2011 Volvo S60 T6 AWD: Audio Review
Volvo has gone to great lengths to make sure that its all-new S60 doesn't get saddled with the Swedish automaker's longstanding staid image. From sleek exterior sheet metal to a sumptuous interior — and especially the "naughty Volvo" ad campaign — it's clearly a dramatic departure for the car company that literally built its brand on playing it safe.
Even the high-end audio system available for the 2011 S60 is new. Starting with this car, Volvo is ditching its Danish high-end stereo supplier, Dynaudio, and replacing it with the generically named Premium Sound System. We tested the new setup in a 2011 S60 T6 AWD to find out whether it stands up to the relatively high standards set by Dynaudio in previous Volvo vehicles — and if it's worth the $2,700 price tag for the Multimedia option package in which it's included on this model (along with a nav system and backup camera).
The S60's Premium Sound System consists of 12 speakers powered by 650 watts. These include a 1-inch tweeter and 3-inch speaker in the center of the dash; a 1-inch tweeter, 2.5-inch midrange and 6.5-inch woofer in each front door; and a 1-inch tweeter and 6.5-inch woofer in each rear door.
As with every system I sound-check, I listened to about a dozen different 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. I also used non-musical tracks to 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.
The Dynaudio systems I've tested in Volvo vehicles are a tough act to follow. They're typically smooth throughout most of the frequency range and, in the case of the C70 convertible, offer solid if somewhat brutish bass. In fact, while testing the C70's Dynaudio system shortly after it was introduced in 2006, I recall thinking that it was one of the first stock audio systems I felt had almost too much low bass, which isn't such a bad thing in car audio.
The Premium Sound System in the S60 was not only deficient in low bass, but in most other sound-quality categories as well. Clarity, tonal balance, timbre, tonal accuracy and dynamics were all about average, which in this car class makes the system effectively below average. Midbass was boomy and highs were harsh, which is typical of many stock stereo systems. But the middle of the audio spectrum, which most systems usually reproduce fairly well, wasn't much better, and the overall dynamics were dull. Low bass was also sloppy, with audible overhang — making me wish Dynaudio was still onboard.
Soundstaging and imaging also suffered. Staging was okay — again, unacceptable for a car and system that cost this much — but imaging was indistinct. For years Volvo systems have had a three-channel mode, and even with this engaged and a center-channel speaker array, imaging was vague. With both music tracks and non-music test tracks — and with three-channel mode engaged — images that should have been cemented in the center of the dash weren't. The system's Audyssey MultiEQ XT processing significantly expanded the soundstage, but at the expense of giving the music a slightly unnatural sound. And it did nothing to improve imaging. Ditto for the Dolby Pro Logic II processing.
In a test of linearity — a measure of how well a system maintains sound quality at low- and mid-volume level — the system scored poor and fair, respectively. It did pass a zero-bits/absence-of-noise test, which is typical of most systems.
The S60 has a single-CD/DVD head unit and AM, FM, and Sirius radio. iPod integration is through a USB port using the computer-sync cable that comes with the device, or through an aux-in jack if you prefer the old-fashioned way. The vehicle also has Bluetooth audio for wireless music streaming and HD Radio for AM and FM.
Access to music on an iPod is pretty easy and intuitive via USB. Fortunately, Volvo no longer forces drivers to use the frustrating four-way control and Enter and Exit buttons that for years has been a staple on the automaker's "waterfall" dash. iPod menus items — including the usual songs, artists, albums and playlists as well as audiobooks and podcasts — are now accessed through a rotary knob as well as through convenient steering-wheel controls. You can also plug in a USB drive loaded with digital music and get many of the same functions. Plus, the main display isn't in an unsightly hump on the top of the dashboard and monochromatic, but a sharp color screen integrated into the center stack. My only complaint is there's no quick-scroll feature to zip through a long list of menu items.
What We Say
The new S60 is a win for Volvo in many respects. It's a genuinely sexy vehicle and should help the automaker further distance itself from its stuffy — and outdated — image of building primarily safe but boxy wagons and SUVs. But if the sound of the Premium Sound System in the S60 we tested is any indication, ditching Dynaudio as a stereo partner doesn't do much to make the car attractive to those who care about great sound. And it's one aspect in which it would have paid Volvo to play it safe.
iPod Integration: A-