when i cover a vehicle for , the sound system has typically been low on my list of my priorities. thinking back on the reviews i've written, i don't know that i've mentioned a sound system beyond how many speakers it has or which options package it's a part of.
that's partly ignorance (i'm not an audiophile) and partly because i think that above a certain baseline, stereos all sound pretty much alike to me. obviously, there's a difference in quality between a system found in a high-end luxury vehicle and one found in, say, a nissan versa, but at a certain point they all just sound "good" to me.
however, exposure to the proverbial finer things has changed all that. similar to how i used to like my wine out of a box until i learned there was a better way, the els studio audio system found in the new 2019 acura rdx is a car stereo of a finer vintage.
the els studio 3d premium audio system (its full name) is found on rdx models with the a-spec or advance packages equipped. the a-spec starts at $44,495, while the advance starts at $46,395, both prices including a $995 destination charge. a 12-speaker els studio system is found on technology models, but that's not the one you want — you want the full els 3d studio system with 16 speakers because it adds four high-range speakers into the ceiling, and those are what sets that system apart from others.
the sounds of science
the name els comes from elliot scheiner, a music producer who acura has consulted with on its audio systems since the early 2000s in conjunction with panasonic. according to acura, much of the 2019 rdx's development was done with this very sound system in mind. this is evidenced by the ceiling speakers, which somehow find a way to fit despite a panoramic moonroof up there. even the c-pillar, which houses one of the 16 speakers on either side of the rdx, was shaped to funnel sound to the passengers.
sound used engine ers told me that those ceiling speakers are especially important because they're able to send sound directly to the passengers — no head restraints, seats or other trim pieces get in the way. from those speakers, the sound goes directly to your ears, and for that reason, they have a high dynamic range (a fancy way of saying that they can handle both high and low notes).
the system also uses a technology called acoustic motion control, which helps the system to sound clearer at high volumes. often in sound systems, with the volume up, the sound can be muddled — especially bass notes — because a speaker behaves, in some ways, like a spring. after the sound stops, it can continue to vibrate, which causes what you're hearing to become distorted. in the els studio system, it can detect when a speaker is still moving when it shouldn't be, and a countersignal is sent to the speaker to stop that motion.
i don't pretend to understand the science behind this, but it certainly makes the els system sound very clear even with the volume cranked up pretty high. this technology is utilized on 14 of the system's 16 speakers (minus the tweeters, which produce only high-frequency sounds).
a setting for every source
i also had a chance to hear the system's 5.1 surround-sound capability. some audio tracks were remastered into surround sound, and it was fun to listen to missy elliott's "get ur freak on," with her voice ringing in a circle around the rdx. such surround-sound audio files aren't available to the general public, so this unfortunately isn't something that consumers can replicate. but the system does come with dts neural surround, which can simulate surround sound from stereo tracks by highlighting layers in songs that you may not have known existed.
this also raised the question of sourcing and sound quality. different sources offer a different quality of sound; for example, the quality is different with satellite radio, hd radio and audio coming from your phone via bluetooth or a usb port. fun fact: a good old-fashioned cd (i can't believe i said that) is often the best source for the highest sound quality. to fight this, the els system has 13 different equalizer profiles that the system can choose among for different sources even if the source has a lower-quality bitrate (a way of measuring the quality of the audio). for example, satellite radio has a lower sound quality, but the software for the system chooses a profile to use that acura says enhances the signal to make it sound fuller and more spacious.
your own zone
there was one final feature of the system that families especially will appreciate: it comes with four audio zones. this functions like an improved version of the faders and balancers found in most sound systems. the system uses the roof-mounted speakers to really isolate sound in one of the four zones (full vehicle, driver-only, front-only or rear only). while i was seated in the backseat, the audio was shifted to front-only and, while i could hear it vaguely, the sound didn't really bleed back at all. so if the kids don't want to listen to a podcast or talk radio, they can enjoy relative peace and quiet in the back while you catch up on current events.
while our impressions of the rdx's new multimedia system are mixed, the sound system's prowess should not be controversial. this is a wonderful-sounding and well-thought-out system that matches the redesigned rdx's cabin quality and driving experience. it's icing on what is turning out to be a pretty yummy cake from acura — one we can't wait to taste-test against the rest of this popular class.
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