Dirac Unison, Bowers & Wilkins coming to a Volvo near you

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Volvo XC90 touchscreen press photo

The interior of the all-new 2015 Volvo XC90 will feature not just a sweet, tablet-like touchscreen oriented in portrait layout, but also available Bowers & Wilkins audio with Dirac Unison sound optimization. My ears are practically tingling with anticipation. (Photo courtesy Volvo Cars US/Dirac)

Lots of Volvo audio news came our way this week, including the carmaker’s decision to utilize Dirac Unison sound optimization technology and to load its new-for-2015 XC90 with Bowers & Wilkins sound hardware.

A press release from Volvo said the Bowers & Wilkins system for the XC90 uses bespoke acoustic technology developed over B&W’s five decades of research into loudspeaker design. The XC90’s sound, the release said, is derived directly from acoustic technology developed for reference speakers used in some of the world’s most demanding acoustic environments, including London’s legendary Abbey Road Studios.

The aim is to produce high-performance, low-distortion speaker designs that include extended range aluminum tweeters and midrange units made of Kevlar — which is similar to Bowers & Wilkins’ loudspeaker designs. Volvo also said the XC90’s B&W system features a center speaker with Bowers & Wilkins tweeter-on-top technology for the first time in a car. The automaker said that setup provides a more open, spacious sound.

Bowers & Wilkins Head of Engineering Stuart Nevill said, “The XC90 uses our tweeter-on-top technology, which has a number of advantages in the automotive environment. Fundamentally it increases the ratio of direct to reflected sound, as more of the signal reaches the listener directly from the tweeter, rather than reflecting off the windscreen first. All of this means that the Bowers & Wilkins audio system in the XC90 sounds incredibly tangible and lifelike.”

The tech details from Volvo:

The system is comprised of a 12-channel HARMAN 1,400 watts Class D amplifier serving a total of 19 Bowers & Wilkins speakers – 7 Nautilus tweeters (25 mm) with the latest treble technology, 7 midrange speakers (5×100 mm and 2×80 mm) with the characteristic yellow Bowers & Wilkins Kevlar cone clearly visible behind the cover, 4 cone woofers (200/165 mm) and the new, ground-breaking air-ventilated subwoofer (250 mm).

Air-ventilated subwoofer

The audio innovations in the new XC90 include one of the first automotive applications of an air-ventilated subwoofer integrated into the body of the car rather than being a freestanding box that is simply bolted to it.

“The subwoofer design is integrated into our new Scalable Product Architecture and is possibly a world first in the automotive industry,” said Mr. [Michael] Adenauer [former music producer and audio expert for Volvo Cars]. “This increases the subwoofer’s capacity to pulse more air, which enables extremely low bass tones all the way down to 20 Hz. In principle, it turns the whole interior space in the car into a giant subwoofer.”

The top-of-the-line Premium Sound is one of three system levels available for the all-new XC90. The audio range also includes the High Performance system with a 224W amplifier, 12 speakers and the possibility to add the fresh air subwoofer. At base level, the XC90 has the Performance system, which features a 52W amplifier and 6 speakers.

“Great music and sound are among the most important factors for a truly enjoyable drive. This makes the choice of audio systems a vital part of our designed-around-you philosophy. We are very happy to be able to offer the music aficionados among the XC90 buyers one of the most desirable audio systems on the market,” said Peter Mertens, Senior Vice President, Research and Development of Volvo Car Group.

Meanwhile, a release from Dirac pointed out that with the XC90, Volvo became the first automaker to utilize the company’s Dirac Unison audio optimization technology. The release claimed that the technology goes beyond traditional digital room correction and passive room treatment, precisely uniting the output of the speakers in a way that “will astonish listeners in any environment.”

The release said Dirac Unison uses precise measurements to create an active acoustic treatment of the listening space, jointly optimizing the loudspeakers and using what the company claimed is “a completely new kind of bass management” that automatically matches the bass response to the room and the speakers. With Dirac Unison, the loudspeakers and listening space act cohesively rather than as individual elements that interfere with each other, the release said.

Volvo XC90 Bowers & Wilkins speaker grille press photo

Bowers & Wilkins speakers as seen in the interior of the 2015 Volvo XC90. (Photo courtesy Volvo Cars US)

Dirac said in the Volvo XC90, Dirac Unison co-optimizes the loudspeakers in frequency, time, and space for the best possible bass integration and clarity, enabling recreation of individual acoustic environments from actual performance venues.

“With the touch of a button, occupants can be immersed in the acoustic likeness of Gothenburg Concert Hall, located nearby to Volvo’s headquarters and acclaimed by many artists as one of the world’s best concert halls,” the Dirac release said.

Volvo said a simple change in the center touchscreen is all it takes to immediately alter the Bowers & Wilkins sound system’s settings to mirror the concert hall, or listeners can choose a recording studio or stage environment. Having done my time in rock bands, I’m pretty sure the stage environment would feel most like “home” for me.


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