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Spending nearly Rs 55K to get the right audio setup for my VW Polo

I was actually quite satisfied with the stock setup but there was always this feeling in my heart making me wonder how much better it could be.

BHPian vedirah recently shared this with other enthusiasts.

The obsession

Everybody has an obsession in life. No matter how much money or effort you throw at that obsession, you are always left wanting for more. It can be anything. My obsession with audio systems started when I was still a young boy.

We visited one of my dad's friends who had an excellent audio setup at his home. I can't recall what brand speakers they were, but they were floor-standing stereos. At an age when I didn't even know the word orgasm existed, I'm pretty sure I had an audiogasm when I listened to A.R Rahman's Bombay movie soundtrack on his setup.

Later on, my dad would buy me a Chinese MP4 player for a school trip to Rajasthan (the brand name was JXD if anyone wants to know). That trip probably marked the beginning of my obsession with music.

From that point onwards, I have owned a lot of audio gear - probably almost all of the iPods that Apple released, a couple of Sennheiser earphones and headphones, a number of cheap but good Chi-Fi audio gear, and as of today a pair of Sennheiser HD599 headphones for home and a Sony WH-1000XM3 for jogging and the gym. Of course, it goes without saying the countless amps and DACs I have had to go with them (most of them Chi-Fi, I love cheap and good Chi-Fi products). I also have a lovely pair of active bookshelf speakers by Edifier at home - they make some seriously good budget systems.

In 2009 my dad purchased a Tata Indica Xeta and installed an aftermarket Pioneer head unit paired with 6x9 JBL coaxials. That was not the best audio setup I had known, but it was pretty good for what he paid. On every trip we had, I'd find myself constantly fiddling with the parametric equalizer and making sure each song I played was rendered perfectly to my ears. I begged him to go bonkers with the audio system - maybe install some subs in the trunk and go for components up front. But my sane-minded father wouldn't budge. So I waited until I bought my own car some 15 years later, which is a 2022 model VW Polo TSI Highline Plus.

As with everything, my taste in music changed as I grew up. I used to like very forward and in-your-face soundstage as a teenager, but now I prefer a laid-back, smooth, expansive soundstage and a neutral frequency response with a natural timbre. As an audiophile, my mantra is to look for the most you can get at the cheapest you have to shell. I don't believe that expensive = better. In most cases, yes it is true. But there are always exceptions. And audio is an area where the law of diminishing returns is very pronounced.

The itch

I was actually quite satisfied with the stock setup on the Polo, but there was always this feeling in my heart making me wonder how much better this setup could be. I held myself back due to fears of the warranty getting cancelled - until I couldn't anymore. So after just six months of ownership, I decided its time to spice up my car audio system. The itch for better audio was just becoming unbearable! My first purchase was a Sony XS-AW8 under-seat subwoofer.

Now, I know what you are probably thinking - which audiophile in his right mind would go for Sony audio gear?! But hear me out.

I liked the stock audio system as is, I just wanted a little more bass. I like my music very neutral. I dislike the ground-shattering, earthquake-inducing, bum-vibrating loud and boomy ostentatious bass from the trunk that is many teenage boys' wet dream about car audio (guilty as charged myself). I searched a lot for under-seat subwoofers within my budget of Rs. 17,000 but couldn't find many options. So, Sony it was. Ordered it from Amazon for ~Rs.15,000. The day it arrived, I took my car to a local installer and got it installed.

The subwoofer itself is made of extremely high-quality construction. The Aluminium unibody feels tough and purposeful in your hands. Silver garnish surrounding the speaker grille is of top quality. The gain controller also exudes class. A picture for reference:

Look at how beautiful this piece is. It's such a shame that this thing of beauty would be out-of-sight under the seat!

Made out of paper, the 8" subwoofer driver is quite efficient for a 75W RMS system. It has a low-pass filter with a cut-off frequency of 150Hz. I loved how this sub paired with the stock speakers - the bass was just about right, thumping but not explosive, and the mids and highs were pretty good by stock audio standards. What I really like about this product is that it comes with high-level input. Meaning your HU doesn't have to have pre-outs. You can directly tap the speaker signals and send them to the sub. Notice the high-level input socket in the picture:

The gain controller neatly integrated into the dash.

