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40v13: Electric and Entertainment

Table of Contents

Surge Suppressor

I looked at three surge suppressor options:

  • Progressive Industries EMS-HW50C 
  • Southwire Surge Guard 35550
  • Hughes PWD50-EPO-H

The Hughes had a really nice feature of a replaceable surge unit (where I think the Progressive Industries model requires a full replacement if it gets fried, like from lightning).  It also has a phone app, which of course appealed strongly to my geeky side!!

The Southwire was about the same price as the PI (“Progressive Industries” is far too much to keep typing!), but with less features.

Gray box on the right is the Automatic Transfer Switch, the black box on the left is the surge suppressor

Since I had good luck with the PI unit we put into our last trailer, that won out for me.  The other thing that swayed me was the ‘previous error code’ that the PI will show.  So if it cuts out due to a low power situation (for example), the readout will display that code so you know what happened.

I chose to mount this on the off-door side, above the Nautilus panel.  The cable was long enough to easily reach somewhere else, but I like having it near to the outside and on the side of the RV where the power source is so I can check it immediately after connecting to the campground post.

This time the install was far easier!   Alliance (intentionally?) left slack in the cable so I did not have to buy a separate jumper cable like I did for the 32v.  I again installed it after the automatic transfer switch, to protect us both on shore power and generator.  
One note about doing it that way — there is a delay built into both devices (the ATS and the surge suppressor), so it can be several minutes between applying power to the coach and having it reach the distribution panel inside.

While Alliance made it much easier with the extra cable length, the install was still a bit challenging for other reasons.  There is a great place on the ceiling to install the box, but I cut the power line a little too far back.  This left it too close to the wall to get the mounting screws into place.  
50 amp service requires 6 gauge wire, and getting that stiff wire fed into the proper places, bending and guiding as I went was challenging.  Doing that while tightening the retaining screws, and also while holding the unit up to the ceiling was definitely an exercise in patience!!!

Roku TV

The main TV in our Valor is a smart (Android) TV, so we are able to use our usual apps we use at home.

We use YouTube TV at home, so using it in the RV too means all our recorded shows, preferences, channels, etc all follow us wherever we go.  

Unfortunately the other TVs in the trailer are not smart TVs, so I wanted to do something to smarten them up =)

I happened to have an old Roku (stick) gathering dust so I added that to the bedroom TV.   Then I realized that I wanted more flexibility – in the rare event we wanted to watch something outside or if the kids wanted to watch TV in the garage.  Since all of the mounts (except the main TV) are “fixed” and don’t move, I found it challenging to get my hands back there to insert the Roku into the HDMI port, and even tougher to plug its cord into the USB port!

So I bought a short HDMI cable and snagged a couple of short USB cables from home, and put them behind each of the TVs.  Now those “extension cables” hang down behind the TV, easy for me to reach and plug the Roku into.

Stereo Replacement

Why a New Stereo?

The factory JBL stereo is actually a small upgrade from what was in our last coach, but still not what we envisioned.

It was a little tough justifying the cost and time investment because we don’t listen to the radio or watch TV much.  But there were a few nagging things about it prompting a replacement:

  1. It can be unwieldy working with the volume in different zones, and we always worry that we’ve accidentally turned on zone C and are now blasting the neighbors with the latest Survivor episode.  😬
  2. The Bluetooth pairing and connections with our phones (for music) is better than our previous rig but still not great.   
  3. The display is not easy to see from across the room.
  4. We are not audiophiles but we’d like to have decent (full, clear, and loud enough) sound.
  5. We’d like to have music or news in the bathroom and bedroom when getting ready in the morning.
Current (factory) Stereo

I’m noting this because I am not at all certain what Alliance puts into their various models, let alone how that might change from year to year. 

The stereo in our 2023 Valor 40v13 was a JBL “Aura” (link to product manual on the Forest River website).   Apparently there are several models of the Aura, ours is not the “Aura Cube” but I can’t say which it actually is. 
It is running 6 channels (3 pairs of speakers) at 20 watts each (120w total).  The cabinet hole for it is approximately 10-5/8″ x 3-3/4″, and offers maybe about 11″ max depth.

This is a 4 ohm system with Harmon/JBL Stage1 621B speakers outside (35 watt RMS, 175 peak) in a 6.5″ round form factor.  
I assume the garage ceiling speakers are the same, I have not looked at those yet.

