One of the best ways to know you’re dealing with a reputable mobile enhancement retailer is to see whether they have a demo vehicle. Sometimes these cars and trucks have simple upgrades that are completely undetectable when you look at the interior and cargo area. Occasionally the enhancements are designed to attract attention at car shows or cruise nights. Either way, they’re powerful tools to demonstrate the company’s capabilities. Every reputable car stereo shop in the country should have a demo vehicle.
Pinnacle Autosound in Lake City, Florida, is owned by JOey Knapp and managed by Brian Knagge. Together, these guys continuously provide clients in Columbia County, Jacksonville, Gainesville and Tallahassee with audio system and technology upgrades for cars, trucks and boats that belie their laid-back demeanor. We had intended to do a profile on JOey’s Honda Civic demo vehicle, but when we finally got around to asking for information, we found out he’d replaced it with a Navarra Blue Metallic 2022 Audi Q3 in S-Line Premium Plus trim. The Audi received the Pinnacle treatment, and as you’ll see, it’s one of the most perfect examples of modern audio system upgrades on the road. Trust us when we say we don’t easily give away praise like that.
System Design and Planning
The guys had two goals for the Audi Q3: First, the project had to demonstrate what a reference-grade car audio system should sound like. Secondly, it needed to show clients the fantastic audio system design, fabrication and integration skills that Pinnacle Autosound offers.
The project started with some basic vehicle disassembly and test fitting. JOey wanted the vehicle’s interior to look untouched after he’d finished the project. As such, he planned on using the factory speaker locations and upgrading them with Morel speakers and custom mounting solutions. The cargo area needed to remain functional, so he designed the amp rack to be separate from the subwoofer enclosure so the latter could be removed for road trips.
JOey drew the amp rack in Fusion 360, then exported the information in G-code so the shop’s CNC plasma cutter could do the hard work. Likewise, he drew the multilayer trim panel for the trunk in a software package called Lightburn, which can directly control a CNC laser cutter. The days of table saws and router lifts are fading quickly: They also have a CNC router and will invest in a 3D printer shortly to round out their modern fabrication tools.
Audi Q3 Speaker Upgrades
Let’s start at the front of the vehicle. The first upgrade was to replace the stock speakers in the dash with a set of Morel Elate Carbon MM3 3.5-inch midrange drivers. These speakers feature a cone and dust cap design that uses two layers of carbon fiber sandwiched over a Rohacell foam core. The result is a rigid, low-mass cone design with excellent damping characteristics. The motor assembly uses a neodymium magnet and Morel’s EVC geometry to improve performance. The driver can play impressively low, so resonance isn’t an issue. JOey had to modify the speakers slightly by machining down the mounting lip to allow them to fit into the dash. With the mounting tabs removed, he created an acrylic bracket that clamps the speaker down securely using the factory fastener locations.
The next step was to upgrade the tweeters in the A-pillars. JOey removed the original drivers and checked to see whether a set of Morel Elate Titanium MT350 1.1-inch tweeters would fit. Indeed, there was enough room. The MT350 tweeters feature the much-lauded Accuflex-coated silk dome design that eliminates unwanted resonance. The tweeters can also be crossed over lower than most designs of their size. To secure the tweeters in place, JOey cut a set of acrylic rings and attached them to the tweeter bodies. The rings allow the new tweeters to snap into the factory driver mounting location. JOey added a set of XT30 high-current quick-disconnect plugs to the wires from the tweeters so they can be serviced easily.
For midbass, JOey chose a set of the MW9 9-inch woofers from an Elate Carbon 93A three-way set. This driver echoes the carbon/Rohacell cone and EVC motor geometry of the MM3 midrange speakers. Uniquely, the MW9 drivers have a massive 3-inch diameter titanium voice coil former with the company’s proprietary Hexatech winding that increases efficiency. If you get the feeling that Morel speakers contain more technology than most on the market, you’re 100% right.
Aside from the fact that it’s fun to tell people that there are 9-inch drivers in the doors, JOey chose the MW9 because they also provide impressive low-frequency output with their 44-hertz resonant frequency. You’ll see the need for this shortly.
JOey set out to create intricate mounting adapters that would allow the Morel drivers to bolt into the factory speaker locations while clearing the window assembly. The adapters are made from five layers of laser-cut acrylic plastic and include provisions for wiring and gaskets to ensure a perfect seal against the driver and the metal door panel.
The plastic door trim panels and the access openings in the interior door skin were treated with Dynamat Dynaliner closed-cell foam to keep buzzes and rattles to a minimum.
The speaker-related upgrade involved the factory grilles. Audi had labeled the door and dash grilles with the Sonos logo. Those of us in the car audio industry find these branding opportunities amusing, as companies like Sonos, McIntosh, Beats, B&O and Fender don’t make car audio products. So you can see why JOey wanted to remove the Sonos branding. Some careful wet-sanding removed the logos from the dash grilles. For the doors, he drew a template of the speaker trim, then used the laser to cut the shape out of a piece of plastic. The plastic piece served as a template to cut matte black automotive wrap vinyl pieces. He applied the black vinyl to the door grilles to conceal the Sonos branding.
It’s worth noting that despite the premium speaker upgrades, JOey made no permanent modifications to the Audi, aside from the dash grilles. Everything can be restored to showroom-stock condition in a matter of hours, with no trace of the audiophile-grade enhancements.
