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post #1 of (permalink) Old 10-13-2012, 08:06 AM Thread Starter
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New to car audio, Read here!

New to car audio? Read this first.

So i have noticed that many who are new to the world of car audio, ask the same exact questions. So in an attempt to cut down on some of these posts, i figured we should start a thread with the most commonly asked noob questions.

feel free to add here guys if you think of anything else....

ALSO: These answers are meant to be a good starting point for understanding some basic principles in car audio. They are in no way the definitive answer to every single application, just more of a generality to help those just starting out.

My subwoofer is rated at xxx watts rms & xxx watts peak, how much power should i give it?

For the sake of generalities, and a large amount of equipment that is out there, peak rating is pretty much useless. It has become more of a marketing tool to make said equipment seem more appealing to the buyer. There subs out there that can handle alot more than rated RMS power, but if you are just starting out in car audio, RMS rating is a good bench mark to use when thinking of powering your subs. Once you become more knowledgeable, then i would start to consider running more than RMS safe, but, if you are new, i would not recommend exceeding it.

What impedance (ohm load) should i run my system at?

This is a very subjective topic, with a mariad of opinions. I will say this though... As you lower your impedance, the strain on your electrical system as well as your amp increases. At the same time, your amp's THD (Total Harmonic Distortion) will increase, diminishing sound quality. On the large majority of amps, this will not even be noticeable until you get into very low impedances (1 ohm and below). The amount of THD increase can be as small as >.1%, or can be much greater, just depends on the amp. You also want to take what your amp is rated at into consideration. The large majority of mono block amps are rated at 1 ohm, but on the flipside, if you are running a 2 channel amp bridged, the large majority of those are rated at only 2ohmx1... What this really translates to, is that running your amp at lower than rated impedance can be dangerous. Also, even if your amp is rated at lower ohm loads, if you do not have the proper electrical upgrades to back it up, it can also be dangerous. The biggest point i'm trying to make here, is if you don't have the electrical to back it up, or arent sure, wire to a higher impedance... otherwise the magick blue smoke fairy may come for a visit (AKA you might fry your amp).

How do i wire my subs to a different impedance?

I could make a long drawn out thread about this, but instead, i will link you to a great wiring wizard, that will show you exactly how to do it.

Subwoofer Wiring Diagrams

Why is setting my gains properly so important?

This is a very Long and Arduous topic. The simplest answer is this... mis matching your gains can lead to a clipped signal, which in turn can lead to problems... from a distorted signal all the way up to frying your VC's (voice coils on your subs). If you really want the nitty gritty of it, check out this great write up...

The WHY of gain setting

I set my gains by ear because blah blah blah/ How do i set my gains properly?

I dont care who tells you that you can properly set your gains by ear/that it doesnt matter... He is a dirty, stinking, liar. Truth of the matter is, a clipped signal occurs WAY before the distortion is audible to the human ear. That is why using the proper tools to set your gain is so important. You can not hear any difference, but yet be running an extremely clipped signal to your subs. You will need a few things to porperly set gains will be a DMM (digita mutimeter), a test tone generator or CD, and basic math skills. (an o-scope is preferable to a DMM, but you can still do with just a DMM)

You will need to know a few basics of Ohm's law... which defines the relationship between power, current, voltage and resistance. The most basic principle to understand, is that all the variables are relative to each other, meaning if you change on of the variables (power, current, voltage, or resistance), it will directly affect the others.

This is the equation to remember: Voltage = sqrt(power x resistance) ----- voltage equals the square root of power times resistance.

You will take this formula, and use the specs from your amp for the variables...

I.E. if you have an amp that runs 300 watts @ 2 ohms, it will look like this....

V = sqrt(300 x 2)

Voltage = 24.49 - this is your magic number. this will be the amount of AC voltage you will look for when setting your gain.

*You also want to make sure you use the impedance (ohm load) that you will have it wired to in your equation.*

Take your DMM, set it to AC voltage, then place the test leads on the output terminals.

Take your tone generator or cd, and set it to 50 hz.

