Honda 5.1 Frankenstein 2023

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timbre4

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I still drive my 1988 Civic LX at least once a week, for the fun of it. I can do whatever I want to with it! First a little history...

For several years I've had a Pioneer AVH-P7600 DVD-A player with amps in the trunk, which sounded great. I really hate wiring; somehow I wired the positive direct from battery (as opposed to radio circuit which was insufficient) wrong, which resulted in a parasitic draw I could never figure out. If I didn't remember to start the car every 2-3 days, I had to push it out and jump it with the 4Runner. I got tired of this and disconnected all power for sound. Now the car could sit for weeks and start effortlessly. That was about 6 months ago. I spent some quiet time driving that was nice for a while. Recently I'd bring my Klipsch Heritage Bluetooth speaker and put it on my dash.

So then I began thinking about the Frankenstein project I had in mind 15 years ago. Back before FLAC surround libraries on hard drives, I was going to use switchboxes to play either a Sony MEX2000 SACD player or my Panasonic PA65 portable DVD-A player. I put the switchboxes (4 CH unit + 2 CH unit) on eBay but nobody seemed to know what these were for or have some crazy application like I was thinking of. So I kept them.

The 2023 variation on this theme would be a similar wiring job (EEK) however this time it would be the Pioneer AVH-P7600 AM/FM/DVD-A/Aux head unit on one side and a WIN 10 laptop with a 5.1 audio player software and my 5TB portable USB hard drive. I got a new laptop for work a few months ago and IT did not want the old one back because it was a Dell unit where the battery swells and splits the case. (this was supposed to be fixed as I'd replaced the battery and case with 'improved' parts and then it did the same thing). For HDMI to 6 analog outputs to amps + master volume control I'm looking at the unit below on eBay for $59. If you know of any similar units that run on DC power, please let me know.

So if I have pretty much all my 5.1 + quad collection on the USB hard drive, what is the point of keeping the Pioneer head unit? Well, there is radio, aux for podcasts or Soundcloud for my own music. So this is what I'm thinking to do in Spring 2023. Thanks for reading.

box1.jpg
box2.jpg
 
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timbre4

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UPDATE:
1. Laptop battery is almost toast so I need to rummage through Dell parts box for a DC adaptor I *think* I still have.
2. I found the 12v to 5v adapter required for the interface box; this arrived a few days ago.
3. I'd previously decided (using reviews) on 5KPlayer as the app to play the FLAC files off the 5TB WD HDD box. Installed that today and fiddling with it now.
a. It was a tad goofy on the install; I chose not to register and it promptly disappeared. Decided to uninstall and try again; insisted it was running?
b. Re-start the laptop - clicking the icon still nothing. Same message for uninstall. THEN I figure out I can open it and change the setting that defaulted it to minimize on start-up. (seems like an odd default to start off with)
c. Figure out that I'm adding tracks to a Music playlist rather than selecting the HDD as a source as I'd planned. So I start cherry-picking tunes for random.
d. Found a support page that says I can drag & drop (album) folders but it just flat won't work. I drag and get a red circle slash on multiple attempts.
e. Back to cherry picking tunes one at a time.

So.... If I can find DC adaptor for laptop and the weather / energy level holds up I will take a stab at a test run tomorrow. :smokin
 

timothyemerson

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UPDATE:
1. Laptop battery is almost toast so I need to rummage through Dell parts box for a DC adaptor I *think* I still have.
2. I found the 12v to 5v adapter required for the interface box; this arrived a few days ago.
3. I'd previously decided (using reviews) on 5KPlayer as the app to play the FLAC files off the 5TB WD HDD box. Installed that today and fiddling with it now.
a. It was a tad goofy on the install; I chose not to register and it promptly disappeared. Decided to uninstall and try again; insisted it was running?
b. Re-start the laptop - clicking the icon still nothing. Same message for uninstall. THEN I figure out I can open it and change the setting that defaulted it to minimize on start-up. (seems like an odd default to start off with)
c. Figure out that I'm adding tracks to a Music playlist rather than selecting the HDD as a source as I'd planned. So I start cherry-picking tunes for random.
d. Found a support page that says I can drag & drop (album) folders but it just flat won't work. I drag and get a red circle slash on multiple attempts.
e. Back to cherry picking tunes one at a time.

