Product Review (January 2007)
ACURA MDX-ELS
Second-Generation Automotive Sound System

By Roy Nakano


When LA Audio File published its most recent Surveying the Best New Car Sound Systems report comparing the finest that car companies offer in the way of premium audio systems, a lot of familiar names rose to the challenge. In the end, it was a Volkswagen Phaeton with its obscure-sounding No. 9VE premium sound system option that ascended to the top.

The Phaeton system was an audio juggernaut. VW eschewed edge-of-the-art technology in favor of brute force. It lacked finesse, not to mention true, discrete multi-channel surround sound. It did have a surround mode, but it was signal processing derived from two-channel stereo. The system made everything sound good, if not entirely accurate. Still, it was the Raging Bull of the factory audio community, and it knocked out all of its competition at the last go around. That was then. VW of America has since retired the sound system as well as the car.

Several new systems have since appeared to go after the championship belt. Lexus has introduced a third-generation Mark Levinson system it calls the Reference Surround Audio system, Mercedes Benz teamed up with Harman/Kardon to design an impressive system for the latest S-Class sedan. Aston Martin teamed up with Linn Audio Systems (makers of the famed LP12 turntable) to design the sound system in the new V12 Vanquish sports car.

One of the more interesting developments to come along is the second-generation ELS system being introduced as ďtechnologyĒ options in the all-new Acura RDX and in the second-generation Acura MDX. ELS is the brainchild of Elliot Scheiner, who produced and engineered some of the finest records in the modern era. His work in multi-channel production is legendary.

The first-generation ELS system, which was introduced in the Acura TL, made our original top-ten list of best factory sound systems. It was and is a ground-breaking system, being the first factory sound system to offer DVD-Audio. As such, itís the first factory system designed to play discrete multi-channel software specifically optimized for a motor vehicle environment.

The only real disappointment of the first-generation ELS system was its inability to play the vast catalog of excellent DVD music videos already available on the market. While the catalog of DVD-Audio material continues to grow, itís difficult to expect most consumers to purchase yet another medium of recorded music.

The second-generation ELS system takes care of that problem. Not only does it play DVD videos, it optimizes the sound for the vehicle environment. Accordingly, the strong center channel information found on many DVDs is scaled back to be less obtrusive to the front row driver and passenger. Moreover, the rear-seat passengers arenít left hearing only rear-channel ambient sounds. They too get to hear the full spectrum of sonic information on the disks.

The second-generation ELS system also benefits from additional firepower. A new 20cm Panasonic Super Low Distortion Driver (SLDD) subwoofer is utilized to deliver the bottom end for the sound system.

So how does the new ELS system compare with the reigning Raging Bull? It compares very well. We auditioned the new ELS system in Acuraís new MDX. As mentioned, the system is also available in the less-expensive RDX. As good as the new MDX is, it doesnít match the bank vault-like isolation of the Phaeton (nor would one expect it to). It also comes up a little short on the bottom end in comparison, but youíll never notice it on the vast majority of music out there.

On the other hand, the ELS systemís articulation of musical information is far superior to our former champion, and its ability to play DVD music videos is a very welcome addition. There is an honesty to the sound of the ELS II. On the best DVD and DVD-Audio disks, the sound is as real and palpable as one can imagine. But then play some mediocre fare, and the sound comes out sounding as such. The old adage, garbage in, garbage out, applies here.

The Phaeton uses digital signal processing to convert two channels into surround sound. Spectacular and lush as it is, the sound grows tired after a while. In contrast, one never tires of the discrete 5.1 channels of the ELS Ė particularly with true surround signals. In the end, the ELS system wins on points. There are no knockouts or even knockdowns here. But like the rematch between the Raging Bull and Sugar Ray, itís finesse, speed, and accuracy that wins out over brute force.

This is not to say that the second-generation ELS system canít be improved on. One wonders what it will sound like in an even quieter environment, perhaps with noise cancellation technology (a feature that is now incorporated in the ELS-equipped Acura TL). A mega-subwoofer will do wonders on that rare music containing true bass registers below 35 cycles per second (you canít hear that low, but you can feel it). And since the ELS system has discrete 5.1 channels, why not couple it with XM satellite radio that can play 5.1 home theatre signals (the ELS does come with regular XM satellite radio)? Perhaps weíll have to wait for generation three (or maybe 2.5).

In the meantime, the new ELS system takes you to musical places heretofore unheard of a few years ago. For anyone who enjoys music, itís a must-have option. For those fortunate enough to be in the market for a new Acura equipped with the Technology Package, your stairway to sonic heaven has arrived.

- Roy Nakano

ABOUT ELLIOT SCHEINER

Elliot Scheiner is among the leading authorities in surround sound recording and mixing. As a veteran producer and engineer, his efforts in surround sound are credited with establishing the foundation for the genre. His career includes work with The Eagles, Steely Dan, REM, Faith Hill, Queen, Sting, Van Morrison, and Grover Washington Jr. The Berklee College of Music presented Scheiner with an Honorary Doctor of Music degree for his achievements in the world of music and his contributions to American culture. Heís the recipient of 20 Grammy Award nominations, five Grammy Awards, and an Emmy Award for his work with the Eagles. Heís the inaugural recipient of the Surround Pioneer Award and the only American to be honored by the Japanese Audio Society with its Master of Sound designation.

For more information about ELS, see www.elssurround.com.
For more information about Acura products, see www.acura.com.

Editors' Note: A variation of this article also appears in LA Car, where it is entitled, "Sugar Ray Takes on the Raging Bull." LA Car is the automotive counterpart to LA Audio File. To view LA Car, aim your Web browser to www.lacar.com.

Left: 20cm ELS/Panasonic Super Low Distortion subwoofer






OPPO BDP-103 Blu-ray Player




Review - At a Glance

ACURA MDX-ELS Second-Generation Automotive Sound Ssystem

Features:
 

  • 410-watt, six-channel digital amplifier.
  • Six-disc in-dash CD changer designed to play a myriad of formats, including DVD, CD, and MP3.
  • 10 speakers
  • One center speaker: Neodymium Magnetic Circuit
  • Four full-range speakers with super high molecular acrylic resin cloth and high linearity damper.
  • Two tweeters with super thin injection molded diaphragms for expanded high frequency reproduction with minimal distortion.
  • Two rear satellite speakers positioned at ear-height for optimum mid-range sound.
  • Subwoofer with Kevlar cone material and high linearity dampers for dedicated 5.1 surround channels.
     

    Company Information
    ACURA AUTOMOBILE DIVISION
    1919 Torrance Boulevard
    Torrance, CA  90501-2746
    Phone: 310-783-2000
    Fax: 310-783-3900

    Source: Manufacturer Supplied
    Model: Acura MDX with Technology Package
    MSRP: $43,495

    URL:
    www.acura.com 
    www.elssurround.com
     


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