Aston Martin DBS with BeoSound
by Danny Kaey on June 28 '09
Brappp… Brapppppppp… perfect downshift, blipped throttle, matched engine revs, 3, 2, 1. First gear turn onto 7th from PCH, hit the apex, slam the throttle, slight kick of the tail (we don’t want to show off now, do we?!) and voila, hitting about 100mph on PCH in no time. That my dear friends is the awesome experience one gets when sitting behind the wheel of the Aston Martin DBS with Beosound. Beosound?! Why, yes, Bang & Olufsen. Ring a bell? Yep, It’s the same folks that brought us all those oh-so beautiful all-in-one music players.
When I visited last year’s LA Auto Show in November, I ran into the usual fanfare of B&O at Audi. How quickly things change. Having admired the various B&O systems available in most every Audi, Bang & Olufsen appeared to have taken car audiophilia to a whole new level by entering the exclusive super sports-car market in earnest. As I was making my way down the hallways, I ran into the Aston Martin booth. Low and behold, my eyes peeked a B&O logo inside the awe-inspiring classic James Bond car, the DBS. Err… wait a minute, I thought that those other guys, you know, Linn, were part of the Aston Martin deal?!
Apparently not; at least not anymore. I vividly recall the audio press going gaga over Linn’s involvement with Aston Martin some years back. Who could blame them? Marrying two classic British bespoke manufacturers of high-end goods respective their markets was grand idea. Linn being Linn, appeared to be the perfect fit for Aston Martin. Alas, those clever Brits must have caught the B&O bug, evidenced perhaps by the absolutely stellar Audi presentation, that they felt it appropriate to jump ship. While I never auditioned the Linn system inside the AM, I am more than familiar with the B&O sound of the various Audis.
Clean, tight, smooth, well defined, engaging and authoritative are all adjectives I’d use to describe the sound of B&O’s car audio group in general. It all began shortly after the year 2000, when B&O, in an effort to create a statement product, approached Audi’s list of who’s who to obtain the then all new A8 über-sedan. Months and months of engineering and designing went into this reference system. The results speak for themselves: immediately following the presentation back at Audi headquarters, the B&O system became an instant $6800 option on the A8. Not surprisingly, most A8‘s were ordered with it! In my esteemed opinion, the B&O A8 ranks as the highest performing OEM audio system, period.
Back at the Aston Martin booth, I was immediately struck by the similar vein and experience I had become accustomed from my time in various B&O Audi’s. Alas, a trade show is hardly the place to form a conclusive opinion of anything, thus, I kindly requested the DBS for review. Hey, who doesn’t wish to be James Bond for a day, eh? In truth, of course, I doubt that anyone will purchase the DBS for the Beosound system alone. But, for those few fortunate enough to have the necessary coin to drop on the DBS, the Beosound system will prove to be a delight. Let’s examine this system further, shall we?
Much like with the A8, B&O engineers started with a clean sheet of paper, in this case, the interior of the DBS. Unlike your favorite home audio setup, designing a car audio system which rocks your boat is infinitely more challenging. Instead of dealing with a relatively open space - your room - engineers have to deal with automotive intricacies such as the far smaller space filled with lots of stuff to start with. Next, add the fact that your typical automobile cabin is full of obstacles - you know, the dashboard, seats, transmission tunnel, center console - one quickly realizes the difficulties which engineers are faced with.
In years past, engineers didn’t have much choice when it came to speaker placement and such, because car manufacturers didn’t take acoustic solutions into account - hence, a speaker was plucked here, another one there. ‘Twil all sound good, right?! In the end, one could at best hope for AM radio quality type sound in such an environment. With the advent of switch mode amplification, digital signal processing DSP and in general, a far higher level of manufacturing integration, superior levels of audio fildelity are being realized today.
