The Bose Panaray System

By Gary Summers, Robert M. Shoji and Roy Nakano


We review the latest and greatest factory sound package from the company started by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, the Bose Panaray Audio System in the Cadillac CT6. With 34 speakers, it’s the mother of Bose car audio—and it comes standard in the top-of-the-line Platinum AWD edition of the Cadillac CT6. Gary Summers, Robert M. Shoji and Roy Nakano report*.

IN THE BEGINNING

As the story goes, in 1956, a young MIT professor named Amar Bose bought a high fidelity sound system and was disappointed that its sound quality didn’t live up to what he heard at live concerts.

Twelve years later, his company (the Bose Corporation) introduced its Model 901. It was and is a system where each loudspeaker unit consists of eight full-range drivers aimed to reflect off the walls and one full-range driver aimed directly at the listener—and the whole thing governed by an active equalizer to fine-tune its spectral balance. Dr. Bose reasoned that most of the sound in a live concert is reflected sound. Hence, the 901 was designed to replicate this ratio of direct/reflected sound. Despite its critics in some audiophile circles, the Model 901 was wildly popular, and allowed Bose to bankroll research into other areas of psychoacoustics.

In 1983, the fruits of that research found its way into automobiles, when Bose became the first audio company to lend its name to premium sound systems by an automobile manufacturer. Bose was the first to seriously factor in the acoustic characteristics of each car when designing its sound system for a car manufacturer. While the sound was far from perfect, Bose started a trend that revolutionized automotive sound. Today, every company from Bang & Olufsen to Bowers & Wilkins lends its touch to factory car audio.

This brings us to the latest, greatest Bose automotive sound units of them all—the Bose Panaray Audio System. “Cadillac asked Bose to create a sound system and listening experience that can’t be matched in any other luxury automobile,” said Bose Automotive Global PR Lead Kevin Doak. “And over the course of four-plus years, engineers from Bose and Cadillac collaborated on the development process, which resulted in the Bose Panaray sound system, debuting with the Cadillac CT6.”

Bose considers the Panaray system the most advanced and highest-performing automotive sound system Bose has ever developed. “It combines our best digital signal processing technology, with 34 speakers positioned in 19 different locations inside the CT6 cabin,” says Doak. “The goal for this development was simple: The Panaray system reproduces music with more clarity, precision, and deep bass than any previous Bose system.  And for the first time, we’ve used key technologies and designs from our best home entertainment and professional audio products to help us achieve unprecedented performance levels.”

Heeding a suggestion by Doak, we listened to the Panaray system in both the front and the rear of the vehicle (and on both sides of the car). “Typically, premium sound systems favor front-seat passengers, but a key objective of the Panaray was to ensure that the listening experience in the rear seats is a good as in the front seats,” said Doak.

We also tried the Panaray’s Centerpoint setting for the full surround-sound experience. And while driving the car, we engaged the AudioPilot noise compensation setting, which was designed to automatically adjust the sound levels against external noises.

THE GARY SUMMERS ACID TEST

We enlisted the services of Gary Summers in our review of the Bose Panaray System in the Cadillac CT6. Gary Summers is best known as the four-time Oscar-winning sound mixer who’s hand appears on a U.S. Postal Service stamp honoring the recording industry. Among audiophile circles, he’s also known as the unsponsored rookie who entered MECA’s (the Mobile Electronics Competition Association’s) Sound Quality League world competition and took first place in the modified extreme class (see LACar’s “The Sound of Summers”).

We mention this because some may regard the following report as unusually critical. Just remember, however, that the Panaray is being compared against a very high benchmark. Summers worked off of the standard sound quality competition scorecard in reviewing the Panaray system. – Roy Nakano

Using The System

I was disappointed to see Bose opted to eliminate the CD/DVD player from the dash. It is available as an option to be mounted in the glove box. This would make changing a disk difficult. There is an optical drive for the rear seat video system located in the back of the center console. Again this will make it difficult to change a disk while driving. There are many people who have libraries of CDs and would love to continue to play them. GM/Bose are not the only manufacturers to take this route today. Also with the growing popularity of digital music files, Bose has provided a front-mounted USB input, but the Panaray system will down-res your files during playback. Again disappointing. There are provisions for iPod/MP3 and iPhone/Android hook-up.

