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Lexus & Levinson: Rayner Auditions The New Compact Hybrid NX300h

Long term regular readers may know that I have had some really cool access to top end cars by press offices for top marques in the past. I have, as described in this week’s column, sat inside brand new Jaguars and also Maseratis with Bowers and Wilkins kit inside and a Range Rover at Steve Levine’s studio and of course that McLaren MP-Ermahgerd in Las Vegas just recently. I have had press drives of massive Mercedes, too, as the 500 series is always the one they like to release the new electronics inside. Recently, I sat in an Audi with Bang & Olufsen audio.

The world of OEM or original equipment by manufacturer has changed immeasurably in recent years. Running a genuinely global press conference (I still cherish the leather sleeved jacket) called “Discover The Future of Mobile Multimedia” was a brave thing for Alpine to have done all those years ago in the Nineties in Tokyo. The basic tenet was that Alpine would always remain ahead of the state of the OEM art. However, there are now some technologies that are a bit sideways on to our world and as far as in-car electronics go, well, Alpine are about infotainment and those further technologies’ “eco-systems” are mainstream. Aftermarket companies like Alpine, Kenwood, JVC and Clarion and Pioneer can find themselves on a figurative back foot, pending their license involvement with these big boys.

I am of course referring to Android and Apple. And this year at the International CES, the whole story of how Google’s Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay were now both on board aftermarket units was the Big Thing. However, Apple made announcements about doing this technology, last year, with a car maker. A full year ahead of any inclusion by licensing, into any aftermarket unit. Licensing of cool technological ecosystems is something that would have been awfully hard to predict, even for Alpine’s experts in Tokyo in the Nineties.

This car, the Lexus NX300h is ahead of that aftermarket curve.

I was invited to go and hear the wonders of the latest Mark Levinson audio system in the latest hybrid Lexus, the compact NX300h.

I only just fit in it.

This is mostly about a new technology by Harman, used for the first time in car audio by Mark Levinson for Lexus. It is also in Levinson home hifi kit and will be soon found in Kia car audio systems as well. The system of speakers and amplification is pretty hench, we will describe them in a moment. For the real story is about what Clari-Fi™ does. As far as I can grasp, it is a system that reads the digits and depending upon how badly compressed and mangled it seems, the system adds back stuff the Clari-Fi™ algorithm thinks has gone west in its lossy digitisation. It happens to be able to read most any digital file and makes improvements to richness of reverb, sharpness of dynamics and even adds back edges and detail that gets smeared in many digital low-data rate formats.

To put it simply, you can pair pretty much anything that radiates tunes wirelessly, (iPod, phones, etc..) or else needs plugging into the 3.5mm jack socket hidden away with the two USB sockets in the arm rest. This trio live opposite the armrest panel inside a cubby that even features a ‘wireless electricity’ charging pad. This means that some phones, you just dump on the panel and their batteries get charged by an induction transfer process. The heaviest-duty version of this I know of in motoring would be the electric Rolls Royce that comes with its own three-phase electricity hookup for the floor-embeddable wireless charger for the electrical side of its milk float life.

This is a simplistic description of Clari-Fi™ but as said, also applies to the relative loudness of things - or dynamic range. Thus, the aim of Clari-Fi™ is to take a digital tune, and like so many other systems (Like say ASR from Pioneer) it enhances that digital signal to create a better sound. However, Mister Levinson’s Harman algorithm, as used on his own top end brand hifi, is disdainful of previous attempts. Citing others’ use of EQ and reverb and stating that theirs is way better in their promo material.

I can reveal that what is in here is pretty damn sexy and with the right file can go north of 120dB. I am pretty accurate at judging SPL by ear up to 157dB (and still learning by feeling, a few 160dB systems)! But loud is the least of it.

I tried some tunes and used Clean Bandit with Jess Glynne, Rather Be from my Samsung Galaxy S4 on Bluetooth. It paired to the car really easily and that file sounded delicious. Big and full of detail, the first bit of bass line gave me goosebumps from some edgey bits I had never heard before and I marvelled. Richard saw me marvelling as my chin dropped.

It works.

The design is as clever as a weasel.

There are five 90mm mids, each with 16mm soft domes, coaxially mounted in front of them. Three across the front of the dash and two more in the rear. Also, there are healthy sized 170mm midwoofers in each of the four doors, properly enclosed, front and back and in the rear, these are married to two bigger titanium one inch hard dome tweeters and that other pair of midband coaxes. With a nice omni-directional woofer in a box in the powered tailgate that is corner loaded into the car’s cubic, that’s ten locations with transducers in.

These speakers are described in the video below as low power consumption and efficient. We know this to mean, like a half ohm! For the 800+ watts of clean Class D power, comes from a prettily branded single footprint Mark Levinson amplifier-plus-processor (I would warrant, just my guess) that has fully ten channels. Add them up: Four door woofers, three of the 90mm midband +16mm HF speakers in the front, plus two more in the back and that tailgate boomer, adds up to ten.

Thing is, I wanted to see the amp. And the woofer. We got a technician on the case, after our taking half the boot out. He just pointed up at the eight inch speaker grille in the tailgate above our heads I, well all three of us in the video, felt a bit silly. When I get to the bit where we describe that, you can see them both grin.

But not as silly as the fact that another tech did have to then take half the back of the car to bits, just to bring you the second clip’s opening shot of the amp. Branded, even though it is out of sight.

And here’s some pics… nice badge…

It’s ‘h’ for hybrid.

We took it apart..

To find this..

Well, this really.

Beautiful branding…

…in more than one place, yet classy

And if you fancy seeeing the few shots I took, in slideshow form while you drink that cooling tea, then click here: http://www.talkaudio.co.uk/ipb/index.php/gallery/slideshow/album-480/

A huge thank you from Talk Audio to Richard, our host at Lexus’ press fleet HQ.

Oh, and if you want one yourself..clicking here is a good start. http://www.lexus.co.uk/?ac=C3257&mc=SEM2014BRA&gclid=CJuJgIe9ucMCFSfLtAod3kMAXw&gclsrc=aw.ds#/ExploreRange/NX