So.... If I can find DC adaptor for laptop and the weather / energy level holds up I will take a stab at a test run tomorrow. :smokin
Sounds like a cool project. When you're done, don't forget to post pics. As a fellow acting custodian of a 1980's machine (MKII Escort Estate), I appreciate a gander at these now vintage rollers!
 

timbre4

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Sounds like a cool project. When you're done, don't forget to post pics. As a fellow acting custodian of a 1980's machine (MKII Escort Estate), I appreciate a gander at these now vintage rollers!

Thank you for your interest in this project! I was not able to find the leftover Dell parts box, afraid now some stuff is long gone. I need to get that soon as the laptop with go kaput in about 6 minutes on this battery. Out of town work this week so will resume next weekend hopefully with ordered parts.
 

timbre4

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UPDATE: Progress made (2 channels only)
Executive summary: This is going to work, once a few things are solved. No photos yet, still in ugly test mode.

My intention was to start this on Saturday (today) but I got a wild hare on Wednesday when the Dell laptop DC power supply showed up. That 8 minute battery life wasn't going to let me get very far. Let's review what I've learned about the items involved and their current status:

1. WD 5TB easystore HDD with 5.1/quad FLACs source material = OK [USB power]
2. 5KPlayer for FLAC playback = Maybe [seems to output 5.1 okay; must add song at a time to a playlist - wanted to simply point to HDD for playback]
2. Dell Latitude 7480 Laptop = NO Realtek chip is likely 2 channel only? [Confirm and Replace with another unit]
3. 12vDC cable for Dell laptop = OK [sufficient wattage]
4. HDMI to 6 analogs box 5vDC = OK [use power cable; USB draws too much]
5. 12vDC to 5vDC adaptor = OK [install and replace the USB power
6. Presentation pointer = maybe [serves as remote volume control; but I want to also change tracks without fiddling with player on laptop]

The Pioneer AVC-P7600 DVD-A player and the 3 amps in the trunk (Advent x 4, Jensen x1 center, Jensen x1 sub) have been disconnected from battery for 6 months due to parasitic power drain issue. I'd held off undoing the wiring for the pioneer head unit as I figured it was going to be reinstated once I put a kill switch on the amps. (lost interest as winter arrived)

Comical rush testing process after work:
a. I took a deep breath and started to unwire the Pioneer and move the amp cables to the HDMI to analogs box.
b. Brought the laptop + DC power cable + 5TB HDD into the picture
c. Turned ignition on to Accessory - plugged in laptop DC cable to also power 5TB HDD + HDMI-Analogs box]
d. No sound - duh I, reconnect DC power to amps in trunk.
e. No sound - duh II, remote power wire needs Pioneer head unit on
f. No sound - duh III, trace remote wire at each end; connected but not turning amps on; screw it! tie remote to 12v positive to get amps on.
g. Sound! - 2 front channels only; HDMI/analogs box set to 5.1 - right lights lit up, volume works.
h. Screen brightness fluctuating - 1st though DC power insufficient; then I realize having HDD + HDMI box + Pointer all on USB is too much
i. Close the laptop lid so it doesn't need as much power - oh wait you didn't change 'close lid' setting to do nothing! Duh IV - Sound STOPS.
j. Fidelity was decent; retreat to the bench to figure out how to get all this right.
j. No power to head unit and the screen has come out and stood up - get out of this car now! Whew.

For now:
1. Researching which Dell laptops have 5.1 capable audio chip (less common in laptops)
2. I chose 5KPlayer in the comparison article because it explicitly supports 5.1 output; it was less clear with others; although old WINAmp may get it done?
3. Ordered a USB remote that has playback keys - will it be compatible with my FLAC player? (another factor to consider)

Then I think, should I do this in the 4Runner instead? It has a good Pioneer AVC-P7800 installation, NO! Leave that one alone.
And so it goes. Thanks for reading.
 
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timbre4

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SMARTER the Next Day:

1. The laptop audio chipset doesn't matter at since HDMI is managed by the graphics card.
2. Why not test the laptop with the Denon 5.1 system and see what it does. What about the lame-O laptop battery? Oh take a chance.
REVELATION
3. At first it sounded like stereo, but room-filling. Ah, V-AUX defaults to 5 channel stereo mode. So I grabbed the DENON remote and switched it to HDMI.
4. BAM! TRUE 5.1 surround as pretty as you please! Sound settings on laptop reveal Realtek stereo DISABLED and the ACTIVE device is now HDMI Denon.
That all fell into place without me doing anything other than correcting the Denon's input mode.

