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My OEM Car System has ruined HiFi for me. Thoughts?

BullBuchanan

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I've come to a realization that my Mark Levinson OEM audio system in my 2015 Lexus RC-350 sounds drastically more enjoyable than any of my home audio HiFi setups.

It's true that my home systems do sound more detailed, but they don't sound anywhere near as engaging and they all have a worse soundstage. When I'm in the driver's seat, I feel like I'm sitting right in front of a curved collection of musicians. I get this wonderful effect where when instruments crescendo they come from a place I feel like I can reach out and touch and they do so with an authority in clarity, volume and separation from the other instruments that it provokes a physical response in a way that no other system I have does. It also gets me toe-tapping and immersed in the music far more. While I don't have a $100k setup or anything, I wouldn't think my gear would be bottlenecking me under the performance of an integrated car audio setup. I figure it must be some DSP that's giving my car the edge. Has anyone experienced this phenomenon before and if so, did you ever have any success in recreating it at home?

My headphones tend to sound like the musician is in front of me, but above me, like I'm sitting right up against the stage and craning my neck up to listen and it doesn't curve around me the same way my car does. In my living room , it sounds very detailed, but the sound is very 2 dimensional. My speaker placement is not quite ideal there ( too close to front wall) and neither is my primary listening position (against rear wall), as it is a living space and not a dedicated room.

Maybe I just need a listening room with speakers and listening position in the middle of a room and and perhaps my headphone expereince is a byproduct of Head-related transfer function?

Listening Room:

All systems powered 99% of the time with Spotify (I can't reliably differentiate 320kbps streaming from FLAC via ABX)

Tekton Double Impact
X3700h - with Audessy xt32 Room Correction

Headphones
JDS Labs EL Dac
THX AAA 789
Focal Clear + HiFiman Arya v2
 

DVDdoug

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You can't easily recreate the acoustic environment of a car at home.

Sound absorption may help, and if you are going to do acoustic treatment it's best to measure your room/speakers first (diagnosis before treatment).

Mixing and mastering studios are usually "dead spaces" with lots of absorption, more like a car, but without the small volume and glass reelections. But not everybody likes that "studio sound" at home. Some people want to hear more of the room.

My headphones tend to sound like the musician is in front of me, but above me, like I'm sitting right up against the stage and craning my neck up to listen and it doesn't curve around me the same way my car does.
You're not alone! Most people don't get a good soundstage illusion with headphones. Headphone soundstage survey
 
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BullBuchanan

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That is a bit bizarre to me. A car is a not great listening environment, no matter how luxurious. The noise levels are high, and I would not want anyone driving a car to "immerse themselves in music".
Right. There's definitely a much higher noise floor. It's just that the reproduction of the sound is much more dynamic and lifelike than it is in my hifi environments.

As far as you not wanting people to immerse themselves in music while driving, you'd have to go back 60+ years in order to stop everyone that's ever sang as the top of their lungs while cranking the radio.
 

BDWoody

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In my living room , it sounds very detailed, but the sound is very 2 dimensional.

Are you listening to just 2 channel stereo through L/R speakers at home, or do you have some kind of surround setup?

I'm guessing your car has speakers all around you. I believe my car has approximately 7,000 speakers stashed away in places I couldn't have thought of and it can indeed sound very enveloping, so maybe that's part of the difference?

Subwoofers under the seats? It all adds to the visceral part of the experience.
 
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BullBuchanan

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You can't easily recreate the acoustic environment of a car at home.

Sound absorption may help, and if you are going to do acoustic treatment it's best to measure your room/speakers first (diagnosis before treatment).

Mixing and mastering studios are usually "dead spaces" with lots of absorption, more like a car, but without the small volume and glass reelections. But not everybody likes that "studio sound" at home. Some people want to hear more of the room.


You're not alone! Most people don't get a good soundstage illusion with headphones. Headphone soundstage survey
I could definitely see treatment helping smooth out the bass some, but I don't see it doing a better job of creating a 3d soundstage that curves around my listening position and provides depth. Unfortunately I rent, so most solutions have to be temporary like furniture. I've already measured my room and I've done room correction as well. The frequency response seems pretty decent for an untreated room, but I'm not sure it's just a change in FR that would make the biggest difference.


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BullBuchanan

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Are you listening to just 2 channel stereo through L/R speakers at home, or do you have some kind of surround setup?

I'm guessing your car has speakers all around you. I believe my car has approximately 7,000 speakers stashed away in places I couldn't have thought of and it can indeed sound very enveloping, so maybe that's part of the difference in what you are experiencing?
Just 2 channel. It's very possible. I have heard music played with simulated surround back when I had a 5 channel system, but it never sounded very good to me. It's entirely possible that in the years since that, they've come up with good simulated surround.
 

BDWoody

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Just 2 channel. It's very possible. I have heard music played with simulated surround back when I had a 5 channel system, but it never sounded very good to me. It's entirely possible that in the years since that, they've come up with good simulated surround.

Try it with just the Front L/R, or rear, or sides by themselves? I'm not saying this as if it's the answer or anything, but it's what came to mind. Interesting question.
 

Chrispy

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Curious, was there any break-out of the cost of that Levinson system? This is off the current website but suspect it's similar and that it at least cost a bit more than your home system. Did you do anything particular to setup the system in the car? I just find a car environment different....different like headphones....and in my cars I've had some very enjoyable sessions especially the ones with multiple speakers and a good sub.....but I still prefer my home systems.
 

analogonly

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Car environments are different, but they are unchanging and 100% known to the stereo company. They can tweak their system for this fixed environment very well. Plus, unlike a lot of "full bass" and "only bats can hear that high", they have been nailing the midrange for decades.
 

