MUSIC TO YOUR EARS Part of the Lexus experience is the great quality of the sound systems enjoyed by owners and drivers. Since the brand was established a quarter century ago, premium sound quality has been a standard fitment on cars. Strange as it may sound, but to create a quality sound system, especially in a car, sound engineers must confront absolute silence. Amplifiers, speakers and other equipment that form part of the whole that constitutes the sound system fitted in a car, are put through several tests on the way to your ears. One of them is an anechoic (meaning without echo) chamber, a room insulated against sound bouncing off walls. In the total absence of sound, one starts to hear things that have always been there: the sound of your heart, the quickening of the blood in your veins, the eerily mechanical clicking of your many valves opening and closing. After a while, you get disoriented. You may even start ABOVE: Soundproof anechoic chambers are used to develop new sound equipment. RIGHT: A typical sound system layout in a Lexus. hearing things that have never been there. Astronauts put into anechoic chambers report hallucinations caused by the brain’s inability to deal with pure silence. Where astronauts dare to tread, that’s where good speakers are born. This is the sort of extremely niche, extremely technical work Harman International does in facilities all over the world. Harman is an audio equipment company comprising almost two dozen brands, including Mark Levinson, which has been making high-end audio since the 1970s and which, since 2000, partnered with Lexus to design luxury sound systems for its cars. Hidden among the cubicles and laboratories of Harman’s main acoustic design facility are a large number of ordinary living rooms, all different. One has some tasteful crown moulding, one has low-pile carpet, another has French doors and low leather couches. These living rooms are where engineers test their sound systems in realistic settings, trying out ABOVE: Mark Levinson has been providing high-end sound equipment for Lexus since 2000. different speakers and amplifiers. The interior of a car is a very challenging arena to recreate superb sound quality. The space is small, there are a lot of reflective surfaces, and it’s hard to get the listener in ‘the sweet spot’ between speakers. It takes from 30 to 40 people – designers, engineers and specialists in a variety of fields – to develop each new audio system. Music is a huge part of people’s lives, so it makes sense for Lexus to invest in the sound experience as much as the handling, the drivetrain and the climate control system on any new car it engineers.
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