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I have a plan to improve the dreaded HK audio system in my 2013 OB. The idea is to keep everything looking stock (stealth) but to reduce the muddy bass, install a real subwoofer, and improve the upfront sound stage. Options for dash speakers are extremely limited, so I have decided to keep the existing HK full-range speaker but use a crossover, limiting it to mid and bass frequencies down to ~100 Hz. Then I'll add a high quality tweeter with a crossover frequency that complements the mid-bass. Finally, baffling behind the dash speakers is almost non-existent, so I've devised a simple and inexpensive method to improve it. If all goes well, I will move on to the boomy door woofers and rear cargo subwoofer issues. The pics and write-up will take some effort, so I don't want to waste the time if others are not interested.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
I have the same system. I was a musician and sound engineer for more than a decade, so my ears might be biased. The few tweaks I did to the Rockford Fosgate system in my Xterra made a world of difference. Hoping for similar results in the OB.
 

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I have the non nav HK system in my 2013 and it sounds great. I have no idea what people are complaining about.
I agree. I have the Outback Limited with HK + navigation and subwoofer and for factory, it's not terrible and a huge step-up from last generations. My biggest complaint is the road noise and lack of insulation in the cabin. I didn't realize how bad it was until I drove newer, more luxurious cars.
 

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I agree. I have the Outback Limited with HK + navigation and subwoofer and for factory, it's not terrible and a huge step-up from last generations. My biggest complaint is the road noise and lack of insulation in the cabin. I didn't realize how bad it was until I drove newer, more luxurious cars.
Interesting! I find road noise to be exceptional. Of course, I traded in a 2004 Xterra with the loudest tires I have ever owned. It's all relative. I don't have navigation, and I think I read that there are some differences in audio between the two. The factory system sounds fine on standard FM radio, but if you select a station that broadcasts in digital, the bass is overwhelming and muddy sounding (almost non-existent below 100Hz and way too overpowering from 100-300Hz). I haven't tried bluetooth or CDs yet. Considering that the dash speakers are a single driver full-range unit, they are quite remarkable, but they lack in crispness over 10kHz, and you can't expect too much bass from a 3" driver.

Doesn't look like there's too much interest in a write-up, so I'll take some pics but not bother with detailed information.
 

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2011 Outback 3.6R Limited, Red
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I've the HK with Nav. I would be interested in seeing a rough right up at least to gauge how readily I would be able to duplicate what you're doing. It might be more than I am able to do however. Would love to see what you come up with at the very least!
 

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2016 Outback 3.6R Limited w/ EyeSight
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I am interested in up-to-date information.
 

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Very well! I'll do the write-up, and members can take whatever pieces of information they find useful. I'll post in segments and leave it up to the forum boss if it should be compiled into a contiguous thread or a sticky.

Just in case I am unable to squeeze my 10" subwoofer into the space available, I would love to hear from anyone who still owns an old-school (from the 90"s) Soundstream Reference SS8. Even if it is blown.
 

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I'm also interested, always good to have something show up, than to think nobody has done it...
 

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Somewhere on this forum is a great write up on a complete redo of the audio system...
 

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I just installed this and am loving the wireless CarPlay and also realizing just how worn and cheap the stock speakers are, so I would love to see what you come up with.

I have a plan to improve the dreaded HK audio system in my 2013 OB. The idea is to keep everything looking stock (stealth) but to reduce the muddy bass, install a real subwoofer, and improve the upfront sound stage. Options for dash speakers are extremely limited, so I have decided to keep the existing HK full-range speaker but use a crossover, limiting it to mid and bass frequencies down to ~100 Hz. Then I'll add a high quality tweeter with a crossover frequency that complements the mid-bass. Finally, baffling behind the dash speakers is almost non-existent, so I've devised a simple and inexpensive method to improve it. If all goes well, I will move on to the boomy door woofers and rear cargo subwoofer issues. The pics and write-up will take some effort, so I don't want to waste the time if others are not interested.



 

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Yes! I have the same car, 2012 OB with HK "upgrade".

The sound is underwellming indeed. Id say people are confused by the interesting sound of the dash corner midrange(?) driver, which is unlike anything Ive heard (try Beatles "Day in the Life" from USB-iPhone audio, for example). After that the 8" subwoofer at the back corner is not really even audible, and the rear door 5.5" coaxials dim or muddy. If I understand the driver doors 6.5" cones are low-passed from the amp somehow (caps?, software?), and trying to do everything below the dash, which if I understand are just full range ~2" cones bass blocked somehow. That would leave no actual tweeters in 2012s HK except the buried rear door coaxes. No wonder the sound is, shall we say, interesting?

