A tour of three Bang & Olufsen car set-ups

At the 2012 Geneva Motor Show, B&O representative Bjarne Sorenson gave CNET a tour of the audio systems in the new Aston Martin DBS, the Mercedes-Benz SL AMG and the much more affordable Audi A3.

Aston Martin DBS Coupe Carbon Edition

The engine soundtrack in this Aston isn't bad, either.
(Credit: Wayne Cunningham/CNET)

Bjarne Sorenson, Bang & Olufsen's automotive technology director, is a very lucky guy. As we sat in the Aston Martin DBS listening to music, he described the approval process for the company's recent work with BMW. As BMW was putting the final touches on its new 6-Series, Sorenson got to spend a few days driving on the autobahn at 160km/h in the car, making sure that the optional Bang & Olufsen audio system produced the same sound at high speeds as it did at a stop.

Sorenson was also lucky in launching Bang & Olufsen's automotive practice about eight years ago. Automakers have spent the last decade scrambling to sign deals for branded audio systems in their cars. His practice area has grown to a significant part of Bang & Olufsen's business, with placement in cars like Aston Martin, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW.

Audi A3 subwoofer

Hidden under the boot floor of the Audi A3 is this big Bang & Olufsen subwoofer.
(Credit: Wayne Cunningham/CNET)

At the Geneva show, Sorenson gave us a tour of the systems in three different cars, providing an excellent opportunity to hear the different implementations. We started at the bottom, with Bang & Olufsen's latest work in the all-new Audi A3. We've previously been impressed by how Audi is giving the A3 as much available tech as the higher-end cars in its line-up. The inclusion of a Bang & Olufsen audio option, which Sorenson said would go for €900 (AU$1120), is further evidence that Audi will leave no car behind.

Bang & Olufsen has equipped the new A3 with 14 speakers and a 705-watt amp with 15 channels. In the front, the doors each hold a woofer and a mid, with tweeters mounted in the windscreen pillars. A subwoofer sits under the floor of the cargo area. Missing from this system are the acoustic lenses, such as ones we sampled in the Audi A8, which have become a signature for Bang & Olufsen.

Ensuring that the tone controls were all flat, Sorenson played his test CD. Most of the music we listened to was jazzy, featuring a balance of guitar, percussion and some vocals. The system reproduced the music with strong detail and timbre. On a track with an acoustic guitar, we could hear the musician's fingers sliding along a nylon string. From high volume to low, the music came through cleanly, without losing background elements.

Aston Martin mid

Aston Martin let Bang & Olufsen place the mids high up on the doors.
(Credit: Wayne Cunningham/CNET)

The next car we went to was the Aston Martin DBS, which Sorenson said was his favourite of the work done by Bang & Olufsen in the automotive sphere. This car, one of Bang & Olufsen's earlier efforts, has 13 speakers, two of which are acoustic lenses that rise up from the corners of the dashboard. Two amps power these speakers, one with 250 watts going through 13 channels, and the other with 750 watts and five channels.

In this car, Sorenson again put in his test CD, but initially chose a track that was nearly all drums. Turning up the volume, we were blown away by the presence of the sound, the sense that each drum hit was happening right in front of us. The depth was astonishing, letting us hear the different types of drums and the full range of sound that each produced. A symphonic piece we listened to showed the extreme detail of this system. We could hear the distant sound of the musicians turning pages in the music, and a woodwind player taking a breath before setting off on a solo.

Listening to the same tracks we heard in the A3, the audio quality was clearly superior in the DBS, which it should be, as both the car and the sound system are far more expensive.

Acoustic lenses

These acoustic lenses rise majestically out of the dash when you start the car.
(Credit: Wayne Cunningham/CNET)

For the last part of the tour, we got into the Mercedes-Benz SL AMG. For this roadster, Bang & Olufsen used 12 speakers and a 940-watt amp. It has the acoustic lenses that rise from the corners of the dashboard, a centre speaker mounted between the seats facing forward and woofers that have actually been designed into the footwell of the car.

For this part of the tour, we were hampered by the open top and the crowds of people checking out the car. Instead of using Sorenson's CD, we tried a USB drive that was loaded with MP3 tracks compressed at 320 kilobits.

Playing a track by Adele, her voice came out as clearly as we've ever heard it, the system reproducing vocal tones nicely. The production on this album, 21, is not very good, though, flattening much of the backing musicians' work. The deep bass guitar of a track by The XX was reproduced very well by this system, the low tones coming out with enough pressure to be felt, yet not causing speaker rattle.

Sorenson suggested that Bang & Olufsen was being very selective about the automotive brands with which it would partner, focusing on the European luxury market. He expressed no interested in working with Lexus, for example. It also seems that the company will not cheapen the brand, with the system in the A3 about as low as it will go.


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