First Listen: 2011 Jaguar XJL & The B&W 7.1-channel System

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First Listen: 2011 Jaguar XJL & The  B&W 7.1-channel System

The XJ is the final jewel in the crown of Jaguar’s fully redesigned stable of motorcars. Stately, definitive, and powerful, its interior bedecked with wood accents and the sweet bouquet of leather the XJ is the iconic auto maker’s largest and most luxurious sedan (XJL, suggested retail $90,500). For the audiophile it is also the beneficiary of Bowers & Wilkins finest car audio effort yet. And most sophisticated. The 7.1-channel surround based system deploys twenty transducers, with B&W’s characteristic yellow Kevlar® speaker cones discretely peaking out from behind bespoke grills. They are in turn driven by 1200 Class D watts of DSP distributed power courtesy of Harman. Behind the menu-heavy, 12.3** TFT touch screen are some fairly advanced components and technologies which include the first applications of Audyssey MultEQ and in a first for car audio Dolby Pro Logic IIx, together with DTS Neo:6, The touch-screen, which also handles navigation, climate and a myriad of other deluxe functions operates with all stereo sources including the single disc CD changer, tuner, satellite radio and new for the XJ, HD radio. Connectivity is remarkable and hard drive capable of uploading ten CD which replaces the six disc changer that the XF uses. It can stream audio and video via  iPod and USB memory stick,  and stream audio via Bluetooth. You can even watch a DVD movie provided you leave the vehicle in Park. In addition to the cabin audio, this system features three additional audio channels accessed through Unwired’s Whitefire® digital wireless headphones.

Given the larger interior volume of the XJ “listening room” versus the midsize XF meant that the system had to be adjusted and augmented accordingly. Translation, more and larger drivers and much more power.  Out went the XF’s Alpine-sourced Class AB amplification–enter Harman Class D units for a total of 1200W distributed to fifteen channels. The front doors utilize a fully active three-way array. The distribution of loudspeakers is as follows; center coaxial 4** mid/1**tweeter; front doors, 8** woofer, 4** mid, 1** tweeter; rear doors,  coaxial 4** mid/1** tweeter and 6.5** woofer; parcel shelf; dual coaxial 4**mid/1* tweeters. All four 8** woofers use 140W per channel. However there is a big change in the XJ– this isn't a subwoofer/satellite system in the conventional sense like the XF. It is more akin to a fully integrated large 3 way system with all four long throw bass drivers firing directly into the cabin and able to reproduce sub bass frequencies as well as upper bass. However, B&W points out that “when you turn up the sub on the interface it does boost sub bass level to the parcel shelf bass speakers which, they admit, are under utilized most of the time because the door bass drivers are so potent. They point out and I concur that “the system goes quite ridiculously loud but more importantly is never stressed”.

There are two key reasons why the B&W system scores so highly. The first is how quiet the cabin is–eerily so. Even at higher speeds and I admit to nothing, the XJ carves through the air as silently as a ghost. The other reminds me of the old cliché in the real estate game. That it’s all about location. For car audio the same could be said about localization. When you can ascertain the location of a given speaker or channel the illusion of a performance is destroyed. Within the platform of the XJL, the B&W system has produced the most impressive illusion of a performance in a large sedan than anything I’ve heard before. There is genuine image clarity, timbre sophistication and distinct soundstage information. Is it a match for my listening room or make me think I’m at Abbey Road for a B&W family reunion, not hardly. But more often than ever before music playback strikes a chord of familiarity It has moments often-beautiful ones where high end criteria like transparency and midrange dynamics and presence really register. It doesn’t have an edgy tilt rather there’s a significant amount of warmth. Rear seat passengers benefit even more with some deep hall ambience that almost makes you want to give up the wheel to someone else (I said almost). I'll have more specifics in an upcoming edition of TAS but that's all for now. Tragically the car was returned a couple days ago and to be honest,  I haven't quite been myself ever since. bowers-wilkins.com

For Winding Road magazine's review of the car itself, click here.

windingroad.com also did an interesting piece on the XJL versus the Panamera which you can read here.

Perhaps the best seat in the house;