New Car, New Sound5 Minutes
The debate has raged for more than a century. How does a consumer choose a new car? The sleek lines, the luxurious interior, the torque, the handling, or possibly the price tag? Carmakers hold focus groups, design workshops and product planning sessions with consumers to find out. Ask 8-time Grammy Award-winning recording engineer and producer Elliot Scheiner, and he’ll say it is all about the sound.
Listening intently to one of his recent in-studio mixes through the all-new ELS Studio 3D premium audio system in the 2019 Acura RDX just before it debuted at the New York Auto Show in late March, Scheiner said consumers want a transformative experience. “The goal of the system is to provide an emotional experience, let the user hear what the artists and I hear in the studio,” he said. The new RDX comes with four ultra-thin, ceiling-mounted speakers to bring a fresh dimension in sound and fidelity to the driving experience. The 16-channel, 710-watt Acura ELS Studio 3D system was developed by Panasonic Automotive and tuned with Scheiner, who has shaped the unique sound in tens of thousands of Acura vehicles sold every year.
Music legends like Beyonce, the Foo Fighters, Steely Dan, the Eagles, and Van Morrison, fill Scheiner’s 50-year career and punctuate his sentences. He says the distinctive sound in the new Acura RDX comes from a mix of artistry, emotion and tech innovations. I sat down with Elliot, in the rolling hills of Connecticut in his home studio where he mixes Grammy award winners, and talked about his passion for sound, what’s different about the new RDX and how it’s bringing the recording studio experience inside the vehicle.
Tom Dunn, Panasonic: What am I hearing right now?
Elliot Scheiner: This is a recording from a live Phish show. I’m going over the recording section by section, making sure every detail of the sound is in the right place to convey the song’s emotion and intention. These are details most people may not perceive, but it’s important to all the musicians and engineers who are passionate about their craft.
How does that work with someone like Van Morrison?
I did one of Van Morrison’s early records. On one track, I wasn’t happy with the acoustic guitar sound so I went into the studio, put my ear down to the guitar to hear the detail and the resonance of the tone conveyed by the instrument. For this to come through on the recording I’d either change the mic, or change the placement, with the goal being to get it to a point where back in the control room I would think, “Yeah, this is the way it should be.” And then ultimately, have the artist come in and say, “It’s great.” It’s the same for the ELS Studio systems in the Acuras. We want you to hear what this guitar actually sounded like in the studio. The detail, the expressiveness, the emotion.
Rewind to 1999, surround sound was emerging, you were working with bands like the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, how did autos enter the picture?
At the end of a mix the final step was always to take it to the vehicle. This is where people listen to most of their music. Back then, so many of the automotive audio systems were underwhelming. Many used strange algorithms which modified the actual intention of the artists and engineers who spent so much time crafting their recordings. Honestly, it was so disappointing to hear our final mix on subpar systems, even in luxury vehicles.
I was working on surround sound and realized the car was a perfect environment to optimize the musical experience. Panasonic saw what I was trying to achieve. They were totally into the idea and brought it to Acura.
The first ELS sound system came out in 2003 with the Acura TL, and just about every model since. What’s different in the 2019 Acura RDX?
Technically cars are always changing, so each system is a new challenge. This is, by far, the best we’ve ever done. There are speakers in the overheads, there are speakers at ear level so it offers a musical experience that is noticeably different and dramatic. As an example, typically, in the back seat, everybody’s always saying, “Make it softer. I can’t hear you.” ELS Studio 3D offers the perfect balance.
What’s unique about your approach to tuning an auto sound system?
I listen for the details and strive to match what was achieved during the recording process. Other systems rely mainly on only measurements and go strictly by the numbers, and not what it really sounds like from the original recording and mixing process. Our approach is based on authenticity. Bringing the studio experience to the vehicle.
Can people accustomed to laptop speakers or a mobile device hear and feel the true sound of music?
I’ve spent my career trying to achieve a sound which is noticeably great to me and to the artist. You want everybody to hear it the same way. But nine times out of 10, they don’t. You walk into someone’s house and see a stereo speaker on the ground, and another in the wrong place, and you know they are not hearing the music the way we intended. So, for me, it’s about delivering to the listener what we heard in the control room. Now they can sit in an Acura equipped with ELS Studio 3D and listen in what I feel is the best possible environment for enjoying music on the road.