In 1977, Autocar arranged a test between ten of the best stereo manufacturers to determine who had the best audio offering
Matt Burt
8 October 2015

In-car audio made big strides during the 1970s, assisted by the advent of stereo technology and the cassette tape.

By the late 1970s, picking through the myriad options on offer was a daunting task, so in 1977 Autocar invited a number of leading car audio manufacturers to a practical demonstration and test.

Ten sets were submitted for appraisal, installed in a variety of vehicles ranging from a Mercedes-Benz S-Class to an Itasca motor home that Binatone used as its sales vehicle.

Autocar set an “exacting test route” that would test the units’ radio reception. “As a venue we chose a hotel near Staines, as an area where signal strength is poor and stereo reception is marginal. Cassette units were assessed using a Dolby-recorded hi-fi test cassette,” wrote Autocar’s audiophiles.

Each unit was appraised for ‘salient’ and ‘not so salient’ features and then tested for radio and cassette functions.

There was high drama before the test even started: “Philips was unlucky in having a breakdown with the car they were bringing to the test day, so they were unable to be included.”The cheapest unit on sale was the Sanyo 4305E (£56.19) radio/cassette combination that, somewhat conversely, was installed in the S-Class.

Binatone brought the £58 Alpine, while Javelin – a new British company importing sets from Japan – offered the £110 Roadstar RS1100 tape unit and pre-amp – “a scaled-down version of a good hi-fi set-up”, reckoned our men.

Also at £110 was Sharp’s RG 5750 radio/cassette, which offered strong FM performance: “On the day of the test, Radio Medway could be listened to in the Windsor area without interference.”

Pioneer’s KP55G (£138) eschewed radio and focused solely on cassette. A good move, reckoned our testers, who awarded it five stars and wrote: “Quite outstanding and compares very favourably with many home hi-fi units.” The only drawback was the non-locking fast forward and rewind buttons: “It is a little tedious, and potentially dangerous if you are driving, to have to hold down the rewind button for several minutes when using a C90 cassette.”

Many of the units offered FM radio in addition to long and medium waves. FM in cars was a relatively new development as “people seek the standards of musical reception in the car to which they are accustomed at home”.

Autocar’s testers added: “It is not until one spends all day listening to FM broadcasts that the shortcoming of AM radio becomes so apparent. Listening to a concert on MW is rather like looking at an uncleaned Rembrandt portrait through smoked glass.”

The Lucas LS270 (£157.50) was afforded five stars and adjudged to have the “most impressive tape reproduction, giving a wide range of sound, plus the advantage of auto reverse on the cassette”. However, its radio was marked down for a “loss of stereo on our route”.

The Pioneer KP8300 (£211) also excelled, being the only system on test to be awarded five stars for both radio and cassette performance. “Superb tone and range of sound. Price high but justified,” was the verdict.

Autocar’s article included sidebars on in-car televisions and telephones, noting that the latter “are too expensive to be a source of mere entertainment and have a real part to play in business efficiency”. How times change. 

Previous Throwback Thursdays

4 March 1899 - Steam, electric or combustion engine? 

26 June 1906 - The first French Grand Prix

9 July 1907 - The beginning of Brooklands

14 February 1913 - 100 miles in one hour

8 April 1916 - Making post-war predictions

25 March 1922 - Caterpillar tracks are the future

4 July 1925 - Citroën lights up the Eiffel Tower

28 September 1928 - Engine tech takes a great leap forwards

2 February 1934 - The ethics of skidding

6 July 1934 - A tour of Cowley

1 June 1935 - Introduction of the driving test

22 June 1945 - Driving through post-WW2 Europe

21 January 1949 - Tidier tails

25 August 1950 - The evolution of transmissions

27 April 1951 - Frankfurt hosts its first motor show

24 April 1959 - Aston Martin enters Formula 1

16 September 1960 - The beginning of MOT tests

27 January 1961 - Ford Thunderbird road test

17 November 1961 - TVR Grantura road test

10 September 1965 - The birth of modern Audi

19 August 1966 - Four-wheel drive on test

6 May 1971 - Driving Ford's Supervan

12 June 1976 - Cars for under £100

10 July 1976 - Land's End to John O'Groats on one tank

13 May 1978 - Ferrari 512 BB road test

19 January 1980 - Talbot Horizon road test

13 February 1982 - 4x4s tested on the farm 

17 April 1985 - Secrets of a lost British supercar

4 September 1985 - Ford's electronic test bed

15 August 1990 - Giugiaro's vision of a 1990s Jaguar

28 April 1993 - BL's unseen concepts

16 March 1994 - Bentley's Concept Java

16 April 1997 - When Bugatti bit the dust

4 April 2001 - 0-260mph in 6.0 seconds

25 July 2001 - 180mph in a Chevrolet Corvette

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8 October 2015
.....infotainment systems are getting ever more complicated so a test that compares sound quality, ease of connecting phone, ergonomics etc would be really useful. You could do executive cars against each other (5 Series, A6, E, XF etc) and then a bunch of other groups as well.

8 October 2015
The references in the tests to sound quality coming close to home hi-fi standards presumably relate to home stereo cassette decks, of which comparatively few met the barest minimum level to qualify as high-fidelity, as opposed to merely audio. Cassette decks were always the poor relation of the hi-fi world, tolerated for their facility to record rather than embraced for their sound. A small number of decks broke the mould and gave a genuine hi-fi experience but they were few and far between. Not many folk had a Nakamichi Dragon.

I don't need to put my name here, it's on the left


9 October 2015
bowsersheepdog wrote:

Not many folk had a Nakamichi Dragon.

Especially in 1977, as they weren't released until the eighties...

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