First step here to recover Im replacing the 2 by 2 ohm double coil subwoofer (4ohm) with a Polk 8" sub driver (4ohm single coil shallow mount) from Crutchfield to see why it is essentially not adding anything. Then ordered two Infinity Reference EX 6.5s to put in the front doors to try to speed up and tighten the bass (they are coax, but tweeter will not get any signal there according to Crutchfield, and good cones for $80 on sale.)

Back seat doors are unlikely to do anything ever at the 6.5 limit plus drilling needed plus bad position, so just remove or adjust the fader EQ to silent, and see how it sounds with odd small corner full range and better/trimmer midbass. Hopefully that can keep the interesting sound HK and Subaru apparently tried to go for and failed with by using what Im guessing are the cheapest speakers Harman could produce to cut Subaru's unit costs and otherwise car-selling appeal, while still advertising a feature (HK stereo w 32 speakers! 🙂.

If not, then its the HU+amp algorithms are smearing everything below 200Hz at all volume levels, and the whole thing is just will have to remain only a 'nice car radio'. (Better than a 2012 Altima Blose upgrade, let's say). Im not going to count on full car functions and integration after even an amp bypass, nor especially swapping the Harman HU if it is contributing to the issues.

Just looking for speaker information and optimization, let me know if anyone knows more there.

SF
 

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OK, so first step for me in 'speaker only' improvement was to find out more about what the mystery "speaker" is in the dash corner of the 2012 Outback HK system.

It is a 2.5" regular spider and coil speaker, rather than a modern tweeter or coax as HK/Subaru claims. From the sound, I 'd expected a small full range, cone, which it is. During a 5-20 minute test drive, about 1/4 of listeners that try to check that are perhaps more likely to get the idea the '12 HK system is a $1000 sonic upgrade (It does provide some nice detail, but really only on a subset of songs.)?

On determining this, I thought I should replace it with the best wide-range tweeter ever made, the EPI Burhoe inverted dome. :) (See pictures). This can work, but only if one is willing to modify the fiber mount plate on the Burhoe itself for size and add a 10uF cap. And one would have to really dig out the dash plate under the stock grill, but it would probably fit horizontally (most important, Polk db 351 will not).

Fairly risky for a newer car? Yes. What about putting a Braun silk dome tweeter (maybe the second best)? This one has round magnet just tiny bit bigger than the existing dash cutout. Here's one from 1973, which like the EPI Burhoe measures a fluctuating 5 ohms with a regular volt meter. The orginal Subaru/Harman speaker there measures between 2.5 and 3 ohms, as the speaker moves under current (see pictures below). That would be fine as the parallel wiring means that it will be 1/4 (door) + 1/5 (tweeter) = 1/ total, or 2.2 ohms total where the stock is 1/4 + 1/3 = 1/n or n of 2 ohms total. OK, then the Braun some fits pretty darn close and you would find out if it was going to work after just a little cutting, with a chance to turn back, as the stock 'full range' there is indeed kind of a novel sound.

Novel, but look at the wimpy magnet on the stock dash speaker! Ridiculous, looks at the Burhoe, and then the Braun in comparison (pictures). Is it an expensive neodynium button magnet- no confidence given the apparent construction otherwise. (Check the rest of the thread.) That may be why this system is so disappointing to many, lacking the speed and punch but more like regular (charming) radio.

OK, I may be able to take the plunge soon. I would be replacing the front door speakers at the same time, where I would hope any $80-$100 Harman speaker from JBL or Infinity or rather Polk should be able to fix that unimpressive mid-base and add the midrange that will be cut by replacing the dash corner drivers. If I understand from the Crutchfield site, these front doors are not sent and signal in the treble range from the amp, rather than having a known capacitor that could be be removed?
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OK, so first step for me in 'speaker only' improvement was to find out more about what the mystery "speaker" is in the dash corner of the 2012 Outback HK system. It does seem to be a 2.5" regular spider and coil small speaker, rather than a modern tweeter. From the sound, I would have predicted it is a small full range, which gives what seems to be about 1/4 of listeners the idea the idea that the '12 HK system is a sonic upgrade (As above, it does provide some nice detail, but really only on a subset of songs.)

On determining this, I thought I should replace it with the best wide-range tweeter ever made, the EPI Burhoe inverted dome. :) (See pictures). This could work if one is willing to modify the fiber mount plate on the Burhoe itself and add a 10 uF non-polar cap in the positive line (1800 kHz filter at 4 ohms, system is intended for 4vohms but a 2-3 ohm speaker here wired in in parallel. Then one would have to really dig out the dash plate under the stock grill, but it would probably clear.

