Concerning high end audio names in new cars

It made sense to me when high end audio manufactures started selling their brand names to the likes of BMW. I really had to look twice when I saw the Jeep Grand Wagoneer on a commercial with large blue MacIntosh meters on the dash! I went to the website just to make sure my eyes weren't deceiving me. It's just fluff of course. I've been in several vehicles with supposedly high end audio systems. I wasn't impressed  with any of them. I wonder what impact if any the Mac meters will have on the general public. I hope audiophiles steer clear of this model car as it could prove to be a distraction for sure. 


I've had two cars with high end systems. Both sucked, I just listened to the news on them. 

 have a Mark Levinson system in our car. It's awful. And the CD changer is actually from Pioneer. Needless to say, it doesn't work right.

Aren’t you guys a little too critical? The Mark Levinson in the Lexus is far from being awful. You can’t compare such systems with your home systems of course because the two environments are so different in terms of noise and vibrations but compared to a standard car audio system, it’s a good achievement. Let’s not be unreasonable.

spenav, If you put Mark Levinson or B&W in a car one would hope it would be at least a little above average. Joe

I agree with @spenav as far as expectations. My wife has an Avalon with JBL system which I like for the car use. The biggest reason is that it is no louder in the back seat than the front. IOW very even volume. And tone was good for a car. It was very good for the 550 mile road trips to see family in which my mother in law went with us.

I am part of the Corvette forum as well and could never understand why anyone wants a high end system in it. The newer ones are fairly quiet for a sports car but they still aren't as quiet as the Avalon or even my truck

If listening space has the most impact on sound, which most assert it does, doesn't seem like a car/truck/whatever would be a very good place for sound even with the best gear in the world, unless you just want to vibrate your surroundings with bass. 

there have been a number of threads on car based sound systems

branding of car audio is just that - branding to sell things, make people spending money feel like they are getting something nice

end of the day, some cars are for thrills, in these you don’t listen much to the car audio, the car provides the soundtrack

other cars are appliances, functional to get you there with minimum of fuss and discomfort, these are more isolation machines, drivers/riders onboard are not trying to connect to the car, they want to enjoy their time despite the car... here car audio systems are more important, some are pretty nice, others not so much - none can compare to a home system though

i find the car audio branding doesn’t correlate too well with sound quality

High end home audio is a niche market. Cars are not. Any audio company looking for additional and compatible revenue streams can create brand awareness and potential future customers by inserting a speaker set or head unit into a luxury or halo car. The car manufacturer then gets to tout how great their "14 speaker XYZ Audio System" sounds, regardless of fact.

These "home audio" producers are all in on car audio so there must be value in it for them:

Bose (I know...)
Mark Levinson
Heck, in the Clarion ownership days, you could get a McIntosh branded Clarion head unit in a Subaru.

I have to say the stock Fender system in my VW is not the worst thing I've heard in car audio.


The Lexus I sold had a Mark Levinson sound system. Before that, I had a Honda with a Bose (I know, I know) sound system. I wasn't impressed with the sound of either. I'm guessing that there would be a serious uncharge for a Burmester system. If I can't afford Burmester for the home, I doubt that I will spring for it in the car, but I'd be happy to take it for a test drive.

My wife has a B&W system in her New Volvo and it sounds great ,

my Brother has a Burmeister in his S6 Audi  ,it is very good ,

yes these are over $3-4k each but to them well worth it since they drive over 1000 miles a month.

Question: How does anyone achieve good sound in the glass bowl of a car's interior?

Answer: They don't.

It is 100% a marketing ploy.

I don't mind crappy stereos in cars....   my company mini van has a mediocre stereo .  The company E250 vans have AM/FM with a 5" full range speaker in each door.   It's pretty bad.  But I don't have a car payment, or pay for gas, insurance, and repairs so I really can't bitch...   After a day driving 300 miles in that thing , there's nothing better than sitting in front of my home system.....  

Samsung bought Harmon Group so they could integrate their media / car infotainment and be a huge player in car/mobile world dominance.

Revel, JBL, Infinity, AKG, Harmon,  Levinson.....  all under Samsung umbrella


219 posts

Aren’t you guys a little too critical? The Mark Levinson in the Lexus is far from being awful. You can’t compare such systems with your home systems of course because the two environments are so different in terms of noise and vibrations but compared to a standard car audio system, it’s a good achievement. Let’s not be unreasonable.

Wrong. The base system in a previous Lexus and  another current model was/is worlds batter. Not even close.

