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Replacement Stereo + Door Speakers

Started by sutekh, 06 June 2022, 02:25 AM

sutekh

Over the recent long weekend, I tackled one of the highest priority items on my w116 todo list: Improve the audio quality! Had my car not already had an aftermarket deck installed, I may have left things original, but knowing the OE wiring harness had already been molested was all the justification I needed. Thankfully, the installer of the outgoing cassette deck decades ago didn't make too big a mess of things (I've seen some real horror stories, so this was a relief!)

I chose one of the twin-knob Continental (VDO) decks currently popular on the vintage German scene, and I think it looks the part. I have some rather critical feedback about some of its traits, but it will serve. In addition to the deck, new speakers and something to handle low-frequencies was a must. After a lot of research and several returns, I landed on the following parts manifest:

  • Continental CD7416UB-OR AM / FM / CD / Bluetooth head unit
  • Kenwood KFC-1396PS 5.25in rear speakers
  • Kenwood KFC-1796PS 6.5in front speakers ("What!?" you say, "Surely those won't fit!" Stay tuned...)
  • Kenwood KSC-SW11 powered subwoofer

sutekh

Installing the rear speakers was a trivial affair, at least once I identified a suitable part: Nip the tabs and drill a trio of holes in the frames to accommodate the OE grills.

I looked at specs of literally dozens of options before arriving at the KFC-1396PS. Reasons being:

  • 130mm diameter fits under the OE grill
  • Mounting depth clears the gas tank
  • They have an ~10mm gap between the perimeter and start of the poly cone surround to accommodate the 3 x necessary mounting holes

Having selected these, I then stuck with Kenwood for the rest of the install.

sutekh

#2
The front speakers were a different matter. I reluctantly installed a pair of 4x6 drivers in the factory location on top of the dash. They sounded as bad as I suspected they would. I returned them and purchased a different pair costing nearly twice as much: same result. There's nothing wrong with 4x6in drivers per se, they're just simply too small a resonator to sound anything other than tinny without assistance from larger drivers.

Additionally complicating matters, my dash has a few cracks and I plan to install one of the Adsit vacuum-formed covers. Their solution for accommodating the front speakers is to simply drill some holes in the cover (in the wrong location I might add), which looks crummy and means you can't ever get to the speakers for service / replacement.

The above caveats ultimately led me to abandon the factory speaker location in favor of something I came up with for my (now departed) '84 w126 a few years ago: 6.5in drivers on the doors (which is exactly what Mercedes themselves adopted midway through the w126 run.)

I 3D printed a pair of standoff rings to the exact depth required with mounting holes to suit my speakers, and then upholstered them with some blue vinyl (OE blue 102) I ordered from http://www.globalupholstery.com. While I was placing that order, I also ordered a couple yards of the perorated vinyl used on the door cards, and re-skinned them (thereby preserving my originals unaltered).

A pair of simple, metal grills I sourced on Amazon (vs. the blingy parts that came with the Kenwoods) complete what I hope ended up looking close to a factory install.

sutekh

While I had the doors apart, I replaced a broken driver's side door catch / stay and broken vacuum lines at the hinge on both sides (spliced with short lengths of flexible vinyl tubing.) My door stays open and the central locking works now!  8)

I also fixed 4 out of 5 of the mounting  tabs on the door card, which had been carelessly broken off over the years, by quickly CAD drawing, printing, and ABS bonding some replacements. The attached photo of those didn't turn out very well, but you get the idea. If anyone's interested in any of these drawings (STL format), I'm happy to share.

I almost forgot the most important part! The sound quality with this setup is a vast improvement vs. where I started. While that might not matter to everyone, this is my daily driver and installing something listenable was a vehicle enjoyment requirement!

Finally, I'll defend my actions to any purists (despite this butchery, I count myself among you) by disclaiming that the only permanent alteration throughout this entire process was the drilling of 4 x small, 3/16in holes through the Masonite of each door card to affix the rings. :D


raueda1

Part 1

Solid work!  You were more ambitious than I was.  But you showed us yours so I'll show you mine.  I replaced the small dash speakers with something better.  Can't recall exactly what, but they were a lot better.  The originals were like an old transistor radio. 

Then put in an Alpine head unit for phone, bluetooth (Qobuz and Radio Paradise mostly) and USB stick functionality.  The look is incredibly UNoriginal, but sometimes you just need to do what it takes. 
[sidebar - very early model so note lack of wood on the console!]

