By Jeremy Essig
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The obsessives, though, chase SPL. Volume. "We had a guy at a show yesterday come in," says Randall of the USAC, "and the whole car -- he built a box and then poured concrete, and the whole car is filled with concrete, the doors, the ceilings. The car gets off the trailer, and the back axle's sitting like this (he makes a V shape with his fingers). He said he's broke three axles so far. He has to keep buying new ones." Others are so sick of blowing out windshields with bass that they've switched to the heavy-duty bulletproof variety. "We've even had people in the modified class put in steel windshields," continues Randall, "and then they put in video-camera driving systems -- have you ever seen those video goggles? Those TVs inside the goggles? They'll put the goggles on and have video cameras outside. They get pretty crazy."
But inside the craziness is a passion. It's especially apparent when you walk by Nate Henke's cherry-red four-wheel-drive pickup. "I've spent 600 hours of labor on it," Henke says, "disassembled everything, gutted it. I did everything on it -- the suspension work, everything. When I took it apart, I took it apart. A lot of kids, when they put a system in, they put a system in. I wanted to involve (the truck) in the system. The only thing that isn't 100 percent rebuilt is the dash. But I did cut it up and changed the color scheme."
The result? "Even at full-tilt boogie, it doesn't rattle. It just sits there. It might shimmy and shake a little bit, but there's very little noise." Henke's even got a VCR in his truck. And a Nintendo. A Nintendo. ("Multimedia is the new avenue for this business," explains the Sound Room's Jerry Moser, "which is navigation, video, that type of stuff. It's an information system now. I've been in the business 25 years, and when I started it was eight-tracks, and there were power boosters. Now there's component speakers, amplifiers, crossovers, and then all the navigational stuff, the video stuff -- and most of the video systems have Nintendo.")
Dustin Angell's got it all in his late-model purple Mustang. DVD on the dash, Nintendo and one of the loudest, freakiest systems you'll ever hear. When he sits in the front seat and runs through the list of his Mustang's accoutrements, there's a twinkle in his eye. He's obviously proud of his car, and he travels around the country competing in auto-sound competitions. He used to drive it, he says, "But I got into an accident once -- no big deal, just broke a tie rod -- but it scared me, so I don't drive it anymore." Instead, Angell hauls it to and from competitions.
But how does the thing sound with, say, a classic drum & bass cut blasting at full volume, like Alex Reece's "Pulp Fiction"? Angell's happy to oblige. When he puts the CD in, the DVD screen/stereo display lights up, and a virtual equalizer starts rolling the highs and lows. "You want the bass on?" asks Angell. He pushes a button, and the bottom drops out of the cut. A burst of thunder erupts inside the car that overshadows all the subtlety inside the song, until what's left is the bass and snare and not much else. It's loud as hell, though, and nothing rattles inside the car. But in the ears, there's static; the system itself may be clean, but the inner ear's system isn't up to snuff. Isn't this volume going to kill your hearing?
"Well, you think it is," says USAC's Randall, "but believe it or not, they've actually done studies. Most of the frequencies that we do our sound pressure at is below 150 Hz. A jackhammer will make you deaf five times quicker than any of these sound systems." And though that's not the most reassuring testimonial, it'll work, and when you've got a monster SPL consuming your body, who cares about your ears?