*The vast majority of HU's (head units) out there will clip their signal when at very high outputs, the majority of which will start at around 3/4 full volume*

Set all you setting on your HU to 0/flat, and turn it up to 3/4 of full volume.

Starting with your gain turned all the way down, start turning it clockwise, until you reach the voltage you found in the formentioned equation.... this is where you will set your gain at... no higher.

The rest of your setting are like this... the LPF is the upper limit of frequency you want your subs to hit, the subsonic is the lower... and bass boost shouldn't be used in most situations.

For your mid/high amp, you will do the same, only you will use a 1khz tone instead

*This is a very general and simple way to safely set your gains... There are better/more in depth methods, but this is the simplest*

Here is a good chart for those who are not math inclined


What is the big 3, how do i do it, and why is it so important?

The big 3 is an essential step when upgrading your electrical. Main reason being, when auto manufacturers designed your electrical system, it was never designed for high amperage duties (such as large amplifiers), so the stock wiring in between your alternator and battery is garunteed to be very small, and insufficent for high power applications. This can lead to a "choke point" in your electrical system. You can have all the 1/0 runs from your battery to your amp you want, but unless you do your big 3, it really wont do any good. Your electrical system is only as strong as it's weakest point, which is usually right at your alternator.

To accomplish the Big 3, you will want to use a minimum of 4 Ga wire (although 1/0 much better)... and you will want to match the size wire you use to the rest of your install (if you run 1/0 from your battery to amp, but only use 4ga on your big 3, your still creating a choke point).

You can either straight up replace stock wiring, or just add to it.. and on the majority of newer model cars, you'll want to add to it, and leave the stock (due to their wiring harnesses being interconnected).

The wires your going to replace/add are from alternator to battery, battery to chassis, and battery to engine block. Alternators for the large part are self grounding, which is why you wont need to run a ground.

For a much more in depth write up on Big 3, check this out...
Official CarAudio.com Big 3 Thread

What size capacitor should i use to keep up with my amp?

The simple answer is none. A capacitor is completely useless in 99% of installs. The smaller farad capacitors have no benifit for voltage drop, and can actually cause a choke point in your electrical, causing voltage drop when not installed properly. They are useful in certain, more advanced installs... but that has nothing to do with voltage drop for which they have been marketed over the last 5-10 years. If you are really experiencing alot of voltage drop, refer to the last question about big 3, and consider upgrading your alternator, battery, or even adding an extra "helper" battery in the rear.

If you want more info on capacitors, and how they are useless in the majority of installs, here's a really good read....

:: NANOPULSER.COM.SG ::

If i fuse in between batteries/alt and batteries, what should the fuse be rated at?

You will want to fuse according to the wire, not the batteries... This also varies for each brand of wire... so there is no real "magic number" for all 1/0 ga, or 4 ga... you will want to check with the manufacturer of the wire for what amperage it is rated at, and fuse it at that rating.

Another, much more in depth writed up...

Dual battery wiring tutorial (and why)
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post #2 of (permalink) Old 10-13-2012, 08:07 AM Thread Starter
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Why does my system not hit that hard/sound as good as i thought it would?

This is a VERY large topic... but the main reason i included this question was for 2 reasons... 1. expectations 2.importance of enclosure

1. Expectations... a large majority of people who are newer to car audio, can become easily fooled by fake power rating, and rediculous claims that some companies make (boss and legacy are 2 companies that come to mind right away, but there are MANY more out there)... I don't care how good of a deal you got on ebay, a true 5500 watt amp will never cost you $130. When you are planning your system, one of the things that should be in the front of your mind should be, what are you expecting out of this system in comparison to what it will actually do. A budget system will always be that, A BUDGET SYSTEM. And there is nothing at all wrong with that, you just have to realize that if you are expecting a $300 system to be the end all of street beaters, you are going to be HIGHLY dissapointed.

