2013 Lexus LS 600h L
2013 Lexus LS 600h L
2013 Lexus LS 600h L. Click image to enlarge

Story and photos by Justin Pritchard

If I add up all the speakers in every speaker-equipped device I own, I don’t think there are 19.

But, tucked in with all the suede and leather and control interfaces slathered throughout the cabin of the Lexus LS600hL are some 19 speakers – all driven by a 450-watt, 15-channel, Dolby-equipped amplifier.

This whole setup is tuned, painstakingly, to the specific acoustic properties of the LS’s cabin as part of a collaboration between the audio experts at Mark Levinson and Lexus. This partnership, originally, intended to create a car stereo with the proud goal of discarding price as a constraint. The resulting ‘Reference Surround’ system aims to deliver precise playback of tuneage, just as it was recorded.

Mark Levinson takes stereo systems very seriously – and this Reference Surround system was conceived to be the best one ever put in a car. That’s interesting, considering the company resisted doing a car-audio setup for years because, they say, a car is a terrible place to listen to music.

Car interiors are small, full of reflective surfaces, and stuffed with obstacles like seats and people that get in the way of sound waves. Car interiors are also inherently noisy.

Call it marketing fluff if you like, but the original partnership between Lexus and Levinson came into existence because of cars like the LS that are oh-so-quiet. For in-car listening potential and cabin quietness, this bigger-is-better luxury sedan is about as good as it gets.

The Mark Levinson Reference Surround system, at full rip, turns the LS’s cabin into an in-car concert. The imaging is vivid. You can place each instrument, voice and drum beat into a specific location in space. The sound is clean and bright and vibrant. Even approaching volume levels that border on discomfort, there’s no sign of distortion.

And there’s plenty of horsepower for the bass notes, too. Whether you’re into Clapton, dubstep, Rage Against the Machine or anything in between, this ‘Reference’ audio system needs to be experienced.

I have numerous friends who drive cars with expensive custom aftermarket stereos. I invited many of them to listen to the Reference Surround system with me. After a few moments of “Layla”, “Bangarang” or “Know Your Enemy”, their responses were the same: raised eyebrows, an approving nod, and the same two words. One of these is ‘HOLY’, and the other my editor won’t publish.

So, yeah – impressive system.

2013 Lexus LS 600h L2013 Lexus LS 600h L
2013 Lexus LS 600h L. Click image to enlarge

It’s all sort of ironic though, because the stereo is best left turned off for full enjoyment of the LS600hL. Though a virtually unmatched listening experience is on perpetual standby, it’s the quiet, tranquil and effortless motoring most likely to delight drivers and passengers in this tarmac-going, hybrid-powered road barge.

It starts as you settle in ahead of a drive. The seat and steering wheel move into position with the faint, distant whirr of electric motors. Touch the start button, and the instrument cluster and big-screen centre display come to life with dramatic animations – though as a hybrid, there’s no starter sound, nor any vibration, as the LS readies for takeoff.

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