Saturday, June 25, 2011

Rockford Fosgate Punch 150HD vs. Phoenix Gold MS-275 - Old School Amp Shootout!

Let's take a trip back in time, 20 years to be exact. You are in the market for a new amplifier for your system and you've narrowed the decision to two popular choices...The Rockford Fosgate Punch 150HD or Phoenix Gold MS-275. Both can be had for about $500 US (remember, 1991 folks) so you grab your Car Audio & Electronics April 1991 "Buyer's Guide" issue and review the specs. Both amps appear to be rated the same in 4ohms stereo at 75 watts/ch at 4 ohms bridged at 180 watts. How can you decide between the two? You really like the Phoenix Gold's 24 carat gold plated circuit board and terminal strip connectors. You are also intrigued by Rockford's reputation of overbuilding and underrating their amps. Again, a tough decision, but how do you choose only one?

Step forward to 2011...

Although in 1991, I could not afford either of these amps, I thought it would be a great way to relive those days as if I could choose between them. Now with the capability to bench test each amp in addition to some real-world tests with speakers, this could be a better experience than the car stereo shops of days past.

Rockford Fosgate Punch 150HD , Phoenix Gold MS-275 propped up by a Kicker Solobaric S10c

I've been fortunate in finding near MINT examples of each amplifier. My MS-275 is the rare gray color (most are the white color which are later models), while the Punch 150HD is the classic black. The original MSRP of the MS-275 was $479 US, while the Punch 150HD was a little higher at $515. See my video overview below as I'll go into further details of each amplifier. Power output and subwoofer tests coming soon in another video, so stay tuned...



Edit: 6/25/11 

Unfortunately, it may be some time before the power output test is complete for the Phoenix Gold MS-275 as the output capacitors are showing signs of leaking (common problem for most 90's PG amps). The capacitor swap is a relatively complex task, at least one I don't want to chance with such a nice amp. I'll send the amp off in a few months to have the caps changed out, so it may be a while before I post another video in this series. I may, however, go ahead and show a video testing the Punch 150HD and its output test...we'll see.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

HiFonics Vulcan and Thor VII - Old School Classics!

I'm SO glad there are other people out there who take good care of their old school amps! I recently ran across a local Craigslist ad where a person was selling a couple of classic early 90's HiFonics amps...the Vulcan and Thor (both VII series). I met the seller and ended up buying the amps...simply amazing to see these amps in such great condition to be 20 years old!

Early 90's HiFonics Thor VII and Vulcan VII in near MINT condition!

A friend of mine back around 1991 had a Thor VII, exactly like the one I picked up, and I always recall the amp being very powerful. Back then, his Thor powered (2) 15" subwoofers from a local speaker manufacturing shop. The speakers were 8ohm each wired in parallel and the amp was bridged mono putting out a rated 400 watts. This was a BIG power back then and to my ears still plenty of power for the right subs.

I recall each local stereo shop trying to best each other by saying how underrated the particular brand of amp they sold was. It was pretty evident to me, Autotek, Orion and Rockford Fosgate were underrated, but what about HiFonics? These amps were well regarded and were actually priced reasonable versus their power output ratings. For comparison, the Rockford Fosgate Punch 45 retailed for $275 US and was rated to deliver 22.5x2 or 70x1 at 4ohms. The HiFonics Vulcan VII was priced at $330 US and was rated 50x2 or 180x1 at 4ohms. A feature missing on the Vulcan causing me to decide on the Punch 45? Built-in Bass and Treble EQ's. I know it seems silly to think this would be a deciding factor, but it actually swayed my decision. The only "remote" bass controls we had back then was something like the Audio Control Epicenter (and they were pricey around $180 US).

With that said, let's work forward to 2011 and seeing how the 1991'ish HiFonics amps perform on the test bench. Since I have the privilege of previously testing Zed Audio built amps, I had a preconceived expectation of the results....and I was pretty spot on!

Here are the results:

Vulcan VII
RMS Output Power:
4ohms stereo = (rated): 50w/ch / (actual): 59.44w/ch
2ohms stereo = (rated): 90w/ch / (actual): 104.4w/ch
4ohms bridged = (rated): 180w / (actual): 208.8w

***Max Output Power:
Max Output (hard clip) = (actual) 370.5w/ bridged at 4ohms

1991 HiFonics Vulcan VII

Thor VII
RMS Output Power:
4ohms stereo = (rated) 125w/ch / (actual) 157.0w/ch
2ohms stereo = (rated) 200w/ch / (actual) 252.6w/ch
4ohms bridged = (rated) 400w / (actual) 462.2w

***Max Output Power:
Max Output (hard clip) = 475.5w/ x 2 at 2ohms!!! (over 950w total!!)

***This MAX number is what most of the mfg's use today when rating amps

1991 HiFonics Thor VII

I did some basic SQ testing with some separates and a 10" Kicker Solobaric S10c sub and was VERY impressed by the power, clarity and control both amps offered up. I'm even considering using these two amps in my Old School Stealth Install until my RF Power 650 gets it's facelift.

