Factory Harley Radio Integration Secrets for ‘14 & Up
It is very possible to get great sound out of your ‘14 & up factory Harley radio, but there are a few things to know before you get started. This article is intended to be an aid to anyone looking to upgrade their Harley audio system with the new generation of radio. This article will give you a good grasp on how to properly perform a quality upgrade and how to avoid some of the bad information and practices that we see out there. The information in this article applies to all '14 & up Harley radios regardless of which model radio you have (touch screen, no touch screen, nav, no nav etc.)
This guide covers most all aspects of this topic. Some of it can get a bit wordy, but if you are looking for definitive answers and spectacular results, read on.
There are three primary issues with the factory Harley radio. All of which are simple to overcome if you know what you are doing and have the right equipment.
Issues that need to be addressed
- Frequency response. Harley loads wild EQ curves into the factory radio that you the user have no control over. This makes simply adding speakers and an amplifier alone a total disaster.
- Resistive load. When you remove the factory speakers and instead feed the radio output to an aftermarket amplifier or sound processor, the radio has no load and the output becomes unbalanced. A special resistive load needs to go between the radio and the next device.
- Signal voltage. The output of the factory radio is designed to drive speakers directly. Before feeding that signal to an amplifier or sound processor you need to make sure that the device is either designed for speaker level or you need to step the signal down first with a high to low level converter.
The Quick Rundown
You can fix all three problems with just two parts.
- Plug and play signal harness kit. This is a part that plugs into the factory radio harness and gives you an RCA connection at the other end. This harness has a special resistor network built right in that keeps the factory radio happy when using an aftermarket amplifier. American Hard Bag makes these harnesses. They are available from American Hard Bag or any of our 400 plus authorized retailers across the US.
- Sound Processor. This is basically an equalizer like the ones that used to be popular with old home stereos. A processor though works at the digital level and can also do a lot more than simple equalization.
The following is a thorough explanation of how these parts work and how to select the best sound processor for your particular system.
Frequency Response Is a Problem, but Not the Only Thing That Needs to Be Addressed.
Thinking that the radios frequency response (EQ curve) is the only issue is a common mistake. This is not the case. Flashing your bike can make it better, but will not resolve all issues.
Harley radios have an EQ curve programmed into them. This curve can be real problematic for an aftermarket system because aftermarket speakers and amplifiers are engineered to be used with a radio that has a relatively flat frequency response. The graph above shows the frequency response of a Harley that originally shipped with two fairing speakers and no factory amplifier (red). The blue line shows the response after the same bike has been flashed. This bike has essentially been flashed for factory Harley equipment that the bike does not actually have in order to get the flattened frequency response.
There are a few ways of dealing with the EQ issue.
- Best option. Use a stand alone DSP (digital sound processor). This is a digital device (EQ) that can undo the EQ that is programed into your radio and also allow you to re- EQ your sound to your taste. This is really the ultimate solution. There are several manufactures out there that make these devices. You can find some of them here.
- Use a plug and play device that will flatten the frequency response and lower the signal voltage. It is our experience that these type of devices can be hit and miss. They do not seem to work well with radios that are flashed for factory Harley amplifiers and they seem to work with some aftermarket amplifiers but not others. You never really know exactly what you are getting from these voodoo boxes.
- Have the radio flashed. The friendly flash is to flash for “4 Speakers-Upper Fairing/Rear Pods/No Amp”. This will give you four speaker output (the fader will be enabled in the radio for 4 speaker output). Note: if you do the 4 speaker flash, you will need to have load resistors (like the ones in our harnesses) on all four channels even if you are only using two. Having your bike flashed by your Harley dealership though has become a lot tougher now that Harley has put an official policy in place to not flash bikes for equipment and configurations that the customer did not purchase. Rockford Fosgate recommends that you take your bike to one of there 130 plus trained Rockford dealers to have your bike flashed. Not all Rockford dealers have the equipment or training to do this, but Rockford has published a list of dealers that are setup and ready to go. You can find those dealers listed on Rockford's website https://www.rockfordfosgate.com/support/. Simply type "Harley Flash" in the search box and the relevant article will come up. This flash will give you the flattest frequency response. One glaring problem with flashing the radio for factory equipment though is, that you have to worry about the bike being reflashed back to stock everytime your bike goes in for service at the dealership. This is a very real problem that I hear about almost daily.
