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AUDIO Q7 E-TRON: BANG & OLUFSEN 3D AUDIO PLUS GORGEOUS GRAPHICS


I like durable things. The passion that drives me as a reviewer, is rooted in both fear and parsimony. Fear of buying the wrong thing, coupled with a massive aversion to spending the money more than one time. I want to understand the upgrade path, purchase an entry-level thing and then maybe only get the best the next time. As more people read more reviews, this very sensible approach has become widespread. As such, the mid-market in many product categories is all but dead.

Many years ago, when my parents needed multi-room audio, I suggested Bang & Olufsen. Not cheap but massive quality and I believed it would really last. They had one of the very first multi room systems. Years ahead of its time. It was so long ago, that they had not yet developed a CD player to go in the Beosystem 5000 stack. It was svelte, with amazingly low-profile units, with lots of brushed metal everywhere. It never dated and is still working in my sister’s house, although they did not take any of the multi room equipment when it was moved. For the original system was pumped through to the kitchen from the living room and then onwards to my mother’s study and finally upstairs to their master bedroom. This entailed the installation of small hidden amplifier packs in each room, which took their mains power down the fat umbilicus that snaked around the house inside and out. The small loudspeakers in the three remote locations were tiny. They had massive Donald Gennaro ratings though. (See the night vision goggles in the Ford Maverick scene in the original Jurassic Park movie.) Very heavy and dense, the sound that came out of them, was absurdly loud and clear and full range. I saved a good few hours of installer time costs by installing the speakers and running all the cables myself. The mighty remote-control does look quite 1980s now, being vast and having red LED numbers.







The main installer lad sent by the Bang & Olufsen shop was 17 years old. Now here’s the bonkers bit. The same bloke came back to the house, aged 45 years old, when music stopped reaching the master bedroom. The parts were only recently no longer available but being a sensible engineer he had a box or two kept from dismantled systems and was able to repair my parents’ multi room system! The same brand, the same engineer from a monotheistic branded shop, just 28 years later! That is absurd. I cannot think of any other single brand of audio that you could say that of.

So I have a long-term personal association with Bang and Olufsen. Does this make me prejudiced in their favour? Or does that make the brand like the teacher’s own child in the class? The last one ever to get praised? I did my best to unhitch my inhibitions and possible prejudices, and drove off happily to Volkswagen Audi Group headquarters in Milton Keynes. For I was to get the very first drive of £86,000 worth of fully loaded Audi Q7 E-Tron SUV. The latest flagship of Audi’s plug-in hybrid technology, loaded with every package of awesomeness, one of which is their top end audio system by yes, Bang and Olufsen. This alone adds £6,300 to that high-priced ticket. This is a top end product in all directions and I am sure that Audi expects to sell a great many of them.

I admit I was nervous as hell. I'm never truly comfortable and relaxed in a press car. It kicked in the first time, when I was loaned a £100,000 Mercedes, to drive to Paris and back. That slight stressy/responsible feeling only recedes when you hand over the keys afterwards. I am getting better at it. I have had three full single week loans of different cars this year, as well as attending a launch, where I got to test drive two other different models.

After all the arrangements had been made, I was to be the very first person to drive the delivery miles Audi Q7 E-Tron. You can see in the video, when I say, “It’s brand-new, so don't scratch it, Fat Boy, because we will know it was you!” To the executive’s shaking head… just before handover, is really me acknowledging the responsibility. In the event, I had planned not to do that two hour test drive route offered (and ridiculously carefully planned) because of the nature of my review.

And that is because on the audio front, I can make techno humour jokes with the man with two masters degrees from the research and development department of Bang and Olufsen automotive, about obscure B&O proprietary gramophone pick up technology (I was given top level access to interview him. Of which more, later) and I have a lifetime achievement award in car audio. As a motoring journalist, despite being I suspect at the bottom of the BBC barrel, I get to do some wireless and a little bit of TV as a soi-disant ‘pundit’. But essentially, I am the motoring journalist you won't know from Adam. So whilst I have a motoring opinion, I ain’t Clarkson.

But they do call me the Clarkson of Car Audio. (Just without the misogyny or racism.)

I did have a decent little drive, even though I was just trying to get around the corner because it is Milton Keynes. I headed the wrong way off a roundabout and thus perforce got to squeeze along a couple of dual carriageways in efforts to become un-lost. I was going to the fishing lakes nearby, whose gate was not on the sat nav.

The active suspension has more options than the Ferrari Manettino control, one of which visibly raises the ride height. Being a big three litre diesel, it does take a moment to spool up the turbo but the torquey shove in the small of your back is patently absurd for such a land yacht. Q7 has a real imposing presence and yet can chew up and spit out Milton Keynes roundabouts like they were actually fun, using this bonkers degree of control that made the chassis feel more go-kart than sailboat. All that and massive eco-technology applied via the hybrid system. Most of my driving was in full electric mode, more silent than a milk float, more pious than a Prius.

If you were to open Google maps and search for Blakelands in Milton Keynes, when you zoom out a little and view as a map rather than the amazing satellite imagery, you will see an awful lot of blue. Much of the concrete to make Milton Keynes was made with aggregates excavated from nearby. Beds of alluvial gravel removed, leaving the classic British gravel pit. Sailing, boating but most of all fishing is what these are good for. And it is no surprise that some of the best complexes of fishing lakes in the Home Counties are right there. Being a very minor fishing writer as well, I made a telephone call and got permission to take my lovely brand-new Audi Q7 SUV deep into their nearby fishery to do my filming off-road.