The living room speakers are located underneath the TV, to either side of the stereo.  These are 4″ rounds placed in a plastic housing (likely for improved performance) and are labeled as JBL-AURA-SPK, 25 watts RMS, 150w peak.  The holes for them in the cabinet face are roughly 6-1/4″ wide by 3-3/4″ high.  

Requirements

We were pretty flexible on the requirements for a replacement.  We wanted to address the items above (our complaints about the current system) of course. 

  • Concerned about replacing it with another similar unit, as found on sites like Camping World or even eTrailer.com.  Those replacements are built as 12-volt wall-mount and offer 3 zones, but we can’t be sure they are an upgrade nor address the complaints.
  • Opening our options to include home stereo systems would have greatly simplified things, but we really wanted to stay on a 12-volt system, allowing us to run audio when not connected to  shore power or on generator. 
  • Sticking to 12-volt power had us looking at car stereos but I couldn’t find any that natively supported three or four zones (though there are some cool ones that support two zones, each playing different audio sources!).   So to have multiple zones we now need to add an extra component to the mix.
  • We opted for an amplifier in the system to ensure we had enough power to get good sound quality without pushing the speakers to their max and risking distortion.

Note: I’m betting there are some purpose built high end solutions out there but I didn’t want to pay the premium price for those so I didn’t bother looking for them.

Soooo, limiting ourselves to car stereos, these are the things we were looking for:

  • Has a remote control (for operation from the couch)
  • Has input compatible with the TV.  For us (we have the factory installed Sansui S50V1UA) that is either optical or HDMI (using ARC).  A number of the stereos had HDMI or mini HDMI ports, but I didn’t see any that supported ARC (Audio Return Channel – essentially a bi-direction HDMI signal that allows audio to return to the head unit for playing there, instead of through the TV built-in speakers).  I bought a  converter cable to change the optical output of the TV into component jacks, then this adapter to change component jacks into 3.5mm AV that the stereo offers as input.
  • Ability to pair multiple devices via Bluetooth.
  • Preamp output channels (though there are amps that work with standard speaker input from the radio)
  • Touchscreen (versus clicking buttons).  This is very debatable whether it should be on the requirements list versus the nice to have list!
  • Compatible with a parking brake bypass.  A bypass is required to simulate the parking brake in a car, giving full access to all the radio operations, settings, etc (things normally blocked from use while the vehicle is in motion).   Here is one place to find those.

Nice to haves:

  • Can display the time even when in use, and preferably change the display color scheme to look good in the trailer.
  • Wireless car play might be nice for fuller integration than just Bluetooth
  • Alexa voice control sounds interesting, though I could maybe achieve something similar with pairing a Google Mini with the radio.
  • Digital tuner (HD) might be cool for additional over the air sound quality
  • SiriusXM compatibility.   It is highly unlikely we will subscribe to this, as we are quite happy with streaming audio services like Apple, Pandora, etc. 
  • Volume knob – we appreciate having a physical control to quickly adjust volume in the cars that have this.

I purchased all the components through Crutchfield.  Their prices are competitive with other sites, but I was willing to pay slightly more on a component or two because the technical advice there, reviews, etc are amazing!  For example:  I received a call from a technical advisor the day after placing the order.   He spent a long time with me talking through various options and to ensure I understood ramifications of what I had ordered before he shipped it out. 

Components

Selector Switch

Here is what I learned about selector switches.  As always, if you are doing something similar you should not take my word for it and instead research it yourself to be sure I got it right.   

Adding the selector switch (separating the audio feed into the “zones” or pairs of speakers) creates some challenges electrically:
The speakers are 4 ohms.  Wiring them directly to the amp presents the electrical resistance (impedance) the amp expects and is rated for.   Adding additional speakers (zones via the selector switch) in parallel lowers the impedance presented to the amplifier. 
A rough analogy would be turning on additional faucets in your home – increasing your overall water throughput, which in turn is now demanding much more from your household water supply.  Similarly, with more speakers pulling power, your amplifier is now working much harder to keep up with the demand.
Amplifiers are rated for a specific load (e.g. 4 ohms) but adding the selector has effectively reduced my impedance from 4 down to 1 or less.  The amp would work too hard and overheat trying to keep up with that load.  The better (read: pricier) selectors have a trick called impedance magnification that they use to present higher resistance to the amp but this (and having them in parallel?) reduces the wattage available to each pair.  
I went with the Russound SDB-4.1 selector switch.  This unit is $100 more than the Niles counterpart, but doubles the maximum input capacity to 200 watts. 

