Alan Taffel on B&O/Audi
Over the past three years, Bang & Olufsen (B&O) has undergone a deliberate evolution. Always a leader in design, B&O has made a concerted effort to add leading-edge technology and performance to its core product attributes. The company has invested heavily in external technologies that have proven their mettle both scientifically and sonically. And B&O’s research and development facilities in Struer, Denmark, would be the envy of any competitor.
Consider the “Cube,” a 40 x 40 x 43-foot concrete cave that is the world’s largest private speaker test facility. It’s so enormous that reflections—normally a bugaboo when measuring speaker performance—become moot. Rather than squelch them in an anechoic chamber, a computer-controlled microphone turns on precisely as the test speaker emits sound and shuts down 25 milliseconds later, before any reflections can arrive. There is also an autosound evaluation lab featuring an electronics- festooned Audi A6 and external high-powered monitors that play prerecorded road noise.
To hear the fruits of these initiatives, go and listen to the Beolab 5 loudspeaker (and read Neil Gader’s review in Issue 146). The product is a refreshing, successful application of new technology toward a worthwhile end—making high-end sound accessible to the non-tweaks among us.
Virtually all of the Beolab 5’s innovations are currently being applied to the harsh sonic environment of automobiles. The initial beneficiary will be the 2007 A8 sedan, Audi’s flagship vehicle. The Advanced Sound System will consist of no fewer than 14 speakers and 1100 watts. While impressive, those figures don’t tell the real story.
While the speaker drivers are nothing unusual, their deployment is. Rather than mounting them in open-air spaces such as doorframes and parcel shelves, each speaker is treated to its own custom enclosure. There are midranges, woofers, and subwoofers, but the crown jewels of this set are the tweeters which, when summoned, rise ghost-like from the dash top. These units employ Acoustic Lens technology—exclusively licensed to B&O by its inventor Sausalito Audio Works—to disperse sound waves over a remarkably uniform 180 degrees. (B&O believes that the lack of a convincing soundstage that bedevils most car audio systems is caused by tweeters with inappropriate radiating patterns.)
The company also finds most car systems dynamically constrained due to the wimpy amps mandated by space limitations. To overcome the problem without filling the trunk with Monsoons, B&O turned to Icepower, its sister company. Icepower justly claims significant breakthroughs in the civilizing of Class D digital amplifiers. Its modules are small, powerful, run cool, and sound so good that they have been incorporated into some high-zoot amps offered by prestigious manufacturers whose names we’re not allowed to reveal. Not one, but every speaker in the Advanced Audio System gets its own Icepower amp, ranging in size from 28 watts for midranges and tweeters to 250 watts for the sub.