2. Enclosure.... i cannot stress enough how important your enclosure (box) is to your system. To me, personally, it is the most important piece. A pre-fabricated (prefab) enclosure will never take full advantage of your subs. They are built to be mass sellers, not to work with the specific subwoofers you are running. Building your own box can be pretty easy, and save you alot of cash. That is if you have the proper tools to do it. Designing an enclosure can take alot more knowledge and know how, and if you aren't comfortable with trying to design your own, there are a number of great designers in the vendor section of this forum, who will design a great enclosure for you (and even a few that will build it for you, and ship it).

Sealed vs ported... whats the difference?

There are some very simple as well as somewhat complicated ideas to grasp when discussing the difference between sealed and ported. I would write a huge write up on it, but a very good one already exists...

SEALED vs PORTED (basic info.)

Sealed vs ported... whats the difference?

There are some very simple as well as somewhat complicated ideas to grasp when discussing the difference between sealed and ported. I would write a huge write up on it, but a very good one already exists...

SEALED vs PORTED (basic info.)

Why do the big box brands (kicker, rockford, pioneer, kenwood, etc) recieve such a bad rap?

There is one main reason for this, what you get for your money. The majority of the big box brands spend the same amount, or even sometimes more, on marketing as they do R&D... what does that equate to for you? Basically, you get alot less bang for your buck. A great example of this is the rockford fosgate P1 sub... if you look at the motor on it, it looks pretty large for an entry level sub....



But, if you cut that motor surround off, you will discover a measly 40 oz magnet structure, and a tiny 2" voice coil....

Now, can you really see any reason to throw a surround on there to make it look beefy, other than marketing? It is a marketing move, pure and simple.... just a way to confuse the average joe into believing it's something more than it really is.

More underground company's such as DD, SSA, AA, IA, DC, etc... spend a larger percentage of their net income on R&D than the big box companies... this in turn means there is less marketing cost that is passed on to the customer, thus dropping prices, and giving you more bang for your buck.


What does it mean to stage your install?

This exact question isn't asked that often, but i think its still a very important topic that is overlooked by alot of the newer guys. So, you got your subs, enclosure, amp, wiring, HU, electrical upgrades.... your shopping list is complete, right? WRONG. Properly staging your set up, in the simplest terms, means blending your sub stage, midbass/midrange, and highs, so that one "stage" doesn't overpower the other. I.E. people who run multi thousand watt sub stages, but are still running their car's stock speakers off the head unit. While this may not seem wrong to those who do it, they will normally get in a car with proper staging, and be blown away with how good the car sounds.

While i won't go into the down and dirty specifics of proper staging, because this single topic could fill 10 pages of thread... It is still something you should be aware of, and should be one idea you think of when planning your build.

What is a decibel (DB), how is it used in the car audio world?

Many people have a kind of warped view on what a decibel really is. It is not just a measurement to one specific thing (aka sound pressure), but instead it is a term used in a broad spectrum of measurements, and is more of a logarithmic unit than a specific measurement.*

What the hell does all that fancy talk mean? Basically, what all that means, is that a decibel is a term used to compare one measurement of a specific ( in this case SPL ) to a reference measurement point ( 0 db's )... So when it comes to talking about SPL, all measurements in db's are just a reference of the sound pressure in comparison to 0db of sound pressure (which is considered to be the lower limit of what the normal human ear can hear).*

Why is that important to understand? Decibels are usually only thought of when it comes to large systems that reach into the 100's of db's... but it also has another use... when you are trying to stage your system properly, you will be tuning it with positive, and negative db's. so it is important to remember that it is only a reference to 0 db's... and that a 3 db difference is what is considered to be the lower end in an audible change, that is why you will see slopes with 3db changes... there is SOO much more to this... but this is about as simple as i can put it.
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post #3 of (permalink) Old 10-13-2012, 08:09 AM Thread Starter
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This was taken from a car audio forum i am on. i thought it would be useful here since i have not seen anything like this here! if you guys feel its of no use go ahead and delete!
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>>>Engine whine and ground loop fixes

Ground loops and engine whine cause common problems such as a high-pitched whine that varies with engine RPM's, various thumps while changing tracks, turn on/off thumps, etc.