Then the amp went in the trunk, some sort of 5 channel Kenwood power plate.  Cables from head unit were WAY too long.  Sooner or later I'll re-terminate them.
-Dave
Now:  1976 6.9 Euro, 2015 GL550
Before that:  1966 230S, 1964 220SE coupe, 1977 Carrera 3.0

nathan

The inevitable originality criticism here. Your 116 looked in nice shape, and now has these whopping speakers cut into it. The thing that I dont like about such an alterations, is that they will be junk in 10 years, and you will still have great big holes in there.  I have come to accept very average sound in our 116, but keep it original.  The deck looks pretty fair.  In saying this, I lament that I cut some panels on one of our MBs when I was a 20 year old, it still haunts me everytime I look at it 25 years later!

6.9 79 #6436
6.9 79 #6290
6.9 79 #6181
6.9 78 #4764
6.9 77 #3096
6.9 76 #1741
6.9 76 #0902
6.9 75 #0018

sutekh

#6
Quote from: nathan on 07 June 2022, 06:26 AMThe inevitable originality criticism here. Your 116 looked in nice shape, and now has these whopping speakers cut into it. The thing that I dont like about such an alterations, is that they will be junk in 10 years, and you will still have great big holes in there.  I have come to accept very average sound in our 116, but keep it original.  The deck looks pretty fair.  In saying this, I lament that I cut some panels on one of our MBs when I was a 20 year old, it still haunts me everytime I look at it 25 years later!



I'm afraid you didn't bother to read my post very carefully, Nathan :) Nothing whatsoever was "cut". My original door card skins are now sitting in a box undamaged and could be reinstalled should I ever choose to do so. The only permanent alterations are 4 small 4mm holes through the masonite cards to support the rings. If I reapplied the original skins, even the most scrutinizing concourse judge would never notice those.

Aside from the factory radio wiring harness, which as mentioned had already been spliced into decades ago, no other wires were cut. If you've had your speakers out, you'll know that there's a 6in pigtail on each leading to a 2-pin connector. My door speaker wires just plug into that connector.

I understand this isn't everyone's cup of tea, but if original w116 values suddenly skyrocket, I could have this car (aside from the deck, which again, had been previously modified) back in original condition within 60min. In the mean time though, I'm going to enjoy driving it around with WAY better sound quality!  :)

raueda1

Part 2

Stage 2 was the rear deck speakers.  The original 5"-ers (?) were replaced with some kind of fairly serious modern substitutes.  Can't recall exactly what, but I'm not sure it matters much.  And the look isn't too obnoxious.

The icing on the cake was the subwoofer.  It was installed in the first aid kit opening.  The baffle was well sealed, as was the trunk.  A speaker grill was velcro-ed over the baffle on 1.5cm feet to prevent interference with the woofer cone.  Alongside that stands the charming Princess Komoniwanalaya. The subwoofer was a free-air Pioneer unit designed to work well >>without<< a sealed enclosure.  Although the head unit and amp allow very fine equalization/tuning, I found this to be unnecessary.  The head unit has a subwoofer level control which comes in very handy since there are such wild variations in audio mastering. 

Anyway, the system really sounds great!  Excellent definition, top to bottom, extremely articulate and plays far louder than I ever listen.  None of this stuff can really be considered "high end," yet it vastly outperforms the supposedly wonderful Harman Kardon system in my GL550.  Obviously all this is very far from stock but sometimes one must sacrifice originality for performance, especially if the car is driven a lot.  Anyway, there was no metal cutting etc so it could be easily returned to stock.  Cheers,
-Dave
Now:  1976 6.9 Euro, 2015 GL550
Before that:  1966 230S, 1964 220SE coupe, 1977 Carrera 3.0

