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Driving and music is a glorious combination. Taking to the road with your favourite songs is one of life’s true pleasures.  

 

Artists from Billie Eilish to Willie Nelson play a part in developing the cutting-edge Meridian sound systems used by Range Rover, Defender, Discovery and Jaguar.

 

Car audio has come a long way. Once upon a time, cars used aftermarket music players (typically cassettes) and speakers. Much noise was often generated but the sound quality was invariably terrible. 

 

When standard audio systems became commonplace, fixed points were set by car designers for the location of speakers and amplifiers. Audio specialists then tendered for the job of supplying hardware. Little wonder that most car cabins were musical nightmares. 

 

JLR’s partnership with Meridian, the Cambridge UK-based manufacturer of high-end audio entertainment, helped to change that. It was one of the first partnerships where the audio company had a significant say in car cabin design, to optimise the musical experience. The partnership began in 2010 on the Range Rover Evoque, and now involves all JLR vehicles.

“Meridian has a very holistic approach,” says Samantha Morris, Meridian account manager for JLR. “We look at the vehicle as a whole, not just the audio system. We work closely with all the JLR engineering and design teams, including cabin materials, user interface, cabin design, material selection, hardware suppliers and even the NVH (noise vibration and harshness) teams. 

 

“They all have a big influence on the audio and the overall customer experience. We’re consulted every single step of the way, so that the cars can provide an optimal audio experience.”

 

Meridian automotive engineer Samuel Smith is a former drummer and played acoustic guitar professionally aged 17. Music has always been part of his life. He studied music and sound recording and joined Meridian two years ago.  

 

“It's a great relationship with JLR,” says Samuel. “We’ve also been working together for so long that JLR knows what we expect of the vehicles, including where loudspeakers should be positioned. Of course, there are always challenges, especially when they try to do something new. That’s when our relationship with the engineers becomes really important. We feel like a part of their team, they feel like a part of ours.” 

JLR’s modern luxury philosophy has also changed cabin designs, affecting audio systems. Says Samantha: “A few years ago speakers were chunky and branded. Now with modern luxury, they are much more discreet and frequently hidden behind new types of fabric to give a very uncluttered aesthetic   . That is a challenge. I think solving these problems and innovating is what Meridian does best.”

 

Different models present different challenges. Says Samuel: “The Defender has a tough utility feel, though still very modern luxury. The biggest challenge was that we couldn't use that many speakers. The cabin needed grab handles, storage spaces and door bins, reducing the room for speakers..” The Defender uses one of Meridian’s smaller systems with fewer speakers [15 on the Meridian Surround Sound system, 11 for the Meridian Sound system: a Range Rover by comparison can have up to 36]. 

 

“We had to develop a fantastic and very impactful sound system that will still delight customers – but with fewer speakers,” says Samuel. “We succeeded. There were other challenges. The surfaces are also more reflective on the Defender. More plastics and metals and less plush carpet. Different materials have different reflectivity and, generally speaking, plush surfaces such as carpet, leather and soft-touch foams are better for sound quality than hard, more reflective surfaces, such as glass, metal and plastic – although you do need a balance of reflective and non-reflective materials. We account for these when tuning the systems to make sure the sound quality is always optimal.”

 

The high-tech tuning tools include the latest RE-Q technology that intelligently optimises the audio system to the precise acoustics of the listening environment. It proved invaluable when developing the audio systems for the Defender.

 

Meridian will tell you that a car can be a challenging environment for sound quality. Says Samuel: “There are good points. We know where people sit – so that helps with tuning. We also tune across all the seats, so everyone gets a great audio experience. On the other hand, there’s a lot of glass and other reflective surfaces in a car cabin. And speakers are rarely in the ideal position for listeners. There’s also pressure to save size and weight. It’s a challenge. But it's remarkable what we can achieve with the incredible technologies we have.” 

 

The music must sound authentic. That is a priority for all Meridian sound systems. “You must listen to the music as the artist intended,” says Samantha. “It has to be lifelike and authentic. That is the core ethos of our business.”

Trifield 3D surround staging technology is a useful tool here. It ensures all instruments and performers sound realistic. Meridian’s Digital Precision also ensures the finest details of every song is retained.

 

However, the crucial test for authenticity and quality – and the final sign-off for every sound system – is done by ear. The huge playlist used by Meridian engineers encompasses every possible genre to test every type of music. Samuel mentions a few favourites. “There’s a track called Season’s Trees by Danger Mouse and Norah Jones that’s really good for testing the immersion and the envelopment you get from our upmixers. Plus, Awake by Tycho is great for testing the smoothness of the bass.”

 

Other Meridian favourites are Lost Cause by Billie Eilish (“snappy drums and crisp vocals”), Willie Nelson’s Moonlight in Vermont (“detailed vocals and clearly positioned instruments”) and Beethoven’s Symphony Number 9 (“great dynamics and a fantastic example of the full range of an orchestra”).

 

And favourite JLR vehicles for the total musical experience? Samuel cites the top-end Range Rover because it’s the ultimate but also – “to show how subjective audio can be” – the 11-channel Defender: “It's one of our lowest-end systems but so fun and engaging to listen to”.    

 

Samantha mentions the Jaguar I-PACE: “I like the more intimate cabin and I find the audio very immersive.” 

 

She also cites the Range Rover’s unique tailgate. Engage the Tailgate Event Suite and you’re sitting on a comfortable rear-facing cushioned bench. Activate specially mounted rear speakers and enjoy the music either in picnic mode sitting on the seat, or in party mode as you stand around the rear of the car. “The musical quality is astonishingly good. Nothing puts on a show like it.”

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