JL Audio Amplifier Installation
JOey chose three of the impressive and potent VXi-Series amplifiers from JL Audio to power the system. A pair of VX800/8i amplifiers were assigned to power the midrange and high-frequency drivers, and a VX1000/1i provides power to the system’s subwoofers. The plan for the cargo area included a desire to make the subwoofer enclosure removable so the spare tire could be put in place for long road trips. Nobody would want to forego having music on a long journey, so the amplifiers needed to remain in place so the remainder of the audio system would be functional.
After some test fitting and detailed measurements, JOey designed a multi-tiered amp rack, then cut the components out of steel plate with the shop’s CNC plasma table. All the pieces have tabs and slots to ensure that they align perfectly when welded. Pinnacle has a dedicated welding table for projects like these. Once together, the rack was finished in a corrosion-resistant gloss black paint.
The upper tier of the rack secures the three JL Audio amplifiers in place and includes integrated wiring channels for power, signal and speaker connections. The second tier has a mount for a VXi-HUB network hub, along with terminal strips for all the speaker connections. JOey used Stinger power wire, distribution blocks and 4000-Series interconnect cables to bring the amplifiers to life.
All three JL Audio amplifiers have built-in digital signal processors. This processing allowed JOey to route audio signals from a Nav TV ZEN-V MOST 150 interface to the front and rear speaker sets and the subwoofers. One of the VX800/8i amplifiers is wired in a bridged configuration to provide up to 200 watts of power to each of the MW9 woofers and MM3 midrange drivers. The other VX800/8i operates in stereo and powers the Morel MT350 tweeters in the A-pillars, the factory woofers and tweeters in the rear doors and the surround speakers in the C-pillars. Finally, the VX1000/1i powers a pair of JL Audio 13TW5v2 subwoofers with up to 500 watts of power each.
Part of the amplifier installation included installing a JL Audio DRC-205 remote control in the center console. This multifunction remote serves as a master volume control and remote subwoofer level control for the system. The top control can be pressed to change system configuration presets.
Audi Q3 Subwoofer Enclosure
Cosmetically, the focus of the Audi project is the subwoofer enclosure in the cargo area. JOey started by building an enclosure out of 3/4-inch MDF that fit into the spare tire well. The bottom section includes stacked layers to provide height. The bottom assembly and top panel were covered in resin-impregnated chopped fiberglass to keep it completely airtight. If you’ve ever seen how MDF is secured to an industrial router table, you’ll understand the need for the fiberglass layer. Once assembled, the top panel was covered with gray vinyl to match the leather on the seats. The vinyl also serves as a sealing gasket for the woofers. JOey noted that the enclosure volume is “to spec” at about 0.8 cubic foot per driver. That’s pretty small for a 13.5-inch woofer, but JOey reports the JL subs have no problem “getting down” with impressive authority.
From there, JOey began creating the amazing trim piece that surrounds the amplifiers and subwoofers. There are about six layers to the panel but significantly more components. Each part nests into the layer above to secure them all in place. Some layers are black acrylic plastic that has been laser-cut or engraved. Some layers are clear acrylic, allowing the output of addressable RGB LED lighting to show through. Two layers are wrapped in different shades of gray vinyl. Other layers have been painted in the same blue as the Q3’s exterior to serve as an accent. The top layer is covered in gray Alcantara for a classy, finished look.
Part of creating the removable subwoofer enclosure included making the trim panel a single piece. All the wiring for the LED lighting is connected to a set of Molex plugs as quick disconnects. JOey can remove the enclosure in a few minutes to drop the spare tire back in. When the subwoofers are out, JOey needs only to tap the top control on the DRC-205 remote in the center control to select a different system configuration that allows the door speakers to play much lower. The “no sub” tune foregoes a bit of the rumble that the big JL subwoofers provide, but the relatively massive Morel speakers in the doors still reproduce bass information with impressive impact.
The cargo cover protects the stereo system for day-to-day use while allowing groceries and other items to be transported safely. Of course, while it’s in place, the interior looks like the Audi just rolled off the showroom floor.
Pinnacle Autosound Audi Q3 Demo Vehicle
After JOey had everything fabricated and installed, he began learning the capabilities of the JL Audio MAX dual-FFT measurement system the shop had recently invested in. Accurate frequency response measurements are crucial to calibrating any mobile audio system. Once the MAX had its measurement information from each speaker, it created a set of equalizer settings that would be uploaded automatically to the VXi amplifiers. The MAX can also measure phase information and use that data to ensure that the output of each driver aligns perfectly with all the rest at the listening position for smooth frequency response and reliable system coherence.
As you can see, the results are nothing short of amazing. The interior of the vehicle looks 100% original, other than the remote level control in the center console. The cargo area remains functional for regular use but shows off Pinnacle Autosound’s stunning fabrication skills by lifting a single panel. What impresses us most is the behind-the-scenes attention to detail. The door speaker brackets, the amp rack and the subwoofer enclosure are particularly impressive – so much so that we plan follow-up articles on how those were designed and fabricated.
If you’re in northern Florida or southern Georgia and are looking for a car stereo shop that can design, fabricate, install and calibrate a genuinely world-class car audio system, then you owe it to yourself to visit Pinnacle Autosound in Lake City. Be sure to ask to listen to the Audi Q3 when you’re there. For more information on the shop, visit their website or Facebook page. Be sure to tell them the team at BestCarAudio.com sent you!