The most involving and enjoyable car stereo I’ve ever heard was in one a boxy white Volvo S70 my mother owned for the better part of my late childhood. Though branding was subtle, peering through the grills, one could see white letting spelling out the name ‘Dynaudio.’ Sure other systems had more detail, more bass, more dynamics, but there was something so sweet and rich about that system that it just made everything sound good. In a sense, that is what a car stereo should do–it lives apart from our home hi-fi systems in that we just want things to sound nice in the car. I still have the memory of that system, and though I’ve heard some excellent car stereos since, none have penetrated the rose colored glasses through which I view that S70. Doesn’t hurt that I got shuttled to many an orchestra practice and cast party in that same car.
Words and Photos by Grover Neville
For the first time in over two years, the LA Auto Show returned to downtown LA, in its full glory, and two themes seemed to rule take center stage: electric vehicles and high end audio partnerships. Many familiar names such as Meridian, Mark Levinson, and Bowers & Wilkins were present, but it was perhaps the most famous American hi-fi brand McIntosh Labs that I was on a mission to investigate.
Making my way through the LA Convention Center, the crowd was enthusiastic, excited to be back after a long break. A number of fascinating, and surprisingly modest displays caught my eye, namely the Electric Shelby ‘Cobera’ C300 which boasts over 600hp in a 1500lb body. Talk about positively shocking.
McIntosh x Jeep
A number of other small makers, vintage car collections and historical curiosities – a display of one of the first sports cars and the history of the lowrider were standouts – also caught my eye and my camera lens. I’ll let the pictures do the talking here however, since my goal was the McIntosh x Jeep exhibition.
I was more than a little surprised to find McIntosh had lugged one of their very highest end setups to the show floor. One doesn’t typically expect an Auto Show floor to be the quietest place, but this being press day, I did grab a quick listen, and what I heard was powerful, and huge in scale. A few other attendees were seen experiencing this, and I suspect more than a few were becoming converts to the church of hi-fi after the experience.
After indulging myself a moment, I hopped to the demo at hand. My first impression however was not of the sound, but the style. When I think Jeep, my mind goes immediately to the Wrangler of the early 2000’s, ubiquitous for everyone from Paris Hilton to that one guy who collects military antiques at the local county fair. The Jeep of yore symbolized freedom, the open road, and the wilderness. Go anywhere, do anything.
By contrast, while the Grand Cherokee and Grand Wagoneer are surely robust, imposing SUVs, they’ve taken a page from another book–one in which the cabin of such a vehicle is also a nicer place to be than outside. Rugged economy has been replaced by a distinctly comfy and classy interior. Seats were plush, leather supple and metal and wood accents plentiful. This is not your daddy’s Jeep.
What’s more, the collaboration between McIntosh and Jeep runs deep – the knobs were of the same type and feel as on the big two channel rig gear on display just beside the cars. A vivid blue meter screen was available, for that classic Mac glow, and even the driver housings had that famous, gothic font stamped on them. Clearly a lot of work has been done to integrate these, rather than simply put a few letters over a stock stereo system.
Settled into this decidedly luxurious interior, the demo began. The sound that greeted me was not at all what I expected. It was, well, McIntosh. No, it did not have the same grand imaging and scale as the two channel system, but to my ears, part of what is the soul of McIntosh is a harmonic richness in the midrange, a full and supportive bass register and a present but silky top end that never sounds harsh. This is just what I got, and compared to high end systems from B&W, Burmester, and Mark Levinson, this one had a sweetness to the upper midrange that hinted at the tubey heritage of the brand. I would not call tone a quality I often listen for or hear much in car stereos, but here as clear as day was some identifiable tone and harmonic richness.
Add in the fact that the resolution, clarity and dynamics were far above what one typically expects from a car stereo and I think you’ve got a winning combination. There was even a spooky phantom image projected in front of the dashboard, which was quite a bit of fun. Adjustable somewhat with use of the included surround sound mode, and the three band eq.
Speaking of balance, I found the tone controls subtler but more tasteful than in many cars, I suspect a result of gentler shelves. For my personal taste a touch more treble and a touch less bass would be about perfect for the music I listen to, but the stock tuning was I think excellent for modern pop music which tends towards some brightness.
My expectations for this trip were not at all to get immersed in audio, but I spent more time listening to stereo systems in cars than anticipated. The lesson being that high-end brand partnerships are coming back in a real way, and the results, to my young ears are better than they’ve ever been. Rather than being hyped, monstrously bassy, or screaming bright, the McIntosh x Jeep system was just… a nicer place to be. While I still hold the memory of my mother’s old white S70 close, it was also the first car I thought of when those famous blue meters began bouncing. That rich midrange, the sweetness of all music, no matter what genre… I can think of few things better to accompany the journey on the open road. In hi-fi as in go-fi.
Go-Fi™, is a new, captivating, and trending term invented, created, coined, and used here first by Grover Neville. To purchase (or lease) the commercial use of said term, contact Eric Franklin Shook at firstname.lastname@example.org