1991 Acura NSX Long Term Road Test - Audio & Technology

1991 Acura NSX Long Term Road Test

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1991 Acura NSX: Adolescence Restored

August 02, 2012

Big props to Riswick for getting the NSX's stereo fixed. Besides being able to actually hear anything, I can now resume my flashbacks to the 1980s. Has it really been eight months since it began eating my old mixtapes?

Last night, I picked out a tape from my collection; one that I would not miss if it was snapped. Sure enough, music began pouring forth from the speakers. At that point, I hit eject and popped in another cassette and rocked out to all sorts of obscure pop songs from my teenage years. This morning, it was all Van Halen (I'm saving the Phil Collins tape for Riswick). There's something to be said for period-correct music in a older car.

Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor @ 56,875 miles

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1991 Acura NSX: As Good As New/Old

August 01, 2012

Acura NSX Stereo has Returned.jpg

I was in Canada last week and didn't realize my voicemail didn't work up there until Monday. As such, I missed Santa Monica Car Sound's phone call informing me that our NSX's stereo had been repaired and ready to re-install.

I dropped off the NSX this morning and Freddie quickly got to work. When I picked it up, not only had the output been repaired to fix our whole lack of sound problem, but all the head unit's lights once again worked (photos after the jump). I completely forgot to ask them about that. Mark will be driving the NSX tonight so he can report whether they corrected (as asked) the Phil Collins-eating tape deck.

The total repair cost was $555, including $300 for the outsourced repair and $225 for Santa Monica Car Sound's efforts in diagnosing the problem, removing the unit and re-installing it. This was pricey, but given our desire to maintain the clean-look of the integrated factory head unit, it was the price of doing business. And for those of you who'd rather have an aftermarket unit with LED swimming dolphin graphics and chiclet buttons, good for you.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 56,860 miles

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1991 Acura NSX: It Needs a Stereo

July 26, 2012


Our NSX is currently undergoing stereo surgery and that's had some of our more confused staffers commenting that the sound of the V6 is all they need.

They're wrong. Our NSX needs a stereo. All road cars do.

Don't get me wrong: engines sound wonderful. Each one is unique and even if they're not classically pretty to listen to, every motor has its own sound signature that will forever tinge your experience. But they're not the only part of the driving experience. Not by a long shot.
It ties the experience together and sets the cadence of the drive. As the engine winds to redline the music is overwhelmed (self-adjusting volume control is the worst thing in the world) and it rushes back into your ears as soon as you shift. Know the song well enough -- or shift fast enough-- and you don't miss a beat. The right song in the right car on the right road...there's almost nothing better.

Music is as essential to a good drive as is having a pretty girl by your side. Maybe the people saying our NSX sounds better like this are the type who would kick our a pretty passenger because she throws off the weight balance. I'm not. Our NSX's new stereo can't come quickly enough.

Mike Magrath, Features Editor, Inside Line

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1991 Acura NSX: No Stereo, No Problem

July 24, 2012

NSX no stereo.jpg

I was a little bummed when Riswick mentioned to me on my way out of the office the other day that, not only does the NSX's radio not work very well...but it doesn't even have one anymore.

A problem?

Nope. Between the crazy that's constantly running through my head, along with the beautiful noises emanating from behind my head, I'm pretty much good. Seriously. The music from the NSX's mid-mounted V6 is truly that wonderful. Even in traffic. You just have to wind it out every once in a while to get the full effect.

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1991 Acura NSX: Fixing the Stereo

July 18, 2012

NSX Stereo.jpg

"The NSX stereo couldn't be worse if we just tore it out and replaced it with a flatulent man blowing on a jug."

I wrote this in a text message to Magrath back on March 15 and documented it in a blog a day later. The stereo only got worse and sadly, we did nothing about it. Not coincidentally, the NSX was being driven less and less by people not named Kurt Niebuhr. "But James, you loser, the NSX should be more than enough entertainment by itself thanks to its sweet engine and general awesomeness and blah blah blah." Except that's a load of crap. I could drive a Bugatti Veyron in LA traffic and be bored to death, and the reality is we drive the NSX in traffic and on weekend road trips more than canyon bombs. I mean, that IS the point of buying this everyday supercar, right? Wait, why am I justifying fixing something that is broken?

Despite talk of a DIY job, that talk never turned to action. So after driving the NSX home last night, I decided enough was enough.

I Googled "car stereo repair Santa Monica," and looked at Yelp reviews for several places. Santa Monica Car Sound had strong reviews, both in terms of star ratings and favorable comments about Freddie and his employees. I brought the NSX in yesterday morning at 9, said our diagnosis was that the amp had gone, and had him listen to the faint wisps of music that farted out the speakers. Freddie said he'd take a look at it and give me a call with a diagnosis. He was also respectful of the delicate nature of "my" 20-year-old baby.

