Back in the day, you didn't have a "fully built" project car unless there was a pair of subwoofers in your trunk, tweeters hanging from your A-pillars, and enough amplifiers wired up to power a concert. Dig up old magazines and you'll notice we used to highlight I.C.E. (in-car entertainment) upgrades with every feature car. Mobile electronics were a big deal back then, however, times have changed. Today, engine, chassis, wheel, and tire upgrades are still as popular as before, and we've seen the rise of widebody conversions and air suspension, but what happened to audio?!
The future might seem bleak for aftermarket audio companies, but there are still a massive number of cars out there with subpar systems; in fact, it's where some manufacturers cut corners to save costs and weight. And unless you want to fork out thousands for an audio package from the dealer, you're most likely sacrificing a too much when it comes to your music. I know for myself, I spend at least two hours a day in traffic, so having quality beats is important to me.
So while we might not be in an age anymore where people are throwing their allowances at flip-up TV screens and custom sub enclosures, it doesn't mean you shouldn't care about the tunes coming from your doors. And when it comes to upgrading, you want to make sure you're still getting what's best for your dollar. Pioneer Electronics has been a trusted brand in our scene for decades, and the company invited me on a tour to show everyone that it's still making high-quality and relevant parts that should be on everyone's radar.
Private Pioneer Tour
Pioneer has been a brand that's stuck around longer than other electronics companies; however, many of us don't know exactly what makes it tick. Last August, I was invited to check out one of Pioneer's main facilities in the Tohoku region of Japan, where the majority of its speaker development takes place. The company hasn't invited out much U.S. media before, and I've never been on an audio tour before. This was going to be something completely new for the both us!
I've been traveling to Japan regularly since I started as an editor, but where the Pioneer factory is located in Tendo, even residents I knew in Japan had no idea where I was headed. The facility is a three-hour train ride north of Tokyo, and there isn't much reason to live there unless you're harvesting rice or working for Pioneer. Almost like a small college campus, the Tohoku facility was founded in '66 and is comprised of multiple buildings that includes their evaluation rooms, high-end speaker manufacturing and sales offices.
There's a lot that goes on at Pioneer from factory automation, LED displays, DJ equipment and more, but speakers are the core of its business. We're a bit familiar with their aftermarket division but half of the audio components they manufacture are for OEM. They supply the likes of Lexus, Toyota, Honda, Ford, Subaru and GM. And when it comes to the aftermarket stuff, there's a whole lot more to Pioneer than what you can read about on their website.
One of the first things I noticed about their employees is that they simply are passionate about audio, similar to how we're passionate about well-built cars. They're truly immersed in listening and enjoying music and achieving the best sound possible. I later found out they also use Bruno Mars for their sound checks so I give props for that.
The next thing I didn't know about Pioneer is that there's a bigger demand for high quality audio in Japan. Pioneer has two different brands that cater to these audio aficionados — Carrozzeria and TAD.
Carrozzeria is the upper echelon car audio brand and much of the technology developed here trickles down to other Pioneer products. Carrozzeria isn't offered stateside as there just isn't a market to support car audio equipment that ranges into the thousands of dollars. Although, after the demonstrations I was given, I think we're definitely missing out!
It gets even better with TAD, Pioneer's premier home audio brand. Here, there are no compromises to quality as everything is handmade and the finest materials are used. In fact, there are only three women who are certified to build TAD products, which I saw first hand. A pair of speakers can go up to $70K! Crazy? Yes! But in Japan, there are people out there that are willing to pay for the best, much like there are people we know willing to buy rare wheels or pricey body kits that most people would think is ridiculous to fork out money for.
Now while Carrozzeria and TAD might have the ingredients and craftsmanship to warrant high price tags, it doesn't mean the rest of the Pioneer lineup sacrifices a lot by many means. Pioneer treats their speakers like how a tire company would treat their high performance rubbers, or an oil company would treat their best grade oil. Speakers are engineered to accomplish the ideal weight, dampening, size, balance and materials possible. What I was most impressed in was all the testing a speaker goes through. In the Tohoku facility, there are evaluation rooms that test speakers in the extreme hot and cold, how they stand up against vibrations, UV light and different humidity as well. Before a speaker goes into production it's literally tested up to 1,000 hours! The sound quality is also tested in million dollar testing facilities such as the anechoic chambers and reverberation rooms. No doubt, the biggest take from my visit was seeing these machines and quality checks in action. Whether it's a high-end or affordable speaker from Pioneer, they go through the same reliability, strength and sound tests.
Next Generation Speakers
So at the end of my tour, it was time to sit back, relax and listen to some tunes. They had me hop in a Nissan Versa Note and Subaru XV—very stock on the outside and cars you wouldn't imagine to have an audio upgrade. But from what I gathered, these are exactly the type of cars where folks in Japan will invest in better audio. They spend so much time in their cars that it's worth it for them to have premium sounds, despite having an ordinary-looking commuter car.
I hopped in the Subaru first equipped with the Z series gear which included the TS-Z65CH 6.5" two-way components ($400.00 MSRP) and TS-Z10LS4 10" single 4 ohm voice coil sub ($350.00 MSRP). I was truly shocked to hear how crisp and loud the system got. At near ear bleeding volumes, the sound remained balanced and crisp—not too heavy on the bass and not too pitchy on the trebles. If you weren't a trained audiophile, you would think you're sitting in a luxury European car with a Harmon Kardon or Mark Levinson upgrade.
I headed over to Versa next to see how the more affordable D series speakers would perform. The Versa was outfitted with the TS-D65C 6.5" two-way components ($240.00 MSRP) and TS-D10D4 10" dual 4 ohm voice coil sub ($240.00 MSRP), more than a hundred dollars cheaper compared to the Z series. I felt this system was more my steez. While the voices and instruments weren't as crisp, the volume was loud and bass was bumpin' which suited my hip hop and EDM preferences. And for the lower price, it just seemed more up my alley and what I would be willing to pay for better sound.
There will be five different models that'll be available in the Z series and nine for the D. These are the most premium sounds that'll be launch in the U.S. in Pioneer history. They aren't at the level of some of the competition sound systems I've listened to before, but they are geared for the guys that have an appreciation for music. Pioneer realizes the majority of car enthusiasts probably aren't going to spend thousands of dollars in subwoofers and amps like how the scene was back in the day, but they don't want you to forget about music, which is ultimately the passion they have. Ted Cardenas, VP of Marketing Pioneer USA summed it up best, "Sound is much more than just data; music inspires everyone one of us and is indeed something most of us cannot live without. Pioneer is passionate about music and sound, and this passion is exhibited in each product we create. We don't just want you to listen to your music, we want you to hear more."
The Z Series
Higher-end range designed for Hi-Res audio recordings (more data, better than CD quality). Features a better cone symmetry, extended frequency range, 29mm aluminum allow balanced dome tweeter for better sound quality at high frequencies, less distortion all-around, and a shallow body for easier mounting. Aual layer cone construction also makes it one of the strongest speakers in its segment. With the new Z series, you're basically getting a speaker that's 2-3x better than what's available in the market today for the same cost! Speakers range from $300 to $400.
The D Series
A more budget friendly range of speakers offering balanced sound and deeper bass. Features a 26mm polyester soft dome tweeter and compact swivel design for ease of mounting, plus the speaker cone is made up of aramid fiber interlaced injection molded polypropylene — basically a fancy way of saying that the speaker is more rigid which helps handle more power and greater control of the woofer. Speakers range from $200 to $260.