Sunday, August 26, 2012

Kicker Front Row Digital Signal Processor Review

When it comes to car audio, it's all about the best sound. Upgrading your sound could mean external amps, and an electronic crossover. But the Kicker Front Row does more then that. By incorporating some DSP magic, it can make you feel like you are in the front row.

You may be familiar with DSP or Digital Signal Processors. Home surround sound receivers have been doing it for years. The brand Yamaha comes to mind. They have taken precise sound measurements of some of the most famous concert halls and jazz clubs. These measurements are incorporated into their receivers. So when you listen to your music, it sounds like you are there in that venue, in a much larger location.

Kicker employs this technology in their Front Row DSP. The car environment can be more difficult. After all, you are in a much smaller space. Creating the sound of sitting in a much larger room is difficult. So the Front Row gives you the ability to widen the soundstage. But it also has a surround sound function. If you use rear speakers, Kicker incorporates algorithms for a simulated surround sound effect. And it make things even better. Kicker designed the Front Row with a wired remote that mounts on your center console. The remote allows you easy access to the features.

The foundation of the Front Row is also a VERY good active 6 channel crossover, for fronts, rears and subs. For each input, you have contral over input gain, crossover frequencies, clip limiter, and output level. You also have the option of selecting your slope filter to 12, 24, and a rare 48 db. This is one audiophile DSP! The Front Row is also robust enough that instead of incorporating subs, you can use the sub channel for front midbass drivers.

Features and specs include:

50 MHz CPU / 28-/56-bit double-precision DSP / 24-bit AD/DA converters
Frequency Response (Hz): 10-22k, +/-0.2dB
Signal-to-Noise Ratio: 110dB
THD: 0.004%
32-step variable crossovers with 12, 24 or 48dB/octave slopes
Front high-pass: 0-500Hz or 0-5kHz (10x switch)
Rear high-pass: 0-500Hz
Rear low-pass: 50-500Hz or 500-5kHz (10x switch)
Sub subsonic filter: 0-80Hz, fixed at 48dB/octave
Sub low-pass: 40-160Hz
Subwoofer Phase: variable 0-180 degrees
KickEQ: variable 0-+15dB at 45Hz, Q=3
SHOCwave: variable bass restoration

The Front Row DSP came well packaged in the traditional looking Kicker printed box. Opening up the box revealed two other boxes. One held the Front Row, and the other box held the remote, and wire for the remote. All of the components were also wrapped in plastic.

Taking the components out of the wrapping revealed a high quality product. The quality of component used and build quality was excellent. The level knobs rotated smoothly and were well labeled. The gold RCA connectors were solidly in place. Fit and Finish was excellent. The wired remote is also of excellent quality. Kicker as usual has made a high quality component.

Another cool feature set is the KickEQ and SHOCwave. Most people are used to having the remote bass knob. Well with the Kicker Front Row, you still have it. Selecting the KickEQ feature on the remote, rotating the knob gives you the same control.

Then there is the SHOCwave feature. So many use their mp3 format compresses the sound, and some of the bass is lost. Kicker's SHOCwave stands for Sub Harmonic Octave Creation. It works to help bring back frequencies that are weaker in old recordings or lost in mp3 compression. The knob lets you choose the level you are satisfied with.

I was well pleased with the performance of the Kicker Front Row. Other than tending to like a lot of bass at times, I tend to be a bit of an audio purist. I was glad to hear that the Kicker Front Row was fairly transparent. The crossovers worked very well, and I really liked the high slopes. And while as previously stated, tending to be a bit of a purist, I still thought the DSP of the Front Row was pretty cool. The simulation of a wider bigger and higher soundstage was very cool, as was the use of the surround sound effect. The vocals did sound center stage on the dash, with a "live" kind of sound from the rears. The soundstage really did open up when using the feature. And the remote gave you the option of how much simulation you want, if any.

I also really liked the SHOCwave feature. I had an old mp3 recording of Johnny Be Good, and the SHOCwave helped restore some of the bass quite impressively! The remote was simple to use, and amazingly it fit a lot of controls on the small remote.

In the end, I really liked the Kicker Front Row. It gives A LOT of control of your sound. And I REALLY liked the 48db option! The kickEQ and Shocwave features are also pretty cool. The wired remote gives you a lot of control at your fingertips. Kicker worked some impressive aural magic, with the Kicker Front Row. Based on it's design, features, quality and performance, the Kicker Front Row DSP has earned our Highly Recommended Award. With an MSRP of only $299, it is hard to go wrong with it. For more info and complete specs, check out their website at Reference gear used: Kenwood Excelon DNX-9980HD Multimedia Receiver, Alpine Type-X SPX-13PRO component system, Kicker 15" Solo-Baric L7 subwoofer, Zed Audio Leviathan III 6 channel full range Class D amplifier, JL Audio XD600/6 full range Class D 6 channel amplifier, Vibe Audio Black Death Bass 1 Class GH subwoofer amplifier, AudioControl DQSX Electronic Crossover/Equalizer.