Prior to the partnership with Jeep, McIntosh worked directly with Harley-Davidson, Subaru and Ford on branded audio systems; the latter is exclusive to the 2005-2006 Ford GT. It also offered very advanced aftermarket sound systems for a while, and has been around since 1949.
The system in the Jeep Grand Cherokee is called MX950, due to 950 watts from 17 channels. It uses 19 McIntosh-designed speakers in 12 locations throughout the cabin. Considering McIntosh amps with Woodstock and Grateful Dead’s Wall of Sound, the company definitely knows how to provide an immersive experience.
When a company designs audio components intended for home use, things like size, weight and price are generally less worrying than direct performance, accuracy and aesthetics. In an advanced home audio setup, you can have amplifiers that weigh 100 pounds per channel and speakers that weigh three times as much. In a vehicle where weight affects everything from total performance to fuel economy, which will not fly, so the sound companies must be creative.
For McIntosh, this means taking advantage of a few patents it has for room equalization in home theater equipment, which digitally compensates for the design of a room (or a vehicle cabin) and its LD / HP speakers (low distortion, high power). These technologies are paired with the company’s Class A / B amplifier design to create a system that looks and sounds like the iconic blue-glowing glass surface equipment that made McIntosh famous.
Other brands, such as the British company Naim, have taken a similar approach to their design processes, but with some changes. The Naim systems for Bentley cars undergo a multi-step design process. First, Naim takes the measurements of the cabin from Bentley and runs them through a proprietary algorithm to get a starting point for speaker placement and system design. It then works with its sister company, the French speaker manufacturer Focal, to specify the ideal drivers for each application – a convertible, for example, will have other needs than an SUV.
Naim then adjusts things in the amplifiers – class D in the vehicle systems and in the Mu-So wireless speaker,– to measure as accurately as possible for distortion properties. From there, Naim engineers work back from these designs until they come to something that not only sounds comfortable to the ear, but shows the characteristics of a Naim system – sacrificing some of the headline numbers as total harmonic distortion (THD) for something pleasant.
The story is similar to Burmester, a German company that started in car systems by designing the stereo system in the Bugatti Veyron in 2005. It entered into a collaboration with Porsche in 2009 and Mercedes-Benz in 2013. The engineers work with Porsche and Mercedes from very early stages of vehicle design – years before the first debut – to optimize things like speaker placement and integration with the electrical system. This was the case with the new S-Class, where the Burmester worked to integrate exciters into the car’s front seats. These devices provide physical feedback to the listener, adding a new layer to the experience – something Mercedes-Benz calls a 4D setup.
Experience is the key word here as well. To get someone to pay as much as $ 10,000 on top of an already expensive vehicle price, an audio company needs to deliver something more than comfortable sound. The Fender sound system in a Volkswagen sounds good, but it does not give you a unique experience. These advanced sound systems try to immerse you in your music, and speaking from experience – like a bit of a hi-fi nerd at home – they mostly succeed.
“We understand that customers do not just want good sound,” said Charlie Randall, president of McIntosh Laboratory, in a statement. “They want to have a full sensory experience. And that’s why it was so important that we did not leave any stone unturned to deliver a true McIntosh entertainment system to the Jeep Grand Cherokee L. We are excited to bring our brand to a hero new group of people who may have never experienced McIntosh before. “
The last part about bringing customers into the fold is also an interesting aspect of the sound trend. Getting someone who may not have previously had a sound from the home of a dealer to sit and listen to systems and spend all kinds of money is understandably a big boost. But it makes more sense to get someone interested in the brand’s audio offerings at home if they’ve already experienced it in their cars. It’s a conversion rate companies can not quantify, but they all seem to be a real thing.
Like the audio industry in general, the world of branded audio can be surprisingly complex and subtle. Sometimes it is difficult to justify where the price applies. $ 300,000 costs a lot for a nicely chosen Bentley Continental GT, but the Naim flagship amplifier for home use – the statement – costs $ 100,000, and that does not include speakers, sources, cables and so on.
Some people will probably get into the new Jeep Grand Cherokee L Summit, shoot up the McIntosh MX950 and never really think of it as anything more than a means of listening to radio. Others will find excuses to go on long drives to nowhere and turn up their favorite music to ear bleeding levels, just to enjoy the richness. Who are you?