I'm on my third Genesis and the Lexicon systems in the first two were pretty extraordinary, with a notable surround system (geared to DVD-A discs, for which options are limited, but when you score, it's magic).  I had an above-average home system over that time (Counterpoint, VPI, Dahlquist), but there were nights when me and my buddies left the house and spent some time in my car, grooving on that Lexicon system (which is ostensibly only otherwise available in Rolls Royce'...I've never bothered to validate that).  Yet I'm finding the Lexicon in my '16 Genesis to be less compelling, but that's likely 'cause I've since replaced the Counterpoints with PrimaLuna E400 separates and a REL S810 sub.  I'm staying in the house a lot more lately.  😁

Brand exposure, ie. Not a lot of the average population know McIntosh from Mark Levinson….

Also, I’ve never heard any car stereo that would be up to the standard of the average audiophile, also I don’t think automobiles are a great place for critical listening. That’s my two cents. 


Wrong. The base system in a previous Lexus and  another current model was/is worlds batter. Not even close.

I have the Levinson system in my 2009 Lexus LS.  It was way better sounding to me than the basic audio system.  I listened quite a while to both.  I wanted the better one. To me it was worthwhile upgrade and I have enjoyed it for years.  It is still a car surrounded by glass.  I did not buy it because of blue meters.

I have a new Alfa Romeo Giulia with the upgraded 14 speaker Harmon Kardon system and it sounds great. My previous Alfa had the same but the bass used to vibrate. That’s fixed in the new one. It’s not like listening to my home system but pretty darn good.

Those meters are ABSURD,. What a nice size GPS screen, I hope it has optional use. Have you seen a Tesla display, holy crap.

Any decent sound system, in a large car/truck should have a fader for front/rear balance, but it is nice if it is balanced by default. I often need to reduce the volume in my Volvo back seat when someone is there. I used to boost the rear in any vehicle when the kids were young.

The T-Birds, both old and new had settings to automatically lower the volume when you slowed down/stopped. The old one was a rheostat connected to the gas pedal, worked better than this new one.

The new one, 2005, you can tell it if 1 or 2 people are in, i.e. adjusts for the driver’s position.

Who the heck knows if another maker’s speakers would be better.

If you let my niece drive your car, you better know where to readjust the bass boost because she will find it!

I had to stop reading these answers. I’m sure there are a couple of experienced, auto sound aficionados in the group, but those that aren’t, started wading in, and it quickly got maddening. I don’t have the time or inclination to even start the book of explanations and education necessary for this to conversation to make any headway. Better to just keep going. I’m in the middle of trying to buy a HT system and I’ll be heading back down that street. Thanks to my email for suckering me into this.🖕

Car audio is pretty complicated.  Licensing home audio companies to put their names on car audio systems is kind of a joke.  I am sure the companies try to do whatever they can to help out, but no one gets into their car to listen critically to music.  If the do, they will be disappointed.

A graphic equalizer may help some, but cars are for driving, and listening to some tunes is nice, but it ain't home audio and never will be.  As for companies like Bose (PLEASE!) and Mark Levinson--oh, my--well, you wanna pay extra for those names on you speaker grills, go buy the little plastic name things and paste them on, I guess.


I don't know how "fluff" it is.  I've been in B&O equipped Audi, and it sounded as horrible as their headphones.  It really was the true B&O signature sound. Piercing and whizzy. 

The JBL system in my Toyota however is quite decent and a worthwhile upgrade from the standard system.

I was just at a media event where I got to spend some time with the new Grand Wagoneer and Grand Cherokee with the McIntosh systems. I ran a series of FLAC files through the system hardwired to my phone. That system is legit. 

Songs I ran through it:
2049 - Hans Zimmer

Back To Black - Amy Winehouse

Before Today - Everything But The Girl

Don't Know Why - Norah Jones

Graceland - Paul Simon

Invisible Sun - The Police

Mosaic - Art Blakey


Car audio is not 100% marketing ploys. I happen to know a sound engineer that works for a major auto maker and has work for several. While sometimes the systems can be not that great or potentially marketing, some of these designers are really working to put great sound in cars. I would caution against making opinions about the sound of what’s in the Wagoneer without hearing it first. It is a truly high-end vehicle and I venture to guess that they use some serious engineering before sticking that sound system in there.

I drive an Audi RS7 I bought used - it happened to come with the 19 speaker B&O, which is an $8000 msrp add-on. The speakers were crap, so I replaced 11 of them. I absolutely do not expect it to sound as good as my home hifi system but it does sound OK now. I drive a lot so at least want it to be decent sounding. 

But again, wow, they make it an $8000 upgrade option, and the speakers they pair with that option are woefully lacking in quality. 

Back in the day we were very happy with an 8 track head unit and a pair of 6x9s mounted on the rear deck. Fond memories.

