How To Test-Drive a Car Audio System

September 27th, 2010

2011 Audi A8

Driving and music go together like the ocean and salt.

The humble in-car radio started it all, beginning as a luxurious novelty in the 1930s. Today there are people who treasure the pounding of thunderous bass in their cars so much they rank the performance of an audio system over the performance of the engine. Yup, people love their music!

Car salesmen especially love these audio aficionados. I’ve talked with some who judge how easy a sale will be by what the customer does immediately after starting the car for a test drive: If he or she turns the stereo on, the sound quality will sell (or not sell) the car. If the customer turns the stereo off, the salesman knows he will have to work harder to describe the car’s other features.

According to USA Today, Matt Kirsch is a “stereo on” kind of guy. Kirsch is an audio engineer with General Motors and has an intriguing playlist for testing audio setups, which you should check out if you’re an audiophile who likes to test-drive the tunes:

  1. Don’t Know Why,” by Norah Jones. Listen for Norah’s voice to sound natural and centered in front of you.
  2. Diamonds and Rust,” by Joan Baez. Listen for strong vocals and for the instruments to be set across a wide soundstage.
  3. No One,” by Alicia Keys. Listen for clarity in Alicia’s vocals and spacious background sound.
  4. Hotel California,” by the Eagles. Listen for the clarity and dynamic range during the opening guitar solo, and of course the powerful drum beat.
  5. Boom Boom Pow,” by the Black Eyed Peas. Listen for powerful, accurate bass beats, even at full volume.
  6. Rock that Body,” by the Black Eyed Peas. Listen for clear, intelligible lyrics over the powerful, persistent bass beat.
  7. Hide and Seek,” by Imogen Heap. Listen for the enveloping ambience of the song, building on the openness and dynamic vocals.
  8. He Mele No Lilo,” by Mark Keali’i Ho’omalu from Lilo and Stitch. Listen for the ambience and staging as the children’s chorus is offset by powerful bass.
  9. Bird on a Wire,” by Johnny Cash. Listen for the clarity in Johnny’s distinctive voice and for his guitar to sound natural and free of any coloration.
  10. Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box,” by Radiohead. Listen for the punch from the percussive bass and the ring of the steel drums.

Which is more important to you, a car’s engine or its stereo? What music would you use to test-drive a car’s stereo?

-tgriffith

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