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audioXpress Magazine

June 2023


The Sound Of Silence
Audio systems offer a great entertainment experience when listening to music.
Editorial By J. Martins


audioXpress Magazine June 2023


  Automotive audio is a fascinating topic that audioXpress has been increasingly exploring. We have received an enthusiastic response from both our readership and the industry, but our strongest motivation has been the unprecedented level of activity and innovation taking place. Looking back 10 years, when we envisaged the new format and the roadmap for this publication, I confess that this was not something I anticipated. Yes, Tesla started selling its Model S in 2012 and we should have foreseen how fully electric vehicles would impact the audio experience as the familiar noise of the combustion engine was suddenly removed.

Back then, car audio was a separate world and not something with which we envisaged getting involved on a deep level — in particular because there were plenty of industry publications focused on the segment. I believe many audio industry professionals felt the same, until they had the chance to explore sound systems in the new electric vehicle (EV) environment and it became obvious that nothing would stay the same. A completely new approach was needed for audio systems, starting with the need to define the sound of the car itself —for drivers and passengers, and for the outside world.



Everything started to change with the first hybrids — I remember riding in a Toyota Prius and admiring the initial silence when the car was set in motion, until the road noise became more prevalent than we were accustomed to having in other vehicles—because there is no such thing as silence in a moving vehicle. It's just a different type of noise that quickly becomes extremely loud when the traditional engine noise doesn't mask it. I don't remember anyone bragging about the possibility of solving that problem by installing a Burmester sound system for their Prius.

My first experience with ultra-high-end audio in a car was precisely with a Burmester system in the backseat of a Mercedes-Benz that drove me to the airport. I was in absolute awe of the experience, the comfort, the unusual silence inside the cabin, and the magistral sound of the music playing — making it almost impossible to detect the direction from which it was coming. In a way, a truly immersive experience even though the source was in plain stereo, showing me that automotive sound could be a completely different discipline from what we would consider a reference speaker listening environment, in the studio or at home.


audioXpress Magazine June 2023


Likewise, John Whitecar, Principal Engineer at Tesla from 2015 to 2017, who is interviewed in this issue of audioXpress together with his colleague Steve Ernst, now both at DSP Concepts, was working on fairly standard automotive entertainment systems during that period. Basically, because the automotive audio systems that were still being designed in 2012 and a few years after that, were basically entertainment audio systems "fitted" to the car. Where radio receivers and antennas, together with the need to support Bluetooth and connected smartphones, were priorities for audio "infotainment" teams. Such systems were not designed with the car and to enhance the car, like what we see being envisioned today.

And that's what has set in motion a new era for audio innovation, allowing for many new players to step into this completely new environment. As the saying goes, "necessity is the mother of invention" and EVs, being inherently silent, needed completely new audio technologies. As an example, new speaker topologies that have never received much attention for conventional applications and were simply considered to be a "different" way to achieve the same thing, are now an essential way to meet the two fundamental requirements of reduced weight and lower power, mandatory in new vehicles. Noise reduction or cancellation systems were always more effective when combined with active acoustics, and efforts in that direction are showing up everywhere, because EVs need it. And yes, immersive audio systems, which could be considered an optional luxury add-on, are fundamentally the right approach for sound systems in these new vehicles.



Because sound needs to be a part of the car driving experience, it doesn't hurt that audio systems also offer a great entertainment experience when listening to music or any other content. And that's even before we get to the point where that entertainment becomes basically the center of the whole autonomous car experience.



J. Martins




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