We were hanging out at a mobile enhancement industry trade show recently. As always, we were talking to manufacturers, distributors and retailers about topics for articles. If we can educate you as a consumer about something, you’ll stand a chance of becoming better clients. The subject of Harley-Davidson motorcycle audio upgrades came up with the guys from Rockford Fosgate. The information they provided applies to amplifier and speaker upgrades from any brand. Here are two rules you must remember when an amplifier is added to your touring motorcycle.
Rule 1: The Stock Radio Needs to Be Flashed
From the factory, the stock Boom! Box radio on 2014 and newer Harley-Davidson cruisers like the Street Glide, Road Glide, Electra Glide, trikes and CVO bikes include extensive equalization designed to work with the speakers from the factory. The “high fidelity” EQ curve will wreak havoc with aftermarket amplifiers and speakers from all brands as it includes a significant low-frequency boost. As a result, the signal going into the amplifier is easily distorted, resulting in blown speakers.
Many shops will tell you they can compensate for this equalization curve using a digital signal processor. That’s accurate in terms of delivering smooth frequency response from the new speakers. However, the massive signal boost can still overdrive the output of the radio, which results in distortion that can’t be undone by processing. You may be very limited in how high you can adjust the volume using this frequency response correction method.
What’s the solution? Your Boom! Box radio must be flashed to load a much flatter equalization curve that won’t clip as easily. You can turn the volume on your radio up most of the way, and the audio system will remain clear and detailed.
Rule 2: You Can’t Turn the Stock Radio Up All the Way
Almost all car and motorcycle radios with integrated amplifiers include a configuration option called gain overlap. In the simplest of explanations, this refers to the ability of the user to turn the radio volume up past a point where the music will distort. Why is this included? If you listen to a quietly recorded song, you can make it play loudly. Think of it like having extra volume control beyond “full volume.”
In the case of the Boom! Box radio, if you’re listening to music that’s maximized in terms of its recording level, the radio can (and will) distort its output when the volume level is above three bars from the maximum. Put another way, with modern music recordings, never turn the volume up past “three bars from the top.” Doing so will send a clipped signal to the amp, which it will happily amplify, then over-drive the speakers. Aside from the extra unwanted power, your music will sound terrible.
What if your system isn’t loud enough at “three bars from the top”? That’s a great and crucial question, especially for motorcycle audio applications where the average playback level is much higher than it might be in a car or truck. If the music isn’t loud enough, there are a few factors to consider. First, the sensitivity controls on the amplifier might not be adjusted properly. Second, you may not have enough speakers. Third, the speakers you have might not be efficient enough. Fourth, your amplifier might not be capable of producing enough power. Another option that many motorcycle audio enthusiasts overlook is that you might have chosen a very inefficient amplifier and are running out of power from the bike’s electrical system.
In all of these cases, the solution is to return to the shop that upgraded the sound system and let them have a listen. They can pinpoint the issue quickly and suggest a solution if they know their stuff. If they can’t, you might want to look for a shop that has more experience troubleshooting audio systems.
Upgrade Your Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Audio System Today!
Many people are pretty handy with tools and can install upgraded motorcycle audio components at home. But understanding how the factory-installed audio equipment they are interfacing with works is crucial to delivering a system that will sound great and last for years. In many cases, professional installers will measure the output of a factory-installed sound system to determine which approach will result in the best performance for their client. Choose an experienced retailer to upgrade your Harley-Davidson audio system. It might cost a bit more, but it will be worth it.