Interview

The Car Stereo Of The Future Will Make Your Ride Sound Like A V12 Supercar

Harman's new Virtual Venue technology sounds absolutely awesome.

As fans of high-powered car stereo systems, we love having speakers scattered around the cabin drowning out outside noise, creating a sound proof bubble. Harman International Industries is an American company that engineers connected products for in-car audio. Through brands like JBL, Lexicon, Mark Levinson, Revel and Bowers & Wilkins, Harman introduces new technology for the automotive industry. Its latest innovation, Virtual Venues, will change the way you listen to music.

We sat down with Chris Trestain, Senior Engineer at Harman to talk about the company's new technologies and how they will change the future of car audio. Harman calls its latest innovation Virtual Venue. The technology uses Lexicon signal processing to add characteristics to audio to make it sound like it's coming from different spaces. Originally, this technology was used by bands to practice for concerts. Basically, a band could use this technology to make a garage, basement or studio where they were practicing sound like a live venue such as a stadium. Harman will use this technology to improve the audio experience in your car to such an extent you'll feel like you're at a live concert while driving.

Just imagine driving down the road, listening to your favorite song and having it sound just like you were in the front row, seeing the artist play it live. This sounded a bit too good to be true, so we asked when we could expect to see this technology on a production car. Trestain said that it's ready, and that Harman was "in talks with OEMs about incorporating the technology." Harman estimates that Virtual Venue is still two to four years out from being available to consumers. Trestain told us that at the moment, "the manufacturers simply need to decide how to use this technology in future models."

When we first see this technology, it will probably be in a flagship luxury car. Trestain said the Virtual Venue technology "requires a powerful audio system with at least eight speakers", so it is more of a luxury feature. Think cars like the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, and Jaguar XJ rather than more entry-level models. In cars like these, comfort is key, and being able to make the cabin sound like a live concert is a very cool way to make you forget that you're driving a car. Trestain also expressed that this technology would be "improved when combined with autonomous cars." If the car can drive itself, this technology would be freed up to completely eliminate any road noise and make you forget you're even in a car.

We had some clever ideas for what we would like to do with this technology, and we ran some past Chris Trestain. We asked if it could trickle down to less expensive, entry models. Trestain said that he would love to see this happen as it would make you "feel like you are in a bigger car." We think that automakers would love to have a technology that makes small cars feel larger. What about cars like the new BMW M3, which pumps in fake engine sounds through the stereo? We asked if the Virtual Venue technology could be used to make it feel like you are driving in a sportier car with a larger engine, rather than in a live concert.

Trestain admitted that he was not aware of the technology used in the BMW, but that this would be "an easy feature to incorporate". He explained that how the technology is utilized is "up to the manufacturer", but that Virtual Venue could easily make it sound like you were driving a car with a larger engine. We think it would be an amazing idea to make smaller, turbocharged engines sound like a big V8 or V12. This could also bring an aural thrill to electric cars that is currently lacking.

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