Car Audio Moves Forward Into The Past

One of the highlights of the recent AES Convention in Budapest was the premiere of a unique surround sound project—music mixed and mastered specifically for the new Mercedes SL Roadster model. But while the German carmaker is looking forward, a Spanish auto manufacturer, SEAT, has chosen to take a decidedly retro look back, debuting an in-car turntable for vinyl records.
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One of the highlights of the recent AES Convention in Budapest was the premiere of a unique surround sound project—music mixed and mastered specifically for the new Mercedes SL Roadster model. But while the German carmaker is looking forward, a Spanish auto manufacturer, SEAT, has chosen to take a decidedly retro look back, debuting an in-car turntable for vinyl records.

The Mercedes project was discussed at length during a panel, “Future Directions in Multichannel: Mercedes-Benz Signature Sound—A mediaHYPERIUM Production Mixed and Mastered at Skywalker Sound.” Leading the discussion was moderator Herbert Waltl of mediaHYPERIUM, talking with panelists/presenters Stefan Bock, msm-studios GmbH - Munich, Germany; Mario Fresner, Daimler AG - Sindelfingen, Germany; Leslie Ann Jones, Skywalker Sound - Marin County, CA, USA; Norbert Niemczyk, Daimler AG - Sindelfingen, Germany; and Wieslaw Woszczyk, McGill University - Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

In order to create surround sound specifically tweaked for the inside of the new Benz, the producer and engineers tailored discrete surround mixes to the car’s audio system, its specific acoustic environment, and the position of driver and passenger. The “hands-on” approach of the Signature Sound production concept aims to reflect the artistic intention of the musical pieces in an immersive listening experience. The end result was the production and collaboration on a limited-edition music DVD, Mercedes-Benz Signature Sound, which sports tracks from the likes of Seal, Sting, Foreigner, Lady Gaga, Sheryl Crow, The Doobie Brothers, Yes, Tears For Fears and others.

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Meanwhile, Spanish carmaker SEAT, a division of Volkswagen which sells its cars in the U.K., envisions a day when saying you have vinyl in your car won't refer to your choice in seat coverings. It recently introduced The Highway Hi-Fi, a bonafide record turntable that sits in your backseat, allowing one to spin the latest in 180mm plastic.

Using “rails and linear bearings coupled with dampened spring shock absorbers to control movement in three axis planes…[it provides] smooth and controlled movement to counter the movements of the car.” In other words, they swear you can drive their car down the worst cobblestoned, pot-holed street in London and it won’t skip a beat—or skip, period.

Of course, this isn’t the first time someone’s tried to put a turntable in a car—that first happened in the late 1950s, with another device which happened to be called (you guessed it) The Highway Hi-Fi. While that era gave us many of the classic microphones that are revered and collected today, as well as the first iterations of the line array, clearly there’s some 1950s audio ideas that should probably be left behind.

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