raueda1

Quote from: nathan on 07 June 2022, 06:26 AMThe inevitable originality criticism here. Your 116 looked in nice shape, and now has these whopping speakers cut into it. The thing that I dont like about such an alterations, is that they will be junk in 10 years, and you will still have great big holes in there.  I have come to accept very average sound in our 116, but keep it original.  The deck looks pretty fair.  In saying this, I lament that I cut some panels on one of our MBs when I was a 20 year old, it still haunts me everytime I look at it 25 years later!
LOL, sutekh anticipated this.  I did too.  However, as far as I can tell, sutekh did NOT cut huge holes and went so far as to preserve his original door cover sheets by having new cover sheets specially made!  So, his only desecration was small holes in the door panel itself - far less damage than most doors sustain from water, dirt, etc.  In my case nothing was cut at all.  So, the only originality transgression is optical.  True enough, the head unit in mine especially isn't even remotely vintage looking.  OTOH I'm driving 10k miles a year in this old beast.  For me that's just too much time on the road to tolerate vintage W116 audio.  While I'm in confession-mode, my other originality offense is mirror polished valve covers.  I love 'em but I've got another set on hand just in case.  Obviously YMMV. ;D Cheers,
-Dave
Now:  1976 6.9 Euro, 2015 GL550
Before that:  1966 230S, 1964 220SE coupe, 1977 Carrera 3.0

gurrier

BTW in now have to go off and research what Movie/TV programme a gyrating Princess Komoniwanalaya
appeared as a recurring theme on the dash of a car, thanks !!
1973 350SE

sutekh

Quote from: raueda1 on 07 June 2022, 10:15 AMLOL, sutekh anticipated this.  I did too.  However, as far as I can tell, sutekh did NOT cut huge holes and went so far as to preserve his original door cover sheets by having new cover sheets specially made!  So, his only desecration was small holes in the door panel itself - far less damage than most doors sustain from water, dirt, etc.


Correctamundo!  8)  I simply couldn't happily commute in this car the way it was though.

How did you avoid slicing off your first aid kit flap to mount that woofer? Is that an alternate rear deck cover? The carpeting looks a bit different than OE maybe?
 
Polished valve covers, huh? (/sutekh Googles "OM617 polished valve cover"...) I'm intrigued!

raueda1

Quote from: sutekh on 08 June 2022, 12:43 AM
Quote from: raueda1 on 07 June 2022, 10:15 AMLOL, sutekh anticipated this.  I did too.  However, as far as I can tell, sutekh did NOT cut huge holes and went so far as to preserve his original door cover sheets by having new cover sheets specially made!  So, his only desecration was small holes in the door panel itself - far less damage than most doors sustain from water, dirt, etc.


Correctamundo!  8)  I simply couldn't happily commute in this car the way it was though.

How did you avoid slicing off your first aid kit flap to mount that woofer? Is that an alternate rear deck cover? The carpeting looks a bit different than OE maybe?
 
Polished valve covers, huh? (/sutekh Googles "OM617 polished valve cover"...) I'm intrigued!
I used another rear deck cover that I picked up someplace, from our late and beloved forum member Scott (aka Squiggledog) if I recall.  He was parting out a W116 with palomino interior. I think it may not have been original material, Scott was very creative with repurposing and recreating various parts and systems.  But it works great with velcro so the princess never loses her balance.

As for valve covers, see below.  It has an amazing hypnotic effect on all the hot rod and muscle car guys.  They usually start questioning their life choices.  ::)  Had it done at a polishing shop out in West Valley someplace.  Wasn't very expensive at all.  I show people that when they think the car is a diesel.  ;D It's one of the few "nonoriginal" changes that I really like.  Cheers,
-Dave
Now:  1976 6.9 Euro, 2015 GL550
Before that:  1966 230S, 1964 220SE coupe, 1977 Carrera 3.0

Neil4speed

Truly incredible work sir. I love it, well thought out.

My father had a 450 in the 80's and the first thing he did was take out and replace the becker with at the time a modern Sanyo (higher end with DBX) as he really enjoys his music fidelity. Mine has the Becker and the FM has been fine, but if I was driving mine as much as you are, I would do the same for sure.

This was also a cool build that I saw, but at a different price point; https://bringatrailer.com/listing/1978-mercedes-benz-450sel-6-9-11/

sutekh

Quote from: Neil4speed on 09 June 2022, 01:19 PMThis was also a cool build that I saw, but at a different price point; https://bringatrailer.com/listing/1978-mercedes-benz-450sel-6-9-11/

Love that, thanks for sharing! I very seriously considered installing a used McIntosh MX406, and may yet do so. My primary 2-channel system is all Mac, and I'm a life-long fan of their sound & build quality. Glad to see what one looks like in a w116!

If I do eventually go that route, I'd likely displace the ashtray and include a matching MPM4000.

Neil4speed

Wow, very nice - as an owner of a McIntosh home stereo I must say it would be wonderful to have them match - very very cool!