Operating the system had one issue worth mentioning. There seemed to be a lag in response of the system commands, everything from volume to track changes. You may get used to it, but it seemed more than necessary. Volume and Track Change controls are supplied on the steering wheel. The display in the center of the dash is easy to read and navigate the menus. Like any system, there is a learning curve to operation.

Right from the start, I can say that the most accurate reproduction of a stereo recording is achieved by setting the listening position to DRIVER mode and turning off the SURROUND speakers in the headrest. Leaving them on at any level corrupts the front stage imaging. CENTERPOINT mode was not desirable as it just confused the entire sound stage and adversely affected the musical timbre. According to Bose, this setting is to create a surround sound experience. This is not the same as the motion picture surround formats—i.e., 5.1 and 7.1—but a Bose created algorithm.

Tonality (1-10)

Low Frequencies
The low frequency reproduction is adequate and mainly stages to the front of the car. It does tend to be a little muddy with certain program material that has more complex bass passages with a lot of varying pitch. I refer to it as a “Blooming” effect. This is especially apparent at higher listening levels. The system had a hard time reproducing the bass at its exact pitch. Bass impact was OK but not great. The bass performance improved with the bass turned down 3-4 clicks.
SCORE – 5.5

Lower Midrange Frequencies
This area also appeared a little muddy, possibly just tuned a little higher in level than needed. Again during more complex material the sound is a bit over emphasized in this frequency range. I could also here some resonances/coloring from the dash area at this frequency range.
SCORE - 4

Midrange Frequencies
The midrange was well balance and clear. Vocals sounded good and present. At higher volume levels it did tend to stress a little at the upper midrange frequencies.
SCORE – 6.5

High Frequencies
The high frequencies were articulate and clear. This was most apparent at moderate listening levels. At lower levels the high frequencies tending to disappear somewhat and at higher levels they became stressed and harsh.
SCORE - 5

Dynamics and Impact (1-5)
The Panaray system has fair dynamic impact. Some frequencies become muddy, others harsh and compressed during loud transient peaks. Also I found the transients to be misplaced. The hit or impact does not image where it should in the soundstage. Its there but not where it should be. The mid frequencies did well during transients, only exhibiting some compression at the highest levels.
SCORE – 2.5

Linearity (1-5)
I found the system produced very different listening results at different listening levels. Some of this is to be expected because of the way we hear. As I mentioned before, the high frequencies tended to fall off more than expected at lower levels. At higher levels the bass tended to bloom and the upper mids and highs became a little compressed and harsh. At a moderate listen level the system was much more balanced.
SCORE – 2.5

Ambience (1-5)
This is an area I thought the system was lacking. When playing recording with a lot of “air” and “presence”, it was lacking in this type of detail. It was lost in translation somewhere.
SCORE – 1

Realism and Believability (1-5)
Several very good live recordings were played to see if the sense of a live performance could be realized. The system did not move me in this way. I did not get the sense that the music was taking place in a live space, directly in front of me.
SCORE – 1

Stage Width (1-6)
Stage width was good. The left side just inside the A-Pillar and the right side was at the A-pillar. If I turned on the surround headrest the width would increase slightly, but the over all affect on the soundstage was not worth the extra width.
SCORE – 4.5

Stage Depth (1-6)
This was the most confusing aspect of the system for me. No matter the recording, the soundstage depth was at the dash/windshield apex. It never seemed to go deeper. I played recordings that I know should place an instrument deep in the soundstage, but it never happened. Yes, I heard it but it was right with the rest of the instruments up front. I think the lack of ambience and realism adds to the lack of depth.
SCORE – 1.5

Stage Height (1-6)
Stage height was good. The music for the most part was at eye level, just under the rear view mirror. Lower frequencies tended to pull lower to under the dash. I did not sense any rainbow effect with regards to the stage height at far left and right
SCORE – 5

Sound Placement
Center (1-5)
The center image in “Driver” mode sits left of center, over the steering wheel. It was not stable however. It depended where I looked. If I looked straight ahead it was over the steering wheel. If I looked at the center speaker in the dash it moved slightly toward the center. Some recordings faired better than others. I confirmed this by playing good mono recordings. When playing a stereo voice recording the sound seemed to wander a bit from even the off center position.
SCORE – 2

Left and Right (1-3)
Left and right placement was accurate and stable.
SCORE – 2.5

Left-Center (1-3)
The left of center program was affected by the center being over the steering wheel. This gave the feeling of the left of center information was mixed with the center. The Center to Left soundstage feels compressed together. Not as wide as the center to right soundstage.
SCORE – 1