@jbhiller One of my buddies brother is a sound engineer and works for a year on a design cycle for a vehicle sound system. So I get it.

@artemus_5 My C7 has a premium Bose 11 speaker system including sub-woofer I’ve only listened to it a few times as it’s not the reason I bought the car. But, to all you Bose haters out there, it sounds dam good sittin’ in the driveway.



Before I retired I drove 2500 miles a month. Sound was very important. My then Mercedes e class had a Harmon Kardon system that sounded great. I traded that for a 2018 with the new Burmester system—miles ahead of the HK. It still surprises me now and then with its imaging. I listen mainly to radio jazz fan from Poland or KCSM from San Mateo. And I’ve got about 600 mp3s on one card and another card with flac files.

Anyone ever heard the Boze Panaray system on a Cadillac sedan?

I also have a Lexus with the Mark Levinson system. I was pretty good stock. I now run my IPhone with camera adapter usb out into an IFI hip dac headphone amp through the aux jack in the system. I have had many audio nuts who are blown away by how good it does sound through the dac. Deep tight bass, and great separation of instruments. Is it as good as my home system? Don’t be stupid! Is is good enough to look forward to my two hour daily commute to work? Hell yes!

Keep in mind that car audio designers also are handcuffed by:

Components prices and total system budget (I’ve lived the auto industry supply base and it’s absolutely brutal when it comes to the OEM’s and part prices)

The need to minimize warranty claims thereby limiting outputs of amplifiers, bass /treble adjustment and total system volumes.

Appealing to a wide and diverse customer base expectation of what an automotive sound system should sound like - not just marketing/designing a system to audiophiles.

Temperature extremes for drivers, head units and amplifiers (think about this one and what that gear has to put up with)

Moisture resistance and UV resistance

User interface - needs to be simple enough for the average non audiophile user to operate

Almost ridiculous phase, time delay and standing wave issues in a car with all those seating positions and speaker positions. I doubt many audio engineers in the automotive arena get to choose their ideal speaker locations. It’s the same ol’, same ol’ setup of woofer in the lower door, tweeter feet away in the A pillar, small center channel speaker in the middle of the dash, then rinse and repeat for the rear doors. Now add in the rear deck and sub frequency drivers. Everything essentially fires almost sideways to the occupants’ ears with nothing really directly radiating to the occupants’ ears at ear level; how crazy is all of that driver placement? One wonders how anyone can even design anything to sound good in a car as compared to the relatively controlled environment of a living room / listening room at home.

I’m a big car audio nut. I’ve heard incredible aftermarket systems in cars and have had many a high watt, high impact system in various cars I’ve owned. If you get it right, it’s very fun to experience in a car, but it’s really hard to do. It’s a totally different environment vs. home audio. To compare home audio and car audio is almost pointless and I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a stock OEM audio system sound as good as a custom, high dollar aftermarket system in a vehicle.

Here's how I look at it: whatever alleged up class name is placed in a car, it's better than what sound acquisition used to be from auto manufacturers.

My wife's 2022 Mazda CX 5 has a Bose system in it and it is quite spatial. Sounds way better than what was in her 2014 Subaru.

After setting relatively low expectations for the Meridian system in my Rivian R1T, I am more than pleased with the performance of the system. It sounds as if Meridan used some fairly decent DACs in the front end and designed the system for grown ups.

I had a Mazda a few years back. GREAT car. With a Bose system. I always joked that they probably shouldn't brag about that. LOL

About four years ago, I entirely gave up listening to audio of any kind when I drive. Driving is much more enjoyable without distraction.

Fact is high end audio companies are putting their components in cars for mainstream name recognition and money. Car audio is a whole different animal from home audio. A maker is totally at the mercy of the varying, hugely challenging acoustics/materials in the myriad of car models. There is definitely limits to how nice a car audio system can sound, particularly under circumstances like highway speed, engine noise and lack of proper sound deafening of noise coming from outside the cab. Do you really think most customers would know the difference when their sound standards are low to mid-fi sound quality (due largely to not knowing what you don’t know - we as audiophiles don’t really have magic ears!)? At the end of the day this all about money for audio companies. If they hit the jackpot when their components become ubiquitous in a highly popular line of vehicles, but it didn’t produce sound quality even close to the potential of their 2 channel systems (or surround), I doubt their bean counters and executives would bat an eye. Their relative lines of home audio are much more expensive, but their lack of comparable overhead, coupled with economies of scale and overall margin percentage, would be a lot higher in today’s mainstream consumer market. Also, they would capture, or at least be in the running, for the small percentage of those car audio customers that end up delving into high end sound home audio. Plus, even those of us that know how good home audio can sound have largely been trained from childhood l to have low standards when it comes to car audio. Even though I know the sound could be better in my car, I long ago went away from even thinking about going after market with my car stereo. It’s just not worth the hassle for me and I, unlike a large l portion of the market that can afford it, have started resist flipping vehicles every 3 years because I don’t want the crazy recurring car payments (my wife has somehow in recent years curved my stubborn compulsive male mindset that started early in life loving expensive sports sports cars as well)!


