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Sounds Great Car Audio

Sounds great: 20 of the best in-car audio systems

Sounds Great Car Audio

Why spend money on an upgraded audio system when the noise coming out of the exhaust provides all the soundtrack you’ll ever need? Given the popularity of high-end aftermarket and original equipment manufacturer (OEM) sound systems, it would appear that many motorists disagree. We’ve put together a list of some of the best musical upgrades in the business – a celebration of when carmakers and audio firms meet. Pump up the volume.

Audi and Bang & Olufsen

Sounds Great Car Audio

Audi and Bang & Olufsen are so-called ‘partners in technology’, but the latest 3D Advanced Sound System doesn’t come cheap. Available on the newer, high-end models, the system boasts 23 speakers, 3D sound reproduction, two automatically extending acoustic lenses on the instrument panel and privacy shields to keep the sound inside the car. It’ll set you back around £6,500, depending on the model in question.

Ford Mondeo Vignale and Sony

Sounds Great Car Audio

The super-plush Ford Mondeo Vignale boasts a Sony digital radio and 12 hi-fidelity speakers as standard. Does this make it worthy of an appearance here? Possibly not, because the multitude of tiny buttons makes it feel a bit old-school. But it’s the Active Noise Cancellation system that’s of real interest. It uses three microphones to monitor engine noise and then directs opposing sound waves through the speakers to improve cabin ambience. Clever stuff.

Lexus and Mark Levinson

Sounds Great Car Audio

Hair by Mark Levinson? No, audio by Mark Levinson, at least it is if you buy a new Lexus and part with some extra cash. The audio company claims no other carmaker offers the ride quality and levels of hush required for its systems. The Premium Audio system features multiple bespoke speakers (number varies according to model) and a digital surround system. What’s more, each speaker is said to deliver twice the sound of the same energy consumption, while the Auto Volume System automatically adjusts the volume when switching between artists and recordings.

Porsche and Burmester

Sounds Great Car Audio

The Burmester High-End Surround Sound System is available as an option across the Porsche range. In the Panamera, the result of the upgrade is 12 individually controlled speakers, a 300-watt active subwoofer, a class D amplifier and a total system output of 821 watts. Porsche says it provides a ‘first class audio experience’. Mind you, at £5,000, it ought to be good.

Mercedes-Benz and Burmester

Sounds Great Car Audio

Burmester enjoys a similar relationship with Mercedes-Benz. The companies started working together in 2009 and the High-End 3D Surround Sound System made its debut in the current S-Class. We’ve experienced the sound in the C-Class and it’s very good. But we’re not totally convinced by the rather chintzy-looking speakers.

Aston Martin and Bang & Olufsen

Sounds Great Car Audio

If you’re driving an Aston Martin, surely the sound of the engine is the only soundtrack you’ll ever need. This is a well-worn cliché, because in the real world you’ll want to settle back into the comfort of your Aston Martin and enjoy a few tunes. The 13-speaker Bang & Olufsen BeoSound system found in the DB11 is big league stuff. According to What Hifi, “It’s one of the most energetic and entertaining B&O in-car systems” on the market. Image shows a speaker in the DB9.

Maserati and Bowers & Wilkins

Sounds Great Car Audio

Bowers & Wilkins is a British-based high-end audio company based in Worthing. In 2014, it extended its collaboration with Maserati by announcing the arrival of the P5 Maserati Edition Mobile Hi-Fi headphones. The cost? Around 400 euros. Alternatively, you could buy a Levante and splash out on Harman Kardon system for £1,500, or a Bowers & Wilkins surround sound system for £2,300.

Bentley and Naim

Sounds Great Car Audio

In February 2008, Bentley joined forces with high-end British audio experts, Naim. The aim was to deliver an ‘as-live’ in-car audio experience. This was properly bespoke, with Naim going as far as to ascertain how the body panels behaved in motion and the way in which the sound waves bounced around the cabin. So instead of delivering an off-the-shelf amplifier, Naim produced a brand new one, especially for Bentley. In the Bentayga, this means the most powerful audio system available in an SUV, driven by a 1,950-watt, 21-channel amplifier.

