How to Turn Your Car Into a Ridiculous Sound System in 2020

By Stirling Matheson on June 26, 2015

A-list musicians with dream budgets might be able to outfit their homes with top-tier sound systems, but for many of us, the best sound we can hope to experience regularly is in a car. Contemporary car stereos can provide excellent quality playback of hi-fi FLAC files, but that's just scratching the surface of how we'll be jamming in a few years.

Spherical Sound

One of the biggest projects that audio engineers are working on is spherical sound. Using 360-degree microphones, we will pinpoint where sounds are coming from in a recording, and then use algorithms to create virtual channels in a speaker system. Your car might technically be rocking a 12.1 system, but by clever use of canceling frequencies and all that calculus you didn't really learn in high school, audio engineers will be able to create sounds that seem to be emanating from locations where your car doesn't actually have a speaker. Moreover, your car's safety systems and blind-spot monitoring could use this principle to help warn the driver more effectively. That beep that says that you're about to merge into an oncoming car could come from the precise direction of that car, helping the driver consciously and subconsciously stay aware of the hazard.

Streaming Music with Effortless Controls

Meanwhile, cars are getting closer and closer to the cutting-edge of connectivity, and with rumors of 5G swirling, we're sure that cars are going to be rocking that super-fast tech when it drops. The result will be streaming high-def audio, controlled by either voice command (which works today), or touching sound. Gesture-based controls are being featured in a lot of automakers' conceptual cars, and while they're based entirely on 3D mapping at the moment, new developments in ultrasound technology can provide tactile feedback in mid-air.

Virtual DJs

Our ability to create, manage, and analyze indexes of data is at an all-time high, outpacing the rest of the tech industry in development. One such development is being used by the music industry to not just find similar tracks and artists to what you're listening to, in the manner of the web radio apps that we know and love, but to also select for mood and tone, and predict tastes with frightening accuracy. You could tell your car that you want some lively and upbeat tunes to keep you going at the end of a long drive, or epic and heroic music to make your canyon-carving weekend in the sports car more dramatic. It would than consider which artists, songs, keys, tempos, tonal modulations, rhythmic structures, genres, subgenres, and more that you like, and then introduce you to new tunes that fit your mood, your taste and your personality.

Bass without Losing Half the Trunk

Yeah, we all know you can get good bass in a car, but you lose a lot of trunk space to a subwoofer. You can also get ear-shattering, bad bass that rattles the trim off and annoys everybody around you, but we won't be discussing that here. Some marques have started using empty spaces in the chassis and bodywork to amplify low-end sounds; your transmission tunnel can serve not only as a place to send power from one part of a car to the next, but as a place to give you all the depth of bass you want. The aftermarket is also starting to create seats with integral subsonic transducers that impart the physical feeling of the bass that you can't hear, but makes up a huge part of some music. Whether it's your favorite DJ's latest track or the awe-inspiring and thunderous magnitude of Tybalt's death march from Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet, it's the most powerful sound you'll ever hear.

Solving the Greatest Problem

One problem has haunted motoring audiophiles since the invention of the car stereo: the fact that your favorite song is only just starting when you get to where you're going. Automakers know that you carry a mobile device of some sort with you, and the car of the near future will be laughed at if it doesn't have Bluetooth. All you'll have to do to banish this problem forever will be to install an app from the maker of your car on your phone and your favorite song will switch over to your phone when you get out of the car, without missing a beat (literally). It's a good time to be an audiophile.

Tags: streaming music, audiophile, audio