Summary:
a. I'm not laptop shopping anymore. (This battery has lasted an hour already and with lid closed (screen off) says hours more left? (not complaining)
b. WTF is wrong with the HDMI 2 analogs box then? There's a tiny awkward 2CH /5.1 CH switch on the front panel <<< probably the culprit. research it.
c. If I can figure out the box mode issue I'm good and the remote control ordered will be icing on the cake.

Wait Let's Make This Even More Complicated Dept.:

My plan for 15+ years was to switch between a DVD-A player and some alternate source (Q8 player or some HDD setup) I've had a pair of audio input switchers for this! These small units (one is 4ch and the other 2ch) could in theory support keeping the Pioneer AVC-P7600 on line along with this 5.1 juke box. I still have a huge stash of DVD-A discs, need FM and play podcasts thru Aux input cable.

Okay that's enough to chew on for now. Off to research the box switch issue.....

EDIT: The switch is not sticking out to change mode with fingers; what I go has a recessed slide switch I'll need to fiddle with (too hot out there now)
 
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timbre4

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Mild update:
1. The HDMI box is the problem, not passing 5.1 sound. I poked the front panel switch and it muted between positions but was just 2.0 to mute to 2.0.
I wrote to the vendor that sold it to me to confirm that it can pass 5.1 natively. My fear is the 5.1 light is for DTS/DD decoding of 2.0 from HDMI. Ugh.

2. The USB remote showed up; it's the same size as the one for my Pioneer decks. Plugged it in and zero interaction with music playback.

I am stalled until I hear back from the vendor (doubting I will) about HDMI box capabilities. I either try another of the same unites ($59 again unless he gives me a break) or try to find another box.

Hello - I received this unit in February (winter) for a Spring project. I left positive feedback in March because as a seller at times I like to get it done soon. In any event, I have a question about how this unit is working.

I'm powering this off laptop USB and it lights up fine. Using the HDMI port and a USB 5TB HDD as 5.1 source material. The front panel of the unit is missing the slideswitch to change from 2.0 to 5.1 with a finger. It seems possible to slide the notched plastic over with a screwdriver and the sound mutes momentarily so it seems like it's working. But it never allows true 5.1 only 2.0 stereo in either position? <<<

I have tested the laptop HDMI output into a Denon AVR - it was able to play the 5.1 material in 5.1 as desired.

So the question I have is - can this box convert 5.1 content on HDMI to 6 analog outputs or does it just not support that? I've seem some gear that is 5.1 but only DTS or Dolby Digital formats.

Please advise when time permits.. Thanks, Tim (timbre4gear)

I've only put a dozen tracks into 5KPlayer so far; no point in spending that time until I'm sure this is the player to keep. Since the USB remote did nothing with 5KPlayer (play / pause basics) I'm less content with it. Looking at other players this weekend.

In summary, I will ultimately get there, I saw enough proof of concept now to know.
 
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timbre4

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To his credit, the eBay seller wrote me back. the unit I bought is DTS/DD only so it cannot do 5.1 LPCM pass through. Sheesh, he did know what he was talking about. (many sellers haven't a clue and you have to think their descriptions are sketchy).

Search for HDMI 5.1 box resumes.

EDIT:
He told me no such box exists.

New Goal: Prove him wrong.
 
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timbre4

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Okay, he's right. All the HDMI boxes are for DTS/DD/Analog 2.0 only. I guess these are aimed at consumers with older AVRs that lack HDMI and/or modern format decoding. Poor devils.

So then I step back and consider USB boxes; I really don't care how it gets done!. I am now considering this ASUS Sound Card Xonar U5 unit. Appears to be discontinued gamer item but has what I need. It is USB powered, analog outputs with true 5.1 pass through:


USB1.png

USB2.png


Do I really need to buy 3 cables to manage 3 x 1/8" stereo mini to a pair of RCA females to handle the amps? {I swear I have these cables; can't find them of course] Just a few dollars more....