Amplifier

Bumping the input capacity of the Selector Switch to 200 watts in turn meant I could throw in a 200 watt amplifier, which  should give me about 35 watts per channel after accounting for all the reductions from the selector switch and general signal loss.

Speakers

The bathroom speakers are Polk DB652 6.5″ rounds (coaxial, not component speakers).  These are IP56 rated, which should help with humidity in the bathroom from the shower.   The medicine cabinet door is very close to the ceiling, so I could not mount a speaker within the opening path of that door.  There is an AC duct that prevents mounting along that path (above the entrance door).   Other lights and vents (and running wires further through the ceiling) finally made me give up and place the speaker down low in the wall.  I was tempted to mount it in the side of the vanity, but doing so would likely require modifying the speaker grill to fit.  Plus I assume it would be more difficult to hide that hole than one in the wall, should we ever decide to remove the speaker.

For the front speakers, I opted for Kicker KSC460 4×6’s.  I’m quite sure I could have dutifully (and easily!) sunk a significant amount of time into picking just the right combination of speaker sound quality versus price, but honestly we don’t even use the system enough to merit that.  I mounted the Kickers back in the original plastic speaker housings, though this required cutting the plastic to accommodate these larger speakers.  This also allowed me to reuse (slightly modified) factory covers as well – very handy since these Kickers do not come with grills!   I liked some of the aftermarket (generic) 4×6 grills but I suspect the oval ones I liked would not fully cover the rectangular housings.   

Installation

I decided that approaching the whole system all at once was the best tactic.  If I ran into issues with one component or another, it might alter other plans/components.   

I pulled the old stereo and front speakers first to get an idea of the wiring paths, accessibility, mounting options, etc.   I also pulled the fireplace out to see if there were open spaces behind it to run wires (there weren’t).  I investigated the channels underneath the slide to look for trouble spots there.  And finally, I pulled panels and lights in/near the bathroom to identify challenges there.

Bathroom Speaker

I assumed I would run speaker wires from the bathroom ceiling down through the wall behind the control panel, as there are already oodles (that is the technical electricians term, by the way.  ok its not, but should be) of wires there.  I ran into two hurdles here:
One was pushing wire up the existing channel.  When it nears the top the weight and compaction of existing wires makes it really tough to run something past them.  
The other problem was fishing a line (if I could get it to visibly breach at the top of the wall) from there over to an open spot in the bathroom ceiling.  Pulling the nearest light puck down gave me access, but snaking something that far through the insulation and catching hold of the wire fish was going to be tough.

I tried a few options in fishing:

  • Straightened coat hanger wire – thin and holds shape fairly well, but barely long enough.  Adding hook at end kept snagging on wires as I brought it down to try again.
  • Thick metal wire – I happened to have an unused long coil.  Taping to my scope helped in routing it.  Keeping the bottom coiled made spinning it easier.  Same problem breaking through the bundle at the top.  With more patience, this was the method I would recommend.

In the end I opted to mount the speaker low on the bathroom wall, making it possible to run the wire through the vanity and down into the basement from there.

 

The bigger challenge was the bedroom speaker!

Bedroom Speaker

This ended up being perhaps the biggest challenge for me, outside of the original issue of trying to fish wire from the basement up the wall behind the control panel and into the bathroom ceiling.  I can’t even say how many hours I spent trying to do that, and then also get from the bedroom ceiling into the bathroom wall!!  Soooo frustrating!

I would have thought the straight line (relatively) short distance between lights would be make it a cake walk but noooo.  Between thick insulation (which I am glad of, but makes wiring hell!) and roof trusses this was challenging.

Radio

The car stereo is significantly narrower than the JBL I am replacing.  This required me to mount metal angle brackets to bolt the radio to.  It also meant I needed to come up with a trim piece (faceplate) to cover the gaps and make it look nice.

I figured while I was at it, I may as well embed the power switch on it, add the USB connection to the radio, and also put in an easy HDMI jack that goes straight to the TV.

The radio comes with two power inputs – one is meant for constant power and the other goes through your ignition switch so the radio is only powered when the car is on.  I added an external rocker switch for this wire so that the radio does not always come on and remain powered while the RV has power (which is 24×7 except when in winter storage!)

Selector Switch

The size of this unit and the fact that it has no mounts (it is a home stereo component) really only gave me one option that I could think of for placement – inside the cabinet above the TV.  Not optimal but I didn’t find any reasonable alternatives.   
I ended up removing the default “feet” and running longer screws through the cabinet shelf to hold it in place.