Sound Selections: How to decide on a automotive audio system

With all of the expertise in new autos, it’s straightforward to miss the stereo system. However for some – and definitely for music freaks like me – the automotive inside is the final bastion of uninterrupted music listening in a world stuffed with distractions. The expertise is completely different than having fun with tunes at house and even with high-end headphones since a car inside is akin to a non-public listening area and, regardless of inherent wind and highway noise, music at all times appears to sound higher with asphalt whizzing by beneath your toes.

Automakers have stepped up their audio recreation to the purpose that ripping out inventory parts and putting in aftermarket gear has develop into futile for many new-car patrons. When you can at all times get higher sound from the aftermarket, it can value you extra, might completely alter your car and may trigger hassles whenever you carry your automotive in for service – all for largely marginal good points in audio high quality. Like squeezing a bit extra efficiency out of your engine, you possibly can rapidly attain some extent of diminishing returns when it comes to cost-benefit ratio.

Audio Arms Race

For those who determine to keep away from the aftermarket route, when searching for a brand new car you actually don’t have a lot selection aside from the system that comes commonplace with the automotive or a premium system out there both as an possibility or included on higher-end trims. Premium programs usually carry out higher than commonplace programs as a result of they sometimes have extra audio system and amplifier energy (measured in watts).

Luxurious automotive makers have been engaged in an audio arms race for bragging rights over the best variety of audio system and highest amplifier energy. Regardless of this, having extra audio system and energy does not at all times equal higher efficiency.

The most recent Mark Levinson system within the fifth-generation Lexus LS, for instance, has a 16-channel, 2,400-watt amplifier powering 23 audio system in 16 areas all through the flagship sedan. Whereas the Mark Levinson programs are certainly among the many best-sounding I’ve examined, Acura’s ELS Studio 3D Premium system out there within the Acura TLX with “solely” 17 audio system and 710 watts outperforms many higher-speaker, higher-powered programs.

It isn’t all in regards to the model

One other doubtlessly deceptive audio-quality indicator is branding and basing a shopping for choice solely on the speaker brand alone is not advisable.

During the last decade or so, automakers have partnered with boutique audiophile manufacturers reminiscent of Burmeister in Mercedes-Benz, Meridian in Jaguar-Land Rover autos and Enjoy Lincoln. However a unclean secret of OEM audio is that parts reminiscent of amplifiers are sourced from varied distributors. A Bang & Olufsen system, for instance, could also be made up of drugs from giant automotive suppliers reminiscent of Alpine or Panasonic.

Whereas Bose single-handedly invented OEM branded audio nearly 40 years in the past, it will get a foul rap from audiophiles – no highs, no lows, it have to be Bose. However one of the best Bose programs could be on par with extra elite manufacturers, even when among the firm’s automotive programs can differ extensively even throughout the identical automaker’s autos.

Speaker Placement and Audio Options

Past element specs and types, additionally contemplate how the system is ready up. Again within the day, hardcore automotive audio fanatics would go to nice lengths – and do main surgical procedure on their car interiors – to get a center-channel speaker within the sprint, tweeters within the front-door sail panels or subwoofers up entrance for higher sound.

Whereas center-channel audio system and sail-panel tweeters are actually frequent, only some automakers, reminiscent of Lincoln, provide front-mounted woofers to keep away from a disjointed bass-in-the-back sound. Some automakers, reminiscent of Land Rover and Acura, additionally set up audio system within the headliner for higher sound at every seat. Some are even within the head restraint, as in sure Nissans.

Additionally search for whether or not a automotive audio system has helpful sound-shaping options. Many programs use sign processing to tailor the sound to the inside, focusing it for the driving force, front-seat passengers or all automotive occupants. I’m not a fan of the myriad and normally proprietary digital sign processing and digital encompass sound that usually provides a synthetic tinge to tunes, though some can enhance the sound. Most may also, happily, be switched off. 

Past easy bass and treble controls, separate changes for midrange and subwoofers are useful to dial in a greater sound. And I like having a graphic equalizer to tweak the sound to my liking, though only a few automakers nonetheless provide a graphic EQ. BMW is one which does.

Belief Your Ears

Which brings me to my final and greatest piece of recommendation when purchasing automotive stereo: belief your ears. At this level I might throw out a bunch of audiophile qualities to search for, reminiscent of sound staging, imaging and dynamic headroom – and I’m completely satisfied to expound on these and suggest reference recording within the feedback part. In the end, although, go to a supplier, check out the completely different programs out there and hear for what sounds greatest to you. Ensure that to play the identical track from the identical supply, simply as we automotive and audio system reviewers do. If you are going to pay $1,000 or extra for an improve stereo, is not it value a couple of minutes of listening to your favourite track just a few occasions?

For those who like extremely compressed, bass-heavy sound and use low-resolution sources reminiscent of primary streaming companies, audition a system utilizing that materials. Alternatively, if you need the very best sound, take a look at a system utilizing high-resolution streams reminiscent of Tidal, lossless FLAC information that some automaker audio programs help through USB, or a CD – for those who nonetheless have them or can nonetheless discover a disc drive in a brand new car.

Patrick Moore

Patrick is our chief editor and he's very passionate about cars. He has a bachelor's degree in marketing and he studies journalism. His favorite brand is BMW and he drives an X5 series. When he's not writing for, he enjoys spending time with his family and 9 years old son.

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