2011 Buick Regal CXL Turbo: Audio Review
April 29, 2011
The 2011 Buick Regal is generally considered the car that has the monumental mission of reviving the glory days of the entry-lux brand. Toward that effort, GM has updated many aspects of the European-engineered baby Buick, and if you've followed our posts on our long-term CLX Turbo model the past couple of months, you know that this particular car has pretty much lived up to the task.
One thing that hasn't changed in regard to the Regal is the premium sound system brand: Harman Kardon has been offered before in Buicks, most recently the 2010 LaCrosse. A well-known logo on the speakers or radio doesn't always assure quality. But as with other attributes of the new Regal, the H/K sound system can more than hold its own compared to other offerings in the segment.
The Harman Kardon system in the 2011 Buick Regal CLX Turbo consists of nine speakers powered by 320 watts. The speakers include a 3.5-inch midrange in the center of the dash, a 1-inch tweeter in the "mirror patch" in each front door and a 6.5-inch woofer lower down, another 6.5-inch woofer in each rear door and a pair of 6x9-inch subwoofers in the rear deck.
As with every sound system we test, I listened to 10 musical tracks that I've heard in literally hundreds of vehicles to gauge clarity/lack of distortion, tonal balance, timbre, tonal accuracy, soundstaging, imaging and dynamics. The music on these tracks ranges from jazz to folk to rock and rap. I also use several non-musical tracks to further test soundstaging, imaging, linearity and absence of noise. For more details on this testing process and the tracks used, click on the Edmunds.com article Sound Advice.
Overall, the Harman Kardon system performed impressively, and in every sound-quality category it scored well above average. The midbass boom and high-end sizzle that's the scourge of lesser car audio systems was largely tamed in the Regal. Test tracks like Red House Painters' "Cabezon" and Luka Bloom's "Cold Comfort" feature thick, resonant acoustic-guitar tones that make many systems to buckle in the midbass region and steely treble that cause high notes to screech. But the Regal's H/K system kept its composure for the most part. Bass from the two 6x9 subs was also surprisingly solid and only somewhat distorted. The lowest frequencies did noticeably emanate from the rear, however, which gave some songs a ping-pong effect.
Aside from this and a few other minor quibbles, the system reproduced the test tracks in great detail and with a sense of spaciousness and lifelike dynamics. The soundstage was sizable and imaging realistic if not pinpoint accurate. In the mostly instrumental jam "Shoo Fly Don't Bother Me" by Bluesiana Triangle, cymbals and drums floated above the dash and a flute solo that starts at about two minutes into the track was centered the way it should be.
I always play a couple of non-musical test tracks -- one with three voices mixed so that they appear in the left, center and right portions of the soundstage, and the other with seven drum beats that are supposed to be spaced at precise intervals across the dash -- to double-check imaging and staging. The system easily passed the seven-drumbeats test, but the other track revealed that while the left and right voices were spread very far to either side, the center voice could be detected in the left and right channels. So it failed the test but passed in recreating a solid center image with music, which is what counts. The system also scored a fair and good rating, respectively, for linearity, a measure of how the sound holds up at low and mid volume levels. And it aced the absence-of-noise/zero-bits test.
The Regal sports a single CD/DVD player in the dash with AM, FM and XM radio. And since our car has a hard-disk nav system, GM's Time Shift feature that allows storing up to 20 minutes of a live AM or FM broadcast in a buffer is available. Ten gigs of the 40GB HD is also reserved for music storage. MP3 and WMA files as well as audiobooks from Audible.com can be ripped from CDs as well as USB drives. And the transfer process is fast; it took about 30 seconds to rip six WMA music files from a USB drive to the car's HD.
Of course, you can also just play the files straight from the USB drive, and that the Regal's USB port and the aux-in jack in the center console slightly fold out is a nice touch. Music files on a USB are organized in the typical folders/playlists, artists, albums, songs and genres structure. An iPod can be connected using the USB sync cable that comes with the device and uses the same menu, but adds composers, podcasts and audiobooks.
The interface for accessing your tunes on a USB drive or iPod won't win any awards, but isn't quite the nightmare that one editor described it as for navigation purposes. Once you get past thinking that the in-dash monitor is a touch-screen interface -- and clean away the fingerprints -- the iDrive-like controller in the center console becomes the main point of contact. And it saves you from having to use the funky multi-directional knob in the center stack if you don't order nav.
What We Say
GM deserves credit for making many great decisions with the new Regal. Part of our job is to nitpick the vehicles in our long-term fleet, but I found few major flaws with the 2011 Regal CXL Turbo's Harman Kardon sound system.
Well, there's one: We had to spend $5,690 on the T07 option package to get the system along with the nav, a sunroof, HID headlamps, 19-inch alloy wheels, rear-seat airbags and Buick's Interactive Drive Control System. You can also get the H/K system starting at $2,445 for the T03 option package, but that's still a lot of coin. And it's still bundled with the sunroof, HIDs and rear airbags and isn't available a la carte.
So it comes down to how much you value good audio. Or how badly you want the other items in the package. And whether you still believe in Buick.
iPod Integration: B-
Doug Newcomb, Senior Editor, Technology