Right-Center (1-3)
This part of the soundstage appeared more uniform and accurate. Some details seemed a little more toward the center than they should be.
SCORE – 2.5

Overall Impressions

The Bose Panaray Audio System, offered in the Cadillac CT6, is a reasonable upgrade when compared to the stock systems available in cars today. The model CT6 vehicle I listened to had a sticker price of $90,000, so the upgrade system at $3700 seems a small addition if music is your thing. Even with the list of the shortcomings I mentioned, it still beats most of the upgrade systems at this price. Some may love the Centerpoint processing, as it will definitely put the sound all around. For me it had a degrading affect on the music I did not find appealing. If you are a listener who demands super accurate sound reproduction and staging this system may let you down. For those who are less concerned with accuracy and just want the music to be big and all around, you are in for some fun. – Gary Summers

CODA

The fact that Bose is able to keep 34 speakers from running into each other and making a mess is a minor miracle. There are speakers in the ceiling, speakers in the headrests, and in other places one ordinarily wouldn’t find in an automotive cabin. While one might think a system with nearly three-dozen drivers will bowl you over with prodigious sound pressure levels, the opposite is the case. The Panaray drivers act more like near-field monitors trying to do their best to provide sweet listening environments for each seat in the car. The near-field monitor analogy carries into the bass response, which does not sound all that extended. But if the goal of Bose was to provide a decent listening environment for both rear and front seat occupants, it largely succeeded.

As for the CT6 itself, our review model is the Platinum AWD edition, fitted with Cadillac’s optional 404-horsepower 4.0-liter twin-turbo V6 with direct injection. It’s fast, powerful, and makes the car drive like a European luxury sport sedan. Alas, we’re not sure that’s the reason people buy big Cadillacs. The twin-turbos can make the car lunge forward at times, even in adaptive cruise control mode. GTI owners would love this, but this is a flagship Cadillac. Going over parking lot speed bumps can also be a bit harsher than one expects from a bid Caddy, but our car did have the adjustable Magnetic Ride Control (meaning you can dial it for maximum comfort). If you want a Cadillac that drives more like a Cadillac, consider opting for the less expensive 335-horsepower 3.6-liter (non-turbocharged) V6 with direct injection. All in all, however, the CT6 is a worthy addition to the long line of majestic cars produced by Cadillac. The edgy Art and Science era of design that once dominated the brand 15 years ago has evolved into a more refined but still distinctly Cadillac look in the CT6. – Roy Nakano

*Editor’s Note: This article appears courtesy of our ‘sister’ publication, LACar.com. The interview with Bose Automotive Global PR Lead Kevin Doak was conducted by Robert M. Shoji. Robert is the former Technical Director for Nakamichi USA, and oversaw the factory premium audio systems in Lexus automobiles. Today, he’s a consultant to ELAC America’s chief speaker designer, Andrew Jones. Roy Nakano was an audio reviewer and writer for The Sensible Sound. Roy and Robert founded LA Audio File, and served as its first editors.

VITAL STATISTICS

The following information is for the 2018 Cadillac CT6 Platinum AWD. As a general policy, the Bose Corporation does not disclose the specifications of its products.

Name of vehicle
2018 Cadillac CT6 Platinum AWD
Note: The Bose Panaray System comes standard on the top-of-the-line Platinum edition of the CT6, and is available as a $3,700 option on other CT6 models. Other CT6 models come standard with non-Panaray Bose sound systems.

Price:
$88,295 (base)
$91,685 (as tested)

EPA fuel economy ratings:
18 miles per gallon in the city
26 miles per gallon on the highway
21 miles per gallon combined

Engine:
3.0 liter twin-turbocharged V6

Horsepower and torque:
404 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque

Transmission:
Eight-speed automatic, with paddle shifters

Drive configuration:
Front-engine, all-wheel drive

Suspension:
The CT6 Platinum AWD features Magnetic Ride Control and Active Rear Steering.

EPA size classification:
Large Car—Passenger car classes are designated by the EPA based on interior volume index or seating capacity, except the ones classified as special vehicle. A two-seater is classified as a car with no more than two designated seating positions.




OPPO BDP-103 Blu-ray Player




Any comments or questions regarding the LAAF Web Site should be forwarded to webmaster@laaudiofile.com

Copyright © 1985-2018 L.A. Audio File.