PAS Clarion Full Digital System FDS Review 2

And now for something completely different! Clarion has partnered with Trigence Semiconductor and their Dnote technology to be the first car audio company in the world to develop a true fully digital audio system. Fully digital from the source, all the way to the digitally-driven voice coils in the proprietary speakers. With this system, you can forget about ohms and volts, as there are no analog signals between the source and the speaker cones. You can also forget about the traditional noise and interference issues we have dealt with for 30 years, as this system’s signal is fully digital from the front to the back of the car, thereby eliminating the entry points for common sources of noise.

PAS Clarion Full Digital System FDS Review 1TECHNOLOGY
The Clarion Full Digital System (FDS for short) is comprised of three fundamental components that must be used together. First there’s the “brain” of the system, the Z3 processor. The Z3 is a small device that serves as the main connection point for all the inputs and outputs, and is packaged with a pair of one-inch soft dome tweeters and a remote commander unit for controlling the system. The tweeters plug directly into the Z3 and are driven by an onboard digital amplifier. Next is the Z7 loudspeaker, a 6.75-inch woofer/midrange with built-in custom LSI circuitry (more on this later). The Z7 speaker is equipped with six voice coils, and a fully digital drive circuit is mounted on the rear of the magnet. What would normally be the speaker wire is a small gauge digital input wire that also plugs directly into the Z3 processor. Last, but not least, is the Z25W subwoofer. It shares similar construction concepts with the midrange woofer, in that it also incorporates built-in LSI digital drive circuitry.

The LSI technology found in the Full Digital System has been custom developed by Clarion specifically for use in automotive applications. LSI stands for “Large Scale Integration” and it is the process of integrating or embedding thousands of transistors on a single silicon semiconductor chip. In the case of the LSI used here, the result is a microprocessor that consists of multiple complex subsystems, and is really more of an integrated system than an integrated circuit. The Clarion system is capable of maintaining a 96-kHz/24-Bit digital audio signal from the source to the speakers without ever converting it to analog or passing a signal through a traditional amplifier. The result is a faithful reproduction of high-resolution music files exactly as they were mastered, with absolutely no degradation in quality.

The Clarion Full Digital Sound speakers, each equipped with their own LSI chipset, utilize Dnote digital signal processing to transmit six digital signals to the multi-driver's six-layer multi-voice coils, which deliver precision cone control that translates to accurate sound and highly efficient performance. Because this approach more than doubles the speed of conventional digital systems, it allows higher output power while requiring about half the input power, making this methodology of driving a loudspeaker far more efficient than even the best traditional Class-D amplifiers. Additionally, because of the way the drive circuits are mounted directly to the speaker and have very short distances to the multiple voice coils, there are lower distortion levels and increased speaker cone control at all volume levels.

PAS Clarion Full Digital System FDS Review 5Z3 DETAILS
The Z3 is so small and doesn’t build up a lot of heat, so it can be mounted virtually anywhere. Inputs for analog stereo, optical digital, coaxial digital and USB digital (Android only) are all available. The outputs include connections for the included tweeters, two pairs of Z7 midrange speakers, and two Z25W subwoofers for a total of eight channels. There are also a pair of analog RCA outputs for adding a higher powered subwoofer amplifier and conventional subwoofers.

The remote commander controller features a large round volume knob and only two other buttons on the unit, marked “Mode” and “Set.” Pressing the Mode button allows you to scroll through the various menus shown on the large LCD display.

Tuning the system is accomplished via the free Clarion Z-tune app available on Google Play or the Apple App Store. Once installed, you are prompted to select your speaker configuration and then have the ability to adjust crossover frequency and slope, one-third octave equalization, and signal delay settings from the screen of your device. In addition, a section called “Intelligent Tune” is also available and offers various levels of implementation of “Sound Restorer,” “Virtual Bass” and “Reverb Control”. There are also four built-in sound field settings that you can experiment with to achieve your desired effect.

PAS Clarion Full Digital System FDS Review 4

The one-inch polyester dome tweeters that are packaged with the Z3 come with flush-mount and surface-mount angled cups and specially-terminated wiring extensions to accommodate direct connection to the Z3. The tweeters are the only speakers in the system where the digital drive circuitry remains inside the Z3 rather than outboard at the speaker.

