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DEARBORN, Mich., Sept. 27, 2017 – Listening is an important part of any job or career, but for a select group of Ford and HARMAN employees like Ford’s Joe Kafati, listening is, literally, everything.
Kafati, Ford’s North American amplifier and speaker supervisor, leads the vehicle audio tuning process and integrates the feedback of a small team of HARMAN-trained listeners – people working to give Ford’s new B&O PLAY audio system the best sound quality. While other companies only use data to hone audio systems, the B&O PLAY system uses feedback from actual people to create and refine the optimal sound experience for each Ford vehicle.
“You can look at speaker measurements and architecture details to try and determine how best to tune a car’s audio system, but that doesn’t tell the full story,” said Michael O’Brien, Ford SUV Group Marketing manager. “Using trained human listeners is what makes the EcoSport and Expedition audio systems deliver tailored but consistently high-quality audio that can help customers look forward to every drive.”
Sound benchmarking and an ongoing feedback loop between HARMAN, its trained listeners and Ford’s audio engineers allow the teams to refine the sound experience over a 24-month period – as much as 1,200 hours per vehicle to get the sound just right.
The all-new 2018 EcoSport and 2018 Expedition are the first SUVs with available B&O PLAY sound systems, and the option will migrate across the Ford lineup.
The craft of listening
Listeners are carefully selected for each vehicle evaluation based on age, sex, ethnicity and height. They first experience sound in a special reference room – an acoustically isolated space outfitted to sound like a living room.
During each vehicle’s tuning session, listeners first reference a selection of seven 30-second pieces of music of all different genres.
Throughout a full five-minute loop, the listener concentrates on audio elements like high- frequency presence, midrange, bass, image location and reproduction of musical instruments, tonal qualities of male and female voices and many other factors.
When they’re done, they move immediately to the testing garage and into a development vehicle. They carefully listen to the same music and proceed to score the vehicle’s audio system according to their listening and testing training. In addition to listening simply to make sure the system reproduces sounds brilliantly, they also listen for any buzzing, vibrations or distortion from the interior components and share that feedback with vehicle engineers.
Every time a new software update is released, the system is evaluated and improved until objectives are met – a rich, transformative listening experience for which B&O PLAY is known.
Precision speaker placement and calibration also play a role to ensure optimal sound is maintained in the cabin, no matter the driving conditions or seating position.
How they do it
Ford engineers work with B&O PLAY to focus on putting together a high-performance system, including focusing on proprietary sound quality and tuning technologies to deliver a listening experience that is dynamic, engaging and elevates every drive.
Component positioning is important as well. Deep, low instruments like drums are heard at a lower frequency and are largely unaffected by structure or vehicle occupants’ locations. Higher-pitched sounds like cymbals are heard at a higher frequency and can be absorbed by obstructions, so tweeters are positioned in the top half of the vehicle to optimize clarity.
Ford Expedition has 12 speakers in its B&O PLAY system – one in the center of the instrument panel, one in the lower portion of each driver and passenger side front and rear doors, tweeters on the front-pillar, surround sound tweeters in D-pillar, a subwoofer and two mid-range speakers in the rear, all powered by a 10-channel amp with digital processing.
B&O PLAY comes standard on EcoSport Titanium, featuring 10 speakers, including B&O PLAY-branded tweeters in the front doors and a subwoofer in the rear.
Expedition arrives in dealer showrooms this fall, and EcoSport arrives early next year.