Audio Review - 2010 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD Long-Term Road Test
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2010 Volvo XC60 Long-Term Road Test

2010 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD: Audio Review

November 26, 2010

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The Volvo XC60 is a lot of what a compact luxury crossover should be, and little of what it shouldn't. (For proof beyond the mostly positive posts here, check out the Edmunds.com comparo that the XC60 handily won, spanking contenders from Audi, Cadillac and Mercedes-Benz.) The turbocharged in-line 6-cylinder engine in our 2010 Volvo XC60 T6 gets this family and gear hauler going in a hurry. The XC60 also offers ample interior room for the comfort of your bros and all their cargo, and it's stocked with some of the most advanced safety technology available to protect not only occupants, but now pedestrians in the vehicle's path.

Our XC60 has the $2,700 Multimedia Package option, which includes a premium sound system from Volvo's fellow Scandinavians Dynaudio, a Danish company known for their excellent loudspeakers and no-nonsense designs. But most compact luxury crossovers offer some form of premium sound. So is the Dynaudio system another thing that separates the XC60 from its competitors? We ran our beloved XC60 through a battery of audio tests to find out.

The Setup
The Dynaudio system in our 2010 Volvo XC60 T6 consists of 12 speakers powered by a robust 650 watts. The speaker setup is straightforward: a 6.5-inch woofer and a 1-inch tweeter in each of the four doors, and an additional 2.5-inch midrange in each front door, with a 4-inch mid and another 1-inch tweet in the center of the dash. The five-channel amplifier sends 130 watts to each set of speakers in the doors and dash.

The Sound
As with every system I test, I listened to the same dozen or so musical tracks in the Volvo that I've heard in literally hundreds of vehicles in order to check clarity/lack of distortion, tonal balance, timbre, tonal accuracy, soundstaging, imaging and dynamics. I also used non-musical tracks to further gauge soundstaging and imaging and to test for linearity and absence of noise. For more details on our audio-system testing process and the tracks used, click on the Edmunds.com article Sound Advice.

The XC60's Dynaudio system is unusual in that it has extensive EQ capabilities -- for both the front and rear. Per usual, I listened with all tone controls set to flat, with the "Sound stage" setting on "Driver's seat" and with the "3 Channel" mode engaged to take advantage of the center channel. I also evaluated the system in two-channel stereo mode, but much preferred the 3-channel sound.

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While the XC60 stands out in the compact lux crossover segment, the Dynaudio system did little to distinguish itself from other premium audio offerings in this class. That's not to say that the system performed poorly. But it's merely par for what I expect from a middle-of-the-road premium audio offering: noticeable weakness on the extreme ends of the frequency spectrum, relative smoothness through the middle and generally good soundstaging and imaging.

Bass response ranged from just a bit of boom with the jazz jams of Bluesiana Triangle to being severely distorted on bottom-heavy tracks like Joan Armatrading's "In Your Eyes" and Outkast's "Ain't No Thang." And the lowest notes also caused annoying panel rattle in the driver's door. Although the 6.5-inch woofers in each door did a decent job of producing midbass, there's no substitute for the larger cone area of, say, a 10-inch sub to push more air and go low.

The system also had the characteristic high-end sizzle of run-of-the-mill premium OEM, particularly with percussion such as cymbals and snare drums and with trebly acoustic guitar. These deficiencies skewed the tonal balance, timbre and tonal accuracy of the system and dulled dynamics. But the XC60's system is one of the few factory systems that still has a multiband equalizer onboard (in this case five bands, for front and rear) so owners should be able to tweak the sound to their liking. Although some audiophiles, myself included, view EQ as more of a band-aid than a cure -- and unnecessary if the system is solidly designed in the first place.

The Dynaudio system shined when it came to soundstaging and imaging, with staging wider than the vehicle itself. And while imaging wasn't spot on, it was close enough that it came down to splitting hairs over whether, say, an image was dead-center or just a little to the left or right. And listening to the non-musical test tracks didn't help determine whether the imaging was off by a hair or two. Dolby Pro Logic II Surround processing further expands the soundstage, but at the expense of introducing an artificial quality to the sound. On the low- and mid-level linearity test, the system scored only poor and fair, respectively, but it passed the zero-bit/absence of noise test.

The Sources
The XC60's system includes a single-disc CD/MP3/WMA player with AM/FM and HD and Sirius satellite radio. It also has a USB port and aux-in jack tucked in the center console, and you can use the computer-sync cable that comes with an iPod to connect the device. From there the "Tuning Sound" knob in the center stack and the adjacent Enter and Exit buttons and the four-way rocker controls are used to navigate through an iPod's menu.

The setup takes a little getting used to and isn't the most intuitive interface. The Enter and Exit buttons, for example, seem like unnecessary steps to quickly get to your tunes -- and cause more time looking away from the road. And information is displayed in the small monochromatic screen on the top of the dash instead of the larger, color nav screen lower down. iPod menu items include the typical playlists, artists, albums and songs as well as the atypical podcasts, genres, composers and audiobooks. If you plug in a USB driver with music files loaded on it, you get the same functionality. And while the XC60 has Bluetooth hands-free for phoning, it doesn't offer Bluetooth for wireless music streaming.

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What We Say
The 2010 Volvo XC60 T6 is clearly tops in the compact luxury crossover category. We know that from our test against leading competitors and from our past year with the vehicle. And that it has innovative features like City Safety puts it even further ahead of the rest of the field.

From past experiences, the Dynaudio premium system surpasses the likes of Bose in the Cadillac SRX and Harman/Kardon in the Mercedes-Benz GLK350 in my opinion. But up against the Bang & Olufsen system in the Audi Q5 and ELS Surround in the Acura RDX, it would likely fall short. And while $2,700 for the Multimedia Package seems steep, it also includes a navigation system and Rear Park Assist Camera system, taking some of the sting out of the high price tag. Until, that is, you tire of the lame nav system.

The Scores
Sound: C+
Source Selection: B
iPod Integration: B-
Cost: B-

Doug Newcomb, Senior Editor, Technology


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