More information about flashing your radio
I talked with Chris Lowe from Garage Bagger Stereo and Chris recommends to use the 4 speakers-Upper Fairing/Rear Pods/No Amp flash as pictured below. There are many audio savvy independent bike shops that can perform this flash for you as well. A hand full of aftermarket companies make and sell CAN bus programmers that are capable of changing the radio flash. These programmers are quite expensive and would not be worth buying for an individual.
Chris offers a radio flashing service so that you can avoid the trip to your dealership. You can mail your radio to him and he can flash it and send it back to you.
Recommended processor options
1. Rockford Fosgate DSR1
This is currently the most attractive option on the market in my opinion. The DSR1 packs in all of the best features that you could ask for (all but one, read on). This processor is wildly popular and for good reason!
- Small enough to fit in any fairing.
- 8 channels of output.
- Separate parametric 31 band EQ for each of it's 8 channels of output!
- A simple 7 band EQ for novice users.
- Digital crossovers for each channel capable of up to 48 db slopes that can be set at any frequency your heart desires for any channel.
- 2 or 4 channel input with selectable output channels 4 through 8.
- Low or high (speaker level) inputs. This means that you can plug it into a factory radio or use it with an aftermarket radio.
- Operated by your smart phone via Bluetooth. NO PC REQUIRED!
- An unlimited number of setting files can be saved to your phone. You can save every setting all at once and never fear of losing your tune.
- Setting files can be emailed or texted to or from anywhere in the world.
- Beautiful and friendly touchscreen interface.
- No knobs or buttons on the outside of the unit. All settings are done remotely by your phone, so you don't need to take the fairing off if something needs to be changed.
We love the DSR1 so much that we have gone through the effort to create a setup file with a counter EQ curve for our customers and customers of our authorized dealers that flattens out the frequency response of the Harley radio to within 1 db from 45 to 17 khz. This would not be possible with most any other processor. The radical 23 db swings in frequency is far too much for most any processor to deal with, but the engineers at Rockford Fosgate had the foresight to put an unusually capable parametric EQ feature in the DSR1.
- Does away with the need for a radio flash for most all bikes that shipped with 2 speakers and no Harley amplifier.
- Counter curve applied to all 8 channels
- Saves endless hours of tuning time. Even with all of the fancy equipment in the world at our disposal, this took a lot of effort and thorough testing on our part to get this right.
- Free with DSR1 purchase form American Hard Bag or an authorized American Hard Bag dealer.
American Hard Bag counter EQ applied ↓
Resulting settings on the DSR1 ↓
What the DSR1 Lacks
The only thing that the DSR1 lacks is a feature that allows the processor to read the frequency response directly from your radio and automatically compensate for it all on it's own. This would eliminate the need for the compensation file that we have made. The file that we offer is the perfect fix for 90% of the bikes out there today ('14 & up) but who knows whats coming tomorrow?
2. Audison Bit Ten
The Audison Bit Ten processor is designed for car Audio but works very well with Harley applications. The big advantage of this processor is that it actually reads the frequency response of your factory radio (and whatever flash your radio has). The autotune feature of this processor will undo whatever flash Harley has programed into your radio, making great sound foolproof! We have experienced that this works magically well. The disadvantage of this processor is that it is large enough that it either needs to be mounted in the fairing with no room left for an amplifier or it needs to be mounted in a saddlebag. We make plug and play wire harnesses for Harley installations in either location. We also make mounting racks for locating this processor in a saddlebag.
- Pretty much identical EQ, crossover, and digital time delay as the Rockford DSR1 but only has 4 channels of speaker level in and 5 channels of RCA out.
- Very nice software interface.
- Auto de-equalization feature makes setup especially foolproof.
- Not ultra small in size like the DSR1.
- Requires PC connection for setup.
