Perhaps it’s no surprise, given that Munich is smack dab in the middle of car country, that the city’s audio show also included a miniature auto show. Of course, this particular auto event was open only to select vehicles: those graced with genuine high end audio systems. Three such examples were on display in the MOC’s grand atrium: a Porsche Cayenne SUV replete with a Burmester audio system; the Cayenne’s slightly down market sibling, the VW Toureg, outfitted with a system devised by Dynaudio; and the flashy, $1.3 million Pagani Huayra sports car, whose sexy flanks had somehow been coerced by Sonus Faber to accommodate a sound system.
As has become common in such pairings—including the now familiar team-ups between Lexus and Mark Levinson, Audi and Bang and Olufsen, and Jaguar and B&W—the auto and audio manufacturer in these examples worked closely together right from the design stage. The cooperation is bi-directional; the sound system is designed specifically for the spaces it will occupy, and those spaces may be modified to better accommodate the sound system. This means that a high end OEM auto sound rig has advantages that aftermarket systems cannot hope to match. It also means that the high end suppliers know exactly what they’re getting in terms of a dreadful sonic environment—and can compensate with unusual precision.
That compensation invariably takes the form of DSP, which not only performs equalization but road noise cancellation and speed-related volume adjustment as well. Another frequently wielded tool is Class D amplification. A typical high end car audio system boasts at least a dozen strategically-placed speakers—the better to create encompassing sound for every passenger. In addition, the larger drivers are asked to generate unnaturally low frequencies from unusually small spaces. All that calls for a lot of watts. Indeed, many of these systems must generate over a 1,000 watts! Heavy, large class A/B amps just aren’t going to cut it. For car audio, nothing beats Class D’s combination of low weight, minimal heat, and high output.
Lest you be concerned that our cherished high end brands will lose their handcrafted focus on immobile audio systems, fear not. Most of these companies lack the capacity (or the insanity) to undertake manufacturing chores for thousands of vehicular sound systems. Instead, in cooperation with the auto maker, they design and extensively test their systems. The final result is, in essence, a specification, which gets parceled out to a builder and supplier familiar with the many special requirements of automobiles.
As in all things high end, car sound systems may have myriad design and construction commonalities, but they still end up sounding radically different. So I set out to test and rank the relative mettle of the three Munich exhibitors. With the doors and windows shut tight to block out the hall cacophony, and my own material streaming from either a CD or a USB stick, the only thing missing was a winding road. Here, in ascending order, is what I heard.