Sep. 17, 2006. 01:00 AM
For three months, Geoff Martin sat in a car listening to music.
All kinds of music: jazz, classical, rock, blues, you name it.
nice job for the Canadian, helping renowned audio specialist Bang &
Olufsen tailor-design a complete sound system for the new Audi A8 and
win a big contract.
More than a year later, Bang & Olufsen
took the finished car to Audi's headquarters in Ingolstadt and quite
literally blew the executives away.
You may know the Danish
company for its ultra-thin speakers, banana-shaped phones, or
wall-mounted CD players, but the Audi project was a thrust into a new
market: car audio.
It's been a slow process, says Bjarne Sorensen, senior program manager.
& Olufsen had been looking at the challenge of car audio for many
years, but couldn't tackle the inherent problems of a car interior
until the appropriate technology was developed.
"We now have
closed speaker boxes, our ICEpower amplifier that runs cool and with
very little power draw, and the acoustic lens that allows us to hit the
sweet spot for listeners," Sorensen says.
After assembling the
components, the firm bought a brand-new A8 and brought it back to its
facility in Denmark to engineer a prototype system. It took more than a
year to get it right.
Finally, after components were selected and
installed into a prototype, it was down to one man to tune the system
entirely by ear.
Martin, a specialist in sound design for Bang
& Olufsen, has been professionally mixing and tuning audio since
1990 when he began studies in McGill University's sound-recording
Now at the company's headquarters in Denmark, he sat for three months in the A8, tuning its system.
says the system was developed specifically for the A8 platform, and
isn't comprised of a predesigned component set (speakers, amplifier,
subwoofer). This contributes to the incredible cost of the stereo
compared with other high-end systems — tick the box and you'll pay
nearly $8,000 for aural bliss.
Slip behind the wheel and the
first noticeable addition to the cabin are silver aluminum speaker
grilles on the doors. They are part of the 14-speaker set that includes
a subwoofer and acoustic lenses.
Push the starter button and the
two acoustic lenses rise on each side of the dashboard. The concept was
developed by Sausalito Audio Works in California, presented to Bang
& Olufsen several years ago, and has been carefully honed since.
Bang & Olufsen holds the exclusive licence to the technology.
lenses provide a constant tonal balance, both reflecting and directing
sound toward the listener. Most noticeably, they provide a better sense
of space and realism. In other words, they help create a large and
distinct sound stage at the front of the car, lending to the perception
that The Who, for instance, is playing on the hood.
interesting features of the stereo include its ability to compensate
for road noise by infinitely altering the volume to maintain a constant
sound level from the speakers.
"We use input from the engine
management computer, climate control and a microphone in the headliner
to achieve this," Sorensen says. "You can't fool it."
As far as power goes, the ICEpower amplifier helps push total system output to 1,100 watts, divided among the 14 speakers.
amp itself is extremely compact: it's smaller than a sheet of paper,
and only 6.3 cm high. It has a dynamic range of 115 decibels, and a
distortion less than 0.1 per cent at full power.
How does it sound? Phenomenal.
I spent more than an hour sampling all sorts of music, including some of the same tracks that Martin used to tune the stereo.
The best way to describe the experience is to say that the equivalent home system would cost more than $20,000 to reproduce.
may think it's silly to spend so much on a stereo, but the amount of
music you're missing while listening to a conventional system is
extraordinary. A conventional stereo is like paying to see the Rolling
Stones, with only two band members showing up. The Bang & Olufsen
system is like hearing the Rolling Stones — with The Who playing backup.
systems will be eventually developed for other manufacturers, Sorensen
says, with the eventual goal of Bang & Olufsen stereos available in
vehicles by Mercedes-Benz, BMW and others.
Sorensen says that Bang & Olufsen imagines car audio going even further.
are possibilities for rear-seat entertainment, or to connect the car
wirelessly to the home stereo. We see the car as another `link room'
from your office to your home.
"Instead of having six CDs in a
car and listening to the same music because it's a hassle to change
them, you could always have access to all of your music at home while
you're on the road."
Not having to deal with bulky CD magazines? Now that's music to the ears.