Freddie called around 11 saying it wasn't the amp and that he'd have to take a look at the head unit itself. I appreciated this mid-stream check in. Around 12:30 he called again saying the problem lay with the head unit's output. There were two options. He could install a new head unit entirely, which isn't an option since we want to keep the car as-close-to-original as possible. The second was to pull the head unit out of the car, ship it off to be repaired and reinstall it a week later. We would take the NSX back and be able to drive it in the meantime. Parts and labor would be about $300. Option B it is then, plus a request from Takahashi "to check the tape deck because it ruined my Phil Collins mix tape." I'd say it was working perfectly.

So we indeed tore the NSX stereo out, but the flatulent man is on hold. We'll see how it goes, stay tuned.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor

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1991 Acura NSX: Audio Claptrap

May 08, 2012


Welcome to premium audio, circa 1991.

Yet this big ol' trunk-mounted factory CD changer wasn't enough for the previous owner of our longterm 1991 Acura NSX.

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1991 Acura NSX: Stacked

April 30, 2012

NSX_slant center stack.jpg

We've been annoyed by the lean-and-reach center stack and audio/climate controls in our long-term Toyotas. The Sienna comes to mind, and the Camry isn't much better. Most of us liked the Kia Optima's upright center stack that canted toward the driver. The Infiniti M56's bulging waterfall center was pretty classy, and the Volvo S60's brushed metallic suspended vee-stack is just painfully Scandinavian hip.

But the NSX's sloping center stack still wins after all these years. Easy reach, every thing at hand, and adds a subtle dynamic effect to the cabin.

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

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1991 Acura NSX: Sounds Awful

April 02, 2012


I don't always drive the NSX, but when I do...

...I usually turn the radio off so I can enjoy the glorious V6 soundtrack coming from behind my head.

But when I'm stuck in traffic or on a long drive, music is a necessity. Before I drove the NSX up to Buttonwillow this weekend, however, Mr. Riswick let me know that the stereo sucks. It hasn't always sucked, though, so it appears that a fix is in order.

First off, the subwoofer isn't working anymore. Also, the sound quality is pretty awful. It's "scratchy" for lack of a better word. Add these complaints to the lack of nighttime illumination and its appetite for mixtapes, and I think a visit from an audio professional is now justified.

We've got a few educated guesses on the cause of the degraded audio quality. First and foremost is the water intrusion into the trunk. I'm no expert, but I think water and electronics don't play well together. Upon closer examination, I also noticed that the amplifier's terminals and some of the attached wires are not protected from errant metallic objects. Perhaps a loose screwdriver for similar object shorted it out?

Whatever the case, we're looking for someone who can check out the NSX and possibly fix all that ails it. If you have anybody you trust implicitly and is in the L.A. area (mobile would be preferred), feel free to pass on the information. In the meantime, I'll be listening to the engine. Awwwwwww.

Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor @ 53,560 miles

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1991 Acura NSX: Time for a New Stereo?

March 16, 2012

Acura NSX CD read out stereo.jpg

Text message to Magrath
March 15, 2012 5:06 pm

"The NSX stereo couldn't be worse if we just tore it out and replaced it with a flatulent man blowing on a jug."

I was not listening to the radio (you accept FM can be bad in LA). I was not listening to my iPhone through a tape adapter (you expect that to be bad everywhere). Nope, this was a brand-new CD being played through the trunk-mounted changer. Ditto another CD. And I'm not talking about inherent sound quality, where the sound stage and the mid-range highs of this and that audiophile technobabble could be better. Sound quality was never great, but now there is something wrong. Certain notes sounded like the speakers were being fed through whoppie cushions, while a general staticiness permeated everything.

You'll note by the previous descriptions that I'm not a sound system expert, and as such cannot identify the problem. But there is one, and we really need to get it fixed or replace the entire '90s-era aftermarket system. (I'm just guessing we wouldn't have had the same problem with the original OEM unit).


Monty was reacquainted recently with the notion of a trunk-mounted CD changer, noting its tendency to skip. However, I had a trunk-mounted CD changer in my 2000 Jetta and it skipped less in 7 years than the NSX did in 7 minutes last night. I can only suspect that electronic shock protection (ESP) was either not invented or perfected yet back in '91. When you pair this CD changer with a firm suspension and L.A.'s atrocious pavement, well, our stereo problem gets a wee bit worse.

I seriously doubt we'd replace the CD player with a more modern unit, but the sound system issue hopefully will be addressed. Otherwise, I'll need to find myself that jug. I could probably live without the bean enthusiast.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 55,215 miles

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1991 Acura NSX: Blast From The Past

March 07, 2012

NSX CD changer.jpg

Here's something I haven't used in a long, long, long time: a trunk-mounted CD changer.

But since the NSX doesn't have satellite radio or an iPod hookup, it was time to try the trunk-changer out.

Loading the CDs into the changer was pretty easy. Figuring out how to get the CDs to play was another story...

It's well documented that I'm no genius, but if you look at the stereo's head unit, there's nothing about the CD player on any of the controls.

So I consulted the manual (no, I'm serious) and found out all you have to do is press the Tune/AM/FM button/knob on the right-hand side and the lights for the CD player suddenly become illuminated on the screen. It should've been so obvious.