There are various protective measures to take in order to decrease the likelihood of experiencing engine whine and ground loops.
  • Shielded RCA's
    A good pair of shielded RCA's may be the easiest way to avoid engine noise. Don't use patch cables or other el-cheap-o RCA's that are unshielded. I'm not saying you need to invest a small fortune in RCA cables, just make sure they are shielded.
  • Proper head unit ground
    This is perhaps the most common source of engine noise. Many times factory head unit grounds are poor. Relocating the ground wire or adding to the existing one will help reduce or eliminate ground loops.
  • Proper amplifier ground
    If none of the above have worked, check the ground for the amplifier. Make sure it is grounded to the frame, battery, or other substantial metal surface. Make sure the metal is good 'ol fashioned detroit iron. Many cars use metallic alloys or composites that aren't very conductive. Avoid those at all costs.
  • Wire routing
    Some claim this next fix is BS, and others swear by their grave that it works. But run your RCA's and power wires at least 18" apart. I route my RCA's on one side of the car, and power on the other. Couldn't hurt.
  • Grounding the RCA's on the head unit
    Many have had problems with Pioneer head units because of a poor internal RCA ground. To remedy this, simply wrap wire around the RCA's and screw the wire down to the head unit's chassis like so:


    Thanks to Ultimate157 for the image.
    To view his thread on this subject, click
    here.

Please note: While ground loop isolators are tempting to use as a quick fix, I generally don't advise people to use them because they simply cover up the problem instead of solving it. Only use ground loop isolators as a final resort is none of the above fixes work.

Enjoy
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Amplifier Setting Tutorial

Outline:
Setting up an amplifier can be a very confusing and intimidating process for newbies. I created this to help guide those people through the process in what I consider to be a simple and easy way.

Preparation:
Things you should do and will need:

1) Read the owner’s manual(s)
2) Familiarize yourself with your equipment
3) Determine the final load of your speaker(s)/sub(s)
4) A calculator
5) A digital multimeter
6) A test tone CD
7) A print-out of this guide
8) A pen or pencil
9) A notepad

Note: All tests should be done with the engine running while using the calculation methods, at least for the part where you’re measuring.

Step 1: Setting up your head unit

1) Turn off all filters (low-pass and high-pass)
2) Set your EQ settings to 0 (i.e. Bass, Treble, Mid)
3) Turn off loudness
4) If you won’t be using the head unit’s internal amp, turn it off (if possible)
Step 2: Choosing the test tones you’ll use

Tones can be found here:
Test Tones

I’ve provided 4 different sets of tones and I’ll give a brief description of why one would use that particular set of tones.

0 dB:
Pros – No chance of clipping, very small chance of damaging equipment
Cons – Most music won’t reach 0 dB unless you’re running full range speakers, so you probably won’t get full performance

-3 dB:
Pros – Small chance of clipping with music in subs, small chance of damaging equipment, better performance than 0 dB
Cons – Small amount of clipping on peaks with some music (speakers)

-6 dB:
Pros – Better performance than -3 dB and 0 dB
Cons – User must be able to detect stress in equipment to prevent damage, moderate amount of clipping with some music (speakers), small amount of clipping with some music (subs)

-10 dB:
Not recommended for amateurs

As implied in the above descriptions, the choice of music you listen to may influence the tones you use as well. With pretty much all genres, I found that the mids had peaks above -1 dB, so I wouldn’t recommend that newbies use anything higher than -3 dB for setting the speaker amplifier. However, bass (20 Hz - 80 Hz), is a completely different story. I’ve analyzed a few dozen different songs from a variety of genres with Adobe Audition and here are some briefs descriptions.

Rap/Hip-Hop/Pop – Most of the songs in these genres had peaks in the -9 dB to -3 dB range. I recommend using 0 dB or -3 dB tones if you primarily listen to these genres.

Rock/Metal/Jazz/Classical – Most of the songs in this genre had peaks in the -12 to -6 dB range. I recommend using 0 dB, -3 dB, or -6 dB tones if you primarily listen to these genres.

