A demo vehicle is one of the best tools available to demonstrate the audio and convenience upgrade options for a car or truck. The team at KarTele Mobile Electronics in Waterbury, Connecticut, purchased this 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee with plans to outfit it with a premium audio system, a radar detector, window tint and paint protection to show off the solutions they offer to consumers. The plan was to start work in the spring of 2023 after the remote start season ended. However, an opportunity presented itself that sped up the time by more than six months – and resulted in the amazing results you’ll see here.
Sony Mobile ES Demo Vehicle
Mike Hungerford, owner of KarTele (pronounced cartel) Mobile Electronics, attended the MasterTech Expo in 2022. The expo is an education event near Phoenix that equips car audio professionals with tools and information to improve the services they offer. Mike left the show excited to put what he’d learned to work. He even sketched this very project on the plane ride home. But little did he know he’d be building it sooner than expected.
The marketing team at Sony Car Audio in the U.S. launched a demo car build competition in the fall of 2022. All Mobile ES-authorized dealers in North America were invited to participate by creating a custom installation highlighting Sony’s Mobile ES series of source units, amplifiers, speakers and subwoofers. Mike jumped on the opportunity and spent the next three months creating this installation.
Premium Source Unit Integration
Mike chose the Grand Cherokee because it comes from the factory with what many consider to be a premium audio system. Jeep recently started offering McIntosh radio and speakers in the SUV, and even has gone so far as to include McIntosh’s ubiquitous analog level meters as a display option. Those who work in the aftermarket car audio industry know that factory-installed sound systems are getting better and better, but they aren’t the best available. So Mike decided he’d replace the amplifiers, signal processing and speakers in the Jeep to show clients what an awe-inspiring sound system can offer.
The radio in the Jeep isn’t easily upgradeable, so Mike used one of Alpine’s new PXE-X09 digital signal processors to take the output of the factory-installed amplifier and let him combine, filter and equalize those signals to work with the new gear. The Alpine processor has 16 inputs, and Mike used 14 to ensure that he had all the information he needed to make the new system sound great. The wired remote control for the DSP is mounted in the sunglasses holder in the overhead console. So if Mike wants to adjust the bass level or load a different preset, he can fold the holder down to access the remote.
Sony Mobile ES Speaker Upgrade
Mike started the project by creating a solid foundation. While removing the factory-installed speakers, he treated the Jeep’s interior with more than eight packages of SoundShield sound deadening material. The floors, accessible parts of the roof and the cargo area were deadened thoroughly. The front doors have three layers of SoundShield on them to ensure that they’re as rigid and quiet as possible. Next, Mike treated the inner and outer metal skins with the original SoundShield three-layer damping, then added a layer of SoundShield Slim to the plastic inner trim panel. While he had the vehicle apart, he made sure every fastener was tight and secure to help keep the trim panels from buzzing and rattling when the music gets loud. Finally, he ran Rockford Fosgate power and ground cables through the vehicle to feed the amplifiers. He used T-Spec V-10 interconnects between the system’s processor and amplifiers.
For speakers, each front door received a Sony Mobile ES 6×9 woofer from an XS-692ES component set. Once in place, he added SoundShield Strip Kit foam around the driver to ensure that it seals up against the grille in the door. Speaking of the grille, Jeep includes a small illuminated McIntosh emblem on each of the door speakers. Mike wanted to update these, so he used his CNC laser to engrave the KarTele logo into pieces of acrylic plastic. He then painted the back of the plastic piece black and added a layer of black vinyl so no light would bleed around the text. Finally, he thermoformed the inserts to each of the speaker grilles, so they look exactly like the factory inserts. The blue illumination matches the color of his company logo, so the fit was perfect.
The dash speakers were replaced with the midrange and tweeter from a set of Mobile ES XS-163ES components. Mike cut out the factory tweeter from the center of the grille to make way for the Sony unit. The 3.5-inch midrange driver is mounted to the chassis of the dash. Mike surrounded the driver with SoundShield Contour foam speaker strips so all the sound energy would enter the cabin directly and not bounce around under the grille.
A set of XS-690ES coaxial 6x9s in the rear doors wraps the sound around the listener and adds a bit of midbass punch to the system.