Rolls-Royce – bespoke

Sounds Great Car Audio

Not for Rolls-Royce, the lure of a dual-branded audio system. Instead, when Rolls-Royce was developing the Wraith, it went and built its own 1,300-watt, 18-speaker audio system. But then ‘bespoke’ is a big thing at Rolls-Royce. Offering a range of cars made to order is central to the brand’s promise.

Volvo and Harman Kardon

Sounds Great Car Audio

The 600-watt Premium Sound audio in the Volvo XC40 is the latest in-car system from Harman Kardon and includes 13 speakers, 7.1-channel surround sound, vehicle noise compensation and automatic level adjustment. At £550, it’s a no-brainer.

Volvo and Bowers & Wilkins

Sounds Great Car Audio

However, if you’re after the best sound experience in a new Volvo, the Sensus Connect with Premium Sound by Bowers & Wilkins is one of the finest systems at any price. Available in the larger models, this 1,400-watt, 18-speaker system even contains a Gothenburg Concert Hall sound setting, which has to be heard to be believed.

BMW and Bowers & Wilkins

Sounds Great Car Audio

The Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System made its debut in the new 7 Series, but has started to trickle down to the rest of the BMW range. There’s no ‘tweeter-on-top’ – like you’d find in a Volvo – but the 1,400-watt, 16-speaker and 10-channel system is more than up to the challenge of providing a rich audio experience. A Harman Kardon system is offered for £900, but even at £3,750, the B&W system is worth the upgrade.

Alfa Romeo and Harman Kardon

Sounds Great Car Audio

For just under £1,000, you can equip your Alfa Romeo Giulia with a Harman Kardon premium sound system. It comprises a compact 12-channel amplifier weighing just 1.3kg and 14 speakers delivering a 360º sound spectrum. In the case of the 510hp Quadrifoglio, we doubt you’d ever feel the need to turn it on.

Peugeot and Focal

Sounds Great Car Audio

The Focal Premium HiFi Speaker System in the new Peugeot 3008 is proof that you don’t need to spend thousands of pounds to enhance your listening pleasure. Available for just £600 – or standard on the flagship GT model – the system delivers a rich audio experience and a 515-watt output. A similar system is available on the new DS 7 Crossback.

McLaren and Bowers & Wilkins

Sounds Great Car Audio

McLaren commissioned Bowers & Wilkins to create an audio system for the Sports Series, Super Series and Ultimate Series cars. In common with the B&W system found in Volvos, it uses a ‘tweeter-on-top’ and materials normally reserved for high-end home speakers. A McLaren and a premium audio system must be like having your cake and eating it.

Seat and Beats by Dr. Dre

Sounds Great Car Audio

Beats by Dr. Dre is a brand in-tune with the youth market, so it was no surprise when it formed a partnership with Seat. You can actually buy ‘Beats’ versions of the Ibiza and Arona models, but of more interest here is the eight-channel, 300-watt audio system. It also includes a digital sound processor, two tweeters in the A-pillars, two woofers in the front doors, two wide-band speakers in the rear and an integrated subwoofer in the spare wheel well.

Lamborghini and Monster

Sounds Great Car Audio

The Lamborghini Veneno of 2013 was no ordinary supercar. In fact, Lamborghini called it a ‘racing prototype for the road.’ The $4.5 million Roadster version was treated to a Pure Monster Sound audio system tuned by Noel Lee of Beats by Dr Dre fame. The use of Monster tech created a ‘live music’ experience for the nine lucky people who were able to buy the extreme Lamborghini.