After choosing the tones, download them and burn them to a CD.
Step 3: Setting up your speakers

If using the head unit’s internal amplifier:

Method 1: By ear

1) Using music you’re familiar with, turn up the volume until you begin to notice distortion or you achieve the desired volume (whichever comes first)
2) Write down the volume
3) Change music to a bass heavy track and set to repeat (if your HU has no HPF, disregard this and the following)
4) Turn on the high-pass filter and set to the highest frequency
5) Turn up the volume to the volume written in Step 2
6) Turn down the HPF frequency until you begin to notice audible distortion
7) Use the lowest HPF frequency with no distortion
8) Turn the volume down to 0 and turn off head unit

Method 2: Calculation

1) Open your owner’s manuals and find the RMS power output of your head unit’s internal amplifier and the rated RMS input for your speakers. Write down both and use the lower of the two in the next step.
2) Calculate the desired voltage using the formula: Voltage = SQRT(Power*Resistance)
3) Write down the desired voltage
4) Set the volume to 0 and turn off the head unit
5) Unhook one of the speakers
6) Attach the leads of the multimeter to the speaker wires (do not ground speaker wires or leads)
7) Set multimeter to measure AC voltage
8) Turn on the head unit
9) Adjust the balance and fade to only the speaker that is unhooked (i.e. If using front right speaker, balance to the right and fade to the front)
10) Insert the test tone CD
11) Fast forward to the 1000 Hz track and set to repeat track
12) Turn volume up until you achieve the desired voltage
13) Write down the volume
14) Turn the volume down to 0 and shut the head unit off
15) Unhook the leads from the speaker wires
16) Hook the speaker back up and remount
17) Turn the head unit back on (if your HU has no HPF, disregard this and the following)
18) Insert a bass heavy track and set to repeat
19) Turn on the high-pass filter and set to the highest frequency
20) Turn up the volume to the volume written in Step 13
21) Turn down the HPF frequency until you begin to notice audible distortion
22) Use the lowest HPF frequency with no distortion
23) Turn the volume down to 0 and turn off head unit
24) In the future, do not exceed the volume written in step 13

If using dedicated speaker amplifier:

Method 1: By ear

1) Turn the gain/sensitivity all the way down (counter-clockwise)
2) Turn head unit on
3) Insert music you’re familiar with
4) Turn volume up to maximum volume you will normally use or 80% of maximum volume
5) Turn the gain up until you reach the desired volume or you notice audible distortion
6) Turn the volume down
7) Turn the high-pass filter on. If your HU and amp both have HPFs, use the one with the most flexibility (continuously variable > selectable > fixed) (if your head unit and amplifier have no HPF, disregard this and the following)
8) Turn the HPF up to the highest frequency
9) Insert a bass heavy track and set to repeat
10) Turn the volume up to the volume written in Step 9
11) Turn down the HPF frequency until you begin to notice audible distortion
12) Use the lowest frequency with no audible distortion
13) Turn the volume down to 0 and turn off the head unit

Method 2: Calculation

1) Open your owner’s manuals and find the RMS power output of your amplifier and the rated RMS input of your speakers. Write down both and use the lower of the two in the next step.
2) Calculate the desired voltage using the formula: Voltage = SQRT(Power*Resistance)
3) Write down the desired voltage
4) Turn the gain/sensitivity all the way down (counter-clockwise)
5) Unhook all speakers from the amplifier (unhook at the amplifier, not at the speakers)
6) Insert leads of multimeter into one of the channels and tighten slightly
7) Set multimeter to measure AC voltage
8) Turn head unit on
9) Insert test tone CD
10) Set track to 1000 Hz and set to repeat
11) Turn volume up to maximum volume you will normally use or 80% of maximum volume
12) Write down the volume
13) Slowly turn the gain up until you reach the desired voltage
14) Turn the volume down to 0 and turn off head unit
15) Remove multimeter leads from the amplifier
16) Hook speakers back up to the amplifier
17) Turn head unit on (if your head unit and amplifier have no HPF, disregard this and the following)
18) Turn the high-pass filter on. If your HU and amp both have HPFs, use the one with the most flexibility (continuously variable > selectable > fixed)
19) Turn the HPF up to the highest frequency
20) Insert a bass heavy track and set to repeat track
21) Turn the volume up to the volume written in Step 12
22) Turn down the HPF frequency until you begin to notice audible distortion
23) Use the lowest frequency with no audible distortion
24) Turn the volume down to 0 and turn off the head unit
25) In the future, do not exceed the volume written in Step 12
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Step 4: Setting up the subwoofer(s)

