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An ear for detail

The music starts with a gentle piano tinkling followed by a bass kick. The sound intensifies blending the instruments making you feel like you're at a concert right in your car.
Our audio engineers work together with some of the top suppliers of audio systems to maximize the experience of all types of sound in your car, and there are many elements that go into providing a good audio experience.

"We try to think about the intentions of the artist or the producer, whoever delivers the artistic experience”, says Jonatan Ewald, attribute leader for audio performance at Volvo Cars.

The path towards the “concert” experience goes through precise sound wave calculations, positioning of the speakers and thousands of hours experimenting with different settings – both virtually and manually.

“The sound system is something truly 'designed around you',” Jonathan continues. “Our ergonomics department here at research and development continuously updates the ergonomic profiles depending on what car we build. We start from the people’s average height in the markets where the car is sold, because the positioning of every component must suit both the tallest and the shortest person. Once the car meets all the requirements in the virtual world, everything is tested and fine-tuned on physical prototypes. Finally, we do a verification in production cars.”

A lot of work goes into positioning the speakers and getting the directions right. For example the treble speakers are always directed sideways so that those on the driver's side are directed towards the passengers and vice versa.
"It would be a very boring sound experience if you sat on the left side, and the sound only came from the speaker right next to you. That's why we always arrange for the strongest sound to reach the passenger side, and the slightly weaker sound to reach the closest position. That creates an even balance, so that you can hear the left and right channels equally strongly on both sides."

To make the sound waves come as one single unified front, the team uses algorithms and careful tuning.

"There's a lot of tinkering needed to create what we call ‘a good symmetrical sound stage’ for both the driver and the passengers. A living room or a studio generally has better acoustics than a car and the listeners can sit centered in relation to the speakers, which provides the best conditions. But the advantage of the car is that we know where all the listeners are sitting. That means we can measure the acoustic environment precisely and then compensate for the fact that the listeners are not in the center."

A lot of tests are performed before the speakers are placed in the actual car. "When we develop a new car, we use entirely virtual simulations for about two years. Then, a year before the first car reaches the customer, we can start working on prototypes. It all has to work in real life."

Everything must be in the right place – for many reasons.
"The requirements on a sound system in a car are high. The car vibrates, there are extreme differences between temperatures, there may be moisture and you can’t just install a system in the car and expect everything to be okay. A large part of the work is component tests and crash tests. Everything we put into the car must fit our safety concept."

In a Volvo car, there are up to six different sound modes, depending on how many potential listeners there are. "You can choose between Driver Mode and All Seat Mode and several other options. All Seat Mode is the best compromise for the entire passenger compartment. If you’re alone in the car, Driver Mode provides an even better sound experience, where we simply optimize the sound for the driver's seat."

So, what exactly are the differences between OK sound and amazing sound?
"There are lots of things that can make a sound system really good. In the new XC40, for example, we worked hard to raise the descant and middle register, which produces a high, airy sound profile. That's why you experience sound as if the stage is right in front of you, and not like you're sitting in the middle of the orchestra. The best place to be is where the whole is best presented."