Jaguar and Meridian

Sounds Great Car Audio

Order a new F-Type, and the standard-fit audio unit will consist of a 180-watt system, six speakers and an eight-channel amplifier. Upgrade to the Meridian Surround Sound System and the wattage increases to 770-watt, the number of speakers doubles, as does the number of channels offered by the amp. All for £900. Image shows the interior of a Jaguar XJ fitted with a Meridian system.

Tesla Model S

Sounds Great Car Audio

In a tribute to Spinal Tap, the volume control in the Tesla Model S goes ‘up to eleven.’ For that reason alone, it warrants a mention here.

Lexus LFA and Yamaha

Sounds Great Car Audio

Now for something completely different. In order to extract the best soundtrack from the LFA’s 4.8-litre V10 engine, Lexus turned to Yamaha’s musical instrument division. The LFA’s chief engineer, Haruhiko Tanahashi, likened the sound to that of ‘the roar of an angel.’ Yamaha’s solution was to create uniquely-shaped ribs in the intake manifold cover. It’s at this point we wish we had perfected the Motoring Research sound app.

Is new car tech useful

Opinion: Does new car technology really make our lives easier?

Is new car tech useful

When car technology makes the national news, it’s rarely attached to a positive story. The release last week of footage featuring a new luxury car being stolen with ease, due to its keyless entry system, will have caused pangs of worry for those with similar cars. And although news of the ‘relay theft’ method had been raised previously, seeing it occur on video makes it much more real.

Before this came to light, paranoia as to whether the keyless system automatically locked the car when walking away was possibly the biggest security concern. Not anymore. Modern convenience features like keyless entry are meant to make life easier, but the fear of your car being stolen without criminals even needing the physical keys starts places a question mark over the benefits.

Yes, it might be useful for your car to automatically unlock as you approach – and do the same as you leave – but was a momentary ‘blip’ with a key fob causing consumers such undue hardship? Oh, and there’s also the issue of where to put the typically huge key, in a car now without a receptacle for it.

So while a traditional central-locking key might have been mildly inconvenient, at least it didn’t allow criminals to quietly remove your car from your drive. Or leave a questionable bulge in your pocket.

A touchy subject

Is new car tech useful

The widespread adoption of touchscreen multimedia systems has allowed manufacturers to cram controls for multiple systems into one place. It’s eliminated the need for countless buttons, letting designers create impressively minimalist interiors. But they cause multiple challenges for drivers.

Combine a modern vehicle featuring stiff ‘sporty’ suspension with a touchscreen system, and changing settings becomes more akin to ‘pin the tail on the donkey’ than a seamless user experience. It’s notable that although controllers like BMW’s iDrive were derided when new, they are often still the preferred solution in premium machines – offering the benefit of direct feedback between driver and car.

Voice command is mooted as a solution to fiddling with buttons or scrolling through touchscreens or media menus. And the latest systems have progressed a long way, with the ability to recognise and learn individual accents.

Yet voice commands are still far from infallible, and often add multiple steps to confirm even simple actions, making them less efficient than using steering wheel-mounted controls or dashboard buttons. It risks being a gimmick that drivers might try once, then never use again.

Conversely, our love for – and reliance on – satellite navigation may become a distracting obsession. A number of high-profile accidents, caused by drivers either paying too much attention to sat nav units, or slavishly following them into danger, demonstrates the pitfalls. That the Driving & Vehicle Standards Agency has felt the need to update the driving test to include taking direction from sat navs also illustrates the importance of the issue.

It might also show how slowly the wheels of bureaucracy turn, given that standalone sat navs, like those included in the driving test, are becoming obsolete due to smartphone-based apps. Whatever type of sat nav is used, it has arguably made visiting new destinations simpler, even if it has created other problems as a result.

Sensitivity training

Unintended consequences have also created new cars reliant on parking sensors and cameras, as modern vehicle designs create blind spots and hamper visibility. With protruding noses to meet crash-test requirements, plus pillar-box-like rear windows as a by-product of sweeping rooflines, cameras and sensors are almost mandatory for manoeuvring many new cars.

