Thursday, May 22, 2008

Unsound Decision

Today I got a call from a salesperson at the Lexus dealership; I had mentioned to him a while back that I had passed on the Lexus RX350, going with the Acura MDX instead, because they didn't have a model on the lot that included the deluxe Mark Levinson sound system with DVD-Audio playback.

Well, he had one today--a 2009 model.

I dropped by after dinner and checked it out; there are some features in the RX350 that sound appealing, and I figured I'd take advantage of the chance to draw a legitimate comparison in the two vehicles' advanced sound systems. To prepare, I chose four discs: a DTS version of McCartney's Band on the Run (there's a remarkably clear acoustic guitar that rings amazingly clear on "Mamumia" and a resonating bass line in "Let Me Roll It" that's great for testing a surround system), a DVD-Audio of Seal's Greatest Hits ("Kiss from a Rose" and "Fly Like an Eagle" have strong instrumental separation and some wonderful harmonics), a deluxe gold CD of Crosby Stills & Nash (the most un-murky version of this album thus far released, although all of them sound more muffled than they should), and a DVD video of "Mamumia" taken from McCartney's hits DVD.

There was no comparison.

The Acura has amazing presence, precise instrument placement, and distinctive, crisp sound from each speaker; the instruments differentiate themselves just like they would if you were surrounded by the musicians.

The Lexus? Mush. There was a lot of sound coming from all directions, but there was no distinctive placement, no defined separation of sound. It was just a swirling miasma of noise that actually detracted from the music. The best results came from the Seal DVD-Audio, but even it lacked the clear precision of the same disc in the Acura.

The DTS McCartney disc was a disaster. The Lexus read it only as a CD, and it reproduced it only in two-channel sound with no distinct rear channels at all.

The CD? Muffled and boomy, no matter how I rebalanced the bass, treble, and midrange.

The DVD-Video? The sound wasn't too bad, but it still lacked the ringing highs of a well recorded acoustic guitar. (One advantage to the Lexus: its six-disc changer plays back DVD-Video as well as DVD-Audio, while Acura continues to foolishly disable the audio tracks from a DVD-Video in their six-disc changer; I have to use the separate DVD-Video player for the rear entertainment system in order to get the 5.1 surround to work. It's functional, but it would be nice to not have to change players and settings to hear a DVD-V's sound track.)

I guess it was good news, all considered. Now I don't have to pay $10k or so to upgrade the Acura.

And I know that I still have the best rolling sound system possible for surround playback, and that makes me appreciate the MDX all the more.

There's no comparsion.

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