No need to add more speakers - just make them work in harmony to improve the listening experience. By Ian Adcock
The littlest things can take the shine off your in-car audio quality Just when everything seems to be perfectly balanced, a change from one style of music to another will leave you wondering if you’ve inadvertently found the secret ‘underwater’ setting.
Or after your passengers swap seats and shuffle their bags at a fuel break it can all too often sound as though one of the speakers has packed up.
But no more. A new approach to in-car audio is designed to automatically compensate for variables such as different-size occupants, as well as the eternal challenges of changing speed and ambient noise.
Using algorithms originally employed in smartphones, the Unison system from audio optimisation specialists Dirac involves a different way of thinking about in-car sound. Instead of the speakers all aiming their output at the middle - with the inevitable messy criss-crossing - Unison is a way of not just optimising the precision of each individual speaker but also of getting the speakers working together better.
Dirac’s software is being used by Harman/Kardon, whose Hans Lahti says: ‘To build a good audio system you need four things. One, really good speakers that can withstand a very difficult environment. Two, an excellent amplifier with plenty of computing power as well as watts and amps. Three, the car itself and the body-in-white so you can decide with the manufacturer the speakers’ locations and how they will be integrated into the car. Finally, tuning to adapt the audio system to the cabin.’ That’s where Dirac comes in.
For example, says Lahti, ‘it’s tricky to align the woofers so they don’t fight each other and end up with reverberations and a blurry bass.’
The Unison solution involves the sound being cleverly blended, aiming to replicate the effect you would achieve by having an infinite number of speakers, producing a richer, more balanced sound irrespective of where you’re seated in the car. Using 16 tiny microphones on each seat, the system takes acoustic measurements - effectively, it hears what you hear - which then allows it to create what Dirac calls an ‘active acoustic treatment of the listening space’.
Unison is being made available across the Volvo range. You don’t buy Dirac Unison separately - it comes as part of various infotainment packs, costing typically £825.
LISTEN AND WIN
The genius of Unison is using tiny m icrophones to capture what each occupant is hearing. This shapes how the speakers tweak their output, working together to give the best quality; you shouldn't be able to tell where the sound is coming from. It's identical for everyone, unless kids in k the back opt out of The X . Archers Omnibus.