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Shaken & Stirred: Part 2

To recap: The Aston Martin DBS (aka, the James Bond car) that I enjoyed on two-day loan was delivered with a Bang & Olufsen sound system, customized for the DBS cabin. It’s a 13 speaker (in 10 interior positions), DSP controlled array with 1000 Class D ICEpower watts and a feature called Dynamic Tuning that continually tracks (via rearview mirror–mounted microphone)interior noise levels and equalizes accordingly. Also of note are B&O’s own Acoustic Lens tweeters at the right and left positions atop the dash. They control horizontal dispersion across a wide area and limiting diffraction effects and reflections to the sides and in the vertical domain. Not a small attribute when a tweeter is placed just below a windshield!

Sonically the performance of the Bang & Olufsen system was a surprise that takes on a completely different dimension in the DBS than in a luxe sedan like the Audi A8L–which also offers a B&O system. It produced a warm, musical picture wonderfully centered on a soundstage above the instrument panel. Certainly the confines are tighter, the cabin volume a fraction of that of Audi’s large four-door cruiser. And whereas that über-sedan gives you a greater sense of dimensional space, back channel specifics and some added soundstage depth the B&O-Aston system is more cocoon-like and concentrates its attention on removing localization artifacts¬–providing an immersive almost seamless experience while keeping the driver’s focus centered on the road ahead. Remember this is not the discrete multichannel reproduction that you would hear from DVD -Audio or –Video disc. It’s via CD with a DSP surround element that derives ambience from the stereo mix and directs it throughout the cabin.  As confirmation I rebalanced the system for front stereo only via the systems fader and surround menu and found it measurably inferior, the system losing much of its seamless front-to-back continuity. For reasons I cannot pinpoint the Acoustic Lens tweeters are sweeter and better integrated in the Aston Martin than they were in the Audi A8L W12 I drove last year. Perhaps B&O engineers have done some DSP massaging or crossover alterations since that earlier introduction but they were impeccably integrated with the center channel and side midrange channels.     

Noise is the enemy to high performance audio reproduction and B&O does a creditable job with it’s Dynamic Tuning feature. It works, at least to the degree possible with 510 horsepower lurking up-front, just a short distance away. For casual cruising, or freeway commuting, the tonal quality of the system remains fairly consistent. Imaging though scaled down has good definition. Low level resolving power however, the rattles of a tambourine, the tick of a flat picked guitar, the rosin off the violinists bow and so forth, have a harder time competing in even the quietest rides no less an aluminum and leather-clad, rocket-sled and so it is here. I only had to sit at idle to really admire how good the B&O system is. At least part of this problem are the huge P-Zero tires mounted on 20-inch alloys. They generate a constant thrumming at all speeds.  Low frequency reproduction is always a challenge in auto environs and remains so here. There’s credible midbass and good slam and pulse but the specific timbres from acoustic instruments, like stand-up bass for example are not fully explored.  Above all the B&O system integrates both sonically and physically with the richly appointed environment of the DBS. Rather than compete with the DBS it becomes a willing partner in the grand touring experience. But one quick blip of the throttle reminds everyone that when you drive the James Bond car, there’s no upstaging the main event.

By Neil Gader


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