Is the Future of High End Audio in Automobiles?

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Mercedes showed off its self-driving concept car, the Mercedes-Benz F 015.  When the car is in driverless mode, you can rotate the seats to face each other as you would in a living room.

It doesn’t take a futurist to see that the self-driving automobile will ultimately serve as a mobile living space, where occupants can socialize, relax, create or do just about anything that they already do in the comfort of their home.  Well, what does that mean for audio?

For years, car enthusiasts have souped-up their audio systems—and not necessarily with audiophile results. We’ve previously seen small spurts of recognizable names such as McIntosh, Infinity, JBL, and Bose be part of branded car systems. These haven’t been significant forays into the market. And high-end audio manufacturers haven’t seriously ventured into automotive audio–until now.

Two of the world’s best-known high end audio brands, Krell and Revel have recently forged partnerships with auto makers.   Krell made their debut with the 2014 Acura RLX and this year, Revel began the first year of a 10-year partnership to provide the audio systems for Lincoln cars and trucks.

Krell made their debut with the 2014 Acura RLX

What’s interesting about these announcement is that they seem destined for the long-term and aren’t just a passing fad.  And this makes sense, doesn’t it?  

With more and more individuals around the world spending time in their cars, it’s an opportunity for premium audio brands to get exposure as never before.  They can bring exceptional audio to the masses who have become conditioned and even zombified into consuming terrible audio reproduction.  Moreover, with the dearth of high end audio stores and with more shuddering their doors each year, car audio is going to be an area where manufacturers will be able to have a daily, immersive showroom.  

Revel and Lincoln announced a 10-year partnership beginning in 2015

Brent Butterworth’s review of the Revel-Lincoln audio system is a great read and what becomes readily apparent between both the Krell and Revel deals is that these audio companies are taking meticulous control of the audio experience. In his review Brent spoke with Alan Norton, Manager of Global Entertainment for Lincoln’s parent company, Ford, who said, “Typically, the audio people get about a week to tune a car. With this one, Harman [Revel’s parent company] had the car for several months.”

Clearly, Revel and Krell aren’t just sub-licensing their premium brand names. They are getting the brand’s audio experience into the car.  During the tuning process, Revel engineers setup Revel speakers in an adjacent room during the tuning process so that both engineers and trained listeners could have the traditional Revel speaker system and the Revel car audio system right next to each other. 

How effective was that process? Well Brent (who is also a Revel speaker owner) remarked, 

The first thing I noticed was that as in my home speakers, I couldn’t hear the transitions between the drivers….Just as important, though, was the system’s soundstaging, which to me didn’t sound at all like what I’ve previously heard in car systems. I got a broad expanse of sound stretching across the dashboard; to me, it actually sounded almost as if there were virtual speakers atop the dashboard, placed about 1 foot in from either side, kind of like an actual home system.

With self-driving cars representing yet another shift in our mobile lifestyles it makes all the sense in the world for high end brands to pursue strategic partnerships with auto manufacturers aggressively.  In fact, in the long-term, we may actually have many an audiophile relaxing and enjoying their high end audio system… in their car.

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