As an audiophile for all my adult life, hearing good sound in cars has always been a joy for me. And it’s never been so good; systems from the likes of Bang & Olufson (Aston Martin, Audi) and Mark Levinson (Lexus) are staggering in their ability to create accurate soundstages and tonal balance and warmth. There are some disappointments as well: as an owner of well-regarded B&W speakers for my home, I was shocked at how poorly that venerable firm’s offerings perform in various Jaguars. But that’s the high-end.
What’s really enriching is how good mainstream ‘stereo’ systems (stereo means two-channel, yet many of these systems are now surround sound) have become in the vehicles most of us drive. This was brought home to me recently, as I marveled at the richness and complexity of the basic Panasonic system in a new Subaru Legacy. Surely, I thought, this must be the optional Harman/Kardon setup (which I’ve yet to experience). But no; it was the basic, standard equipment gear.
It served up accurate sound staging, great punch, a smooth and unfatiguing top end, and solid bass. The only minor knock I could make is that its iPod connection was the most basic variety, and the Subaru’s controls—except for volume—didn’t interface with the brilliant little Apple product.
The only sour note is that many people aren’t getting the most out of these sounds systems, as they are playing horrid, lossy digital content through them via satellite radio or compressed mp3 files. As reviled as the CD by the hardcore, vinyl-worshiping crowd, that little silver disc—or uncompressed music files on an iPod-type device—is the best way to really experience what modern car audio can do.