Today we are counting down the list of thee most impressive sound systems we’ve ever heard in a car. Please note that this excludes any aftermarket SPL monster installs because our friend Jonas with his speaker-drenched Citi Golf Designa would knock everyone off this page and make you deaf.
Also be aware that this list is not an exact science as it does not include every car on the market and was compiled from the often wonky memories of our test team.
1. Bang & Olufsen Audi A8, BMW 640d, Mercedes SL500
Those Danes who made the turntable your Dad is still going on about make some amazing in-car systems. All Bang & Olufsen (B&O to their friends) systems shine with amazing clarity, punch and roominess. A word of warning though – most of these systems are an optional extra which will cost you anywhere from N$50,000 to over N$100,000, depending on the car. However; we think that’s a bargain for in-car sound perfection.
2. Bowers & Wilkins Jaguar XJ & XF-R (pre-2012), Volvo XC90 & S90
Some of the most sophisticated and detailed sound systems we’ve ever heard came from the British manufacturer B&W. Thus it’s no surprise that their speakers were fitted to high-end Jaguars. Good show, old chap! Unfortunately we’ve discovered that since we tested the big XJ and raucous XF-R, their audio systems changed to Meridian. While they’re also fantastic, we prefer the yellow cones and crisp sound of Bowers & Wilkins.
3. Burmester Mercedes-Benz C- & S-Class, S Coupé
Although we hadn’t heard of these speakers before, Mercedes uses Burmester stuff in their high-end cars nowadays. Available as optional extras, prices range from N$10,000 (C-Class) to N$95,000 (some S-Classes). It’s most impressive in the biggest cars of which we tested an S350 BlueTEC, S500 and every S-Class Coupé. Most of these use parts of the front foot wells as a bass reflex chamber.
4. BOSE Alfa-Romeo, Audi, Infiniti, Nissan
While lacking the window-flexing abilities of its rivals mentioned above, the American BOSE systems have graced some excellent cars with their well-rounded and crisp sound reproduction. Our most recent meeting was in Audi’s mad RS Q3 where these quality speakers made every journey an absolute pleasure. You’ll also find these in some hot Alfas, most new Infinitis and Nissan’s 370Z.
5. Harman / Kardon Various
This name is a familiar sight in many BMW’s and Mercedes’, for very good reason. Either available as standard on top models or for a moderate price on lesser cars, the Harman Kardon speakers are a good purchase. Sometimes lacking in mid to low frequency grunt, they can’t match any of the systems listed above, plus we found some of them too enthusiastic in the treble department. Still, a well-deserved mention in our top 5.
Can’t afford one of these cars or monster systems? Don’t dispair, neither can we.
In our experience, the standard or premium audio systems in mid-range BMW or Volvo cars tend to offer decent bang for your buck. Given a clean audio source, some of Volvo’s sound systems will even tolerate full volume without distortion.
Yup, most great brand names start with a B. It’s a good rule of thumb, also with home audio setups – stick to stuff that starts with the letter B.