The other thing to resolve is whether I can do better that the 5KPlayer for the 5.1 FLACs playback; I'm not keen on the adding all I want to play to a 5Kplayer playlist. Just looking to point at the HDD 5.1 folders and say "random!" I don't think that's asking too much.
 

timbre4

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Made some solid progress yesterday!
Took this out for a shakedown cruise and enjoyed about an hour of uninterrupted mobile surround from FLACs.

This rat's nest of wiring will be tidied up once all the options are decided. I love the ASUS interface box; that big master volume is great. I *think* the D/A conversion is very good but still getting used to it. Everything sounds different than when I was playing DVD-A discs with the Pioneer AVH-P7600. I may still want a remote to skip tracks but that shouldn't be very often that I'd need to do that.

Here's an update of what has changed along the way:
1. ASUS XONAR U5 USB box provides the true 5.1 interface I was looking for = SELL that HDMI box on eBay
2. The Dell laptop battery seems to have decent capacity again? = Don't need the 12v DC adaptor like I thought I did
3. FOOBAR 2000 (an amazing tool) is the way to manage a folder of music = 5KPlayer and it's copy to playlist chores is uninstalled now
* I didn't have random / shuffle figured out so it ran alphabetically with 5 Simple Minds tracks thru XTC (started near the end of the alphabet)
4. Spare WD Easystore 2TB drive (40 songs test) not really needed = laptop is not used for anything else so the 256GB SSD has sufficient space
* Today I curated 300 songs @ 77GB and this seems like plenty for now and room to add more. (I run from Carpenters to Opeth here)
* Another benefit to this is less demand on the USB bus for power - Just the Asus box and maybe a remote control if I get that figured out
5. 12v stepdown to 5v DC power wiring adapter = not needed as USB power is sufficient (didn't wanna strip wired anyway) = spare parts bin
6. Two system switchboxes? (not shown) I will probably try to keep the Pioneer AVH-P7600 head unit in the picture; that'll be a long wiring day

In summary, yesterday was the first glimpse of the payoff. I have some fine tuning adjustments to make and then this should become and easy solution to use and disengage by just unplugging the USB cable from the laptop.

I still have get the remote on/off wire for the amps working properly to trust leaving it all connected. There is something wrong somewhere that historically has caused a parasitic drawn to where the car doesn't start. Failing that I did buy a kill switch to turn the amps off after a drive. FUN! :smokin

IMG_6306.jpeg
 
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timbre4

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Cloudy day and other chores happening instead of another drive today.

I am amazed that my old speakers and amps sounded so good with this rig. I may keep the random tracks on the laptop SSD with the option to either plug in the 5TB full 5.1/ quad libraries or dedicate the spare 2TB for selected full album playback.

The main thing from this exercise was proof that it was worth pursuing. It doesn’t sputter, quit, make strange noises or sound funny. I’m in a really good place with this. I’m going to enjoy this for a while before the next phase.

The next phase is to reconcile the wiring to accommodate the 6 channels switch box (4channel + 2channel pair) so that the Pioneer AVH-P7600 FM/DVDA head unit can re-enter the playback options. First I need to find some install schematics to know what those extra wires are for:

IMG_6320.jpeg
 

timbre4

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I just installed a playback history feature for Foobar2000 so I can show random playback results in the future.
Here is an unordered list of what I recall hearing yesterday of the 299 tunes added so far:

U.K. - Alaska [live]
Big Big Train - Wassail [live]
T Rex - Bang A Gong
Stephen W. Tayler - Crosstalk In The Crosswalk
King Crimson - Exiles
Tears For Fears - Seeds Of Love
XTC - Ballet For a Rainy Day
David Gilmour - Fat Old Sun [live]
The Band - The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
Jethro Tull - Aqualung
Toy Matinee - Last Plane Out
Elton John - Captain Fantastic
Tears For Fears - Rivers Of Mercy
Brand X - Nightmare Patrol [live]
 

timbre4

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UPDATE
I planned to take a victory lap trip in the Civic with the 5.1 laptop system tomorrow, while taking the day off for my 65th birthday. I dumped in another 100 tunes for this occasion.

Last night I discovered that my Left Rear channel was out! After work today, I began testing to determine the issue. First I found a speaker lead was disconnected. Simple fix; but the speaker would not sound from test link on laptop screen - all other channels responded. So then I start swapping RCA cables to determine what’s good.

