Saturday, November 8, 2014

Now that’s quiet!

I remember buying my 1982 Mercury Capri RS 5.0 with its V-8 engine and sport-tuned exhaust.  I went to a lot of trouble to select a top-end Yamaha car stereo unit, Alpine speakers, and thick cabling and spent a long weekend wiring it up.  It sounded great in my parking space as I turned on the unit for the first time.  Then I started the engine … and I learned my first important lesson about car audio.  It doesn’t much matter how good the car stereo sounds if you cannot hear the music with the engine running.  I rationalized that the music did sound better than the factory system and I would be driving the car a lot on long-distance trips.  And the amazing sound of the V-8 engine rumbling through the sport-tuned exhaust had me forgetting at times about the stereo system I had just installed.  If I wanted to really enjoy music in this car, I would have to park and shut off the engine.  (I did that a few times.)  I learned my lesson well and never again replaced the factory car stereo unit.
My 1982 Mercury Capri with its sport-tuned exhaust

When I bought the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, I was happy that my model came with a CD & MP-3 player.  It’s hard to make a bad sounding CD player, and with the MP-3 setup, I simply stick in a disc with 10 hours of my favorite tunes and leave it in there for when I tire of commercials on the radio.  I still run the factory stereo, but that has more to do with cosmetics than acoustics.  For the first time, I can hear many of the details and nuances of classical performances while driving (as opposed to filling in the drowned-out parts from memory).  Sitting at a traffic signal, there is no noise from the car (beyond the ventilation fan) and you can hear every detail.  This holds nearly true while driving around town.  It is only at highway-speed that the road noise starts to drown out the music, nearly as much as with a gasoline powered car (without the sport-tuned exhaust).

The car is so quiet, correction … peaceful when stopped that traffic lights do not annoy me the way they once did.  I used to hate to sit idling at a traffic signal for three or four minutes during commute hours waiting for my brief green light.  I would worry about the gasoline being wasted, the extra pollutants, and the build-up of heat during the summer months.  (I started turning off the engine at these prolonged intersections.)  But eventually, it was the noise that got to me.  Now, when waiting at a red light in my electric car, there is no noise, no exhaust, and no waste while I am stopped.  I can hear every detail in my music and I feel more relaxed.  Of course, without my engine running, I can hear other people’s conversations too that were once more private.  So, now days, you really need to look around you before you start yammering about anything embarrassing.

Creeping along in very slow traffic can also be a major source of noise, both for the drivers and the neighbors living within earshot of the congested roadway.  But, I was able to experience the congestion of the future at a recent electric vehicle rally and parade nearby me.  Some 500 electric vehicles were to assemble at 7:00 am on a Saturday morning, the logistics of which resulted in a traffic jam extending ½ mile on the main road to the campus hosting the event.  In this particular traffic jam, with the windows down, there was no engine roar from surrounding cars, and better still, there were no choking exhaust fumes.  It was by far the best traffic jam I have yet to have the opportunity to get trapped in.  I now look forward to traffic congestion of the future.

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