This might well be a successful case of using technology to solve a new problem. Nevertheless, it makes drivers reliant on features to undertake basic tasks that millions managed unaided for decades.

Internet of things

Tesla has been praised for the use of over-the-air software updates, meaning tweaks and changes can be made to cars without the need to visit a dealership. This has even included adding an ‘Insane mode’ to performance versions, but also other operating system tweaks such as updating maps – or even the range of adjustment on the headrests.

It again marks Tesla out as having more in common with a tech company, rather than traditional car manufacturer. Using over-the-air updates will be familiar to anyone who owns a smartphone, even if it does bring an inevitable lack of familiarity when a new operating system changes things overnight.

The practicality of fixing flaws and problems without needing to take a car to a dealership is unquestionably a benefit. However, it also opens the possibility for companies to dishonestly cover their tracks. Imagine a ‘dieselgate’ situation, where purely over-the-air software changes could have been used to make all cars compliant with legislation, and the temptation becomes apparent.

The march of new car technology is not going to stop, and the rise of autonomous abilities will make future cars ever more complicated. In itself, this doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and a self-driving destiny has the potential to make commuting and city driving substantially easier.

However, engineers, designers and marketing staff need to ensure they put making the lives of those buying cars easier and safer as priorities. Pointless gimmicks, or technology that is fatally flawed, will do little to make buyers ready to trust their car with more advanced driving tasks – including actually chauffeuring them around.

>NEXT: A new car is now cheaper than a smartphone

How to modernise your old car

How to modernise your old car

How to modernise your old carThinking of splashing out on a new car to enjoy the latest tech – think again. We’ve put together a list of retrofit gadgets that will turn your existing motor into a technological powerhouse, making you the envy of all your mates. Stick with us as we teach your old car some new tricks.

Sat navHow to modernise your old car

Thanks to the arrival of smartphone mirroring and touchscreen infotainment systems, it’s never been easier to secure a sat nav in a new car, but it remains a costly business. Order a Dacia Sandero in plush Laureate trim and the Media Nav Evolution navigation system will set you back £300. Alternatively, opt for the Audi A3 SE and you’ll need to find £495 for the excellent MMI Navigation. Fortunately, aftermarket sat navs are more cost-effective and you won’t need to worry about it being obsolete in a few years time

We’ve been using a Garmin DriveSmart 50, which is about as thin as a tablet and available in three different sizes: 5-inch, 6-inch and 7-inch. In entry-level 5-inch guise, it’s a bit on the small side compared to modern infotainment systems, but as it’s Bluetooth enabled, you can ask for directions via voice command.

It also features driver alerts, such as the whereabouts of speed cameras, dangerous corners and animal crossing points. You need not worry about upgrades and the sat nav becoming obsolete, because you get a lifetime of free map and traffic avoidance updates. At the time of writing, the Garmin DriveSmart 50 5-inch is available for the reduced price of £143.99, although there are many other sat navs available.

Buy a Garmin DriveSmart 50 

In-car coffee machineHow to modernise your old car

This is one in-car gadget that might put you ahead of your friends and neighbours – an in-car coffee machine. The Handpresso Auto is the self-proclaimed ‘espresso machine for the car’, and it does exactly what it says on the box.

Plug it into your car’s 12v socket, fill it with cold water, add an Easy Serving Espresso (ESE) pod and – two minutes later – a fresh espresso is served. The Handpresso Auto is designed to fit most cupholders and it could save you a fortune on takeaway coffees.

The Handpresso Auto will set you back £133, which is the equivalent of 80 or so takeaway espressos, and while you do need to factor in the cost of ESE pods, it is possible to use your favourite ground coffee. If you spend much of your time on the road, and too much money in coffee shops, this could be classed as a must-have accessory.

