How the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Makes Me Want To Be an Audiophile
By Paul Fix III
Two particular experiences impressed me enough that I think they could have been the most interesting presentations at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show. The first was at the Monster audio booth where they had a Lamborghini Veneno Roadster. The second was at the Panasonic booth where an Abbey Road Studios Premium Audio Demo Vehicle was on display.
photo courtesy of übergizmo.com
As I was wandering the show floor, my eye was caught by a large crowd around a stage with a glass barrier. I made my way closer and saw the Lamborghini Veneno Roadster. The significance was lost to many of my fellow oglers; when they asked each other what it was, I enthusiastically responded with its name. But what is so special about this particular Lamborghini? There are only nine of these in existence, and only one was a roadster (convertible top). I walked to the other side of the booth and asked if I could have a look at the car. The receptionist was a little hesitant at first to let me in — how often do you see an automotive journalist at an electronics show? Recently there have been more cars at these shows, nine of the ten major auto manufacturers were at this year’s CES — but the PR manager overheard our conversation and was glad to show me the car. If you have not yet seen the Veneno, I highly encourage you to go and look it up. Lamborghini approached Monster and asked them to design and install a custom audio system in the car.
Firstly, upon sitting in the car, I was enveloped in leather and suede. The interior is just as beautiful as the exterior. But we are here for the sound right now: there was a subwoofer installed in the passenger footwell, so space was a little limited, but its placement along with custom designed speakers and tweeter in almost every crevice in the interior added to the wonderfully clear and quite loud system. A touch screen mounted just above the rearview mirror controlled the entire audio experience, the exhibitor sitting in the passenger seat turned up the volume and I felt like I had just walked into a concert. The volume seemed to just continue increasing until I couldn’t even hear the bustle of the crowd a mere five feet from me. The most impressive part was the clarity at such a volume and how the base reacted so cleanly to the pop music playing through the stereo. The individually-voiced loudspeakers and amplifiers deliver 750 watts to match the 750 brake horsepower from the engine. After leaving the car, I asked if I could see the engine. The response was quite interesting: not only could we not open the boot (because Lamborghini wouldn’t allow it) but I was also not allowed to turn the engine on. The reason? If the 750hp V12 was turned over it would shatter every piece of glass in the vicinity.
Next door to the Monster booth sat Panasonic. Last year at the North American International Auto Show, Panasonic announced a collaboration with Abbey Road Studio and now we get to see where all the hard work went. I have to tell you that it was one of the most amazing and impressive audio experiences I’ve ever had. For the demo, Panasonic used a 2014 MINI Cooper S Clubman with the Harmon/Kardon speaker option. The Automotive division designed the sound system and specifically tuned the audio experience to the space in the car. They started by removing the Harmon/Kardon speakers and replaced them with Abbey Road Studio speakers without changing their stock locations; surprisingly a subwoofer was not added. While listening to a wide range of music during the demo, I heard the sound moving around me, and I could feel the beat even without the help of a physical base in the car. In the trunk were two EMI TG12412 equalizers built by Abbey Road Studios. Now I don’t know very much about what that means or how it works with the 580 watt, 12 speaker set, but the proof is in the experience. When listening to classical jazz, the midrange come out with incredible specificity and clarity: the exhibitor demoing the car with me pointed in front of me (in the driver’s seat) and said I would hear a high hat right there. To my amazement I heard the cymbals crash as the sound moved from the back of the car to the front, while the high hat began playing in front of me. We also heard a cappella music; the variety of voices and subtle layers of sound I had never heard previously came out crystal clear. During the rock songs, every little bit of sound down to the minutia that you would never hear while listening through headphones made itself known. Different instruments seemed to be sitting in certain places in front of me; each part was specific.
These two cars have changed the way I look at the importance of music our cars, and I am excited to see if the Abbey Road Studio audio system makes it into MINIs in the future. I personally would sell my current MINI to buy one with this custom audio system. I would say the same for the Lamborghini, but how many of us have 4.5 million dollars to spend on a car? And you can only drive in the summer.