Telegraph: A few years ago, the audio equipment in a new car consisted of a radio/CD and a four-speaker system. It came as part of the package and really didn’t have a high profile. All this has now changed. A recent survey showed that audio equipment has suddenly become a top-five in-car item. Amazingly, these days it’s all factory fitted and not shoehorned in by the local car-audio installer.
In this highly competitive market, car manufacturers have decided to give some real credibility to their sound offerings and call in the big names of home hi-fi to design systems. First to appear was Bose in Audi, Mazda and Porsche, then Harman in BMW, closely followed by Bang&Olufsen in the Audi A8, Mark Levinson in Lexus, Dynaudio in VW and Volvo, then new arrival Bowers&Wilkins in the Jaguar XKR Portfolio edition. These partnerships offer manufacturing advantages to both sides; the audio designers are in at the beginning of vehicle planning and can advise on the best speaker siting and sound options.
The biggest single influence on factory-installed systems has been the adoption of Dolby multichannel/surround sound. This enables the use of multispeaker systems, up to 14 in some vehicles. In theory this puts the passenger centre-stage no matter where he/she is sitting; with the original stereo system, the driver or front passenger got the ambience while the rear passengers got the residues.