Buy a Handpresso Auto

CupholdersHow to modernise your old car

Until relatively recently, a car cupholder wasn’t a thing. Climb aboard a car from the 80s or 90s and you might be disappointed to find nowhere to put your energy drink. But don’t worry, because help is at hand in the form of an aftermarket cupholder, which you can buy for not much more than the price of an overpriced takeaway coffee. Sadly, it won’t be as cool as the cupholder in a Saab 9-5 (pictured).

Buy a cupholder for your car

BluetoothHow to modernise your old car

Under new rules likely to come in next year, motorists will receive six points on their licence and a £200 fine if they’re caught using a mobile phone at the wheel. While many new cars are fitted with Bluetooth connectivity, an older car will need upgrading if you want to make and receive calls on the move. A Parrot Minikit Neo 2 HD costs less than £80 and features HD sound quality, plus an ability to switch between two phones.

Buy a Parrot Minikit Neo 2 HD

DAB radioHow to modernise your old car

The digital radio switchover could happen as soon as 2017, meaning traditional FM/AM receivers will be about as useful as a chocolate fireguard. Not a problem if you own one of the 90% of new cars fitted with a DAB digital radio, but not so good if you’re making do with an old head unit. There are many options available if you fancy listening to DAB radio in an old car, including adapters and entirely new systems. Some companies will even retrofit a DAB system to an old unit, which will appeal to classic car owners who favour originality.

Buy a Bluetooth DAB adaptor

Alarm/immobiliser with remote central lockingHow to modernise your old car

Adding an alarm and immobiliser will not only secure your car, it might save you money on your car insurance. Some systems also offer options such as remote central locking and automatic window/sunroof closure, adding additional convenience.

Buy a Scorpion, Clifford or Viper alarm/immobiliser

USB chargerHow to modernise your old car

Once upon a time, a cigarette lighter – or cigar lighter, if your car was a bit posh – was a sign that you’d splashed out on a higher trim level. You can make use of what might otherwise be a dormant socket by converting it into a USB charger. For just a few pounds you can charge one, two, three or even four accessories on the move. New life for the cigarette lighter!

Buy a USB charger for your car

Apple CarPlayHow to modernise your old car

These days, Apple CarPlay is available on everything from a Suzuki Baleno to a Ferrari GTC4Lusso, but don’t feel that you have to buy new in order to enjoy the joys of seamless iPhone connectivity. The Pioneer SPH-DA120 offers a 6.2-inch touchscreen, GPS, Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay – simply plug in and play. It’s available from Halfords for £329.

Buy a Pioneer SPH-DA120

Head-up displayHow to modernise your old car

General Motors was the first carmaker to introduce a head-up display (HUD), with a system debuting on the 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. Once the preserve of premium motors, HUD has filtered down to more humble vehicles, while it’s also possible to retro-fit a system to just about any car. The Garmin Head-Up Display receives navigation information from your smartphone and projects it onto a transparent film on the car’s windscreen. It’s compatible with the Navigon and Streetpilot apps.

Buy a Garmin Head-Up Display

Dashcam with added safety devicesHow to modernise your old car

These days, a dashcam might be considered less of an accessory and more of an essential requirement. Not only will it provide evidence in the event of an accident, it can also reduce the cost of your insurance. Prices start from around £50, although for £160 you can buy a ‘world first’ rear-view mirror camera, which also features forward collision and lane departure warning systems

Buy a rear-view-mirror dashcam

Powerful headlight bulbsHow to modernise your old car

Compared to new cars, many older vehicles may as well be running with candles perched on the edge of the front wings. Upgrading the headlight bulbs is a cost-effective way of improving visibility and staying safe. For example, a pair of Philips X-treme Vision bulbs will provide up to 130% more light, with a 45m longer beam, while a pair of Osram Night Breakers will add 110% and 35m respectively. Bank on paying between £20 and £30.

