Mercedes-Benz’s new audio system can finally push music beyond stereo

One of the EV's highlights is the Dolby Atmos audio system in the newly revealed Mercedes-Benz EQE SUV.
Zoom / One of the EV’s highlights is the Dolby Atmos audio system in the newly revealed Mercedes-Benz EQE SUV.

Mercedes Benz

PARIS – For the debut of an almost silent car, Mercedes-Benz has certainly spent a great deal of time talking about sound at the international debut of the EQE SUV this week in Paris. Yes, the all-electric machine has some (optional) fake engine sounds inside, but it was actually the Burmester surround sound system that stole the show.

Following the car’s debut, Mercedes-Benz announced a partnership with Apple Music, Universal Music Group and Dolby to become the first cars to natively offer Dolby Atmos from Apple Music. Increasingly in first-class cinemas, Atmos allows audio producers to place sounds anywhere they like in 3D space. Now, technology is hurting music streaming services.

“It started in the theater 10 years ago and is now state-of-the-art in the movie soundtrack industry, but now it’s in music,” said Patrick Rossi, Dolby Vice President of Business Partnerships, at the EQE SUV Show unveiling the EQE SUV. “It allows the musician and their sound team to really place acoustic elements in the space. They’re no longer limited to their placement in the left speaker or the right speaker, but they can place them anywhere they want.”

“This is the greatest leap forward in music acoustically since the transition from mono to stereo,” Derek “MixedByAli” Ali, a mixing engineer who has worked with Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, and others told me.

I admit my gut reaction was to think 3D positional sound in music was exaggerated, but after 60 years in stereo, Ali said this was too late: “I mean, yeah, just like you had people back in the day who just wanted to work in Mono before stereo, right?’ He told me at Mix Studio in Paris. ‘We’re going to have that rejection, but they are the creators. [who] They are the ones who need to understand that, because they will be the ones to shout from the rooftops, “I really need it.”

Let me play with the Atmos mix of “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” from Glass Animals. With the mouse, I drew a path in a 3D virtual space. Then, with a few clicks, Ali assign the audio track to that track and play the song. The lyrics seemed to float around and on top of me, following this simple path I was charting.

Recording studio in Paris where we got a chance to try out 3D sound design.
Zoom / Recording studio in Paris where we got a chance to try out 3D sound design.

Tim Stevens

My mix was rude, to say the least, but even the Beatles mistook the stereo at first. “If you listen to monastery road, to the right, they move things left and right. This is trial and error. They’re testing out this look, right? This is where we are now.”

So where does Mercedes-Benz come from? The company is enabling this surround technology in a Burmester “High-End 4D” package, which includes 31 massive speakers and eight other “transducers” to specifically route sound through the seat — and thus through you. The development of this system and integration with Dolby Atmos and Apple Music was a two-and-a-half year effort, according to Marcus Schaefer, Head of Information Technology at Mercedes-Benz: “This has been a long journey that required software experts and hardware experts. To accomplish this result.”

How was this result? Breathtaking, I must say. The Burmester sound system was really upscale. Adding a topical aspect makes experimenting with complex paths a real experience. More than one listener got a little irritated after getting out of the car.

Currently, unfortunately, the distinct Atmos effect only works when streaming via Apple Music. Why is exclusivity with a streaming platform only 15 percent of the market? Mercedes-Benz CEO Ola Källenius said the company wanted to launch with a partner who is also obsessed with sound and technology. “You can’t just take Lego pieces and put them in it, you have to actually do real engineering to turn that car into a concert hall,” he told me. But he admitted that other providers would come. “Someone needs to show how it’s done, but we’ll give our customers a choice.”

How much does this choice cost? Currently, the 4D upgrade on the Burmester audio system is a $6,730 option on the S-Class. Mercedes-Benz says the feature will also be available on both EQ And the EQS sedans And the SUV cars. expensive? Yes, but it’s probably a reasonable price to turn an EV into a rejuvenating concert hall.

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