Mercedes-Benz Frontbass and Signature Sound: The new benchmark for car audio systems
With the “Mercedes-Benz Signature Sound”, the internationally renowned and two-times Grammy award-winning music expert, Herbert Waltl, Senior Producer and CEO of mediaHYPERIUM, has produced a music DVD that has been mixed and mastered precisely to the Frontbass sound system, the specific acoustic surroundings, and the position of the driver and front seat passenger in the new Mercedes-Benz SL. In doing so, he has developed a unique production concept in the surround sound process for the ultimate musical experience in a car. “Conventional audio systems for cars create the surround sound with computer-generated processes. The somewhat more hands-on approach of my Signature Sound production concept brings back the artistic element and the original emotional element of the musical interpretation. This improves the audio quality and enhances the musical authenticity,” explains Waltl, who is considered the international guru of surround sound audio production, and who was the first DVD video producer in music history.
Reproduction of the artists’ intended original sound
In collaboration with the sound experts from Mercedes-Benz, Waltl selected 15 well-known rock and pop songs, along with ten masterpieces from the world of classical music. The tracks include “Cold As Ice” by Foreigner, “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga, “Everyday Is A Winding Road” by Sheryl Crow, the “Violin Concerto K 218” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and “Symphony No. 5” by Ludwig van Beethoven. In order to adhere as closely as possible to the artists’ intended original sound, he procured the rights to the pieces of music, and also the soundtracks for the original studio recordings (which for some of the pieces consist of up to 200 individual tracks), as well as the original stereo CD for comparison purposes.
For the remixing, he secured the services of the internationally recognised sound engineer, Leslie Ann Jones, Director Music Recording and Scoring at Skywalker Sound, the legendary sound studio of director George Lucas in California. Mercedes-Benz provided an SL model, which was placed in the recording studio. “For the first time, this allowed us to mix the music exactly for the space in which it would later be heard. This is unique in the history of music production,” says Leslie Ann Jones, three-times Grammy award-winning sound engineer. Jones first reconstituted the original mix for each piece to ensure the greatest possible authenticity in terms of artistic intent. She then placed the difference sound elements on the surround sound stage, and, with meticulous attention to detail, balanced the mix to the acoustic space of the SL and the Frontbass sound system. It was a very elaborate process, involving mixing in the control room, listening in the car, fine adjustments in the control room and so on.
The perfect surround sound for the ultimate musical experience in a car
With the “Signature Sound” music DVD and the Frontbass sound system in the new SL, Mercedes-Benz has combined the very best in music production with the very best in car audio technology, creating the new benchmark for car audio systems. In the following interview, Ralf Lamberti, Director Advance Development Telematics at Mercedes-Benz, Herbert Waltl and Leslie Ann Jones explain the advantages of both innovations.
Mr Lamberti, how did Mercedes-Benz come up with the idea of installing the woofers in the foot space?
Ralf Lamberti: We have been working on this idea since 2005 in our efforts to improve further the sound quality in the vehicle. The standard location for the woofers in the doors produces disruptive acoustic vibrations. And with roadsters and convertibles, there is the added problem that sounds are literally blown away by the airstream when the roof is down. All that remains is a muffled sound layer. We wanted to change that situation. However, with traditional vehicle shell structures, it has not been possible to move the woofers into the foot space – there was simply not enough installation or resonating space. We have now created this space in the new SL. The two longitudinal front members in the aluminium frame structure were designed in such a way that the loudspeakers could fit directly into two openings in the firewall on either side of the foot space. Cavities in the longitudinal members behind the loudspeakers act as resonating chambers. And the foot space in front of the speakers forms a funnel that bundles the sound.
And what is the result?
Ralf Lamberti: Clear, crisp and distortion-free bass sounds over the entire frequency range. Thanks to the installation position low down in the foot space, the dominant sound remains in the vehicle, even when the roof is down. Another benefit is that the relocation of the woofers opens up additional free space. We were able to find ideal positions for the mid-range and tweeters in the doors, the dashboard and in the vehicle rear close to the beltline, and thus almost level with the SL occupants’ ears. This gives a precise, brilliant sound, just like in a concert hall. The result is an exact stage reproduction with precise instrument positioning and equally precise spatial graduation. To make this unique surround sound experience even more intensive, we produced the “Signature Sound” DVD in collaboration with Herbert Waltl. So we are combining the very best in car audio technology with the very best in music production.
Mr Waltl, you are considered the guru of surround sound audio production. What prompted you to develop a special surround sound concept especially for a car?
Herbert Waltl: A car is actually a perfect place to enjoy surround sound. But the majority of playback devices in cars use only the stereo mixes for the sound reproduction, whereas surround sound is created by the audio system itself in a computer-controlled process. This artificial re-mixing is necessary because the acoustics and the positioning of the loudspeakers in a car are totally different from what you would have in any other space. But the automated mixing process generally doesn’t produce the listening experience that the artists intended to create when they recorded the music in the studio, and much of the artistic intent is lost. This gave me the idea of developing a special surround sound production concept for a car, where the focus would be on the “artistic” side of the music. In Mercedes-Benz and Leslie Ann Jones, who is one of the top sound engineers in the world, I found the perfect partners for these very specific music mixes.
Ms Jones, what are the special features of the “Signature Sound” mixing?
Leslie Ann Jones: The pieces of music were mixed directly in the 5.1 surround sound process and tweaked precisely for the space in which they will ultimately be heard – the Mercedes-Benz SL. The car was right there in the studio. We were able to mix precisely the representation of the instruments and the singing, and the spatial graduation of each piece of music for the acoustic environment of the roadster, the positioning of the individual loudspeakers, and thus also for the seat position of the driver and front seat passenger.
We worked with the soundtracks from the original recordings, and we stuck closely to the original sound ideas of the artists. The result is the ultimate listening experience that is just like on a surround stage – more authentic and in better audio quality that you will find on any standard CD or DVD.
What part did the Frontbass technology play?
Herbert Waltl: It is a significant advantage, of course, to produce music for a good playback system with a superb bass sound – and the Frontbass system is exceptional. It delivers a crystal-clear, transparent bass reproduction, allowing the sound engineer to work on very specific details during mixing and mastering. The Frontbass system and the “Signature Sound” concept are a perfect combination for achieving a really intensive and artistic music experience in the car. It’s a feast for the ears, where you feel as if you are at a live concert on the best seats in the middle of the audience.
Will Frontbass and “Signature Sound” also be introduced into other Mercedes model series?
Ralf Lamberti: We are currently working on progressively introducing the Frontbass system into other vehicle models. In principle, the “Signature Sound” concept can also be transferred to other high-end car sound systems. We’re considering placing the concept on a broader footing – even without using Frontbass technology. However, the rule is the better the audio technology used to play music produced with the “Signature Sound” concept, the better the listening experience – and the Frontbass technology is the best we have just at the moment.
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