Fairly risky for a newer car? What about putting a Braun silk dome tweeter (maybe the second best)? This one has round magnet just tiny bit bigger than the existing dash cutout. Here's one from 1973, which like the EPI Burhoe measures a fluctuating 5 ohms with a regular volt meter. The orginal Subaru/Harman speaker there measures between 2.5 and 3 ohms, as the speaker moves under current (see pictures below). That would be fine as the parallel wiring means that it will be 1/4 (door) + 1/5 (tweeter) = 1/ total, or 2.2 ohms total where the stock is 1/4 + 1/3 = 1/n or n of 2 ohms total. OK, then the Braun some fits pretty darn close and you would find out if it was going to work after just a little cutting, with a chance to turn back, as the stock 'full range' there is indeed kind of a novel sound.

Novel, but look at the wimpy magnet on the stock dash speaker! Ridiculous, looks at the Burhoe, and then the Braun in comparison (pictures). That may be why this system is so disappointing to many, lacking the speed and punch but more like regular (charming) radio.

OK, I may be able to take the plunge soon. I would be replacing the front door speakers at the same time, where I would hope any $80-$100 Harman speaker from JBL or Infinity or rather Polk should be able to fix that unimpressive mid-base and add the midrange that will be cut by replacing the dash corner drivers. If I understand from the Crutchfield site, these front doors are not sent and signal in the treble range from the amp, rather than having a known capacitor that could be be removed? View attachment 478077 View attachment 478075 View attachment 478087 View attachment 478076 View attachment 478071 View attachment 478072 View attachment 478088
Glad to see someone else is taking an interest in this. I have lots of preliminary information and pics of my project, but I used my old phone (36MP camera), and for whatever reason it no longer communicates with either of my computers. Can't upload pics. Anyway, once I get it figured out, I'll post what I know so far.
 

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OK, so made some progress, and exposed bigger weaknesses than I thought with the "HK Upgrade" '12 on the OB.

First, took more cutting than I'd have felt comfortable with to put a standard home speaker tweeters in the dash position, but it right away was worth it. I'd not hesitate if your OB is more than 5 years old, sound change is big.

First I dremelled a little at a time, and got the drivers side in. I was able to retain the original mount holes in case of disaster. Then had to cut off one of the four tabs on the underside of the grill. No issues, still works fine as longs as you trim the bottom side protection on the window side (see below).

Tried the sound on USB-iPhone audio and a lot of what is wrong with the stock HK setup was revealed. A-B'ing right at left (new and stock) showed why the interesting sound that HK achieved is indeed a 'muddy mess'. That dash driver is dominating the 4 door speakers and sub in the far back with loud and fairly accurate midrange. A proper tweeter missing anywhere up-front brings the sharpness you would expect and found missing, but now for the first time, you can really hear the 4 door speakers and maybe even the sub. (If you walk to the back and open the hatch, you can then hear the sub, and it sounds 'not too bad', until you play something with a prominent bass line, say "Lucinda Williams- Down with That." At that point, it vibrates the platic panels around it, at even the most modest listening levels.).

On to the passenger side, and I though there was big issue, as I didn't realize how asymetric a car dash is!. There is a light sensor occupying a key position needed underneath for tweeter (Braun/ADS) rectangle plate. Knowing the sound improvement possible at that point, I turned the driver 90 degrees (see picture), and passing the point of no easy return, began chopping and sawing away with a dremel and a steak knife. Had to just about remove the window side dash plastic to the door under the grill, but in the end the tweeter plate fit 'vertical'- allowing the auto headling light sensor plug to pass ton center side.

Test drive started out a little dissapointing, as it seemed I did yet not solve the entire 'missing' sound quality issue, as it further EXPOSED how low quality the front and rear door speakers also really are. Obvious when not masked by the dominant dash 3" full-range high up by the driver. After a lot of rarely used equalizer settings (high medium and low only) gave pretty good sound improvement, much better clarity but muddy mid-base from all the other drivers except the sub more apparent than ever.

So, fact is, every speaker in the system will need to be replaced, and I think that will work. Maybe it is not an HU-HKamp problem mainly, but indeed some kind of ridiculous effort to simulate quality sound by using a tame amp with lots of compensating effects in order to save money on the cheapes 6+1 speakers Harman can provide and claim 'audio upgrade' on car sales. They make these speaker already in reasonable quality as Infinity and JBL? Check out the rear door speaker sound using the Fader setting, and then go back and listen low at the rear door standing outside. It is laughable. (Just putting the fader all forward doesn't work either, then the dash is too strong- I will need to buy and drill for mid level 6.5 of 6.75" $90 coaxials there, there are plenty of good quality ones at Crutchfield and they will tell you if they have needed clearance.

