that do the same thing, Panasonic, the manufacturer of the amp, can actually back up their claim, because of what they don't tell you. That means that it would be very difficult to get them to stop this practice. You will understand this better as you keep reading.

Panasonic gets around the problem of adding an expensive switching power supply by using a conventional amplifier with an added circuit that is made by Philips. Each of the four amplifiers has a large storage capacitor attached to it. The circuit operates as sort of a voltage booster . When the cap charges up, the charge on the capacitor adds the the 12 volts supplied by the battery. This enables the amp to put out a power output that exceeds the 22 watt limitation of a 12 volt system.

On the surface, this seems like a genius, inexpensive alternative, but it has a problem. Unlike a true high voltage power supply, a capacitor drains quickly, and can only supply that higher voltage for a very short amount of time. It only takes milliseconds to drain off that extra voltage. Panasonic gets that high power rating by driving the speakers with a high output pulse, not an audio signal. And even with that, they still have to drive the amplifier badly into distortion, creating a high energy square wave to reach the 80 watt level. Even with that, they can only meet that 80 watts by driving one channel at a time. This method avoids false advertising claims, but actually actually has very little to do with the amplifier's capabilities to reproduce a real audio signal. The capacitor cannot recharge quickly enough to supply the rapid power demands of an audio signal at high volume levels.

The bottom line is that, while the external amp used in the 06-10 radios is indeed capable of slightly higher power levels than the 01-05 bikes, its true impact is very slight, and not nearly as much of an improvement as it seems on the surface. The boost circuit does help somewhat, and is a pretty novel idea. But in my opinion, the improvement over a radio's on board amplifier is not worth the extra cost and the space that it takes up. This is probably why that Philips amplifier IC is so rare, and not used by many audio manufactures. It just doesn't give enough improvement to be worth the hassle.

That leads us to the big question. Why do the Premium Audio bikes sound better than the older bikes? The answer is actually very simple. The 01-05 bikes use 4 1/2 inch speakers, and the 06-10 bikes use 6 1/2 inch speakers. This seemingly minor change has a far greater impact on sound quality than you can imagine. The larger speakers allow much more air to be pushed by the speakers, allowing much deeper bass, and much higher volume. I have done demos for my customers on their upgraded 01-05 radios with the $100 6 1/2" Polk bookshelf speakers on my bench, and the sound quality and volume always blows their minds.

I have not had time to do an actual accurate power measurement spec on the amp yet. Setting up the distortion analyzer and calibrating it takes time. But in just informal testing with my scope, dummy loads, and a calculator, the amp does not put out much more than about 25 watts with an unclipped true audio signal, driving only one channel. That is only a few watts more than what one of my upgraded 01-05 radios put out.

To tell you the truth, I don't blame Honda. I think they were snookered by Panasonic with a slick sell. If you could shoehorn 6 1/2" speakers into an earlier bike, (with my upgrade of course),
, the sound would be nearly indistinguishable between the two bikes.

The external amp really causes a problem for those that want to add an aftermarket amp. The OEM amp has to be removed if you want to do the install properly, and the layout of the harness and location of the amp pretty much means cutting up the factory wiring. Once you start, there is no going back, so be really certain you want to go this route before ordering that new power amp.

I hope this clears up some of the confusion.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Larry, a great explanation. Simple question for you. Can the amplifier be eliminated if one just uses headsets?
The external amplifier does not affect the headsets in any way. You could completely remove the external amp from the bike and all headset functions would still operate properly. You would only lose the external speakers.

In fact, even the radio is unusual in that, instead of just tapping off of the internal power amp like most radios do for headphones, the Goldwing radio has its own dedicated headset amplifier. Our radio actually has to be this way because of all the various audio sources we have. If the radio did not have a separate dedicated headset amp, you would not be able to listen to music on your external speakers and communicate with a passenger over the intercom at the same time.

All motorcycle radios that have built in intercoms work this way.
 

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Larry, thanks for the detailed explanation. That explains a lot. I had a 2001 that I had put larger speakers in. I thought the sound was quite good. About that time (this was several years ago) you started offering the service to change out one of the "chips" in these older radios with a better one. I thought, wow, this will make the sound even better! I dropped off my radio at your home (I live about 45 miles from you), but it turned out my radio already had the better "chip" (you did not even charge anything for checking it - thanks!).

