As of June 2019, 68 percent of Americans aged between 18 and 34 years old reported listening to music at least once a day. And, with all music sources combined, Americans spend an average of 4 hours a day listening to music. Three-fourths (72%) of the U.S. population use their car daily (Statista, 2018). According to a pre-pandemic study (2019 study of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety), Americans spent a total of 70 billion hours on the road each year, with an average of 51 minutes per person per day.
What do consumers do while driving? Most of them say they listen to music if they are not phoning friends or family, or making business calls on their way to work. Music can help alleviate stress with traffic congestion at rush hour and during long-distance drives. Research shows that select music tracks can have a positive effect on mood, decrease stress levels, and improve concentration while driving. However, poor sound quality combined with road and engine noises may also increase driver fatigue and irritability.
Today, most new car models are delivered with a sound system as standard equipment. Additionally, most car manufacturers offer their customers the possibility to upgrade to premium or even advanced sound systems. With in-car technologies getting more and more complex, it has become a real challenge for dealership salespeople to explain the details and benefits of each feature to their customers. Despite the fact that Premium Car Audio has been too often presented as a “nice-to-have" feature, it has been globally ranked #7 in the top most desirable features in new vehicle today (IHS Markit). Knowing the time the average American spends in their car, and the central role music plays in their life, every driver should really consider ordering a premium sound system in their next car. To this end, it is important to recognize and understand the benefits of a Premium Car Audio System.
Most people are familiar with standard car audio systems. These are usually limited to a single speaker in each door, which projects sound for all the musical content. Fortunate car owners may also have additional speakers, albeit basic tweeters, to support the higher-pitched musical tones. A standard sound system is powered by an entry-level amplifier which is integrated into the infotainment system of the vehicle. When you order a Premium Car Audio System, it normally includes higher-quality replacements of the basic speakers in the vehicle, along with additional speakers to enhance the sound in some way. Each speaker has a very specific role and all together they allow the driver to enjoy the full musical frequency spectrum, from the low bass tones through midrange sounds and up to the higher pitched treble notes.
The subwoofer (6), which is the largest speaker, is usually located in the trunk of the car. It is optimized to reproduce the lowest bass notes, like contrabass tones or the “thud" of a kick drum. Premium woofers (4), are usually mounted low in the doors, and allow you to better receive upper bass frequencies like cello or tuba notes. Midrange speakers (3), added into the door or on the instrument panel, bring more clarity to the vocals, guitar or violin notes. The tweeters (2), which are the smallest speakers, precisely reproduce higher frequencies such as piccolo notes or the sizzle of the cymbals. You can only enjoy all the musical content by reproducing the full frequency range.
The benefits of a Premium Car Audio System should not, however, be reduced to additional speakers or watts only. What is often misunderstood is the level of technology that goes into such a system, and how acoustic engineers and designers join efforts to offer you the best immersive sound experience in your car. An important aspect of premium car audio is the goal of recreating a high-fidelity audio experience, like that provided by a good home Hi-Fi system. When listening at home, you can enjoy the full benefit of a wide and detailed stereo stage stretching between the speakers, and the feeling of enveloping spaciousness surrounding you. While basic vehicle sound systems often reproduce sound that appears to be coming directly from the nearest door, Premium Car Audio Systems utilize additional channels of audio to render a rich, immersive and engaging spatial reproduction.
Often, a center speaker (1) is incorporated into the dashboard and surround speakers (5) – mostly located behind the back seats or in the D-pillar – create a real staging effect within the vehicle cabin, allowing multiple passengers to experience great spatial sound. The additional speakers also allow multichannel music sources (e.g. "5.1 Surround Sound") to be reproduced in true-to-life form. Even “traditional" two-channel music sources can be spatialized into the multiple speakers in the car using advanced signal processing. This allows the sound stage to remain front and center, with the sound of the acoustic space (or the audience in a live recording) spread to the sides and behind the occupants. Audio speakers in the vehicle can really make you feel like you are right there at the venue, enjoying the music being created before you.
The amplifier (7) is the heart of a Premium Car Audio System. It is responsible for implementing the bespoke calibration of the audio signals and their amplification with the use of various channels to the speakers themselves. This enables them to work together in perfect harmony. Sometimes you like a song so much that you want to play it louder, but often in a standard sound system the quality of the speakers is limited, and the power of the amplifier is not sufficient. This creates a huge distortion effect: the speaker membrane cannot move as far as the sound signal needs it to and the sound quality gets dramatically affected. Your first reaction is to cringe behind your steering wheel and immediately reduce the volume! Premium-grade speakers, which are made of advanced materials and feature higher-powered magnets, coupled with the additional power generated by a premium amplifier, provide far more usable headroom in the system. Not only are you able to turn-up the sound system and enjoy high-level playback with minimal distortion, but the sound playback at normal listening levels can be crystal-clear and distortion-free. In this way, you can listen to Rolling in the Deep from Adele at a much higher sound volume and fully experience her beautiful voice without having to reduce the volume before the chorus begins.
“High quality speakers, distributed optimally throughout the automotive cabin and driven by high-powered audio amplifiers, provides the highest quality sound possible,” says Dr Rafael Kassier, Senior Principal Engineer, Experiential R&D at HARMAN. He adds: “However, all of this potential can only be realized when harnessed by the skill and experience of acoustic experts. A good analogy is a symphony orchestra, spread across the concert stage and consisting of the best musicians and instruments. To get the most out of the orchestra requires a skilled conductor, and to get the most out of these premium car audio systems takes a skilled acoustic engineer! “
What most music enthusiasts dream of is to have a home sound system that fits perfectly into their living space: integrated speakers, matched to home design and capable of reproducing the acoustics of a concert hall. Such tailor-made sound systems exist but are not affordable by everyone. Anyone who opts for a Premium Car Audio System is benefitting from the economy-of-scale provided by the painstaking and individualized calibration made by professional acoustic engineers. All tuning is specific to each car model and body-type. Parameters such as seat types or fabric, door material and total car volume are taken into consideration. Cars are also tested during different speeds, traffic and weather conditions, to ensure the driver has the best sound quality in any circumstance. Thus, when ordering a Premium Car Audio System you get a perfectly tailor-made sound system for your car, delivering best-in-class acoustic quality at a very affordable price. It is entirely possible that the Premium Car Audio System in your car will provide you with better sound quality than you will even hear at home!
Premium Car Audio Systems also feature design integration of the speakers into the vehicle cabin. Speaker grill form, material, color, transparency, texture and illumination are usually personalized for each vehicle model, providing a unique “look and feel” that improves the overall in-cabin experience.
“Opting for a Premium Car Audio System from one of the HARMAN legendary audio brands means that you can expect the same high-fidelity sound quality on the road as you do from that brand’s Hi-Fi systems at home,” says Dr Rafael Kassier. “It ensures that not only the amplifier, speakers, design and tuning have been ‘blessed’ by the brand team, but often that the sound quality of the branded systems have been validated by our rigorous and scientific sound quality evaluation process. Similar to the ‘taste’ panels in the food-and-drink industry, HARMAN utilizes panels of trained listeners to judge the sound quality of our vehicles as well as those of our competitors, ensuring best-in-class performance.”
In summary, investing in a Premium Car Audio System can significantly increase your overall in-cabin satisfaction and driving experience. In fact, 83% of Premium Car Audio System owners would recommend their car audio brand to others. Just like smartphone users cannot switch back to basic mobile phone, drivers with Premium Car Audio Systems who have experienced the higher quality sound on a daily basis cannot go back to standard sound.
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