February 28, 2012
Thanks to some new audio technology, now well along in the development stage, you might never again have to listen to the thumping bass beat emanating from the car or truck that pulls up next to you at a stop light.
The occupants of the neighbouring vehicle won’t have to turn their music down, or even roll up their windows. They can play it as loud as they like… but you won’t be able to hear it.
In essence, it’s a simple concept. Instead of a car being fitted with multiple speakers, its entire interior becomes one big speaker with sound directed inward and the occupants inside it.
Canadian-based component supplier, Magna International, has been experimenting with the idea. The company recently exhibited a product it calls AcoustiVision, which turns a car’s rear-window glass into a huge sub-woofer.
Magna installed two exciters at the base of the rear glass and fed them the sub-woofer signal from an amplifier in the trunk. The glass, which has a sealant that allows it to vibrate up and down with the bass notes, effectively becomes the membrane of the speaker.
According to Magna product director, Greg Rizzo, it’s like "sitting inside a subwoofer box." But – here’s the best part – you can't hear it outside the vehicle.
Magna says that system could be in production by 2015.
Another Canadian supplier, Scarborough-based AVG (OEAM), aims to take the concept even further, with the help of legendary audio engineer and record producer, Tony Bongiovi.
Bongiovi’s work, which began under the tutelage of Motown’s Barry Gordy, includes more than 50 gold and platinum albums by artists ranging from Jimmy Hendrix to Bon Jovi. (He is Jon Bon Jovi’s and he helped the rocker get started in the business.)
Clients of Bongiovi’s legendary Power Station Studios in Manhattan have included Madonna, AC/DC, Aerosmith, The Rolling Stones, and Mariah Carey, among many others.
A recognized expert in acoustical engineering, Bongiovi has developed and patented what he calls "Digital Power Station" (DPS) technology.
It is said to "analyze the audio signal in real time and digitally optimize it for playback in a vehicle – based on the actual acoustic environment of the particular vehicle – extending the frequency response of the speakers and maximizing the frequency-specific power distribution of the head-unit's amplifier."
That all sounds like gobbledy-gook to a non-audiophile like me, but the proof is in the listening, and the effect on sound quality is truly dramatic.
A dealer-installed Bongiovi DPS system offered as an accessory by Toyota Canada – the first auto company in the world to adopt it – was runner-up for the Automobile Journalist Association of Canada’s (AJAC) Best New Technology award in 2011.
The AVG Group, through an affiliate called Future Acoustics Inc., has worldwide distribution rights for the DPS technology in automotive applications.
Amazing as it is, the system Toyota offers just represents the here and now. It’s what Bongiovi is working on for the future that is really exciting – the speakerless car.
It’s a combination of the concept Magna is pursuing and Bongiovi’s DPS technology taken to much higher level. Not just the rear glass but the entire interior of the vehicle becomes one big integrated speaker.
Rather than conventional speakers scattered throughout the interior, the speakerless vehicle employs multiple small transducers, about the diameter of a twonie, mounted in the A-pillars and behind the headliner, and a couple larger ones, about the size of a hockey puck, on the floor under the rear seat.
The transducers are, in effect, vibrators like those on the back of a conventional speaker, stimulated by the audio signal. The difference is, the vehicle’s surfaces take the place of the speaker membranes.
AVG and Bongiovi displayed a Toyota Venza equipped with this technology at both the Detroit and Toronto auto shows, effectively demonstrating its capabilities.
Inside, the sound was full, rich and clear – not to mention loud. To my ear it was as good as any I’ve ever experienced in a car, including some with super-premium systems… but standing outside, beside an open window I couldn’t hear a thing.
The quality of the sound and the fact that you can play it as loud as you wish without disturbing anyone outside are reason enough to pursue the technology. But they are not the biggest benefits from an automaker’s perspective.
The real payback is the reduction in weight the speakerless system offers, along with all the space it frees up in the car… space that can be used to increase trunk room, incorporate more storage bins or accommodate more electronic gadgetry.
You can’t buy it yet, but Bongiovi has reached an agreement with Johnson Controls, a leading supplier of automotive interior systems, to further develop the technology. So chances are good that cars without speakers will be available in the not too distant future.
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