I’ve tested a lot of cars with amazing sound systems.
Dating all the way back to 2010 when I drove a Mercedes-Benz S-Class for the first time, then a BMW 7 once for a week. The sound envelopes you in a cocoon of high-fidelity, with multiple speakers all around your head and a subwoofer rumbling along as you drive. I might even say the best listening experiences I’ve ever had were in the cockpit of luxury cars. You are surrounded by glorious, pristine music and no one is around to distract you.
Even after all of this testing, some 800 cars over 10 years, I finally found the one that impressed me the most. The Cadillac Escalade V-Series has 36 speakers, including two on the sun visors and all around the interior of the vehicle. The AKG Studio Reference stood out because of the clarity, volume, and sheer momentousness of it all.
I started with a few tracks I know well. Last year, the artist Maggie Rogers quickly became a favorite of mine. One of her songs, called Want Want, has a sonic wave of rumbling synth, bass and drums at the beginning. In the Escalade, it was like a roar of the ocean started in the front and made its way toward the back with each note filling the interior.
Next, I tried songs from one of my favorite artists called The War on Drugs. It’s hard to explain what this is like in the Escalade because it’s an experience that rocks you to the bones (depending on your volume level). The song Pain has so many intersecting guitar solos that you lose count, but the audio was perfectly pristine. You can make out each note distinctly in every corner, as though the guitar players themselves are sitting in the back with an amp.
I had to try some U2 as well, one of my all-time favorite artists. I cued up their Joshua Tree album which has arguably the best three song start of any album ever made. (All three songs became classics and are still widely known as their top songs ever.) I reached over to raise the volume a bit more when the song With Or Without You started.
Cadillac provides a few cool settings to explore, such as a 3D spatial audio mode. I couldn’t decide if I preferred the 3D setting filling every corner of the SUV with a distinct soundscape, or the stereo setting, which just blasts you perhaps more the way the artist intended. Both sounded amazing, and both serve different purposes. In stereo, you hear the distinct left and right channels all around the vehicle. In 3D, I loved how the guitars rattled on songs by an artist named Torres where you could hear the drums in one corner, guitars in another.
If there’s another chance to test the Escalade at some point, I’m going to rent a DVD and see how a theatrical movie sounds (and looks). I am picturing that a movie like Guardians of the Galaxy or another Marvel movie would have loud and explosive bass. I also want to try playing music from a CD (remember those?) as opposed to a wired connection from my iPhone and the Tidal app. I did play all music in Master quality, and was blown away.
I ended my testing with the song Money for Nothing by Dire Straits. It’s just an epiphany of sound in a vehicle that transports you in more ways than one.