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by Bill Braun

Staff Writer

on November 3, 2013
Meemo D. is an industry veteran with a ride to die for: the Mercedes-Benz S550.

The Mercedes has a twin turbo V8 delivering over 400 horsepower.  In truly European fashion, the power never gets in the way of a glass-like ride on anything short of a rally track. 

The interior is another stunner.  Like a classic novel, the cover belies the detail inside with simplicity wrapped around complexity.  The car audio enthusiasts call whips with hidden upgrades “sleepers.” 

Sitting in the drivers’ seat, the car looks and feels like a completely stock ride.  The dual LCD screens feeding you the standard information which – in a top end vehicle like this has no small amount of detail.  You can call up everything from the gas levels to the tire pressure to weather to the latest stock prices and back again. 

Turning on the car however – the sleeper wakes right up.

To say his acoustic tastes have evolved over time is much like saying chefs have an “opinion” about food.  Expose someone to enough audio, and you can’t help but experiment with different options and form opinions.  His experimentation led him to two main decisions:  JL Audio and Focal had to be in the vehicle.

“I wanted to keep a factory look,” Meemo explained, “but have the best system that I possibly could. You hear everything working in car audio, from the best to the worst.  My preference was Focal speakers and JL Audio amps. ”

The Installation

To keep a factory look - yet get signal to his amplifiers required a line output converter.  As his system was far from common, the quality of the converter had to be equally rare:  he chose the Audio Control LC6

While allowing Meemo to retain his factory receiver and all of his steering wheel controls, it also gives him the luxury of controlling the voltage going from the deck to the amps, so every amplifier is getting the correct amount of signal.  In plain English:  his volume knob works the way it should – despite being attached to something other than the factory speakers.

The S550 now has one of the more enviable speaker systems in the Focal K2 Power 165 KRX3.  Focal has long been prized as one of the best high end speaker manufacturers in the car audio industry, and this 3 way system is very nearly the highest quality system Focal makes. 

Installing the speakers into the factory locations maintained the illusion of a stock sound system at first glance.  A yellow cone color is only difference, and you have to be staring pretty intensely at the grilles to notice even that.  If you know anyone who instantly recognizes the speaker color of a stock Mercedes sound system – you're either an installer or have too much free time on your hands.

Speakers like the 165 KRX3’s require a fair amount of wattage to do their job.  Apart from powering an additional 2 speakers (traditional separates come with a pair of woofers and tweeters – the 165 KRX3’s come with a midbass, midrange and tweeter), sometimes you need more power to give every speaker the power it needs.  Enter the JL audio 300/4.  In a bridged mode (combining the left and right channels) it delivers 150 watts for both the left and right sides of the front stage, which is well matched to the power the Focal 3 way system requires.

The rear speakers are the Focal 165 KRX2’s.  Built identically to the front speakers, the sound is always pure and consistent.  A dedicated JL Audio 300/2 powers the rear deck, giving each speaker 75 watts.

The subwoofer keeps with the stealthy theme Meemo was looking for. 

A single JL Audio 10W3 provides all the bass he needs.  “I listen mostly to hip hop,” Meemo said “we removed the factory subwoofer to make the opening act as a port, and the bass is huge.”  To generate so much bass from just a single 10W3, you need a well-built box and a strong amplifier.  The amp is a JL Audio 500/1.  As the JL amp’s name implies it delivers 500 watts to the sub, which is right up to the top limits of what the 10-inch driver can handle.

The box was custom built by the Pacific Stereo install team, and incorporated into the back of the trunk.  A false floor was also fabricated to hide all 3 amps and the LC6.  Though there is quite a lot of equipment in this Mercedes, you’d never know it by opening the trunk. Just a simple subwoofer enclosure greets you as you lift the trunk lid, with plenty of room to spare.
When it came to wiring, Meemo once again chose JL audio for the power, speaker and RCA cables.  “I could have ordered anything with all of our contacts here at the shop, but I’m a big fan of JL and wanted to keep the same brand of wires as my amps were going to be.”

The finishing touch was a Drone remote start interface, similar to the DEI MB221D.  The interface allows Meemo to retain his factory remote control, but by pressing a special combination of buttons on the remote, the S550 starts up. 

In sunny Riverside, CA you get summers that routinely run into the triple digits.  Cars become convection ovens, with nearly surface you can touch or sit in potentially becoming their own special version of a branding iron.  It’s not Phoenix, but it isn’t far off.  Being able to press a couple of buttons and cool your car (or warm it in the winter) from afar is more than a little attractive.  Doing it with the factory remote is even more so – especially when this car doesn’t actually have a key, and you need the remote to start the car.

The Result

When you see a vehicle like a top end Mercedes, certain images pop into the mind.  It could be a suit-clad executive.  It could be a starlet, cell phone surgically attached to her hand.  It could be an Internet mogul…who just sold their idea to some huge conglomerate and decided to retire…at 30.  No matter what image comes to mind – they all speak of success and refined style unique to the S550.

That style begs for a stealthy install in this classic luxury car.  With no additional embellishments required, the sound quality behind the panels speak for themselves. Whether it’s the thunder of hip hop or a piano concerto the system reproduces it with equal measures of intensity, detail and power.  All without changing the factory radio.

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