Ears-on with Audi's 3D Sound system

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The car really stands out when it's finished in this particular shade of blue (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag)

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The latest Audi Q7 will be going in to battle with some seriously tough competition in the luxury SUV market – as well as the usual suspects like BMW’s X5 and Mercedes’ ML-Class (soon to be GLE-Class), Volvo has thrown its hat into the ring with the new XC90. To set it apart from the crowd, Ingolstadt’s finest sound engineers have created the new 3D Sound system, which Gizmag tried out at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show.

Audi’s 3D system works through a combination of extra speakers and a complex algorithm that breaks sounds down into individual spatial components, which are then adjusted to recreate the way sound resonates around the room in which it was recorded.

According to Audi, sound only takes a few milliseconds to reach the stage or floor of a concert hall, while it can take over 200 milliseconds to reflect from the back and side walls of the room just 40 meters (131.2 ft) away. By using the sonic reflections contained in each audio file, Audi claims it can build a mathematical model of any recording room, regardless of whether the audio was recorded in mono, stereo or 5.2 Surround Sound.

Once the car has broken the audio signal down into its individual components, its software reassembles it to match that of the room where it was originally recorded – a job handled by the car’s digital signal processor. In cars fitted with the Bang & Olufsen sound system, this processor is responsible for managing 11 audio channels across 23 speakers, including four extra speakers mounted in the Q7’s A-pillars designed to enhance the surround sound qualities.

So what does this all sound like, then? We were lucky enough to get a demonstration of the exactly what the 3D Sound system could do at this year’s Detroit Auto Show, where Michael Wisniewski from Audi’s Infotainment Development team used a bright blue Q7 to show us just what the system was capable of.

Wisniewski says that when you sit in a concert, it’s very emotional, but when you leave the concert and try to recreate the experience, something is always missing.

“The atmosphere, the room… we try to bring that back into the car,” he says.

Our demo started with a DVD designed specifically for the 3D Sound system, and it was quickly apparent that the Bang & Olufsen setup in our car was immensely powerful. Audi has bumped the subwoofer’s diameter up from 200 mm (7.9 in) to 250 mm (9.8 in), something that really showed when listening to the swelling, bass heavy intro to The Grid from Disney’s Tron. Whereas cranking the volume to 11 on most in-car systems would cause rattling and crackling as the hardware struggles to keep up, the Q7’s sound system remains crystal clear even at high volume – you can feel the speakers thumping away, but there is simply no deterioration in the quality or clarity of sound.

What is even more impressive, however, is the separation of sound created by the system. Listening to Madonna’s Frozen, her voice is crystal clear, with each instrument and layer of the backing track discernible from the others. The sound is truly immersive, and you can focus on tiny details within songs that are simply lost on lesser systems.

Listening to the way the wind whistles around the car at the opening of Spirit Wind by Casting Crown with the 3D sound system in action, the sound is beautifully layered, as if you’re standing among a set of cypress trees as a frosty breeze cuts through the landscape.

The performance of the Q7’s system is definitely up there with any other high-end in-car sound systems (or expensive headphones) we've tried. It replicates the incredible detail in 3D mode, and as a way of blocking out the world and unwinding while you sit in traffic on the way home from work it would be tough to match.

It’s worth bearing in mind that BMW and Mercedes also offer similar (optional) sound systems in their high-end cars, so it’s not as if Audi is the only brand to offer incredible in-car audio. Rather, the Q7 provides a different listening experience, one that Audi believes is richer and more detailed than that offered by its rivals thanks to the extra dimension provided by the 3D sound system.

And what about the rest of the Q7, we hear you ask? Well, the exterior is a big improvement over the outgoing model, especially at the rear, and the interior feels beautifully crafted, with all of the buttons and knobs that we poked and prodded providing the level of tactile satisfaction the world has come to expect of an Audi interior.

The Q7 will be available with a wide range of petrol and diesel engines, and owners can choose between a five or seven seat layout.

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