by Paul Williams

Elliott Scheiner. Mark Levinson. Jim Fosgate. Who are these guys, and why should you want them in your car?

They’re part of a new trend in premium car audio — specialist engineers, some with a background in the entertainment industry, collaborating with vehicle manufacturers to create studio-quality sound on wheels.

Even George Lucas is rattling his light sabre, in the form of THX Ltd.’s Ultra Premium Car Audio program, now playing in a Lincoln near you.

In no particular order, here’s a sample of what’s available in premium sound, straight from the manufacturer:

ELS DVD-A Surround Sound
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Acura: ELS DVD-A Surround Sound

Acura recruited Grammy award-winning sound engineer Elliott Scheiner to assist with the first DVD-Audio surround sound system available as standard equipment in a car (2004 Acura TL). At a Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress in Detroit last March, this system “blew away the competition,” in a surround sound challenge, according to news reports. The system’s six-discrete channels are tuned specifically for the TL. The Panasonic system consists of eight speakers, a 225-watt, six-channel amplifier, and an in-dash, six-disc changer creating a sound comparable to the master tapes from a studio session. Main drawback? Not a lot of titles on DVD-A yet, although it will play CDs. The Acura TL starts at $40,800.

Lexus LS430
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Lexus: Mark Levinson
For many, the Mark Levinson system is the benchmark of mobile audio (although they may not have heard DVD-Audio). Digital Signal Processing (DSP) is used to adjust the parameters of the music signals for each Lexus model. This multi-channel system is not strictly surround sound, as its source is a two-channel compact disc, but the surround experience is cleverly simulated, and seems perfectly balanced no matter where you’re sitting in the vehicle. Depending on the model, the system drives seven or eight channels, and from seven to eleven speakers. The 240-watt Mark Levinson system is standard equipment in the $86,800 Lexus SC 430, LX 470 and GS 430, and optional on other models.

Lincoln LS
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Lincoln: Soundmark THX Certified Audio System
Lincoln engineers and “acoustic designers” from THX Ltd. (a company formed by film producer George Lucas in 1983) collaborated to optimize audio performance for the LS V8 sedan and Navigator SUV. The $3,700 option (you also get a navigation system) creates a surround-sound experience with Alpine hardware that features customized multi-channel equalization and digital signal processing matched to the speaker placement and cabin acoustics. In the LS, that translates to 10-speakers, four 50-watt amplifiers, two 32-watt subwoofer amplifiers and three selectable modes to optimize sound for any number of passengers. The Lincoln LS V8 starts at $51,825; the Navigator at $72,625.

Aston Marton Vanquish
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Aston Martin: Linn
What kind of sound system do you put in a $360,000 supercar? Based in Glasgow, Scotland, Linn Products Ltd. is a manufacturer of suitably super audio equipment, and it got the nod to install sound for the Aston Martin Vanquish ultra-luxury sports car, and the new DB9. The Linn company’s motto is “Simply Better,” and many important people agree (In 2002, Linn was granted Royal Warrant status, as suppliers of entertainment systems to the Royal Household). For the DB9, the lucky owner can select one of three Linn systems, but the “ne plus ultra” is their 950-watt powerhouse with Dolby(r) Pro Logic II (it’s standard in the Vanquish). Power is split into ten channels of 75W, plus another 200W to drive the bass. The bass speaker is servo-controlled, using an accelerometer to determine correct feedback for pitch-accurate reproduction down to the lowest frequencies. The 950W system adds $6,800 to the price of your Bondmobile.

BMW 7-Series
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BMW: Harman Kardon Logic7

Harman Kardon’s Logic7 audio system converts a stereo signal into five-channel or seven-channel sound (depending on system capabilities). The objective is to create an experience as true as possible to the live performance original for each of the listeners within the car. In the 7-Series BMW, 13 speakers, including two low-profile subwoofers neatly located under the seats, are coupled to the frame of the car. The 420W amplifier (7 x 40W plus 2 x 70W for the subwoofers) drive speakers through a six-disc CD changer. If you’re an iPod user, the latest BMW systems are compatible. The Logic7 system is an $1,800-$5,500 option (or option package) on 5, 6 and 7-Series BMWs. Their prices range from $66,500 – $96,800.

2005 Mustang Shaker 1000
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Mustang: Shaker 500 and 1000
As befits its muscle-car heritage, the all-new sound systems available in the $32,795 Ford Mustang GT are designed for high decibel, high energy and big sound. And like muscle-cars of old, they come with lots of power. That’s 500W of peak power for the Shaker 500 system, about 250W continuous, and 570W continuous for the Shaker 1000. Whatever your standard of measurement, this is plenty to run the Shaker 500’s six speakers and in-dash six-disc CD changer with MP3 capability and digital signal processing for interior effects. The Shaker 1000 adds more power, and includes nine audiophile speakers. The Shaker 500 system is standard on the 300 horsepower V8-engined GT. The Shaker 1000 adds $1,975.

Cadillac STS
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Cadillac: Bose Studio Surround Sound
The $55,995 2005 Cadillac STS is the first all-wheel-drive Cadillac sedan. A special vehicle like this requires something extra from Bose, an audio company whose name you’ll see in products from 18 vehicle manufacturers worldwide. The 300W Studio Surround System uses 15 speakers to provide concert-quality sound for front-seat occupants and passengers in the rear. It’s a 5.1 surround system that uses AudioPilot noise compensation technology that “listens” for sounds that can adversely affect the listening environment (like road noise, passing traffic or an open sunroof). It continuously adjusts the music to compensate for the unwanted sounds intruding into the car.

Porsche Carrera
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Porsche: Bose High End Sound System
Designing a premium audio system for the Porsche 911 is a unique challenge, as it’s the only car with a 320-horsepower, flat-six, high-performance engine located behind the driver. The Bose solution is a 100W-switching amplifier and five-25W linear amplifiers delivering power through 12 speakers controlled by a new Media Oriented System Transport bus that manages the audio data. Along with digital signal processing, Porsche says, “these technologies provide concert-hall quality at any volume, any speed, and on any type of road.” The Porsche Carrera starts at $100,400. The Bose High End Sound System adds $2,275 plus $990 for a remote six-disc changer.

Nissan Titan
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Nissan Titan LE: Rockford Fosgate
Yes, Titan as in truck. Emmy award-winning audio pioneer Jim Fosgate has always been about power. This is audio with attitude — ten speakers, 350W amplifier, PUNCH equalization and components — because sometimes, according to the Arizona-based Rockford Fosgate company, “too much is better.” Actually, their motto is more like “big, bad and in your face,” but you get the picture. The Nissan Titan LE starts at $45,560, and the big audio is standard.

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