Stay tuned in for more updates...


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Old School Stealth Install - Part 1 - The Subwoofer

I must admit, I've been contemplating swapping out the cheapo EFX sub which came stock in the Scosche SCXB04 for quite a while. I've had this "stealthbox" like sub for the past 3 years and it has handled the rear channels of the Rockford Fosgate Power 550x very well. I've not bench tested the 550x for 4 ohm mono loads, but I'd estimate around 325-350w. The SCXB04 houses a 10" EFX sub in an approx. 0.75cu/ft injected molded plastic enclosure and is custom fit for 2004-2007 Scion xB's. Yeah, it's a funny looking car, but I laugh at other people when I fill up after averaging 35mpg.

My favorite feature of the SCXB04 is it's stealthy nature. I can have a decent amount of bass without sacrificing ANY usable interior space. Now, on to the question of what sub to use to replace the 10" stock sub? Well, I have only a few 10" subs to choose from; MTX Blue Thunder BTW-1044, JL Audio 10W3-D4 or some recently acquired Kicker Solobaric S10c's. After some online research, I found the box can support a 10" sub with up to 5" depth. Right away, the JL 10W3 was out (too bad, this is a NICE sub!). What about the Blue Thunder 10? Well, it is an early 90's sub and wants a minimum of 1 cu/ft of airspace and it would probably not perform optimally in th slightly smaller enclosure. Turns out, the decision was kind of a "no brainer"....The Kicker S10c it is!

I pulled the SCXB04 out of the car and noticed Scosche's attempt to be slick in using some strange star-headed screws...why would they do this? Not sure, but it was easy to locate a proper sized tool in my stash for removing these screws. Once I got the EFX sub removed, it was pretty apparent the EFX sub was somewhat smaller than the S10c. No fear, Dremel tool is here! After marking the box with an estimated cutout based on the S10c, I began the process of removing plastic. I used the cut off wheel on my Dremel and about 30 minutes later and a ton of black plastic shavings on my arm and leg....the box was ready for the Kicker sub. While performing the sub swap, I thought it would be a good idea to trade out the stock 16ga speaker wire for some high-quality 10ga wire. I actually used power and ground cable from an old amplifier install kit I had. This was to ensure there was no power loss due to wiring inside the box. Honestly, the 16ga factory wire was probably more than sufficient for up to 400w, but I didn't want to take any chances.

Once the box was rewired with the 10ga wire, I dropped in the S10c sub and pre-drilled new mounting holes. I was very careful to ensure I had the Kicker emblem lined up properly for mounting (at least I thought!). After securing the 8 screws, I was ready to mount the SCXB04 back in the car. Once I began to recall how the box fits in the car, I realized I mounted the S10c sideways! Doh! Due to the fact the sub will be  mostly hidden, I decided to leave as is for now.

View the video below for the entire process:

View the video in 1080p HD



Now, after using the Kicker S10c for the past 3 weeks in my daily driver and testing it out with various genres of music from jazz, rock, country, pop and rock, I must say it is a HUGE improvement from the EFX sub. Bass notes are noticeably deeper and tighter with the S10c. Although the EFX sub was no slouch in the SPL department, the Kicker S10c easily knocks the EFX sub out of the ring. I'm extremely happy with the sub swap and can't wait to upgrade the front stage from the 6.5 and 4" coaxials to 6.5" separates. I've been searching for some Boston Pro 6.4 or 6.5 separates, but so far have only been able to locate some Boston Acoustics Rally RC61 separates. 

I'm also getting my Rockford Fosgate Power 650 re-powdercoated and re-silkscreened so it can replace the tried and true 2002 model Power 550x. My biggest hurdle will be deciding the mounting location of the Power 650, while keeping the install as stealth as possible. Unfortunately, the Power 650 is too large to fit under the driver's seat, which is the current location of the Power 550x. I doubt in real world numbers if the 650 is more powerful than the 550x and also requires an extra feature I require....remote bass control. Luckily, I have an early gen Audio Control Epicenter, which will fit the bill as a bass level controller.

Also, one last note about the old school install; I am planning on using a new head unit, capable of iPod/iPhone control and maybe Bluetooth. I'm not going for NAV or DVD, but have some models in mind to replace the "Premium" Pioneer Scion head unit (T1809) I'm currently using. I actually purchased this head unit a few years ago and have been impressed with it's operation and sound quality. It even has 3 sets of pre-amp outputs, VERY unusual for a factory head unit. Unfortunately, the lack of support for my iPod means the T1809 has served it's purpose, but its time to move on to another unit.

Stay tuned for upcoming updates to the "Old School Stealth Install" project...