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The sound of silence
Sunday, September 25, 2011 6:00 AM

The sound of silence

All cars are not created equal. That is a fact of life. In the automotive world, there is a class hierarchy that can rival the both the British class and the Hindu caste systems.

Someone with a BMW 535i is always going to outclass another in a national car.

The same can apply to how insulated a car is from outside noise as some cars protect their occupants from engine, tyre, traffic and city street sound pollution better than others.

One of the first cars I ever owned used to sound like I had the windows down whilst driving at 60kph.

The engine noise felt louder than what you get at a Motorhead concert and there was no need for a subwoofer as the combination of tyre hum and exhaust rumble would have drowned out even a 60-inch subwoofer.

And let me reiterate a very important fact, this was a new car. Straight out of the factory new and not a second-hand rust bucket.

It also goes to show that when it comes to in-car entertainment systems or ICE, the better soundproofed the car, the better it is for your sonic enjoyment.

Cars like the Mercedes E-Class, the Lexus LS 600h L and the Rolls-Royce Phantom are all expected to be better platforms for enjoying your daily dose of Beethoven or the Alan Parsons Project in your daily commute as they have been rated by many as among the quietest cars to be in on the road today.

Of course, all hope is not lost if you don’t happen to have the means to own any of the cars above.

Sound damping a car is something that can be done by many aftermarket service providers - in the West, at least - and on your own via a variety of DIY products all designed to help make your car’s cabin a little more quieter.

Note that I said sound “damping” and not “proofing” as many experts concur that it is sheer near-impossible to fully sound proof a car. It was, after all, not designed to be a sound room on wheels but the addition of aftermarket sound damping can help improve the situation.

Sound damping involves the reduction of external noise and internal vibrations from door panels, which can rattle as a result of external stimuli or even because of your own speakers.

A factory-installed set in an old car use to rattle and hum when thumping dance music was fed through the car’s ICE system.
These noises and vibrations can and do “colour” the sound coming from your speakers, which is why a song or a piece of music heard at home often sound different when listened to via your proper audio system at home.

That’s a given, even with the better insulated cars.

There are several “physical” products available on the market and online - namely sound absorbing mats, sprays, foams and insulating materials - that can be used and the consensus is that a combination of materials - the ratio differs from marque to marque and model to model variant - is the best way to go.

Going to the experts is always recommended here although I’m sure there will be a few hardy souls who feel that the only way to go is DIY.

Online forums are best recommended for the car damping novice but, be warned, there are some strange suggestions out there, including one by a guy in Texas who put butyl rubber insulation in the wheel well of his car.

He claims it works a charm, though.

Sharp readers will note that I mentioned “physical” earlier. That is because this is the 21st century and technology has come to the rescue of the audiophile who wants his or her audiophile sound quality while on the move.

I’m referring to what is known generically as sound correction technology.

What such technology does is to fix acoustical problems, which range from external and a car’s own noises right down to bad loudspeaker locations, imperfect speaker housings and poor in-car acoustics, and help reproduce the sound as close as it can get to what you hear at home.

One such system, Sweden’s Dirac Research’s Dirac Live is being used in Rolls-Royce’s new Ghost.

According to the press release blurb that highlighted the collaboration between the two firms, Dirac Live “effectively washes away these problems associated with reproducing music in cars”.

It goes on to say: “Each loudspeaker has been acoustically measured in a dense measurement grid inside the Ghost.

A high-precision digital controller has then been tailored to these particular loudspeakers and the interior cabin environment with the aim of matching the measured acoustic output to the sound on the recording as closely as possible.

“Speaker resonances, room modes, early reflections, and other acoustic flaws are removed, thereby reaching an exceptionally transparent musical experience.” In short, what this all says is, goodbye noise, hello beautiful music.

The release did not mention the cost of the Dirac Live system and the fact that I would have to fork out good money to buy a Rolls-Royce Ghost in order to appreciate it bring to mind words like “in this lifetime” and “not” but not necessarily in that order.

Looks like - for me at least - any sound damping endeavours will involve finding an aftermarket expert who can help with whichever mat, spray and insulating material that I can afford ... although I think I’ll personally avoid using butyl rubber in my wheel well.


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About TOC

The modern car is one of the most sophisticated machines ever created. Dozens of control systems and computer processors work together to ensure it works seamlessly and effectively day in and day out.

But machines do break down occasionally. The technical team of The Otomotif College (TOC) is here to offer advice and help troubleshoot car problems

The team of seven trainers, led by Allan Cabiles (pic), has collectively 30 years of experience in a wide range of car makes. The TOC Team prides itself on keeping pace with the ever-evolving automotive industry. Its trainers undergo training sessions with a network of 800 industry partners across the country.

With such an extensive body of knowledge, think of the TOC Team as your go-to automotive experts.

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