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1991 Acura NSX: I Can Live Without My Radio

February 10, 2012


You can get a lot of thinking done in the NSX. A few of our cars are like that. The 911 and Miata come to mind. You don't need the radio, just sounds from the road and engine bay. Driving the NSX is a bit like running (the jogging kind). You can clear your head after hustling three or four good miles, and you can do likewise covering a longer distance in a car like the NSX.

You don't need much aural stimulation beyond what the clutch, stick, throttle and rising V6 pitch offer. When you need variety, just downshift and roll on the throttle. It's like changing the station when the Eagles come on.

Haven't used the radio/tape deck in the NSX yet. Trying to see how long I can hold out. If one of Takahashi's Phil Collins mixtapes slides out from under the seat though, I might cave.

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

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1991 Acura NSX: Shattering My Youth

November 30, 2011


I noted previously that the NSX, besides being a wonderful drive, permits me to relive my youth in the form of my old mixtapes. Last night, I subjected acquainted my girlfriend to the finer points of Phil Collins' early work as we headed out for burgers. This morning, however, all that nostalgia came to a sad, sad end.

I switched out the tape for another one and I heard a click inside the deck. Then the tape ejected. I inspected the cassette and saw that the tape had snapped. Bummer. Thankfully, it wasn't a tape that I had too much of an emotional attachment to. I tried another tape (again, one that I wasn't even sure what was on it) and "snap."

Yup, it looks like the tape deck has either malfunctioned, or is trying to tell me that my adolescent taste in music sucks. Perhaps both. I hope there's a fix for this. Until then, it's radio or CDs.

Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor

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1991 Acura NSX: I Guess I'm Pressing #5

November 23, 2011

NSX Dark Lights.jpg

Well, our pristine Acura NSX isn't exactly so pristine. None of our NSX's issues have been especially terrible, but it certainly dispels any notion that a 20-year-old Acura/Honda will be troublefree.

Any who, would you care to change the radio to preset 4? Oh, how about eject that tape? Well, you'd better be a raccoon or a blind guy, because our stereo lights no longer illuminate. Again, not a huge deal, but add another item to our Fix-It list.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor

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1991 Acura NSX: iPod Interface!

November 15, 2011

NSX iPod Interface.jpg

Our 1991 Acura NSX has an iPod interface! Amazing, right? Here's how it works.

Step 1: Plug in tape adapter removed from your 1998 BMW into iPhone, place in NSX tape deck.
Step 2: Place iPhone in handy mini-bin perfectly sized to fit and prop up iPhone. Such prophets those Acura designers were.
Step 3: Select morning podcast.
Step 4: Adjust volume on iPhone, adjust volume in NSX. Repeat numerous times as the Fan 590 can't seem to even out its volume levels on podcasts.
Step 5: Comment to yourself, "Man, this sound quality sure does suck. I wonder what it's like with music?"
Step 6: Answer own question. "Yep, totally sucks even more. Distorted, almost AM radio-like, occasionally crackly. My Z3 sounds better, but it's eight years younger. Maybe we need head cleaner. He he, I said 'head cleaner.' Ah, but Mark's ye olde mix tapes worked fine."
Step 7: Remind yourself the car was built in 1991 and being able to listen to a podcast at all without resorting to the iPhone speaker at least puts the NSX ahead of the 20-year-younger Outlander Sport.
Step 8: Remember to bring CDs for drive home.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 47,656 miles

P.S. With the O2 sensor properly sorted, I'm looking forward to taking the NSX out for a proper drive soon. Even when stuck in traffic, though, it's awesome.

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1991 Acura NSX: Mix Tape Revival

October 21, 2011


Those of a certain age will remember the days of mix tapes. The peak of this era, for me, was between 1983 and 1991. I have to admit I don't miss the days of transferring my music from vinyl to tape, but reliving this format on last weekend's Vegas road trip stirred up a lot of ghosts for me.

I have a rule on road trips: the driver also gets to be DJ. James from L.A. to L.V., and we listened to a combination of his iPod (Aston Martin-branded) and some CDs he loaded into the changer. It was really quite pleasant, as James didn't play anything offensive or banal. And that made me feel bad for him, because I knew he was going to have to endure some of the worst music the 80s had to offer on the way home.

I was a bit of a geek (OK, I am still one) when it came to music. I insisted on copying my music onto the elusive and expensive metal (Type IV) blank tapes. These tapes, besides exhibiting much better audio qualities, also seemed to fare better over time and being subjected to high temperatures.

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1991 Acura NSX: The Vegas Road Trip, Part II

October 19, 2011


Our trip to the Indy Car race in Las Vegas was eventful, to say the least. But our long-term NSX was a champ through it all. James gave his recap of the trip yesterday, so now it's my turn to weigh in. The NSX was pretty limiting in terms of cargo, so we both packed light. My camera bag was really the biggest bag in the boot. Everything fit perfecty (James must've been pretty good at Tetris as a kid), and we hit the road. Step one: fueling up (above).

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