I eventually sold the 2001 and bought a 2010. What I found is exactly what you explained in your post - the 2010 sound is as good as my 2001, but I would not say it is much better. I was a little disappointed because I thought the 2010 sound would be a LOT better. I always wondered why since the 2006-2010s have the supposedly "high powered" amplifier. Now I know why. Thanks again for the great explanation :cool:
 

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Pre-amp

Just some observations.

I put a preamp (from Electronic Connections) between my XM receiver and the Mother Honda radio, and that way, you can probably hear the bike a couple blocks away.

If I set the radio on a good high quality station, then turn on the XM thru AUX and get the XM to a nice volume for city riding with a full face helmet. Now, without touching the volume control switch back to the normal FM radio, I can only hear it if the bike is not running and I do not have a helmet on, and it is quite quiet at that.

With the current set-up, you cannot add (without internal modification) a pre-amp to the AM/FM radio, but if you are using XM or MP3, the radio will go up much much louder than you would ever want.
 

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Larry, thanks for the detailed explanation. That explains a lot. I had a 2001 that I had put larger speakers in. I thought the sound was quite good. About that time (this was several years ago) you started offering the service to change out one of the "chips" in these older radios with a better one. I thought, wow, this will make the sound even better! I dropped off my radio at your home (I live about 45 miles from you), but it turned out my radio already had the better "chip" (you did not even charge anything for checking it - thanks!).

I eventually sold the 2001 and bought a 2010. What I found is exactly what you explained in your post - the 2010 sound is as good as my 2001, but I would not say it is much better. I was a little disappointed because I thought the 2010 sound would be a LOT better. I always wondered why since the 2006-2010s have the supposedly "high powered" amplifier. Now I know why. Thanks again for the great explanation :cool:

To me, there is no comparison of the sound between my 2010 and my 05 or 03. The 10 is greatly improved over either of them.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
To me, there is no comparison of the sound between my 2010 and my 05 or 03. The 10 is greatly improved over either of them.
There is no doubt that when you compare two stock bikes of each vintage that the 06-10 bikes sound much better. Part of the problem with the early bikes is the crappy stock internal amplifier, but the larger front speakers in the later bikes is by far the biggest reason for the improvement. That is what I was trying to point out in my post.

You can narrow the gap significantly without adding an external amp to the early bikes. But unless you can figure out how to fit larger speakers in them, the early bikes can't match a later one, no matter how big of an amp you put in the trunk.
 

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Larry - i have 05 - why is sound 10 x better if i play music thru i 5 on aux setting ! Same speakers . The phone is that much better than hondas sound system ? Have to have set on 20 for radio but 9/10 for phone . Sound is really clear even on loud going going down freeway.
 

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Larry,
I must respectfully disagree with portions of your post. An amplifier can very easily be added to the '06 and newer bikes without any cutting or splicing. I did it a year ago and the audio system now is incredible. Here is a repost from a previous thread where I explained what I used and how I did it...


I have and 06 wing and always wanted more out of the stereo. I tried upgrading speakers to the 6.5 inch polks up front but actually found lower volume levels with them ( but a little better quality at mid volume).

Last winter I added this amp from Arc audio at the advice from a friend who installs audio for a living.


http://www.arcaudio.com/p/ks-125-2-b..._ks-mini?pp=24

It's a nice small unit that sits on top of my cb in the cubby hole, it has its own fan, and I've not had a single problem with it including riding around the desert for a few weeks this July including death valley at 120°. I hooked the two left speaks up together and the two right speakers up together which I was told doubles the output of the amp. I don't know if that is true, but my radio is at least 50% louder now and maintains crisp sound at really high volume ! I couldn't be happier with the sound from just the addition of an amp...... and no cutting any factory wires !

On a side note, I tried installing the 6.5" Polks after I installed the amp thinking they were rated for more power so they would preform better. I had the same result with them as before the amp install. They sounded a little better quality at lower volume, but if I turned it up at the Polks distorted, and the stock speakers sounded much better. I am currently running the stock speakers with just the addition of the amp, and at 75mph, my Dad can hear my radio when following me down the highway if my volume is at #6....... it's like a rock concert at #18.


Kurt
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Larry - i have 05 - why is sound 10 x better if i play music thru i 5 on aux setting ! Same speakers . The phone is that much better than hondas sound system ? Have to have set on 20 for radio but 9/10 for phone . Sound is really clear even on loud going going down freeway.
When you play your I-phone through the aux input, you ARE using the Honda sound system. The audio passes through the exact same ciruits that the tuner output passes through. A sound system can never sound better than its weakest link. If your I-phone sounds good, then you are getting more of the radio's potential with it.

