Hi Fi Gear Takes Off In Cars
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Australians have always been in love with their cars and music. Now they want a new level of music gear in their cars along with navigation gear and iPods. In the luxury car market brands likke Jag, Lexus, BMW and Audi are lining up with some of the biggest Hi Fi brands in the world in an effort to meet the demands of their clients.

Mark Levinson and Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) are each now combining passions with their respective partners, Lexus and Jaguar to provide auto aficionados and music enthusiasts the ultimate top down, wind in the hair, music blasting driving experience.

In a trend that further intensifies the relationship between the consumer electronics and automotive industries, B&W has joined Levinson in the ranks of high-performance audio companies that are partnering with luxury auto manufacturers.

A New Twist on a Growing Phenomenon

The alliances between audio and auto companies are nothing new. In fact Bose, JBL, Infinity and Boston Acoustics have enjoyed prosperous alliances with the car industry for a long time.

Audi showcased its optional B & O audio system for the S8 at the Melbourne Motor Show.

The (rather unimaginatively titled) Advanced Sound System was developed by Bang & Olufsen features a powerful digital signal processor, discrete amplification (to the tune of 1000 watts RMS) for all of the 14 loudspeakers and acoustic lenses.

You’d want it to for 15 grand. Mind you, you do get hand-polished and engraved grilles, which are machined from solid aluminium and colour match the leather seats.

The Acoustic Lens Technology is claimed to provide a wide horizontal sound dispersion of high frequencies. The acoustic lenses automatically rise out of the dashboard when the sound system is engaged and are said to ensure an extremely detailed acoustic stage from any seat in the car.


In 1998, the arms race for the ultimate car audio system received a significant boost in competitiveness when the revered audio brand Mark Levinson agreed to an alliance with Lexus after the popular carmaker decided it needed to improve the performance of its audio systems.

“In the late 1990s Lexus looked to upgrade its audio offerings, and it began investigating the leading global audio brands,” notes Walter Schofield, vice president of sales and marketing for Mark Levinson. “Recognizing the existing relationship between Toyota Motors [Lexus is a division of Toyota ] and Harman International [Mark Levinson is a division of Harman Specialty Group], Lexus approached Mark Levinson with the concept of a partnership.”

Initially, Schofield explains, Levinson’s engineers were apprehensive about trying to create an audiophile experience in an auto environment, but after extensive testing the company found that Lexus’ interiors were 3dB quieter than its competition, and this fact allowed Levinson to meet the challenge of engineering a state-of-the-art car audio system.


The British Invasion

At CES, it’s not a surprise when B&W launches a new loudspeaker or subwoofer, but its announcement of its newly signed alliance with Jaguar likely caught even the most informed audio industry analysts of guard.

Martin Lindsay, senior business development manager, automotive entertainment for the B&W Group Ltd., says the parties involved have been quietly working on this arrangement for a couple of years. “We started our collaboration with Alpine almost two years ago. It started with a B&W driver specification and prototype production runs. As usual, we used extensive listening tests and acoustic measurements to fine-tune things like the Kevlar cone composition while ensuring that all the parts passed the stringent automotive tests,” Lindsay says.

“About a year ago, we began tuning the sound of the complete system in the car with the assistance of Alpine and Jaguar to help us calibrate the speed-dependant EQ. Final sign-off was completed in the fall of 2006, using reference-selected mean drivers in the first production vehicle available.”


Alliances Benefit Dealers

Levinson’s alliance with Lexus has been in place for nearly a decade and during this time, Schofield says, both brands have joined forces on numerous occasions to expose Lexus buyers to the Mark Levinson product line, including Lexus customer events and a recent Paul McCartney tour that featured a VIP lounge, which utilized a Mark Levinson home system.

“Mark Levinson provides substantial multimedia presentation support,” he points out. “Local Mark Levinson dealers are involved and they help make these events a success for Lexus.”

B&W foresees a similar concept for its global dealer base. Lindsay says that one of the major benefits for B&W and its dealers is that the alliance exposes the brand to a larger demographic of affluent consumers.

“It will help us in communicating to a bigger audience; both Jaguar and Bower & Wilkins will introduce this audience to the virtues of a better sound experience,” says Lindsay.

He adds that B&W has already worked with Jaguar on a tour that visited six cities in trhe US and highlighted the technologies of the C-XF concept vehicle. The concept is expected to go global.