One of the best experiences at last week’s Geneva motor show could be found on the Harman Rinspeed stand. Not the car, but the sound system.
MAR 16th 2017
Erin Baker: Revolutionising in‑car audio
Harman is doing some incredible things with in-car audio systems these days, all with the autonomous car in mind, which in turn will lead to the car as the third space after office and home, and the inevitable need at that point for sound systems that are superior to anything you can experience at the moment. Kiss goodbye to speakers that merely play your favourite music and say hello to speakers that bring the office conference, or the movie, right into the car.
The latest offering from Harman is called Summit Next. In bog-standard, playing-music terms, it’s incredible, mirroring the car’s movements with the speakers. So if you turn right, more music flows from the right speakers, ditto left. And when you accelerate, the sound shifts perceptibly to the rear of the car, as if you’re leaving it in the distance. It sounds trite, but it works; you’ll just have to experience it for yourselves, as we did in a Mercedes S-class on their stand.
The system is also capable of mirroring the way people on your conference call are set up in their office. So if Bob is sitting to the left of the speaker and Jim to the right, Bob’s voice will come from the left speaker in the car, Jim form the right, and your voice in return will sound like it’s actually in their office. Again, you’ll have to take my word for how effective that is; it’s truly uncanny.
Harman describes it thus: “Advanced signal processing spatially renders the audio from in-car calls to match virtual locations in a futuristic conferencing experience, providing the sensation of being in a real meeting room.” True, dat.
Another function, “Ambisonics Escape” is designed for the future passenger-carrying autonomous pod. You can choose from natural settings such as the beach, forest, waterfalls and more, and, like a spa, the acoustics transform the car into “a personal sanctuary by transporting drivers to their choice of serene natural surroundings”. I think the word “driver” is a slip on their part, because this is all about the interior space, not the outside hustle and bustle. Again, all I can say is that it works: the clarity of the sound is astonishing.
Oh, and if you fancy watching a movie, or the Philharmonic Orchestra in action, the In-Car Theatre system combines professional movie-theatre audio processing with Harman’s QuantumLogic Immersion for a real surround-sound system.
Harman pointedly says that the Summit Next system is for “the new generation of luxury vehicle buyers.” In other words, it won’t be cheap, but if the joy of driving is taken away from us in urban settings, I’m willing to splash out on the sound.
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