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Chevy Shows The Best Tracks For Car Audio Tests

From the Black Eyed Peas to Johnny Cash, iconic car maker Chevrolet (itself immortalised in over 600 songs) has put together a playlist of the best 10 tracks for evaluating in-car acoustics.
OneShift Editorial Team
OneShift Editorial Team
14 Apr 2011

When you see someone singing along to their car stereo at the top of their voices it may look funny, but you know they’re enjoying their journey. So to get the most out of your drive, how do you make sure your car is more Albert Hall than tin-can? From the Black Eyed Peas to Johnny Cash, iconic car maker Chevrolet (itself immortalised in over 600 songs) has put together a playlist of the best 10 tracks for evaluating in-car acoustics.

Given the eternally powerful combination of an empty open road and an all-time favourite song, it should come as no surprise that car manufacturers take the subject of vehicle acoustics very seriously indeed. Matt Kirsch, lead audio engineer at Chevrolet, is responsible in principle for fitting a dynamic soundstage that works for every kind of music genre into a space not much bigger than the average recording booth. He and his team have conducted extensive research to find a selection of tracks that ensure the most rigorous test of a new sound system.

“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

“Bird on a Wire” by Johnny Cash: listen for the clarity in Johnny’s distinctive voice, and his guitar to sound natural and free of any colouration

“Don’t Know Why” by Norah Jones: listen for Norah’s voice to sound natural, and centred in front of you

“Diamonds and Rust” by Joan Baez: listen for strong vocals, and for the instruments to be set across a wide sound stage

“No One” by Alicia Keys: listen for clarity in Alicia’s vocals and spacious background sound

“Hotel California” by the Eagles: listen for the clarity and dynamic range during the opening guitar solo, and of course the powerful drum beat

“Boom Boom Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas: listen for powerful, accurate bass beats, even at full volume

“Rock that Body” by the Black Eyed Peas: listen to clear, intelligible lyrics over the powerful, persistent bass beat

“Hide and Seek” by Imogen Heap: listen for the enveloping ambiance of the song, building on the openness and dynamic vocals

“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

According to Kirsch, it’s not how loud you can make it, but clarity and definition that counts. “Most people think that the best sound systems have to make the loudest noise possible, but you should listen for all-round dynamic tonality and punchy vocal characteristics to determine quality – whether you’re listening to a smooth jazzy sound or R&B. From spending years listening to all kinds of music types and styles, we actually have a few trusted tracks that we always turn to in order to measure the true acoustics of a vehicle. We think it’s a kind of “greatest hits” from both a technical and auditory point of view. Of course there is the fact that they’re all really incredible songs!”

Matt spends almost all of his working day carefully listening to thousands upon thousands of songs through radios, CDs and MP3 players routed through Chevrolet’s fleet of vehicles. Even for the most die-hard music fan, it could be enough to turn one “GaGa”. But it is crucial to the test programme, ensuring that what gets played in the car really is music to the ears.

“In our work we need to be certain that the infotainment system can cope with the hardest “power” chords, singers with a broad vocal register, as well as instrumental tracks with a deep, thumping bass.”

In terms of playback technology, times are changing. With a growing amount of music being downloaded, Matt’s team has the additional challenge of ensuring digital signals sound equally as good as other formats when owners connect their music via MP3.

“It’s definitely not an easy job. We spend a huge amount of time tuning sound systems for ambiance and clarity, so that sitting in a car like the Chevrolet Cruze sounds like sitting in the front row at a concert hall. Test driving the sound system when you're car shopping is an important ‘buy button’ that can be as key to your long-term satisfaction as checking out how well the vehicle handles. We set out to deliver a far better audio experience,” says Matt.

Professional audio judges from the Mobile Electronics Competition Association (MECA) rated the Cruze audio system’s acoustic credentials highly in their 2010 Sound Quality League competition.
“Audiophiles believe that rating audio performance requires critical listening as well as measuring output,” said Steve Stern, MECA president. “Only the human ear can gauge how natural and believable the listening experience is.”

Credits: wilswong

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