Custom Jeep Grand Cherokee Trunk
As mentioned, the vision for the trunk of the Jeep started months ago. Mike began by building a pair of subwoofer enclosures for the XS-W122ES 12-inch Mobile ES subwoofers. Each driver is in a 0.84-cubic-foot enclosure constructed to the specifications provided by Sony. The trunk design was intended to mimic a dashboard, so Mike added a XAV-9500ES receiver between the subwoofers. Given that he plans to use this vehicle at both commercial and consumer events, he wanted a way to demonstrate the smartphone integration features of the radio while off-site. Prospective clients can pair their Apple or Android-based smartphones with the radio to see how CarPlay or Android Auto work. Audio from the radio plays through the speakers Jeep installed in the rear tailgate.
Beneath the radio are a pair of XM-1ES 1,000-watt monoblock amplifiers. Each subwoofer has its own amp to ensure that adequate power is always available. Mike oriented the rotatable logo inserts on the amps so the Mobile ES logo was right side up.
In front of each subwoofer is an XM-4ES amplifier. One amplifier powers the tweeters and midrange drivers in the dash, and the other handles the 6×9 woofers in the front doors and the 6×9 coaxial speakers in the rear doors. Mike built Alcantara-wrapped covers for the amplifiers and used his laser to etch acrylic panels to highlight the existing logos on the amps. The amplifiers and the vertical trim pieces in the center feature Govee Bluetooth-controlled addressable RGB LED lighting. Mike can use a smartphone app to change the colors or the shifting pattern.
On either side of the trunk are trim panels that feature stained cherry wood inserts. While at the MasterTech Expo, he watched Shon Besharah work with aluminum during the build-off and was both impressed and amazed. Shon is well known in the mobile electronics industry as the best there is when it comes to aluminum work in custom installs. Mike decided to try his hand at adding aluminum accents to the Jeep, and the results were perfect. The cherry inserts and the rear edges of the amp trim panels have hand-cut, hand-sanded and hand-polished aluminum trim pieces. Mike said they took a lot more time than he expected, but he loved the classy results.
Under the wood inserts, you can see the KarTele logo lasered into the Alcantara. Acrylic panels behind the logos have their very own addressable RGB LED lighting. This lets Mike set them to match the center lighting or to contrast it, so they stand out more.
There are two LCD panels at the very rear of the trunk. Mike had initially planned for LED-illuminated laser-cut acrylic, but he didn’t think that stood out enough. After extensive searching, he found a pair of 9-by-3-inch LCD panels that would accept an HDMI video signal. He mounted the panels and wired them to a video player so he could show a logo or animation. The video player also feeds a signal to the display in the front of the vehicle.
The finishing touch on the trunk was the leather trim panel across the top. Mike purchased an entire hide of Italian Paloma leather that matched the seats and dash in the Jeep. Then he had a local shop do the stitching on the front edge to mimic what’s on the seats and headrests.
KarTele Mobile Electronics Demo Vehicle Upgrades
While the project’s focus was the Sony Mobile ES audio system, Mike made sure the Jeep was outfitted with other solutions his shop offers. He installed a K40 Platinum360 Ci radar detector and laser defense system in the Jeep. There are two laser defusers on the front of the vehicle to guard against police lidar guns.
Mike tinted the windows of the Jeep with Solar Guard ceramic tint. He used 20% VLT film on the rear windows to give the back of the truck a 4% look, then tinted the doors with 5% film to match. He protected touch surfaces like door sills and pillars with Solar Guard Clearshield Pro to prevent scuffs and scratches as consumers get in and out of the vehicle. The paint on the Jeep has been polished and protected with Gtechniq Crystal Serum Ultra ceramic coating to keep it looking new. Finally, Mike updated some interior lighting with new bulbs from Lucas Lighting.
Unlike other shops, KarTele doesn’t do a lot of custom fabrication like this. Mike told us that this was one of his very first big builds. We’d say that the results belie his claimed inexperience. The choice of materials is fantastic, and the way they mimic what’s in the rest of the vehicle is absolutely on point. The system design is perfect and optimizes the features and capabilities of the Sony Mobile ES gear in the vehicle. Mike reports that the system sounds amazing. It hits much harder than the factory McIntosh system could hope to, and the soundstage is solid and well-focused. Having access to the subwoofer level lets him fine-tune the system for each prospective client. If they prefer it to be balanced like a high-end home audio system, he can deliver that. If they want the bass to shake the vehicle, that’s just a few button pushes away.
Hats off to Mike for this amazing project! We love it! If you’re in the Waterbury area and are looking for a reputable shop to upgrade your vehicle, drop by KarTele Mobile Electronics and talk with Mike. Thanks to Sony for hosting this fantastic contest. Clearly, it has pushed dealers to expand their horizons, and ultimately, it’s equipped them with the perfect tool to show off the impressive Mobile ES products they offer. It’s a win-win for everyone!