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Car Audio: to know, hear and listen to terms



Music lovers never had a better time to buy a new car. Automakers have recognized that their in-car entertainment needs have evolved over the past decade. That's why they work more closely with loudspeaker companies like Harman and Bose to turn your car into a four-wheeled concert hall.

If you're someone who appreciates how music can enhance the driving experience – or you're wondering if this premium audio system is worth the extra cost – here are the basics for understanding in-car audio.

The 201

9 Acura RDX features a 710-watt, 16-voice ELS Studio 3D audio system, tuned by Grammy-winning producer and engineer Elliot Scheiner.


Manuel Carrillo III / Roadshow

The Audible Spectrum: Bass, Midrange, and Treble

Most people know bass, midrange, and treble, the low, mid, and high frequencies combined in the music. Although generally accepted terms, it is good to start with these concepts as a refresher because they provide a platform to understand the rest of the ideas that we will discuss.

The audible spectrum ranges from 20 to 20,000 hertz. 20 Hz or 20 cycles per second of a loudspeaker (typically a large subwoofer) moving back and forth reproduces the lowest possible frequency that the human ear can perceive. On the back, 20,000 Hz means that a speaker (typically a small tweeter) vibrates at a frequency of 20,000 oscillations per second. At 20,000 Hz, the human ear is at the upper limit of what it can perceive on the high side of the audible spectrum.

To put that into perspective, bass is any sound between 20 and 250 Hz. Instruments in this area are the tuba (32 Hz), the bass drum (100 Hz) and the viola (196 Hz). Midrange covers the audible range from 250 to 4,000 Hz and includes instruments such as guitar (275 Hz), flute (800 Hz) and piano (2,000 Hz). Eventually, any altitude noise falls between 4,000 and 20,000 Hz, but musical instruments typically can not exceed 12,000 Hz. A triangle is 4,500 Hz on average, while basins are typically 8,000 Hz.

While it's tempting to crank up bass and treble, you can hear every equalized instrument as accurately as possible.


Manuel Carrillo III / Roadshow

Keep the equalization flat

Keeping the equalization (EQ) of your sound system flat lets you listen to your music as accurately as possible. The sound engineers who make these systems throughout the development of a new car tune the car stereo to a flat equalization based on the audible spectrum.

If a sound engineer tunes a sound system for the high-frequency equalization, then you, the consumer, would be forced to focus on the high-frequency elements of the music like the cymbals. But you would not enjoy the music if you were in a live performance or recording studio. You could hear the instruments mixed so that each musician complements his fellow players.

Flat equalization places all the instruments of a song on a flat playing field so that the vocals, the bass guitar or the pounding cymbals do not put the rest of the instruments in the background of their own stage or studio performance.

Car audio systems offer a number of ways to adjust the equalization. The most common method is the bass and treble setting. Occasionally, the midrange is adjustable. Keep these knobs centered in the most neutral position (or "zero") and you have a flat equalizer. Sometimes an automaker will get a small breeder and offer you somewhere from a handful to about a dozen tax gliders that individually manage the amount of segments within the audible spectrum. Return these sliders to their default center settings and listen to music played in a manner intended by the artist, producer, and premium audio system engineer.

Should you fumble with these adjustments? Sure, but as you familiarize yourself with your new car and its sophisticated premium audio package, you should adjust your ears to the system's natural, flat mood for a few weeks before experimenting with the controls. But really, you should not have to mess around with your EQ settings.

If you do not have a hell-off passenger who hates music, there's really no reason to adjust the balance and fader settings of your premium audio system.


Manuel Carrillo III / Roadshow

Keep Balance and Fader Centered

"For at least a week, someone is sitting in this car and they plug into the amplifier and control each speaker individually in the cabin," says Jonathan Pierce, Senior Manager of Global Benchmarking at Harman International. And this only in relation to the coordination phase, which takes place shortly before the start of production of the vehicle. Audio suppliers like Harman have their acoustic engineers from the beginning of the development of a car to (and sometimes already) the beginning of production so that the audio system can keep up with the vehicle.

"You orchestrate This whole thing comes together to be as accurate [-sounding] as possible," says Pierce.

How to Listen

It's great to sing all the songs, but sometimes it's more pleasant to hear with a softer volume. You should be able to enjoy your premium audio no matter what volume you choose. When testing tunes in your next car, you hear low, medium, and high intensity sounds. Notice how well you can hear the different frequencies and instruments in the audible spectrum. Is the bass too quiet at low volumes, but satisfactory when it is loud? Does the high-frequency level excite before the rest of the frequencies begin to blow?

Ideally, an audio package should have many low, mid, and high levels, or have the same frequency balance over the entire volume range. When that happens, a system is called "linear." The following graphic shows a linear system. Notice how the volume lines look the same? Let that be a visual target for what you hear in your next car.

When spectrally analyzed, a good audio system should reproduce uniform-looking lines at different volumes.


Harman Kardon

Things to Watch

When you close your eyes, you should be able to "see" where the vocals are coming from. In addition to all the points already mentioned, it is a well-established system if you can quickly locate the positions of certain instruments over an imaginary sound stage that seems to be wider than the interior of the vehicle.

Sometimes an audio supplier tunes up their virtual soundstage as if they were on stage with the band. Other providers may leave the recording strictly in front of you. Sometimes you have the opportunity to be on stage or in the virtual public without having to adjust the fader setting. In any case, you should be able to "see" where certain sounds go out. The bottom line is that it should never seem as if you hear the sound of loudspeakers. A great audio system projects the illusion that you have a live performance.

When you hear your premium audio system, the left, middle, and right channels should not sound as if they came from speakers, but from those virtual spheres instead.


Harman International

How to Test Audio Systems

I called a 10-genre, 21-song playlist ($ 150 at Crutchfield) in my phone "Audio System Test." These are the first 21 songs that I enjoy when I evaluate a new car. It's a good idea to test premium audio with a range of pieces of music that you know well. The best audio packages allow me to discover instruments that I never knew existed in my favorite songs. This is always a pleasant surprise, and it's an easy way for a system to earn extra points in my ratings.

A personal favorite is the Bentley Bentayga with its optional Naim audio system. I could also have been in a state-of-the-art recording studio because I can focus on any instrument, as if my fingers are at the top of an 80-channel, million-dollar mixer.

But you do not need a $ 270,000 SUV with 1,920 watts, 20-speaker array to experience immersive, top-notch sound. Nissan just unveiled its $ 23,000 kicks with Bose Personal Plus Audio, and I'd rank it in my top 10 of the ever-popular premium audio systems. It provides much of the immersive, spooky stimulation and instrumental separation of the Naim system, but with just eight speakers built into a vehicle that costs less than a tenth of the Bentley. No matter what your budget, there is transformative audio experience that waits for your Sunday trip or Monday commute.

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