The reason that your I-phone sounds louder is that you are playing through the headset output, which is capable of levels that are much higher than a standard pre-amp input level. Volume control setting is not an indicator of sound quality. It is an arbitrary setting. Turn the volume down on your I-phone and you will need a higher volume setting on the radio, but the sound quality will be the same. I can plug in my Razr, my Zumo, or my I-pod to that aux input, or the Honda CD changer, or one of the CD input mp3 players and match the sound quality that you are getting.

There are actually two reasons why the I-phone sounds better

1. The I-phone will naturally have sound quality that is better than the tuner because the analog FM format itself is a low fidelity signal by today's standards. It sounds bad on all stereos by comparison to a high quality digital recording. Even though the tuner in the Wing radio is not very sensitive, its sound quality is not caused by the radio's electronics. It's just the nature of the beast.

2. It is a proven psychoacoustic phenomenon that listeners will always pick the higher volume music as better sounding when doing an A/B comparison, even if the two signals are identical. While you may be able to play your music louder at a lower volume, all that means is that the power amp will reach its clipping point, (maximum power), at a lower volume setting than the radio. Both the tuner audio and I-phone audio will clip and distort the power amp at the same volume level, even though the volume settings will be different.

I have to qualify those statements by letting you in on a little secret about this radio. OEM mfrs often do little tricks that they would never get away with in the aftermarket. They can do it because the radio is designed for a specific application. At volume settings from 1-23, our radio's frequency response is not flat. It has a 3db boost at the low and high frequencies. Audio enthusiasts will know this as a loudness compensation switch on their home stereo systems. The only difference is that you can't turn it off. This compensation is enabled in order to give some help to the small 4 1/2" speakers that come on this bike from the factory, and make up for its lack of a tweeter.

Once you reach a setting of 24, the microprocessor is programmed to automatically dial back the loudness compensation and flatten out the frequency response. They do this so that the amplifier doesn't clip as easily as it reaches full power. This hurts sound, but increases reliability and lowers warranty claims. Personally, this is one thing I hate about the radio.

Because of this "feature", your I-phone has a much fuller sound at all volumes you listen to, because you will never hit a setting of 24, while the tuner can easily reach 24 and beyond, making it sound a little thinner, with less impact at high volumes. What this amounts to is that your I-phone gets a built in advantage at high volumes over the tuner because it is taking advantage of the built in bass and treble boost.

This is why whenever I do one of my mods, I do another little modification that I don't advertise. I modify the tuner's signal level to give it higher output into the radio's pre-amp. The tuner's output does not meet EIA standards for low level output from the factory. The higher signal level that I give the tuner helps to avoid that magic volume level setting of 24. It amounts to a difference of about 2 numbers on the volume setting, which is actually quite a bit. I could go more, but I don't want to get carried away with it.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Kurt, I'm really glad that you are happy with your solution, and I don't want to undermine it, because all that matters is that when done, you got exactly what you were looking for, and that is all that matters. I can't comment on your setup because I don't know where you got your input signal from for the new power amp. I would never add a new amp without removing the factory external amp, and can't see how you could avoid cutting unless you used something like posi-taps on the existing wiring.

Every installer has their own unique styles. Maybe I should not have used the word "can't" in my post. :lol:
 

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Larry,

No problem at all. I do respect your opinion on this stuff.....you are definitely more wise about the audio stuff than I am. I can only comment on what I hear from the finished product (which I think is what most members here are curious about....). My bike is parked next to a factory 03, factory 07, and another 03 with the same amp as mine and the largest speakers that can fit in the framework ( he did much cutting, heating and bending of his speaker boxes). I also ride with a bike that has the radio mod done. There is absolutely no comparison between my audio and the others for quality and volume.

I wired the amp by running four wires from each speaker box to the amp in the trunk. Two wires to the amp coming from the factory wires that went to the speaker using spade connectors, and then the other two from the amp that I connected back to the speaker. The finished product is really nice. The quality is at least as good as before putting in the amp, and it maintains that quality to volume levels way higher than the factory setup could handle. I liked installing the amp this way because at any time if there was a problem I could simply pop the speaker cover off, disconnect the factory wires from the ones I added, plug them back into the speaker and I would be right back to the factory setup with no harm done !

Kurt
 

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My 10 sounds much better than my 05. What you really need is a easy add on amp for the 06-10's
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Trust me Mike. I'm not questioning what you are hearing. I hope I didn't phrase my post wrong.

