Surround To Go

At the 4th Annual Surround 2002 Conference and Showcase last December, multiple award-winning engineer Elliot Scheiner revealed that he was working with an automobile manufacturer to produce the country’s first in-car, factory-installed 5.1 surround system. Acceptance of new playback formats, from tape cassette to compact disc, has “always been driven by the automobile,” he said, and in-car 5.1 systems promise to accelerate the adoption of the format toward critical mass.

Scheiner, a booster for the high-res digital 5.1 format, is now set to play his part in the automotive multichannel digital audio revolution, having teamed-up with Panasonic Automotive Electronics Co. to develop the in-car ELS DVD-Audio system. The engineer is a pioneer of multichannel audio and has been responsible for remixing some of the best-selling 5.1 releases to date, such as the Eagles’ Hotel California and A Night at the Opera by Queen.

The 2004 Acura TL “near-luxury” sedan will be the first vehicle in North America to be equipped as standard with the ELS DVD-A 5.1-channel audio system. Panasonic and Scheiner demonstrated a prototype multichannel surround sound system custom-installed in a Hummer H2 earlier this year.

The Acura/ELS system is a premium 225-watt, eight-speaker surround sound system that plays multichannel DVD-Audio and DTS-encoded discs as well as standard CD. The high-tech center console of the 2004 Acura TL sedan also incorporates an AM/FM tuner and Dolby cassette player as standard, and plays XM Satellite Radio, another standard feature. The system does not play DVD movies, DVD-V, DVD-R/RW, MP3, or WMA media.

The first OEM standard vehicle to carry a DTS-capable system was the Toyota Brevis, available in Japan. DTS-capable systems are currently available as an optional feature in the Lexus RX330 and GX430 models.

Eight speakers, each sharing the same design characteristics, deliver the 6-channel format to the 2004 Acura TL’s occupants. One-inch diameter tweeters are located on the top of the instrument panel near the left and right A-pillars with a dedicated 3.25-inch center-channel speaker with neodymium magnet circuit design positioned in the middle of the dash. The two front doors feature 6.5-inch polypropylene drivers that are specifically designed to handle the extended frequency response and improved dynamic range of the DVD-Audio scheme. Two identical drivers are located in the rear parcel shelf, flanking an 8-inch subwoofer that benefits from the trunk space behind it.

The ELS surround sound system incorporates in-dash single and six-disc DVD-A playback mechanisms. An 8-inch LCD touchscreen displays system information such as disc and track numbers while also providing access to standard audio controls such as bass, treble, fader, and balance, as well as center and LFE channel levels, which may be fine-tuned to taste. The screen, the largest to be offered by the car manufacturer, is shared with the optional Acura navigation system, which also incorporates voice recognition. Voice recognition also extends to the operation of key audio and climate control functions.

Acura, Panasonic, and Scheiner recently presented the 2004 TL to the audio press in Seattle. “While mixing DVD-Audio tracks in the studio, I have often imagined how incredible it would be to have a similar experience in my car,” said Scheiner. “The way the Acura/ELS Surround Sound System captures and re-creates this experience is simply amazing. DVD-Audio will be a ‘must have’ feature for all premium audio systems.”

To optimize the performance of the in-car audio system, Acura has paid a great deal of attention to sound insulation. Thinsulate, patented by 3M, has been used behind the door liners, rear seat side garnishes, center console, rear seatback, and front and rear pillar garnishes, as well as under the instrument panel and parcel tray. Additionally, Acura’s design engineers treated the trunk as an acoustic package, containing the speaker array and trunk hinges and springs in a rigid box structure. The result is an improved bass performance with reduced interior noise levels.

Further, the 2004 TL features an acoustic glass windshield that comprises two layers of safety glass separated by a thin acoustic resin to reduce high-frequency road noise. The front and rear door glass has also been made thicker than on previous TL models.

Initial impressions of the Acura 2004 TL and the ELS surround sound system were less than favorable. Despite the acoustic treatment, the car offered a noisy ride, while the audio system quickly became fatiguing at high listening levels and featured a decidedly soft center channel that offered poor definition. But other vehicles in the fleet of hand-built, pre-production prototypes supplied for the testing day performed much better, and are likely more representative of the final assembly-line vehicle.

In subsequent test cars, George Massenburg’s mixes of Lyle Lovett demonstrated very nice definition in the low- and high-mid frequency ranges, especially on percussion, drums, and vocals. Even at speed, the faint hiss of analog tape noise could be clearly discerned on Santana’s Abraxas above the road noise. Insane Clown Posse, mixed by Nathaniel Kunkel, proved that the subwoofer is capable of delivering substantial low frequencies, especially when boosted a little via the touchscreen controls.

Acura is projecting sales of around 65,000 units for the 2004 TL, which will become available in October 2003. The car is expected to retail at around $34,000.

For more information visit Acura at

Surround Professional Magazine