Buy upgraded headlight bulbs

Tyre pressure monitorHow to modernise your old car

The AA recommends you check your tyre pressures every couple of weeks, but how many of us remember to do so? Maplin offers a Bluetooth tyre pressure monitoring system, similar to that used in new cars. It monitors real time tyre pressure and temperature, and comes with an app for automatic monitoring and instant alerts. Yours for £149.99.

Buy a Maplin Bluetooth tyre pressure monitoring system

Parking sensorsHow to modernise your old car

If you’re one of the many motorists who don’t enjoy parking, help is at hand from as little as £10. This might seem like a small price to pay for an aftermarket reversing sensor, but the reviews appear to stack up. The only problem – you’ll have to fit it yourself, although the reviewers endorse the claim that the system is “easy to install”. Worth a look?

Buy a parking sensor for your car

Reversing cameraHow to modernise your old car

Alternatively, you can watch where you’re going with an aftermarket reversing camera. We found one on the Maplin website, complete with 3.5-inch colour monitor and automatic switching when reverse gear is engaged. It costs £84.99, but at the time of writing this price has been reduced to £64.99.

Buy a Maplin reversing camera

Heated seatsHow to modernise your old car

If you like the comfort of a warm bottom on a winter’s morning, you’ll be pleased to know it’s possible to retro-fit heated seats to the front seats of most vehicles. Heating elements are placed between the upholstery and the seat cover, without altering the shape or look of the seat. Why not go the whole hog and add lumbar support?

Fit heated seats to your car

Traffic monitoringHow to modernise your old car

If you run your sat nav via a smartphone or modern system, the chances are you already enjoy the benefits of real-time traffic monitoring. If not, it’s worth considering Waze, which claims to be ‘the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app’. Using insight from other motorists, Waze suggests the fastest and most optimal route possible to any destination. Best of all, it’s free!

Get the Waze traffic app

Seat-back tablet mountsHow to modernise your old car

This is one example of where an older car can stay ahead of the game. Rear-seat entertainment systems are fine, but technology moves on at such a rate, they’re soon outdated and outmoded. Besides, consumers want portability, so why not install a seat-back tablet mount – so you can take your entertainment with you? We found one for as little as £10.

Buy a seat-back tablet mount

Wi-fi dongleHow to modernise your old car

Turn your car into a wi-fi hotspot to provide your passengers with internet access while on the move. EE offers a 4G wi-fi, allowing users to check newsfeeds, stream music, play online games or post social updates commenting on your poor driving skills. The system supports up to 10 wi-fi-enabled devices at once, and there are various tariffs available.

Get in-car wi-fi access

TomTom Curfer plug-in dongleHow to modernise your old car

If your car was registered after 2004, you should be able to fit a TomTom Curfer. By plugging into your car’s OBD port, the Curfer links to your smartphone to provide feedback on your driving technique and your car’s performance. Curfer scores acceleration, cornering, braking and idling in real-time, along with detailed data on your car’s battery voltage, oil temperature and engine load. It’s geek heaven for £59.

Buy a TomTom Curfer 

Buy a new carHow to modernise your old car

Combine all of the above and we reckon you could turn your old motor into a techno powerhouse for around £1,500. Considering the Dacia Sandero Access – Britain’s cheapest new car – costs £5,995, and that doesn’t even have a radio, we think that represents excellent value for money. Alternatively, nip out and spend a shed load of cash on a BMW 7 Series or Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

Volvo autonomous parking app

Self driving cars will shrink car parking spaces

Volvo autonomous parking appAutonomous cars will solve the problem of ever-larger cars squeezing into no-bigger parking bays, and possibly even help overcome the challenge of too-few inner city parking spaces, claimed Volvo at the 2014 LA Motor Show. Read more

Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept Transparent Bonnet

Land Rover reveals ‘see through car’ tech

Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept Transparent BonnetLand Rover has  invented new technology that can make the bonnet of a car invisible to the driver and will debut it on its Discovery Vision Concept car at the 2014 New York Motor Show.

Read more