Sure, there are still aftermarket manufacturers making all sorts of incredible car audio show stoppers, alas, those (good ones at least) tend to cost a small fortune and still are perhaps only as good as these B&O OEM systems. Inside the DBS, B&O engineers cleverly placed a total of 13 (!) custom designed loudspeakers, each with their own matching channel of custom ICE powered amplification. Clearly, B&O has a house advantage here: not only do they design their own drivers but also all ancillary ICE powered amplification and DSP modules as well. Total control.
Each of the speakers is strategically placed inside the DBS’s interior: what’s more, this is in fact B&O’s top car audio system, B&O’s Acoustic Lens Technology ALT, all inclusive. Speaking of ALT. This system, while inherently not some kind of magic wand, was most recently applied to B&O’s top of the line home audio speakers, the BeoLab 5, which retail for handsomely less than the DBS. That speaker is actually a pretty solid bargain in audiophilia. At just shy of 15k, you get a truly reference quality chassis and speaker system capable of delivering the goods and looks. The idea behind ALT is that high frequencies are dispersed in a 180 degree pattern from the source, thus creating a more wide ranging sweet spot for the listener. Not a bad idea, especially for something like an automobile environment!
A healthy dose of clever DSP programming ads the right amount of stereo and surround image creation, which makes for listening that is more akin to a good home audio setup than your typical car scenario. The stereo and surround effects are actually done rather tastefully, ie. B&O didn’t go off some whacky tangent to create a pseudo “oh, wow, Neil Young comes to you from every angle” sort of presentation. In fact, the BeoSound system allows you to fine tune the amount of surround you wish to use to enhance the overall sonic picture.
DSP also allows the system to fine tune itself based on ambient road noise, etc. A car such as the DBS is meant to be driven, not baby-sitted around town. Naturally, having an audio system capable of keeping up with this V12 engined 500+ horsepower beast is a good thing.
Back inside the DBS, I tune out the awesome sonorous gargling sound of the V12 simply by applying a slight turn of the volume knob. As my iPhone, loaded with apple lossless files, is sitting inside the center console, track after track pours out of the BeoSound system with such cunning, nay, stunning clarity, dynamics and well, err flair, that I am hard pressed to find any faults. Passers by and those pesty gawkers on the side walk keep stopping by the DBS, knocking on the window insisting to have a listen… Yep, folks, that’s what it’s come to: purely minding my own business, just playing around some nice tunes, I keep getting mistaken for and hit on as though I were some kind of James Bond. What’s this world coming to?!
Silly me. Heck, the car freak I am, I’d be doing the same! Besides, show me a man who in his right mind doesn’t want to be mistaken for that oh so suave super secret 00- agent?! Everyone needs a hero. Apparently all you need is about $300k and you’re in business, ‘cept for that license to kill: that you better leave for the real Double-O. Back inside the DBS’s cabin, I am still awe struck with the sonic envelope the system affords the listener. Love’s Divine, off Seal’s Best of 1991-2004 two-CD set, is a spectacularly well recorded piece of music, among the finest sounding pop songs I know of.
From the opening thunder to the smooth fade to Seal’s vocals, the perception you get of this track on a home system is one of huge space, grandeur and volume. On my Zu Definition 2’s, with a capable amp behind the speaker terminals, this track simply begs to be played reasonably loud. Surprisingly, much the same holds true when you play this track inside the BeoSound DBS: you get this sort of effortless sense of power and Seal’s unmistakable singing just shines through the sonic landscape.
Similarly, Beyonce’s If I Were A Boy (with keys to a DBS [right!]), is another such track which exemplifies the key characteristics of the B&O system. Equally well recorded, Beyonce simply shines on this performance. As the drums kick in at about 23 seconds into the track, you truly feel each thwack through your guts and bones. Rather chilling. As the intensity builds higher and higher, the BeoSound system simply gives you more of it, without breaking a sweat. Equally stunning is the fact that with the surround settings set to factory levels, you do get just the right amount of stereo imaging inside the DBS’s tight quarters. The soundstage opens up far and wide, appearing to stretch way beyond the ALT tweeters and door mounted mid-range drivers.