Finally, as I said above the sub in the 8" cargo area is on in fact if you walk back there and sounds OK and music that doesn't feature bass. However, it sounds like a stop light in LA at low volume if the track has any prominent bass playing (see above). It is far away from the driver, and therefore not contributing to tightening any bass, and the balance controls needed cannot be properly adjusted at he HK HU. Anyway, it will also have to go then, I am trying the Polk 8" 4 ohm single coil first, and will add a lot of dampening foam around the cavity.

SF

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Here's what is expected at the lower rear door panel, and the reason for the outrageously bad balancing sound for the weak tweeter-less front door 2-component system ;)
(Someone in the HK/Subaru collaboration going on since 2010 and making the same mistakes in 2019 should fired, the rear door has an untapped opening for the 6.75" drivers that Harman already makes and sells retail.)

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OK, so made some progress, and exposed bigger weaknesses than I thought with the "HK Upgrade" '12 on the OB.

First, took more cutting than I'd have felt comfortable with to put standard home speaker tweeters in the dash position, but it was worth it. I'd not hesitate if your OB is more than 5 years old, sound change is big.

First I dremelled a little at a time, and got the drivers side in. I was able to retain the original mount holes in case of disaster. Then had to cut off one of the four tabs on the underside of the grill. No issues, still works fine as longs as you trim the bottom side protection on the window side (see below).

Tried the sound on USB-iPhone audio and a lot of what is wrong with the stock HK setup was revealed. A-B'ing right at left (new and stock) showed why the interesting sound that HK achieved is indeed a 'muddy mess'. That dash driver is dominating the 4 door speakers and sub in the far back with loud and fairly accurate midrange. A propper tweeter up front brings the sharpness you would expect and missing, but now for the first time you can really hear the 4 door speakers and maybe the sub. (If you walk to the back and open the hatch, you can hear the sub and it sounds not too bad, until you play something with a bass line, say "Lucinda Williams- Down with That." At that point it vibrates at even the most modest listening levels.).

On to the passenger side, and I though there was big issue, as I didn't realize how asymetric a car dash is!. There is a light sensor occupying a key position needed underneath for tweeter (Braun/ADS) rectangle plate. Knowing the sound improvement possible at that point, I turned the driver 90 degrees (see picture), and passing the point of no easy return, began chopping and sawing away with a dremel and a steak knife. Had to just about remove the window side dash plastic to the door under the grill, but in the end the tweeter plate fit 'vertical'- allowing the auto headling light sensor plug to pass ton center side.

Test drive started out a little dissapointing, as it seemed I did yet not solve the entire 'missing' sound quality issue, as it further EXPOSED how low quality the front and rear door speakers also really are. Obvious when not masked by the doinant dash 3" full-range high up by the driver. After a lot of rarely used equalizer settings (high medium and low only) gave pretty good sound improvemtn, much better clarity but muddy mid-base from all the other drivers except the sub more apparent than ever.

So, fact is, every speaker in the system will need to be replaced, and I think that will work. Maybe it is not an HU-HKamp problem mainly, but indeed some kind of ridiculous effort to simulate quality sound by using a tame amp with lots of compensating effects in order to save money on the cheapes 6+1 speakers Harman can provide and claim 'audio upgrade' on car sales. They make these speaker already in reasonable qualigyt as Infinity and JBL? Check out the rear door speaker sound by using the Fader setting and then go back and listen low at the door standing outside. It is laughable. (Just putting the fader all forward doesn't work either, then the dash is too strong- I will need to buy and drill for mid level 6.5 of 6.75" $90 coaxials there, there are plenty of good quality ones at Crutchfield and they will tell you if they have needed clearance.

Finally, as I said above the sub in the 8" cargo area is on in fact if you walk back there and sounds OK and music that doesn't feature bass. However, it sounds like a stop light in LA at low volume if the track has any prominent bass playing (see above). It is far away from the drive and not contributing to tightening any bass and the balance cannot be adujsted. Anyway, it will also have to go then, I am trying the Polk 8" 4 ohm single coil first, and will add a lot of dampening foam around the cavity.

SF

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You and I clearly have fundamentally different approaches, which I enjoy because it gives me an alternate perspective. I want to be able to return my stereo to bone stock, just in case I decide to sell the car (not likely). I hope your plan works. The reason I didn't simply mount my tweeters by themselves in the dash is because the front door speakers do not get a full range signal. Your upfront soundstage will be missing a lot of midrange (probably 500-2500Hz). Your rear door coaxial idea might be able to compensate for this with some front-rear fading tweaks. My upload problem was due to a bad USB cable.