I am no longer obsessed with audio like I used to be. I am more practical and accepting today. (The obsession got too expensive. :lol:) But I do still follow what is referred to as "best practices". In my case, I have to since I do it for a living. For example, running the headphone output of an Ipod or cell phone is not a best practice when it comes to coupling those devices to the aux input, but we all do it anyway, because it works, and it's simple, and it sounds pretty darned good, even if sound quality does suffer a little bit. So allow me to explain why tapping into the external amp is also not a best practice. And when I say that, it doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't do it. It just isn't ideal, even though it might be the more practical solution.

Your audio signal is essentially now going through 3 sets of power amps. The radio does not have pre-amp outputs, only a speaker level power amp output. (which is a non-ideal setup right from the factory.) That power amp output is sent to the external amp. The signal is lowered to a level the external amp can handle, and is then re-amplified to a higher level. That output then gets sent to your aftermarket amp, gets lowered in volume again, and re-amplified yet again to an even higher level before being sent to the speakers.

All amplifiers create some level of distortion, whether they are power amps or pre-amps, and all amplifiers create some amount of noise. It doesn't matter how high quality they are. And the more you amplify a signal, the worse it gets. That real life fact means that ideally, you want the least amount of amplifier stages possible in your signal path in order to keep distortion and noise to the lowest levels possible. It's bad enough that Panasonic is redundantly driving a power amp with a power amp, (like a 70's style power booster), but you are driving a power amp with a power amp that is being driven by a power amp. Can you see the potential for loss of audio fidelity here?

The reason your setup may be perfectly fine in this case is that we have so much environmental noise to deal with that minor imperfections may be pushed to the background, making it difficult to perceive even by someone with a great ear for sound.

Either way, you have tried it and I haven't. And you have found that it works just fine. You turned my "can't do" statement into an "I did it" installation. You can't beat that. :thumbup:
 

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Question for Larry

Larry, thanks for the tech talk on the 06-10's. I speak the language. I am looking for better sound for music from my 2008 premium audio.
There seems to be limited information on this topic for the 06-10's. I am considering a speaker change to the Polk 651's. What is your opinion?
I realize the pre 06's are your main focus, but I'm hoping you have some advice on the Polk's.
I have the "knack" so the install details don't worry me. Also, if you think the change is worth it, should the tweeters be reconnected?
I don't consider the J&M replacements to be enough bang for the buck.
Thank you in advance for your thoughts.
Straight Arrow
 

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A lot of people like the sound of the db651. But a number of people do say that they are quieter. The OEM speaker must be a very efficient speaker for that to be true, because the 651 is pretty efficient. I can't give an opinion on the sound quality however. I have not heard them. I only know that they fit all the 06-10 models except the base Canadian model.

I have some thoughts on external amp replacements, but it will have to wait until tomorrow.
 

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IronMan
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Radio- i 5

Larry thank you for your responce .made it "sound good " ;);) john
 

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Straight Arrow,
I forgot to answer the second part of your post about the db651.

There is no definitive right or wrong with regards to the OEM tweeter that is left over when you replace your speakers. The correct solution is always the one that makes the system sound best to the person who will be listening to it.

A speaker like the Polk db651 is coaxial. It has its own tweeter, and Polk designed the speaker to have as smooth a frequency response as possible as a standalone speaker. But some people prefer accentuated high frequencies, so there is technically no reason why you can't tie the OEM tweeter to the Polks to give it a high frequency boost. I would recommend however, that you try it first without the extra tweeter so that you can evaluate the speaker by itself.

You have to be very careful that you don't hook that tweeter up out of phase with the Polk tweeter however. Most people who have hooked up speakers have heard what woofers sound like when they are out of phase. Bass gets cancelled out, and you end up with less bass than if just one speaker were hooked up. It is easy to recognize that you did something wrong when it comes to hooking up a woofer. High frequency phase distortion acts quite a bit differently. The highs don't cancel. They become shrill and poorly defined. It is very hard to identify high frequency phase distortion because it sounds very similar to harmonic distortion. Even I have a hard time identifying it, and I have been doing this a long time. Some serious audiophiles with well trained ears can identify the source of the distortion easily, but they are a rarity.

I tend to lean towards the KISS theory on this one. The marginal benefit that the tweeter MIGHT give doesn't justify the possible headaches it can cause. It may not even sound good even if hooked up correctly.
 

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Thanks Larry

:thumbup:



Kurt
 
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