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CES: Cranking up Harman's QuantumLogic 3D surround-sound system

Wed, 09 Jan 2013

Yesterday we reported how Audi was readying a lavish 3D sound experience with 23 speakers and 1,400 watts of goosebump-inducing audio power. Not to be outdone, Harman had been quietly developing a system of its own: Quantum Logic 3D brings together 25 speakers and more than 2,000 watts of Tubthumping power to a new car near you, like driving inside Phil Spector's Wall of Sound.

Sitting inside the demonstration BMW 7-Series that Harman painstakingly lifted into the Studio at the Palms, Global Audio Engineering vice president Phil Muzio explained, "great music is delivered in stereo, yet our consumer research indicates that people enjoy surround sound."

QuantumLogic 3D's surround sound expands beyond the boundaries of the vehicle's cabin, providing "a sense of detail and spatial placement that you don't get in stereo." Five height component speakers mounted in the corners of the headliner, and above the rearview mirror, elevates audio beyond the confines of the roof, "almost like you're in a convertible," said Muzio. Audio streams are directed to each of the 25 speakers by a proprietary algorithm called Aesthetic Engine, the brain behind QLS. Harman emphasized that it didn't add special or artificial sounds to music, like reverberation.

Unlike most OEM systems, Harman has two strong credentials going for it, said Muzio. First, Harman is completely amok with vertical integration -- every hardware component is manufactured in-house, allowing for greater flexibility and control over what it produces. Think Apple here.

And the second is thorough faithfulness to the recording process, with plenty of artist integration from Harman's professional equipment -- to that end, Muzio pointed behind the studio where Lyle Lovett was hanging out with the engineers, hired on as an "artistic evaluator." QLS isn't optimized for a specific genre, and indeed "Cowboy Man" sounded rich with a fullness that resonated from behind the front seats and from the roof. Michael Viner's Incredible Bongo Band sounded accurate as well, and the system seemed to work especially well for rap -- as evident by Autoweek's official theme song, "Thrift Shop."

There hasn't been a commercially successful surround-sound media format, he elaborated. Outside of a few dedicated Pink Floyd collectors, DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD formats never caught on in the same way that, say, Blu-Ray did for movies. "How do you deliver surround?" Muzio asked. Fortunately, he added, QLS works with every audio source -- from CDs to low-bitrate MP3s, from 40-megabyte lossless FLAC files to scratchy 240p YouTube clips. No matter where it comes from, it'll make your music sound good.

Harman believes that the QuantumLogic system is fully ready to be deployed by carmakers, and could be available as a high-end option in as little as two years. To this end, Harman is looking at the carmakers for whom it already supplies: BMW and Mercedes-Benz with Harman/Kardon, Lexus with Mark Levinson, Hyundai with Lexicon and Kia with Infinity, even Ferrari. Audi, unsurprisingly, is not on that list (though Harman supplies it with infotainment components). Fancy a 25-speaker setup in your Berlinetta? Here's hoping somebody at Ferrari makes a convincing business case on your behalf.

By Blake Z. Rong