With 24 speakers and 1800 watts total power, the Audi Q7 Sound Concept seems like it belongs in one of the countless car-audio displays here at the Consumer Electronics Show. But while many of those systems focus only on pumping out earth-rocking bass, Audi's concept system demonstrates high-quality audio that will eventually launch as a pricey option on the automaker's luxury cars.
Audi already partners with Bang & Olufsen for its high-end car stereos, but the Q7 demonstrates an extension called 3D sound. The system uses extra, specially designed speakers in the SUV's A-pillars, an additional Bang & Olufsen amplifier, and special software from audio experts Fraunhofer. The idea is that, in addition to having sound emanate from the front, rear, and sides of the car, 3D audio adds some "height" to the sound.
"It's a rolling concert hall," boasts an Audi audio engineer. "[The sound is] more atmospheric, more light, and also lifelike."
To demonstrate, he played several music samples first in normal 2D surround-sound mode, and then in 3D mode. The clarity, loudness, and realism of the sound system is extremely impressive to begin with, but switching to 3D mode added another level of realism. Not only was every single element of the music clear and vibrant, the sound wrapped around us and felt as if each instrument and performer were assembled in a concert hall. Except, of course, we were sitting in an Audi Q7 with journalists milling around outside.
Oh, and with 1800 watts of peak power, the 3D audio system can get extremely loud. Any audio input can be played through it -- including radio, MP3 files, and CDs -- and the Fraunhofer software cleverly figures out how to isolate each audio channel to create a lifelike, 3D sound.
The Audi engineer told us his colleagues are jealous that he gets to drive test cars with the 3D system because, in comparison, they think Audi's "standard" 19-speaker, 1400-watt Bang & Olufsen setup sounds "flat" and "boring."
Audi says that this system is headed for production, but says it won't debut this year. Expect it as an expensive option in the A6, A7, A8, and Q7, which already offer Bang & Olufsen sound, sometime in 2014.