The impulse

I was satisfied - well, almost satisfied. You know how they say marijuana is a gateway drug? I think my gateway drug to car audio was this subwoofer. It did not help how my installer almost convinced me to purchase a pair of Infinity components while his crew was working on installing the sub. But I did not budge.

I told him I'm not gonna spend a lot on my car audio because I believe the acoustics of a car make it an inherently bad place for listening to music. He obviously disagreed and told me I should at least give the Infinity Reference set he had a try. As you will see later, he was a good salesman. Just not a good installer. On my way back home I was happy with the output of the subwoofer. I told myself - this is it, this is the end game. No more wasting money on car audio.

A couple of days later, I involuntarily started googling about the Infinity Reference components that he suggested. I don't know why, but we audiophiles always have this craving for more. I told myself that I'm just googling, I will not go ahead with the purchase anyway. The googling turned into comparing different speakers and that somehow turned into deciding on the Infinity Reference component setup. Please don't ask me how I got there! It just happened.

Just a week after getting the subwoofer installed and swearing to myself that it was the end, I gave a call to the installer again. How impulsive am I really? You'll see. This time it was to enquire about the component speakers he would recommend. He recommended two sets - the Infinity Primus PR6510CSHI, and the Infinity Reference 6530CXF. Based on what I read online about the Reference set I made my mind up. I fixed an appointment with him for the weekend to install the Infinity Reference 6530CXF component speakers on the front.

Initially, I was two minds about adding an amp because I read online that these speakers are very sensitive and can be powered by the HU itself. But after a discussion with him, I agreed to add a 2-channel amp. This would be the JBL Concert A652. What a great salesman! Turned my one-time subwoofer installation into a component + amp purchase and installation! I would soon come to regret my impulsive decision, but more on that later.

He quoted me Rs. 9000 for the speakers, and Rs. 7500 for the amp, Rs. 1000 for the high-low converter, and Rs. 2000 for the amp wiring kit. In addition, he sold me on damping the front doors for Rs. 2000. Total damage = Rs. 21,500.

Before we get into the disaster that this installation turned out to be, let's get something out of the way - what am I looking for from this install? My requirement was quite rudimentary. I just wanted Frank Sinatra to sit on the dash and sing for me when I play my favorite song of his - "Fly me to the moon". I want the guitars to be played just outside the car, I just want the whole orchestra to be present around me. When I play Novocaine by Amber Rubarth, I want her to speak to me as if she were so close to my ears. I want the speakers to disappear and the instruments to sound as natural as they can, and the vocals be crisp. Is that too much to ask for? Well, I guess so - at least with the budget I had. But I was willing to settle for a little less than this.

Before the installation began, I was very explicit and clear when I told the installer that I don't want any factory wiring to be tampered with. I know how VAG cars are controlled by the BCM, and if anything happens to the wiring the computer goes berserk!

While the boys were working on the install, he engaged me in long conversations, tea sutta breaks and told me about all the great installs he has done in the past. It was all very reassuring to know. What I expected was that he would have connector plugs designed for VAG cars which he could use as plug-and-play. But as I would soon find out, his crew had tapped into some factory wiring behind the HU without informing me first.

It was okay that they had to do that, but they did not even use proper T-tap connectors to do the job - they simply stripped the factory wiring and twisted the new wires around the exposed wires! Amateurs. They just twisted wires together wherever they could - at no place did they use even a single spade connector to connect the speakers! The amp power cable was not terminated in a ring terminal - it was merely stripped and screwed down on the receiver end. I was very disappointed with this. But what's done is done, I said to myself. At least I get to have good music in the end.

The install after everything was done and dusted:

Look at the tweeter placement on the sail panel:

The bare wire connection to the tweeters and the woofer:

The chagrin

I had reason to feel insulted at this point. For everything that the installer promised me, he couldn't live up to his own standards. I was thoroughly disappointed with the way the installation was carried out. The installer, however, had a smile on his face when he invited me to sit inside the car to listen to the new setup. How did it sound?