Finally it comes down to the amp channel being out. This Advent (Jensen) 4 channel amp has served me well for 25+ years, now I need to patch the system good enough to enjoy my day out. I could make this amp be L/C/R and switch the center amp back to 2 channel to drive the rears. I decided there was too much wiring to change now and if I took the plunge I could end up with nothing working. Stuff goes sideways with so many variables.

Then I remembered the two prized Proton amps on the shelf for becoming unreliable in the past. They were bought to drive subs with that DPD headroom. Maybe there’s one channel between them? I got lucky on the first try and it worked. That speaker plays louder since the amp has no trim and I haven’t found individual channel adjustments in the Asus box yet.

So now I will have all channels blazing tomorrow when I cruise along with the windows rolled down and the sunroof open. :smokin
 

timbre4

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TRIP SUMMARY: Successful fun with a couple caveats

Amazingly, my field-engineered band-aid setup of 4 amps quickly spliced together on Thursday served me all day. Did make a couple hard braking moves in order to make turns I came upon too quickly. Nothing shifted or shorted out so I was grateful since my 30a fuses were all at home! (put in glovebox today)

Before I share what I heard thru Foobar2000 with the playlist history, I want to describe the trip a bit. All I knew was I wanted to be out on backroads in the car I've owned since I was 30 enjoying surround music with all windows down and sunroof open. This car invites you to have it all opened up without the violent swirling vortex I've experienced in most newer vehicles. This car has also had the complete exhaust system replaced by a Honda dealership warranty so it's VERY quiet going down the road. Since I did want to pay a friend a visit, I did take I-24 to get further south by a certain time. Two things became apparent: 1) Volume level is great at 40mph, good at 55mph and a challenge to present at 75mph, 2) some songs selected don't necessarily work in this context. (too quiet to overcome noise level)

The navigation on my iPhone was goofy; I'd saved the friend's address the night before and now it was telling me to exit I-24 about 12 miles early. Good! I'd rather be on the back roads and relaxing. At the stop sign, I disputed a left turn when "surely it had to be a right". If the map navigation disagrees, it starts suggesting "make a U-turn" or re-routing. Instead it send me on a 10 mile loop only to bring me back to the same intersection - AND to suggest getting back on I-24! In the process it would sometimes say 'offline - retry later. So I restarted the phone and then everything made sense again. I was now running late and had to use the interstate the rest of the way.

When I started this trip, it was bright, sunny and mid-80s. A little warm but moving along at a decent pace the windows down made it nice. After my visit I started working my way west and there were some storm clouds dimming the sun but super comfortable. Listening experience was sublime for the next hour or so. Then when I came to a loop road around a city and a few drops hit the windshield and lightning was seen. I was on the edge of a big storm.

About 10 minutes later everything went sideways:
1) Sudden hard rain storm above me - close sunroof and windows
2) Laptop starts a looping message with dings I cannot stop "LAPTOP BATTERY LOW 6% Plug in power is recommended. Click to close" Despite my clicking it to close a dozen times it just keeps dinging. I find the 12vDC power cable and plug it in thinking this will stop the message/dings. Nope. The DC power cable can't charge fast enough to get to an OK battery level. So it's pouring rain and I'm trying to find a spot to pull off and address all this noise!

I can't stand the Windows dinging; so I unplug the USB cable for audio interface and now I have loud alternator whine! No volume control and the kill switch for the amps in the trunk. Did I mention it was pouring rain? A few minutes later I got out from under the storm clouds, pulled into a parking lot and killed the amps. DC power supply got the laptop to 8%, so I was going to need to give it time to get sufficiently charged. Decided on a route home and estimated by the time I got to my main highway to go north it should be good by then. It was 51% so I turned it all back on home to fuel the victory lap!