Here is the plan. The stock Harmon Kardon dash speakers are surface mounted, leaving no room for mounting tweeters unless the stock speakers are removed . . . or so I thought. In the following pic, you can see that the wiring harness mounting bracket is only double-side taped to the magnet. It just peels off, giving you extra space to rear-mount the speaker.

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In the same pic, the tweeters I intend to mount are MB Quart PTD25 1” titanium dome. I bought them when they were still made in Germany. You’ll notice in the pic that they are 6-ohm. For those not familiar with these tweeters, you might assume that 6-ohm will not pair up well with 2-ohm mids. Turns out the tweeters are so sensitive that the crossovers provide up to 6dB volume reduction to compensate for the lack of mid-woofer volume. Unlike Syds, my stock HK speakers test at 1.8 ohms (weird).

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With rear mounted mid-woofer and surface mounted tweeter, there should be enough room for a coaxial style setup. The design requires additional baffling. I picked up this dish drying mat at Walmart for a few bucks, and it is the perfect thickness for this project.

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After a lot of trial and error making cuts, the baffle will block almost all sound from the back of the speaker. A major flaw in the stock design that surely inhibited bass frequency response. The dust screen looked like it might restrict air flow, so I removed it. There isn’t any room for crossovers behind the dash, so I mounted them under the passenger seat and will run a second set of wires up to the tweeter. The additional pair of wires also lets you keep the stock harness without cutting it.

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More to come this weekend when I actually mount them in the dash.
 

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Very cool Clunker. Yes, I did appreciate that full range HK dash corner speaker as there is always magic in a well made full range cone. However what I found in the rear door makes we really skeptical that there are any speakers of even conventional quality in the HK car package. Nice Quartz tweeters, I do like the pairing idea but I'd noticed the best tweeters have large and heavy magnets with a real stiff and solid plate structure around them in all that I've seen through the years. No way for me to get that and have any mids up high.

So at step two, the full horror of the thing was revealed. Take a look at this HK upgrade speaker from the rear door! I have not seen that cheap lightweight 'toy' speaker cone since Technics all in one stereos of the late 60s. No way to make any mistake about it, this compenent is a scam- not any kind of novel design as I thought the dash one might be. It weighs almost nothing, totally explaining the excruciatingly bad sound revealed once the masking dash corner full range 2.7" was removed, or putting your head down by it in the door.

Replaced the toy speaker then in the rear door as fast as I could with just a standard mid $100 Polk db652 6.5" coaxial. Half the flabby smeared bass is now gone, and you can use the fader control as in a traditional/normal car stereo now to give a more full sound with more power and bass. The front door lower units are still lazily smearing the lower base but now there is some fast mid-base bunch with nice Polk treble, and I can hear the sub really for the first time. (The fader control seems to reduce the volume overall, probably to prevent exploding the fake toy speakers they put in the rear.)

So I must really remove every HK/Subaru speaker in the car after discovering what was in the rear door. If anyone held that their hand that has ever held a good speaker driver, there's no way they would believe that came from a stereo upgrade in a high trim package on a 2012 Japanese automobile.

Putting Infinity reference 6.5" in the lower door next, no idea what the frequency cut is down there, but I will find out with an iphone app by testing the speaker on a audio sweep recording . The speaker is coaxial as it is good quality cone and cheap, with the same build component costing double or triple for no reason. (The sub replacement cone is an 8" like the original, which can't help but make a lot of mid-bass no matter what frequency is sent to it, unless it is silent. ;)

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I got these for a '18 Impreza, as Crutchfield indicated they will fit that dash.

Thought I might have missed the 'ideal' solution there, but in fact they DO NOT fit in a 2012 Outback even though the mount pattern does match the original, and wopping magnet is a suitable diameter for the stock cutout. However, they are too deep, bottoming out on the important side window defroster vent. Unless you are a lot better than I am on creative modification of the dash grills, it's a not go. (They are ideal in having the midrange driver bigger than original and well known quality tweeter.)

Just look at the difference in magnet (speed and control of the cone or dome) compared to the HK dash speaker! Again, I'm going to say that HK/Subaru chosen speaker is really a 'toy', almost just like what you would find if you opened an old AM radio in almost every way, except maybe power handling. (From what I read on the internet and my '18 Imprezza, this HK upgrade nonsense has been going on for a decade, and has not changed as of 2019 either.)

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