Well, to be frank, I wasn't wow-ed. I anticipated mind-blowing sound for all the hype he had created around these speakers. These aren't bad speakers per se, but just not the speakers for me. For the mainstream crowd, these are excellent speakers with a nice V-shaped sound signature, sharp highs and a good amount of bass. These have the trademark JBL/Infinity sound signature. Very forward in-your-face sound signature. Imaging is spot on, but the soundstage could have been more expansive.

Over the next week, I really tried to love these speakers. I fiddled with the tuning and played different kinds of songs to bring out the best from these speakers. They sounded the best on modern pop songs with high dynamic compression. But the kind of songs I listen to, this wasn't the best for that. I genuinely wanted to like these. I even made a Bangalore-Chennai-Pondi-Bangalore trip just to give these speakers a chance to grow on me. This trip cemented my impression of these speakers.

I found that I'm quite sensitive to certain sounds in the high-frequency range that the tweeters seem to amplify. The cross-over frequency is quite high and that makes the tweeters quite bright. Continuous hearing caused too much fatigue on the way back. Everyone else who travelled with me went ga-ga over the sound, but I just didn't get it. These were just not for me. My biggest mistake was relying on online reviews and not auditioning these speakers before jumping the gun. I would repeat this mistake again soon, but this time I'd get lucky.

The impulse - part 2

So after living with these speakers for about three weeks, the itch started again. I asked myself, why should I have to live with something I'm not happy with after spending money on it? Do I just want to punish myself? Was there a way out now, or am I being stupid? Anyway, the electrical warranty is now gone, so what's the harm? Enter round two of googling and zeroing on another set of speakers - the Morel Maximo Ultra 602 MKII.

Found these on sale on www.motorogue.in for Rs. 16,990. Until I pressed the buy button, I was holding myself back. I begged myself to live with the Infinity speakers for at least six months before deciding something so rashly. Yes, I know I was being stupid, but again hear me out.

I know I was making the mistake of not auditioning the speakers again, but this time I was a bit more confident in my choice. As per most of the reviews online, these are the kind of speakers I would love. Besides, this time I decided to procure all the required tools and do the installation myself - this would give me a chance to undo some of the mistakes previously made. And hence, another impulsive decision was made.

The tools I would require to do the job properly:

  • Wire stripper/crimping tool
  • Spade terminals (AWG 22-16)
  • Forked spade terminals for the Amp
  • A cutting plier
  • A drilling machine (for flush mounting of tweeters)
  • A hole saw
  • T30 Torx Screwdriver
  • Plastic prying tools
  • 3M scotch double-sided tape for the crossovers

MotoRogue delivered the speakers via Delhivery and it was super fast. I received the new set of speakers just four days from the date the order was confirmed. Welcome home, new speakers!

The packaging was amazing, to say the least. Very thoughtful:

Check out the factory-provided spade connectors and screws:

The tweeter mounting options. There is an option to flush mount the tweeters if you so wish. Else, you can opt for mounting on the dashboard or do a surface mount. The mounts are nicely angled so that the sound is dispersed in the right direction:

The diaphragm is made out of treated paper material. I've always been a fan of paper as a speaker material - it has excellent internal damping, and if treated properly it can be quite stiff:

The speaker is rated at 100W RMS, a bump of 10W from the original Ultras:

The crossovers are small and look good:

Check out the large diameter voice coil (1") in the woofer. For the same overall diameter of the diaphragm, the larger the voice coil dia is, the smaller the effective radial length of the diaphragm, which means higher stiffness of the diaphragm and hence better control of its movement. Simple but ingenious, isn't it? Morel calls this the EVC (External Voice Coil) technology:

Morel also uses something called DMM technology. What they say is that they use two magnets - one in between the top pole plate and the bottom pole plate which acts as the primary magnet. The other sits above the top pole plate. I'm guessing this additional magnet reduces the distortion due to non-linearity at the extreme positions of the voice coil. Very clever. I'm sure it sounds simple in theory but to build an actual speaker design around these concepts requires a lot of R&D. So far, I'm impressed. I love it when companies spend a lot of money on solving real-world problems like improving speaker quality.