SUMMARY: I still have refinements to make but I'm 100% convinced this listening process makes it worth the trouble. Next time:
1. Plug the DC power cable to laptop when starting a trip.
2. Move the amps kill switch to cabin from trunk. [necessary because no head unit remote turn on function present]
3. Proton amp on 1 channel tells me: a) fix these amps and use for mains (2 amps for 4 channels) b) come to grips with soldering tasks

The random feature in Foobar2000 is good, although it did permit two repeats (Alaska, Over the Hills and Far Away). I will probably tweak the formatting of the report file to include less info (album name, track # and others) but here is what I enjoyed:

Marvin Gaye - Trouble Man
The Doors - Spanish Caravan
David Crosby - Song With No Words (Tree With No Leaves)
King Crimson - I Talk To The Wind
Porcupine Tree - Glass Arm Shattering
Quatermass - Black Sheep of the Family
U.K. - Alaska [live]
Elton John - Daniel
The Doors - Soul Kitchen
Elton John - Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy
Genesis - Wot Gorilla?
Led Zeppelin - Over the Hills and Far Away
Depeche Mode - People Are People
Birdsong at Morning - Devil's Stomping Ground
Aerosmith - Sweet Emotion
David Crosby - Cowboy Movie
The Doors - Riders on the Storm
Be Bop Deluxe - Love With the Madman
Porcupine Tree - Time Flies
Porcupine Tree - My Ashes (5.1 mix)
The Doors - Horse Latitudes
INXS - New Sensation
Genesis - Robbery, Assault and Battery [live]
Queen - You’re My Best Friend (5.1 mix)
The Beach Boys - Wouldn’t It Be Nice
Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Tarkus: i. Eruption / ii. Stones of Years / iii. Iconoclast / iv. Mass / v. Manticore / vi. Battlefield / vii. Aquatarkus (5.1 mix)
Queensrÿche - Jet City Woman
King Crimson - In the Wake of Poseidon
Genesis - Inside And Out
Eagles - Hotel California

EDIT: Cleaned this up as it gave me a headache reading it. I think I need to clear the list before I start the next session as it included tracks from early test run I removed before posting here.
 
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J. PUPSTER

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What a wonderful project Tim and one heck of an adventure.

That last song list looks amazing also!

Just a couple of thoughts that might help (or not.) I believe Windows has some settings that you can turn the sound off for certain system sounds. Also, in Foobar is there a Shuffle feature instead of random? I believe shuffle won’t repeat songs.

I’m enjoying your auto audio adventure (y)
 

timbre4

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What a wonderful project Tim and one heck of an adventure.

That last song list looks amazing also!

Just a couple of thoughts that might help (or not.) I believe Windows has some settings that you can turn the sound off for certain system sounds. Also, in Foobar is there a Shuffle feature instead of random? I believe shuffle won’t repeat songs.

I’m enjoying your auto audio adventure (y)
True on Shuffle versus Random; I used it the first time out but didn't see it and was very impatient to get my day out started Friday! I saw Random under Playback and went with it. Now I see where I missed Shuffle - it's under Order > submenu. [shuffle tracks, albums, folders!]

As far as Windows, I believe plugging in the 12v DC power well before the power level falls below the "low power" threshold will take care of the ding factor.

I appreciate that you're reading this as I stumble through the steps towards perfecting this process. It sounds so good! The D/A converters in the Asus Xonar U5 box are really pretty nice. I had to adjust to the difference in the overall sound, the tracks sound very full as presented this way. I loved the DVD-A sound from the Pioneer player for several years but there is something additional going on here now. It's hard to quantify and this setup is not conducive to A/B tests. I'm at the age now where I care less about a lot of things, including quantifying why I like something. I just know that I'm going to enjoy it. ;)

The next thing is to sort out the amplifiers and power switch details. I did look at new amps and I like that some of these are Bluetooth addressable but, I'm funny about continuing to use something that seems to still work well. (like this Honda vehicle we've owned for 35 years; it's story is not over yet) So it will likely end up as the Advent amp powering L/C/R with the Proton DPD amp powering the L/R rears. The Jensen bridged amp is not ideal but doing better for now. Holland123 got me turned onto Sony Xplode amps and I'm using one for sub in the 4Runner Pioneer AVH-P7800 DVD-A system. Seems like we go from too cold to too hot all too soon. No amp swapping or wiring makeover this weekend; I'll post a 'before' picture to show the current state of the wiring. o_O

IMG_6407.jpeg

No small undertaking to correct this.
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So depending on the day and mood swing, I have 3 different vehicles with some 5.1 playback capability. The Acura TL is now fully mine as my wife just got a modern vehicle (2020 Honda Pilot EX-L) as the TL is "too close to the ground". Okay it still works for me and when I want a muscle car moment I take it out.
 
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