Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Lexicon's Hyundai Genesis Audio System - Full Review

Can't Afford a new Rolls? How about this instead?

Hyundai is trying to be Toyota. And Honda. And why not, they're both some of the most respected and successful car makers out there. With the Genesis, Hyundai aims right in the middle of the luxury sports sedan market.

To help them with that image, they enlisted Lexicon to design the audio system. The only other car with a Lexicon audio system is the Rolls-Royce Phantom. So it's in good company.

The idea of a high-end Hyundai is one that you'll either get or not. Keep in mind that had you said in the mid-80s that Toyota could dominate the luxury auto market, you would have been laughed at too. Same with Honda. Volkswagen (you know, the "People's Car") routinely sells autos for above 30k and have for years. That's a far step from the Bug. So lets just concede that it's possible to move up market, and look at the product at hand.

The Genesis certainly has the right stuff on paper: rear wheel drive, V8, six-speed transmission. Of course you don't come to HE to hear my thoughts on car performance (which is good, as we didn't even drive the cars at a recent demo session). What I will say is that the Genesis has one of the nicest interiors I've relaxed in in a long time. Beautiful brushed metal surfaces, two-tone color scheme, stitched leather, all add up to a place I'd like to sit and listen to music.

This is convenient, then, given that's what we were brought to Lexicon's, ok parent company Harman's, Northridge California headquarters to do.

First, a lay of the land. There are two levels of Lexicon audio. The "lesser" system is part of the Premium Package, for $2,000. You get other car and interior bits as part of this package, but who cares. The more elaborate and more powerful Lexicon Discrete Surround Audio System is part of the Technology Package. At $4,000 it's not cheap (around 10% of the price of the car), but with it you get a nav system, backup camera, some other bits, and a cooled drivers seat. The latter just sounding, wait for it... cool.

The LDSAS (my abbreviation) is a 17 driver, 7.1-channel system. There seems to be speakers everywhere. Up front, smack in the middle of the dashboard, is a tweeter and a mid-range. On the front edge of the doors where they meet the "A" pillers there is another tweeter. In the door itself is a midrange and a woofer.

Most notable, from a car audio standpoint, is that the woofer is mounted to a piece of metal, integral to the door.

While this may not seem like much, being able to mount a driver to something solid is extremely important. When you've got the tunes going and the woofer is pounding back and forth, if it is mounted to plastic, the whole thing can vibrate.

Not only does this waste energy, but can also muddle the sound. Most audio makers, even just a few years ago, would have laughed at their audio company partners if they had recommended adding more metal.

You see, the greatest evil for any automobile is weight: extra heft decreases fuel economy and all aspects of performance.

Even though car weights have pretty much doubled in the past 20 years, every car maker keeps an eye on every ounce. So Lexicon being able to add in something that is of such importance sonically, but could have a potential effect on the automobile's weight, to me says volumes about how serious Hyundai is with letting Lexicon design the best audio system they can.

To counter weight gain issues, each driver uses a neodymium magnet. These rare earth magnets are ridiculously powerful, and therefore not only offer sonic benefits, but less mass can be used compared to regular magnets, resulting in a lighter driver. This type of magnet is found in most high-end speakers.

In the back seat, there are a tweeter and a woofer in each door. On the back shelf there is a tweeter, mid-range, and woofer on each side, and in the middle is the subwoofer.

The amp for the entire system is in the trunk, and no it doesn't take up much space.

Total power is around 528 watts. Compared to some aftermarket systems, this may not seem like much. This point was brought up by another journalist at the recent event. Lexicon replied that when you're able to design the system as an integral part of the vehicle (like the mounting of the woofer's mentioned above), you don't need an excess of power, most of which is wasted on other systems.

So how does it sound? Well in a word, fantastic. In the past 8 years I've heard most of the high-end audio systems done by high-end audio companies in luxury cars. These range from Bose, to the ELS system in Acuras, to THX, and different Mark Levinson, Infinity, and other Harman brands. With each generation, the audio quality goes up.

In the Genesis, Lexicon was able to achieve a full, rich sound, without the boominess that is so typical of car audio (well, not typical of most of the ones listed in the last paragraph, but you know the sound I mean).

The most convincing moment for me was Gerhard Oppelt's Und Lnderkirche track on the Burmester-CD II demo disc. This organ track has a lot of really deep bass. So much that lesser systems can either distort, bottom out, or just not reproduce the pedal tones at all.

With the Lexicon system, the deep bass was both powerful and accurate, better in fact than you'd find with most tower speakers, and even some home subwoofers.

The treble was clean and never bitey. The mid-range was robust.

It plays loud, but has a balanced sound to it like a good set of home speakers.

Not content to let the driver have all the fun, Lexicon's own LOGIC 7 surround processing is built in. In a car environment, this takes 2-channel material like CDs and spreads it out to all the 7.1-channels in the car. The effect is a wider, more realistic sound stage for everyon ein the car.

Normal stereo imaging is pretty much impossible when you're not seated in the center. So LOGIC 7 spreads the audio around and makes it sound more like you're listening in your home than in a car.

Additionally, it sends some sounds to the rear channels, which unlike most of the car audio systems I've heard, actually sounds like it's coming from the rear and not just oddly placed behind you.

In addition to CD, you can also play your antique collection of DVD-Audio discs. When the vehicle is stopped and in park, you can even watch movies in full surround sound. There is a USB port to hook up your iPod, or a standard mini-jack for any portable music player.

Having not heard the base system, nor the "lesser" Lexicon system, I can't say how much better the LDSAS is over them. What I can say is that the LDSAS is one of, if not the best audio system I've heard in an automobile, and I've heard quite a few.

It seems that with every new generation, those that design the audio systems figure out something new; a new way of doing something, a new way of convincing the car people, a new way of building or designing, that allows them to get that little bit more fidelity out of the audio system. This is not to diminish what Lexicon has done by just saying it's the newest. But they have certainly raised the bar for everyone else.

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