The installation took three hours in total. I'm not gonna bore you with all the details about the installation. While removing the front driver-side door trim, I broke the ORVM switch! The mirror controls are now not working. Need to source this part from somewhere, help! PN: 6RF959565C.

Remember how I said I would flush mount the tweeters? Well, I changed my mind. The reason was that flush mounting the tweeters would leave them off-axis. However, the surface mount pods that came with the speakers make the tweeters a little angled towards you. This makes them more on-axis. I utilized one of the two existing holes from the sail panel to install these.

For the right side, however, I was forced to use 3M tape to mount the speakers. This was because the screws provided with the speakers were too long and would foul with the door. For the left side, I used the screws from infinity, but on the right side, the hole was too big for the screws. While installing the woofers I found that the magnet fouls with the beam inside the door. I used the spacers that Morel provided to solve this issue.

Take a look at the tweeter mounting on the sail panel:

The woofer properly connected using crimp connectors. I forgot to put the sleeve on the negative:

Crossover mounted using 3M mirror tape. I couldn't get a hold of the VHB tape:

The Redux

So let's get straight to the point. What is my impression of the Morel Maximo Ultra 602 MKII? Let me first dispel some myths about these speakers:

  • They're warm: No, they are bright. In a good way. If these are warm, then my Edifiers at home are almost veiled. Warm is the wrong word to describe them. Yes, they have a good amount of mid-bass which makes them perceivably warm. But they are bright.
  • They have good bass: They don't. These speakers can't be used without a subwoofer. Period.
  • They are laid-back: Well, I'd agree partially. They have more depth in the soundstage than other speakers, but they aren't exactly laid-back.

You already know my high expectations from audio, so it's understandable that I'm usually easily disappointed. I was with the Infinity set the moment I heard them. But that was not the case here! My first thought was, wow, these are bright! I guess I was expecting an almost veiled presentation, but that's not the case here. Bright is bad? Not really. These are bright in a good way.

To put it into perspective, I'd say it feels like the tweeters are more freely-moving than the ones in the Infinity set. They sound open, tight and accurate. Vocals are very very crisp. Did Frank Sinatra sit on the dash and sing for me? No, that did not happen. But the voice was convincingly more natural than the Infinity speakers. Even the instruments sounded more natural. The tweeters have a well-defined sweet spot, maybe that's because they aren't off-axis. They resolve very well, far better than the infinity tweeters.

One main difference between these and the Infinity set is that with the Infinity the tweeters and the woofers sound like distinctly different sources, not in tune. But with the Morels everything is cohesive and sounds like it is coming from one source.

Some quick observations I made

  • Frank Sinatra - Fly me to the moon: His voice is very crisp and beautifully rendered. The strings sound very natural. Soundstage is intimate, however, imaging is accurate.
  • Madonna - La Isla Bonita: You can hear each instrument - the separation is wonderful.
  • A R Rahman - New York Nagaram: This is where these speakers truly shined. The guitar strumming sounds incredibly detailed! And A R Rahman's voice in the sweet spot was absolutely gorgeous.
  • The Doors - People are strange: Excellent imaging for a car speaker.
  • Linkin Park - My December: Chester Bennington's voice, my god! And these speakers absolutely do justice to his legacy.

To be honest, there were a couple more observations which I forgot. But if I have to put it succinctly, I'd say the Morels sound neutral-bright, with very slightly recessed upper mids. Soundstage has a lot of depth, but width is not the strength of these speakers. Highs are sharp but not harsh. And most importantly, they aren't fatiguing to listen to. Am I happy with this upgrade? You bet I am!

So that's the story of how I ended up with the Morel Maximo Ultra 602 MKII component speakers. I'm very happy with how they turned out. But this is the time to promise myself that this is the end, no more spending on car audio! Yes, this is really the end, trust me. I'm not going to come back here in a couple of weeks and tell you about how I upgraded my speakers again. Or will I? Let's see! After all, an audiophile is never satisfied!

Proudly displaying the Morel badge, because the speakers are actually good:

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