Having a premium branded audio system in our long-term 2009 Dodge Viper SRT-10 is the epitome of putting lipstick on a pig. While the Viper can't be considered porcine performance-wise, its 600-horsepower power plant makes such a raucous grunt even at idle that any improvement in sound quality the Alpine components can muster is effectively drowned out and muddied. And when the tires start to squeal, forget about it.
I put the Viper's stock Alpine system through a full audio eval nonetheless. But I may have well just left it on the Sirius E Street Radio channel that was tuned in when I fired up the engine. Hmmm ... wonder who on the staff has such an affinity for The Boss?
The Alpine system is standard on the $94,130 car, but our Viper is also equipped with the $1,700 AM/FM CD GPS Navigation Radio option with Sirius satellite radio. The audio system consists of seven speakers powered by 310 watts. The speakers include a 6.5-inch woofer in each door, a 1-inch tweeter at each end of the dash, 2.5-inch midranges behind each seat and a 6.5-inch subwoofer in a vented enclosure between the seats.
Same with every audio system I sound check, I listened to about a dozen musical tracks in the Viper to analyze clarity/lack of distortion, tonal balance, timbre, tonal accuracy, soundstaging, imaging and dynamics. I also used non-musical tracks to further gauge soundstaging and imaging and to test for linearity and absence of noise. For more details on the audio-system testing process and the tracks used, click on the Edmunds.com article Sound Advice.
As mentioned at the beginning of the post, the Viper's extreme exhaust note while sitting still makes null any significant sound-quality improvement of the Alpine setup. Plus, the subwoofer between the seats creates such in-your-face low frequency that I turned the bass on the head unit's tone control almost all the way down -- once I figured out how to do it via an irritating interface and a tiny screen that looks straight out of the late '80s.
But even with the bass lowered to near zero, low frequency still overwhelmed the system and skewed tonal balance. And the bass was mostly boomy and distorted, which also took away any true timbre and tonal accuracy and dulled dynamics. Soundstaging and imaging didn't fare much better; the stage was severely constricted in width and had no real depth, and imaging was seriously side-biased. Linearity was poor at low- and mid-volume levels, but at least the system passed the absence-of-noise test.
The available media options are as limited as the system's sound. As the name implies, the AM/FM CD GPS Navigation Radio option tunes in terrestrial radio, and our Viper also has Sirius sat radio. The only other music source is old-fashioned CD. But if you also want to be guided by the nav system, you have to decide between directions or music since the head unit's disc drive doubles as home to the mapping DVD. If you're looking for iPod integration, don't forget your FM transmitter. And for Bluetooth, you better bring along a headset or speakerphone. Better yet, leave those at home and concentrate on just driving this beast.
What We Say
Normally this is where I'd say that this car's stock audio calls -- or in this case begs -- for an aftermarket upgrade. And if you're serious about sound, you can probably throw enough speakers, amplifier power and money at the problem to get an appreciable increase in sound quality. But with the sonorous snarl created by the Viper's 10 cylinders when the pedal is to the metal, why bother? Save your money and your hearing.
Source Selection: D
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