Joe Smith

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We had a guy on here about a year ago who was trying to replicate the bass and over all "slam" of what he was hearing in his car. He never got there, far as we could tell. He bought KEF R3s and one of the high priced NAD amps, and was profoundly unhappy. I do think the car environment is kind of its own thing, the closest you can come at home is some version of an extreme nearfield setup, perhaps with 4 speakers?
 

Anton D

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With your car, the manufacturers involved know your environment and acoustics down to the upholstery: they can really build a system for exactly that environment. It can result in pretty fun sound!

It's hard to duplicate in your home.

I wonder if the car system has a bass boost, as well. The size of your listening environment in the car doesn't seem like it would support true deep bass...so they may be adding a kick to help you get your jams out in that way, as well.

I secretly think many manufacturers find ways to compress the signal a bit, to help keep it above the noise floor during quiet parts. It's odd, but some producers say that compressions adds a bit of aural excitement, as well. (Pure conjecture about your car, just chatting.)

In a car, everything is very nearfield, too...and made to function best at those short distance. Perhaps at home, time aligned speakers in the nearfield might get you part way there?

Trying to get the fun of the car at home is tough. Sometimes you just can't buy the thrill.
 

Chrispy

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We had a guy on here about a year ago who was trying to replicate the bass and over all "slam" of what he was hearing in his car. He never got there, far as we could tell. He bought KEF R3s and one of the high priced NAD amps, and was profoundly unhappy. I do think the car environment is kind of its own thing, the closest you can come at home is some version of an extreme nearfield setup, perhaps with 4 speakers?
I've seen posts like that several times in various fora. I think I remember the guy you're talking about, he was uh....interesting.
 
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BullBuchanan

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Curious, was there any break-out of the cost of that Levinson system? This is off the current website but suspect it's similar and that it at least cost a bit more than your home system. Did you do anything particular to setup the system in the car? I just find a car environment different....different like headphones....and in my cars I've had some very enjoyable sessions especially the ones with multiple speakers and a good sub.....but I still prefer my home systems.
It looks like it's $2750 now, and I think it was $2k back in 2015 (bought this used last year). Which isn't that much. I don't think the quality of components would surpass my home gear, especially because money doesn't spend linear between home, car and headphones. On headphones for instance you get 3-10x better value for money than you do on a speaker system.
 

Chrispy

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With your car, the manufacturers involved know your environment and acoustics down to the upholstery: they can really build a system for exactly that environment. It can result in pretty fun sound!

It's hard to duplicate in your home.

I wonder if the car system has a bass boost, as well. The size of your listening environment in the car doesn't seem like it would support true deep bass...so they may be adding a kick to help you get your jams out in that way, as well.

I secretly think many manufacturers find ways to compress the signal a bit, to help keep it above the noise floor during quiet parts. It's odd, but some producers say that compressions adds a bit of aural excitement, as well. (Pure conjecture about your car, just chatting.)

In a car, everything is very nearfield, too...and made to function best at those short distance. Perhaps at home, time aligned speakers in the nearfield might get you part way there?

Trying to get the fun of the car at home is tough. Sometimes you just can't buy the thrill.
What would limit deep bass particularly?
 
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BullBuchanan

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With your car, the manufacturers involved know your environment and acoustics down to the upholstery: they can really build a system for exactly that environment. It can result in pretty fun sound!

It's hard to duplicate in your home.

I wonder if the car system has a bass boost, as well. The size of your listening environment in the car doesn't seem like it would support true deep bass...so they may be adding a kick to help you get your jams out in that way, as well.

I secretly think many manufacturers find ways to compress the signal a bit, to help keep it above the noise floor during quiet parts. It's odd, but some producers say that compressions adds a bit of aural excitement, as well. (Pure conjecture about your car, just chatting.)

In a car, everything is very nearfield, too...and made to function best at those short distance. Perhaps at home, time aligned speakers in the nearfield might get you part way there?

Trying to get the fun of the car at home is tough. Sometimes you just can't buy the thrill.
I have the bass boosted 1 tick, but the overwhelming majority of music I listen to isn't really bass heavy - mostly folk/americana/bluegrass. The bass I hear isn't sub-bass but usually upright bass, bodhran, kick drum and guitar. It's got more slap and thud than rumble
 

Chrispy

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It looks like it's $2750 now, and I think it was $2k back in 2015 (bought this used last year). Which isn't that much. I don't think the quality of components would surpass my home gear, especially because money doesn't spend linear between home, car and headphones. On headphones for instance you get 3-10x better value for money than you do on a speaker system.
Thanks. I did expect more just because of the brand name....but economies of scale with a customer like Lexus might make a lot of difference in that regard. I just was commenting on cost. I've never found headphones a good value because I simply don't want to wear them :)
 

AlfaNovember

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It's true - I've never had my home system replicate the joy of turning on the radio to hear the opening riff of Sweet Home Alabama in the same instant the turbos spooled and the freeway onramp magically cleared.

To the question at hand - Is there any evidence that the fancy car system doesn't have built-in psychoacoustic sweeteners? It would be easy for the OEM to include a DSP doing volume-dependent loudness, 'spatialization', a few ms delay or reverb in the rear channels, etc. Heck, Dirac probably does more revenue from the automotive world than from us fringe lunatics. All the customer knows or cares is it "sounds great" on the showroom floor.
 

Timcognito

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Maybe you need surround sound with DSP at home. Buy an AVR and a few more speakers.
 
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