Harman Kardon and sister company JBL employ people whose duties include sitting in a vehicle and listening. It’s not the sort of listening you or I might do while driving our cars or crossovers. It’s intense, professional human aural analysis — putting refined senses to work to examine the challenges of properly filling a car with music.
The countless hours of examination and study that go into how sound interacts with the interior of an automobile at Harman is matched only by the technical engineering time that piles up before manufacturing sound systems and components. According to Jonathan Pierce, Head of Global Research and Development for Car Audio at Harman, the combination of science and human senses is essential to turn any car into a place for musical enjoyment.
“With the popularity of headphones and earbuds, we’re not seeing homes turned into prime listening places as much these days,” Pierce says. “Where else besides the car are you really seeing people indulge in the listening experience?”
Pierce explains that Harman’s car audio theories translate sound into other sensory experiences. For Harman, music has color and taste or an overall listening experience can be compared to ingredients coming together to forge a meal.
Harman’s car audio perception breaks sound into various levels and areas, matching those sensations with the speakers Harman offers. Those breakdowns include:
- Full bandwidth
- Bass only
- Midrange only
- Treble only
- Full Bandwidth
- Spectral full bandwidth
- Boosted bass – boomy
- Bass cut — lack of bass
- Boosted midrange – nasal
- Midrange cut — hollow
- Boosted treble — bright
- Treble cut — dull
- Centered vocal image
- Left biased vocal image
- Right biased vocal image
The root element of this “sound tree” is the subwoofer — the origin of the bass that binds the high-end and midrange sounds together. Some systems build that subwoofer into the floor of the car, while some JBL’s upgrade auto sound kits look to install the subwoofer elsewhere in the vehicle.
Beyond the subwoofer, the higher-end sounds rely on tweeters arranged throughout the car, whether it’s a more narrow forward-oriented or a surround sound system.
More elaborate systems add midrange speakers to link the bass of subwoofer and the high-end sounds of the tweeters. Pierce points out that the Harman audio wizards can arrange the sound levels on the balance of these components to move the “sweet spot” of car audio from the driver’s side to the passenger’s, or front to back.
“We work with the automakers when they’re developing new models and trim levels to design the best audio systems for the interiors they design,” Pierce explains. “Every individual vehicle interior offers its own challenges with acoustics, materials and sound-proofing.”
For those cars, crossovers and SUVs who didn’t leave the showroom with an original Harman or JBL sound installed as standard equipment, the manufacturers offer a suite of aftermarket components and complete systems that can be installed and audibly balanced in most vehicles.
Rather than leave the aftermarket buyer out in the cold, Harman and JBL offer help to get their car audio parts installed. That buyer can seek out professional installation services, especially if components are purchased at a brick-and-mortar store. For the more ambitious do-it-yourself types, or audiophiles on a budget looking to save on installation costs, the companies’ YouTube channels offer professionally produced video guides providing detailed education on installing new car stereo elements.
For example, this video on installing car stereo speakers in a car door demonstrates how confident a shopper can be that the new stereo pieces he or she purchases can be put in place without destroying a car or its electronics. It opens up a new world of audio possibilities for any driver.