3. JL Audio Fix 86 and Fix 82
JL makes a standalone unit (two actually) that are dedicated un-equalization units. They have very basic tone controls and crossovers, but if you want real tuning power you need to purchase a separate processor in addition to the Fix to get those features. I think that this is an outstanding idea. The thought process here is that JL was able to make a better anti- equalizer and a better processor (called the Twk-88) by separating the two. In the bike world however we do not have a lot of space to work with and two units will not fit in the fairing along with an amplifier. One of these units would have to go in a saddlebag. And that is a whole different can of worms.
- Takes two units to get full capabilities, leaving no room for an amplifier in the fairing.
- PC connection required for setup. Bluetooth module is due to be released but is not currently available.
- Beautiful PC software interface. Maybe the best I have ever seen.
Resistive Load. This is where many go wrong.
Smoothing out the frequency response of the radio will do you no good if the factory radio distorts when you turn the volume up. What happens is that the radio clips (distorts) at a low volume when the factory speaker has been removed from the bike. This is because the amplifier built into the factory Harley radios is designed to drive a speaker and not designed to drive the inputs of an amplifier or processor. The resistive load needs to be lowered. Arc Audio has a great article explaining this problem that you can read here.
The American Hard Bag Solution
We have come up with a plug & play solution that remedies this problem by combining 3 parts.
- Load resistors
- Rockford Fosgate RCA to speaker wire adapters
- Plug & play Harley radio connectors
We build a single part that converts the factory Harley plugs to RCA and adds the required resistance for a clean distortion free signal. These parts can all be purchased separately, but we offer a single part already put together.
Additionally we include the opposite side of the Harley plug that allows you to make your amplifier speaker outputs plug & play with your fairing speaker pods.
We make these in three varieties
- Front speaker (shown above).
- Rear speaker. You can use this version to add rear speaker outputs to a bike that only came with two front speakers (must be flashed for 4 speakers). The connector for this harness is in the fairing behind the radio in a single 4 pin plug.
- Ultra. Use this version on bikes that came with factory tour pack speakers. The rear speaker output from the factory radio on these bikes is only available under the seat back near the tour pack. This adapter is a T harness that goes between the tour pack and the bike harnesses and runs the signal back up to the front of the bike in the fairing where it terminates as RCA connectors.
If your radio is flashed for 4 speaker output, you must use load resistors or the above mentioned plug and play adapters on both front and rear outputs of the radio. Even if you don't use the rear outputs. If your radio is only flashed for two speakers you will not need load resistors on the rear outputs because they are defeated in the radio.
It’s worth mentioning that even though this adapter converts the speaker lines to RCAs, the signal is still a balanced high level, and not a low level RCA type signal. The load resistors simply add a load to the radio but do not decrease the signal voltage. Also, unlike a traditional RCA signal, the shield (outer ring) of the RCA is hot (speaker level). If used with an amplifier that does not have differential inputs, a high to low level converter with isolation transformers is required. Damage to the radio could occur if used with an amplifier that has traditional RCA (single ended, common shield) inputs. We sell a very specialized high to low level adapter with isolation transformers that has RCA connectors on both the input as well as the outputs. This makes it a simple plug & play installation with our Harley to RCA adapters.
High Signal Voltage Problem
Last but not least there is the potential that the signal voltage is too high for your amplifier. This is only a problem with amplifiers that are not designed for speaker level inputs with an RCA type connector. Most all amplifiers suitable for Harley use today have speaker level inputs and this is a non issue. The signal voltage can be high enough from a factory Harley radio that it will overdrive even an amplifier that is designed for speaker level inputs. Additionally connecting an amplifier that is not designed for speaker level inputs can damage your Harley radio! To deal with this it is recommended that you add an RCA voltage reducer like the one pictured above. If you are not certain that the amplifier that you want to use has speaker level input capability, you should contact the manufacturer to find out.
Speed Controlled Volume
The speed controlled volume feature increases volume of the radio as your speed increases. This is a cool feature, but is not a good thing if you have an aftermarket amplifier. We recommend that you turn this feature off. Simply go through your audio settings and turn it off.
For assistance with installation and system setup
Phone: 1(916) 823-5256