An important part of the driving experience is sound: It defines the journey, gives a car character, triggers emotions. The quieter tones produced by electric vehicles have joined the classic purr of the combustion engine as part of the soundscape. It’s not just the hum of a vehicle’s engine during a trip that influences the driving experience: The interior acoustics are critical, too. Thanks to digitalization, connectivity and other state-of-the-art features, drivers can choose from various options for customizing the sound in their cars. Sound expert Ralph Truckenbrodt, Project Manager responsible for Audi A1 Sportback* sound and acoustics, provides us with insight into this model’s sound package.
The Audi Magazine: What options does the new Audi A1 Sportback* offer? How can I listen to my favorite song while driving?
Ralph Truckenbrodt: There are a number of ways, ranging from digital radio to using the Audi smartphone interface to link your phone with your vehicle. When connected, content such as navigation, phone, music and selected third-party apps such as Spotify appear in a separate MMI menu. The Audi smartphone interface integrates iPhones and Android phones using Apple CarPlay and Android Auto into a specially developed MMI environment. Two USB ports (1x USB-A, 1x fast-charging USB-C port) are also provided.
Fans of music and acoustics can use a tuner to listen to digital radio and choose between an Audi sound system or one by Bang & Olufsen. The latter provides virtual 3D sound. A first in the compact class for the brand with the four rings?
Right. The optional Bang & Olufsen sound system controls a total of eleven 560-watt speakers that generate virtual 3D sound based on the Symphoria algorithm developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits (IIS). The Audi A1 Sportback* is therefore the Four Rings’ first compact car to offer optional virtual 3D sound.
In this age of digitalization, what is it about car interiors that poses the greatest challenge with regard to sound and acoustics?
A cutting-edge sound system must be able to play various formats to optimum effect as well as compensate for poor quality where necessary. This is something that digitalization, coupled with streaming services and the associated minimization of data volume, brings with it. We are increasingly confronted with sources of music or videos from external providers that cover a wide range of titles but are allotted a minimal amount of server space.
BANG & OLUFSEN SOUND SYSTEM WITH VIRTUAL 3D: The new Bang & Olufsen sound system with virtual 3D delivers a realistic, three-dimensional listening experience in the Audi A1 Sportback*. Working with the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits, engineers have tailored the Symphoria 3D sound technology also for smaller vehicles. This system creates a sense of space even in compact cars without requiring additional 3D height speakers. Using the windshield to reflect sound, the system creates a natural 3D effect with only four speakers in the dashboard.
The infotainment concept in the new Audi A1 Sportback* takes its cue from that in the Four Rings’ full-size vehicles: The MMI radio that comes as standard is operated using multifunction buttons on the steering wheel and the display in the fully digital instrument cluster. In the top-of-the-range configuration, the optional MMI Navigation plus system features a 10.1-inch MMI touchscreen seamlessly integrated into the black glass-look display.
What does that mean exactly?
Files are compressed to keep them as small as possible, with a resulting drop in the quality of the recording. It’s sufficient for playback with headphones, but listening to a recording like that on a vehicle sound system with subwoofers and a beautiful high range calls for some adjustment. Customers should nonetheless have the best possible listening experience. We want the sound to be crisp. That’s definitely one of the big challenges in our industry. But we are already working on solutions for tackling this problem even more proactively.
The interplay between perfectly matched technical components is the springboard. But what about the human component? In other words, what about the listener, or rather their sense of hearing?
Human hearing becomes more refined over the course of a lifetime. Determining whether sound is coming from the right or left is relatively easy. However, distinguishing between sound from above and below is based on experience—it’s an acquired skill. So how people experience 3D sound depends very much on the individual.
Technological progress is often very rapid. Is that another challenge?
Purely in terms of technical components such as speakers, the pace of progress is actually relatively sedate compared with other fields. The key here is putting together the best possible package and optimally integrating the system into the vehicle. This involves a number of different factors, such as positioning, materials used and the acoustics of the space. The sound system in the new Audi A1 Sportback* provides a fun experience and, if you say the word, a dimension in sound previously only available in mid-class or full-size Audi vehicles. Our mission is to create the best possible listening experience, every time.
*Audi A1 Sportback fuel consumption: combined (in l/100 km): 5.8–3.8. CO2 emissions combined (in g/km): 134–97.
Further information on the official fuel consumption and specific CO2 emissions figures for new passenger cars can be found in the Guideline for Fuel Consumption, CO2 Emissions and Electric Power Consumption, which is available free of charge at all car dealerships as well as DAT Deutsche Automobil Treuhand GmbH, Hellmuth-Hirth-Str. 1, 73760 Ostfildern-Scharnhausen, Germany (www.dat.de).