Not real pleased with the Bose system in my Hyundai Sonata N-Line.  No choice in the matter though, they all have this “option.”

I wonder how much the higher end names are even involved with the car audio systems design and manufacturing. I bet many of them are simply putting their name on a ordinary system manufactured by a no name or non premium reputation manufacturer.

Car makers do that all the time. Rebadging  - Toyota to Lexus, Honda to Acura, Nissan to Infinit, etc. How much of the premium is name only, and how much is actually reflected in their parts and manufacturing cost. If you subtract out the increased advertising expenditure, I bet it is not a great deal. But it sells - snob appeal costs money.

I really had to look twice when I saw the Jeep Grand Wagoneer on a commercial with large blue MacIntosh meters on the dash! 


You realize that Grand Wagoneer costs more than a BMW X7, right?

When I started driving, AM radios were an expensive option. I don’t care what manufacturer is putting their logo in automobiles at this point - anything is better than an AM radio with one speaker in the middle of the dash. I don’t expect a car system to sound like the audio system in my house. There’s no mechanical noise, road noise, and traffic noise in my house...

I happened to have Mark Levinson in my previous 2 GS450h (2008 & 2013) and found them super good. ML produced clean and clear sounds especially the mid-bass. 99% of my friends when sitting in my car, they all said the sound system in my car sounded fantastic and they asked why:-). I just pointed my fingers to the "Mark Levinson" logo on the Head Unit to them:-). Even now, some of them occasionally asked me to give them a drive around just for listening to the music in my car:-). They told me their next car will be Lexus with ML in it. I never liked ML (not for its sounds but for its nasty lawsuit history of pushing Mr. Mark Levinson out of the group) but I have to admit that ML produces great sounds. I listened to Burmester in Mercedes E450 and GLS450 but still prefer ML in my GS450h. 

20 years ago I bought a new car with Bose, it was incredible. Better than anything I had heard before in any car. 

A maker is totally at the mercy of the varying, hugely challenging acoustics/materials in the myriad of car models

or they get a car, fully completed and they can tweak their system to sound the best

There is an Italian company by the name of Audison that offers "Sound Packs" for quite a few specific manufacturers and models. I have an all Audison sound pack in my '17 Golf GTI which includes a sub in the spare wheel well that does not require removal of the spare. I had sound deadening installed at the same time. It is good. Nowhere close to a good home system though. 

I have a "Fender tuned" system AKA Panasonic in my 2017 VW GLI and I think it sounds just fine. I wasn't expecting much after all I am listening in a car.

I have never gone into car audio with the expectation it’ll be anywhere near home audio quality, for reasons many have stated. Especially as many of our home systems cost as much if not more than many cars entirely. If a car’s sound system is enjoyable for what it is, that’s what counts. I’ve felt lot of it falls on sources and EQ which some manufacturers provide more adjustment and flexibility than others.


My fiance’s Harmon Kardon in the X5 sounds much better than the Bose in my A6. My old A6 had Bose and in some ways, sounded better than my significantly newer one. Are either ’audiophile’ quality? Nope, but in 90% of my experience optional systems sound better than base systems. As should be expected. Is it worth the price? That’s up to the individual.


389 posts


Aren’t you guys a little too critical? The Mark Levinson in the Lexus is far from being awful. 

Thanks for correcting what I hear. Maybe you can tell me what films I like also.

The manufacturers that advertise  Bose (I'm talking to you, Mazda) crack me up. No doubt they're not going after the audiophile crowd. Too bad because Mazda makes great cars.

I wonder how many buyers elect the purchase of whatever option upgrade has the name audio system after A-B comparison to the model with the base system. Most seem like dressing for a multi-thousand dollar package that has more than the sound system, and the name just makes it seem more valuable. No more Blaupunkt or Clarion or Alpine, it has to be a premium home audio brand.

My newest of four SAAB convertibles was made in 2003.  All have factory radios and speakers (some have been replaced).  A single Synergistc Research HFT (on the windshield, below and  behind the rear view mirror) and occasional use of a Walker Talisman can improve the sound.  I'm just seeking something I consider "listenable," and a slight resemblance to what I enjoy at home.