Moving on to something with a dash more pepp, Chevelle’s An Evening With El Diablo off their Wonder What’s Next 2002 album, is just that. A rockin’ piece of modern hard-rock, this track has a tendency to sound nothing but loud when played back on lesser systems - home or otherwise. Blaring guitars, processed vocals and a tightly compressed, yet punchy drum line can all sound rather bland. Only when your system is capable of resolving the finer intricacies of the recording, do you actually get to enjoy this track in ways perhaps unintended by Chevelle. Much like at home, the DBS’s BeoSound system is truly capable of delivering the goods without coming across as simply being a loud boombox. Drums are tightly defined, guitars loud, but not piercingly harsh; Pete Loeffler’s vocals carry just the right amount of weight and timbre.
Good. The BeoSound DBS sounds great parked at the curb with Johnny English occupying the driver’s seat as James Bond. Does the tide turn when the DBS is driven around town or the local freeways? Naturally, one has to take into account a few key facts. First, the DBS is a sports car. A very high performance sports car. An insanely great performing sports car. As such, once the ball starts rolling, you enter the world of road noise, tire noise, wind noise and that oh so special engine noise. There simply isn’t much room left for an audio system, no matter how well designed it is.
Flashback. “Bammm, Bammm. Oh man. What was that?! Did I just ding the beautiful 19” bespoke magnesium wheels on this pothole? Can’t be. Which one? Crap. Ok, slow down, downshift, no cops in sight; ah… there’s a spot I can pull over to. Wait. There it is again. Bammm, Bammm. Eh… ok, there’s no pothole in sight, what was that?! Ok… calm, peace and blood pressure back to normal. Anxiety turns to instant relief. This is pretty cool. The “Bammm, Bammm” was the sound of those subterrenean growls coming through the massive B&O sub playing cut penultimate off The Dark Knight Soundtrack.
Killer sound, killer looks, killer car. What else can one ask for? Not much - though to be frank, nay, Roger, you could ask for some track time or a closed off street circuit. Le Mans comes to mind, or Spa; perhaps the Nürburg Ring? I can only imagine what this beast feels like when pushed hard, as in floored through Eau Rouge in top gear. I bet you bottoms up that your intestines will peek through your nostrils, or, you will suffer the consequences of having downed that last quart of Belgisches Bier just before strapping yourself into this vehicular street fighter-fighter jet.
Be that as it may, you can rest assured that you will at least get to enjoy Mahler’s 5th (perhaps even Kavi Alexander’s recording of said symphony, which is the most dynamic I know of) whilst pitting for that tummy stop and refuel. Mahler’s musical brush strokes will paint vivid colors full of emotional ups and downs, all while B&O’s amplifiers are not even close to breaking a sweat. No screech, no belching of ugly midrange misdemeanors, only pure, clean dynamicism made by Mahler. While you are at it, throw in a dose of Telarc’s Terminator II soundtrack [Film & Fantasy Adventures]. Perfect bliss: Machine vs. Machine. Man vs. Machine. Man vs. Car. As the synthesized metallurgical crescendos pierce the soundstage in realistic 3D imagery before and around you, the feeling of being there doesn’t quite begin to describe the sensation.
Woza. The end has arrived. It’s Wednesday afternoon, the chaps from Aston Martin are swinging by shortly to pick up questa macchina. I am sad to see her go. Let me check my bank account - hey now! Weren’t there supposed to be $300,000 in there?! Theft! Police! 911! Wait. Danny, quit dreaming. Sigh. If I had the dough, I’d right a check instantly: this car is the quintessential gentleman’s sportscar. The Bang & Olufsen soundsystem? Well, that’s like a no-brainer bonafide coup de grace. Mein Gott. Every audiophile or anyone remotely appreciate of hi-fi in your car should go to a local Aston Martin dealer and at least audition this masterpiece. Very, very outrageously well done! Over-and-out.