The midrange drivers are 6.75-inch units featuring a composite cone made of Aramid-, carbon- and mica-impregnated polypropylene. Instead of a dustcap, the center of the speaker uses a phase plug. A butyl rubber surround and Conex linear spider provide the compliance, while six one-inch copper voice coils provide the driving force. The coils are wound on a TIL/Glass-Imide former and surrounded by a 280-gram strontium ferrite motor. All of this technology is built into a stamped steel basket, topped by a high temp ABS grille.

PAS Clarion Full Digital System FDS Review 8Z25W 10-INCH SUBWOOFER
The Z25W subwoofer is built around a low-profile, shallow-mount stamped steel basket. In addition to the digital signal connection to the Z3, it also comes with a harness for 12-volt power and ground to power the onboard amplifier. The woofer uses a material Clarion calls “GAC-composite” for the cone. It also dons a nicely finished injection-molded dustcap. The woofer can be mounted in as little as 3.4 inches of depth and works well with enclosure volumes of less than one cubic-foot.

To showcase the Full Digital System’s sound quality potential, Clarion provided me with their top-of-the-line source unit, which just happens to be equipped with an optical digital output, so I could run a fully digital signal from source to loudspeakers.

The NX706 is a double-DIN size in-dash unit with a seven-inch touchscreen, full 2D or 3D GPS navigation with turn by turn directions, and millions of POIs. There’s DVD playback, Bluetooth hands-free, audio streaming, and lots more. Mirror Mode allows you to mirror the screen of select smartphones, which brings all the apps on your phone to life on your dash. It has Pandora control built-in, and even Siri Eyes Free compatibility when paired to an iPhone via Bluetooth.

The audio section of the NX706 includes a built-in four-channel amplifier and pre-outs for front, rear and subwoofer amplifiers. Internal high- and low-pass crossover filters, a 15-band parametric EQ and source independent gain and EQ make the NX706 an ideal cornerstone for any serious audio system.

When I get presented with a completely new technology, such as this system represents, I tend to be very careful and thorough in my evaluation of it before forming an opinion. I mounted the Z3 tweeters and Z7 mid/woofers in my listening room’s baffles, and then installed the woofer in an enclosure I modified to accept the additional power and ground connections required. These five speakers were then all connected to the digital outputs of the Z3 processor. The NX706 was used as the source and, just for fun, I tried both the optical digital output, as well as the analog RCA outputs. I could leave them both connected and simply select the one I wanted from the remote commander’s menu. Then I downloaded the Z-tune application and installed it on an Android phone. With everything ready, I turned the system on and went through the basic setup. Using the Z-tune app, I configured the crossovers, set the gains and began my listening.

As usual, I played a wide variety of music and experimented with various volume levels. I also connected my high resolution audio player during my listening so I could really experience the maximum sonic goodness that high-res music has to offer. After several hours of listening, experimenting and fiddling with all the controls and inputs, I came away completely impressed.

The fidelity of the system is excellent, and while I originally had my doubts about driving speakers with a digital signal and on-board amplification, my doubts were erased. The system sounds very good, and has excellent clarity and intelligibility. Delicate nuances and detail in the music are fully apparent, and the system has a lifelike sound. I did not hear the digital artifacts that I had expected, and I was fairly gobsmacked at the amount of output available from a system that did not have a traditional amplifier. Unlike many aftermarket systems where the bass can’t be heard at low volumes and is overbearing at high volumes, the Clarion FDS is very linear throughout the volume range. The Z-tune app made easy work of tuning the system and I actually found the built-in DSP effects available were actually useful.

At the end of the session, it occurred to me that the system had generated almost no heat, and most of the time was drawing less than 10 amperes total. A good aftermarket system with this kind of sound used to mean a multi-channel amp (or two) and a source unit.

I went home thinking about what this new technology meant for the future of car audio, and perhaps, eventually, all audio categories. Of course, leading edge technology comes with a price: $2,550 in this case. Considering the performance and exclusivity that comes along with it, I expect Clarion will sell quite a few. Over time, as the technology matures, the costs will go down and the performance will improve even more. We live in an exciting time for music enthusiasts. #pasmag

For more information on the Clarion Full Digital System, visit, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube.

PAS Clarion Full Digital System FDS Review 6PAS Clarion Full Digital System FDS Review 7

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