I was able to demonstrate, having been shown how by Alex Fisk of course, the wonderful inclinometer graphics that show you the angle of dangle of your chassis. I failed signally however, to capture the very much more sophisticated head-up display that shows on the windscreen before your very eyes. Improvements in LED tech have made this amazingly brighter and more detailed. When it comes to the audio, I found myself using not just my automotive audio experience but also the wide variety of surround sound algorithms I have listened to in the world of home cinema. In that market, I have reviewed home theatres that cost one million pounds. Back when that was a lot of money… and as I said in the video below, there are some deeply cunning things going on in this car. OK… video time! (if you just want an analysis of the audio, skip to 15m20s)







AUDIO ANALYSIS
Of the big things as a reviewer is that you learn that each brand of audio has a personality. Cerwin-Vega for instance, is the brand of awesome bass and big brash American rock'n' roll. Whereas a Wilson Audio Watt-Puppy combination is incredibly more expensive yet vastly more polite and accurate. I had the perception that Bang & Olufsen was a brand that essentially presented music politely. However, and maybe this says more about me, the power and headroom of the audio system in the Q7 means that you can crank it like a giddy hooligan if you wish.

One massive benefit this system has over even the very finest builds from aftermarket craftsmen, is the use of enclosures for the loudspeakers in the doors. No matter how high end, it is literally as rare as unicorn’s pyjamas to find that people have made loudspeaker enclosures the doors of a car. It’s just too hard. If you look closely at that fabulous graphic below, you will see weird red shapes where the speakers are fitted in the front doors and in the back. Just 19mm tweeters live in the rising pods on the dash but the doors house the 100mm mids and the 180mm bass drivers - IN BOXES, complete with sound deadening material, like sound-off boys do.

I was as lucky as getting at the car, to get a before-work interview with a senior exec at the Bang & Olufsen Automotive department. Grzegorz Sikora is Senior Manager, Acoustic Systems Engineering and I nagged him rotten for a half hour all about as much as I was allowed to find out.





Here’s a cool graphic cutaway. How I WISH I could have done system diagrams like these for the magazines!



The main thing I wanted know about was that array of enclosures because it means the weightiest, fattest and most solidly in-one-place bass I have ever heard come from a door, emanated from the front. No reliance upon the omnidirectional nature of bass tones and a subwoofer box in the boot alone. No, the B&O system rocks right down to the roots. Those boxes are sealed, as is the woofer one, which means they can play as low as the speaker driver will wobble, rather than really well, down to just the tuned frequency as normal.

For the Audi Q7’s system doesn’t need to suck every last decibel out of the boxes, as it has LOTS, not just one bass one… and that amplifier is a marvel of 23 channels of ICEpower class D amplification. All 1,920 super-efficient watts of them. This is another excellent B&O technology and is found in other makers’ subwoofer amp sections, for example, in home theatre equipment. Having huge (90%!) efficiency, it makes very little waste heat and uses the 12V power supply well. In the Q7 unit, it is coupled with a potent DSP or Digital Signal Processor in the same chassis. I was not told the crossover points, nor how many watts each speaker got (although I can tell you that honest paper pulp cones and classic smooth-sounding silk domes are used, some drivers with Neodymium magnets, 4, 6 and 8 Ohm units used) but that each was on its very own separate channel of muscle. This means no losses in passive crossovers and is the exclusive path taken by the sound quality hounds on the car audio contest scene, again. Active is best, as each speaker gets its very own menu of what it likes best and no watts are wasted. Active means potent.







The one speaker I was told a bit more about is that one at the bottom of the A-Pillars. Described as a ‘tweedler’ or tweet-middle-er, it is a 50mm driver and has a crucial role in the 3D sound effect. It starts at midband and yet reaches all the way up, I gather, while the 32mm driver at the top is again a wider-band than a tweeter. These four extra transducers are nothing to do with plain stereo and in ‘normal’ mode do not even get any watts. However, kick in the 3D surround and the SECOND of two DSP algorithms kicks in. The first is B&O TRUIMAGE™ (Learn more here https://www.bang-olufsen.com/en/solutions/automotive) which is about the automotive world being not symmetrical, and is about the multiple speakers sounding better on stereo, but the second algorithm is when the controls dial up the 3D surround, as seen in the video.

And as someone with history in pro audio and digital delay lines and digital time-alignment in car and home audio, I can tell you that the 3D effect is tremendously involving, effective and enjoyable. It takes the sound stage and places it up across the screen in front of you. But it isn’t as simple as that. Since despite being in such a luxuriantly large vehicle, the sound is still ‘coming from beyond the screen’ The screen seems to disappear acoustically and all the instruments and singers are in front of you, just like they should be.

It is so good that I think it has the power to score well in a sound-off contest. I think it would impress any poncy contest judge. This poncy hifi judge was certainly impressed. If you spend this sort of money on the audio in your Q7, you will get a deeply superior result, with total integration into a massive tour-de-force of truly brilliant technology. And Bang & Olufsen, with their ‘Isn’t technology Beautiful?’ strap-line, is a perfect fit with Springing Forth Through Technology as we know in the German.

A deeply heartfelt thank you (as well as massive congratulations upon your marriage!) To Alex Fisk in particular at Audi, as well as his colleagues, who were all seamlessly professional. And as for the receptionist ladies who all called me “My Lovely”, well, I should not have been so flattered, as they do it for everybody. And mean it. The whole journalistic experience was a joy.







If you want to go shop for an Audi, posh audio or not, then this is a good place to start. https://www.audi.co.uk/locate-a-centre.html

Their Twitter account https://twitter.com/AudiUK








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