Setting the gain/input sensitivity:

1) Open your owner’s manuals and find the RMS power output of your amplifier and the rated RMS input of your speakers. Write down both and use the lower of the two in the next step.
2) Calculate the desired voltage using the formula: Voltage = SQRT(Power*Resistance)
3) Write down the Sub Voltage
4) Turn the gain/sensitivity all the way down (counter-clockwise)
5) Unhook all subwoofers from the amplifier (unhook at the amplifier)
6) Insert leads of multimeter into one of the channels you’ll be using (if you’re bridging the amplifier, use the terminals you’ll be using)
7) Set multimeter to measure AC voltage
8) Unhook the speakers from the speaker amplifier or turn off the amplifier’s internal amplifier
9) Turn head unit on
10) Insert test tone CD
11) Set track to 60 Hz and set to repeat track
12) Set to the volume written down in the speaker setting stage
13) Slowly turn the gain up until you obtain the desired voltage
14) Turn the volume down to 0

Setting the subsonic filter (if available):

1) Determine the tuning frequency of your enclosure (if using a sealed enclosure, turn SSF off or to minimum frequency)
2) Calculate the desired SSF frequency by using the formula: SSF = Tuning*3/4
3) If number is not whole, round to the nearest integer
4) Write the SSF frequency down
5) Calculate the desired SSF voltage by using the formula: SSF_Voltage = 0.707*Sub_Voltage
6) Write the SSF voltage down
7) Turn the SSF to the maximum frequency
8) Set track to the SSF frequency and set to repeat track
9) Set to volume written down in speaker setting stage
10) Turn down the frequency on the SSF control until you reach the SSF Voltage from step 6
11) Turn the volume down to 0

Setting the low-pass filter:

1) Turn off the head unit
2) Unhook the multimeter from the sub amp
3) Hook up the speakers and sub(s)
4) Turn the low-pass filter on. If your HU and amp both have LPFs, use the one with the most flexibility (continuously variable > selectable > fixed)
5) Turn the LPF frequency to the minimum frequency
6) Insert music you’re familiar with
7) Turn the volume up to a comfortable level
8) Turn up the LPF frequency until one of the following is true: the sub stage and speaker stage blend perfectly, you can tell the bass is coming from the rear, or the bass starts sounding weird. If the latter two, use the highest setting before audible anomaly.
9) Turn volume down to 0 and turn off head unit

Level matching:

Use your head unit controls to attenuate parts that overpower the rest of the system
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i think i posted about all the good stuff there is to know! if i missed something or you guys would like to know something else let me know and i will look it up!
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post #9 of (permalink) Old 10-13-2012, 11:35 AM
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Good info. Too bad people don't use the search function, because I believe that all of this info is already on the site, just not all in one thread. This is getting stickied, nonetheless.
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OEM LOL

 
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We definitely needed this all in one thread to point people in the right direction.Thanks


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Good info.

A veteran is someone who, at one point in his life wrote a blank check Made payable to 'The United States of America' for an amount of 'up to and including my life.' That is Honor, and there are too many people in this country who no longer understand it.
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Good info for the new audio enthusiast.
I still disagree on the whole cap thing though.

2004 & 2007 Chevy Impala SS

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post #13 of (permalink) Old 10-21-2012, 12:49 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Storm View Post
Good info for the new audio enthusiast.
I still disagree on the whole cap thing though.
pm i'd like to know why, also have some Q's about the MECP cert.
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post #14 of (permalink) Old 10-21-2012, 05:04 PM
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PM sent.

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post #15 of (permalink) Old 11-12-2012, 01:00 AM
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great info for the audio issues and upgrades Thanks!!!

BigJohn677 Upstate South Carolina
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