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JL Introduces OEM-Friendly Head Unit Alternative

In response to increasingly “aftermarket-unfriendly” vehicles, JL Audio has developed a new “smart” interface called CleanSweep.

The DSP-based box is the first integration unit that corrects the equalization curves in factory radios that typically interfere with aftermarket speakers, said JL Audio. Installers can then plug in amplifiers, as well as sources such as an iPod or satellite radio tuner, into the CleanSweep without tampering with the factory radio.

“Most factory head units incorporate equalization aimed at making the cheap factory speakers sound okay. But if you connect good speakers it will sound bad. The CleanSweep allows you to get the signal from a factory source unit and correct the response back to flat, just like an aftermarket head unit. [You] then provide a clean preamp signal with volume control to your amps and speakers,” explained JL Audio’s marketing VP Manville Smith.

The CleanSweep converts up to four analog signals to 24-bit digital audio, and it uses a 32-bit SHARC DSP processor to equalize each of up to four channels with 30 bands of equalization.

Installers leave the factory source system in place, connect the Clean-Sweep, put in a calibration CD and then the unit calibrates in 20 seconds, said JL Audio. A knob mounts in the front to control the system volume and switch modes.

When removed, the CleanSweep allows for simple restoration to the original factory system. It is expected to ship in May at $399.95.

Smith commented on the larger issues that the CleanSweep is attempting to repair. “Cars have gotten more difficult to work on. Installers and retailers have been telling people in order to do that to your car, it’s going to cost a lot in fabrication or they say we can’t do it. The car is facing a transition.”

He said the CleanSweep is an alternative to a head unit-replacement to a factory radio (and at a similar price). “The focus in the past always started with the head unit. That’s how the salesmen were trained. The automakers have turned this world upside down with the newer OEM audio system designs, and retailers need to realize that the sale now starts with speakers and amps and ends with how these can be connected to the OEM source,” he said.

Smith said that aftermarket head units will now morph into other products or ones that install in places other than the DIN opening. “Instead of a pretty unit with a flip-out face, the head unit companies will migrate more towards products that can be mounted to a console or dashboard. We are going to see hard drive systems or video servers or video systems that are essentially hideaway with small controllers with flexible mounting capabilities. The head unit companies are not going to die. They are going to adapt.”

The problem of “aftermarket-unfriendly” vehicles will become a more significant issue three to five years from now, Smith said. “Right now the cars with the difficult problems are the ones with first owners. Within a few years, these will be the cars our demographic will buy. If we don’t get a handle on this and learn to sell from the back of the car up to the front, we’re not going to be successful as an industry.”