2011 Infiniti M37X: Audio Review

2011 Infiniti M37X: Audio Review

Infiniti's M37 competes in the midsize luxury category long ruled by the Germans. Mercedes' E Class, BMW's 5 Series and Audi's A6 being the standard bearers. More recently, the Jaguar XF has made for a more crowded and competitive field, and the new and naughty Volvo S60 represents yet more European incursion.

It's also the segment in which high-end automakers start to pull out their prime premium-audio ammo to differentiate their mid-lux rides. Lexus relies on Mark Levinson and Acura excels with ELS. Jag bowed the XF with a Bowers & Wilkins system, while Mercedes remains joined at the hip with Harman/Kardon and BMW simply has a no-name "premium" system for the 5 Series.

Infiniti's innovative audio partner? A company you may have heard of called Bose. But don't snicker; it's one of the best of the bunch.

The Setup
The Bose Studio Surround Sound System I tested in a 2011 M37X consists of 16 speakers. Bose won't give out power specs, but the system uses two outboard amplifiers mounted in the trunk. The speakers include a 6x9-inch woofer in each front door, along with a 1-inch tweeter in the "mirror patch" and a 3.25-inch "Twiddler mid/high-range" speaker. Another Twiddler sits in the center of the dash. In each door is 6.5-inch full-range speaker, while a 10-inch subwoofer is mounted in the middle of the rear deck, with a Twiddler on either side. And a pair of  2-inch "Personal" speakers are in each front seat near the headrests.

The Sound
As with every system I sound check, I listened to about a dozen musical tracks to gauge clarity/lack of distortion, tonal balance, timbre, tonal accuracy, soundstaging, imaging and dynamics. I also used non-musical tracks to double-check soundstaging and imaging and test for linearity and absence of noise. If you want more detail on this audio-system testing process and the tracks used, check out the Edmunds.com article Sound Advice.

Bose is a favorite whipping boy among audio snobs, and sometime justifiably so since I've found that the brand's quality can be inconsistent with car audio systems. I've heard systems like the one in our long-term Mazdaspeed 3 that are best in class, and setups like the Studio on Wheels in the Infiniti G37 that leave a lot to be desired. With the 2011 Infiniti M37, Bose mostly gets it right, particularly with DVD-Audio discs.

Even though the system was a bit bass heavy and there was just a tad of high-frequency sheen on some songs, the sound was largely smooth and trouble-free and faithfully reproduced the test tracks for the most part. Timbre and tonally accuracy were especially good, and soundstaging and imaging were also well above average. I was impressed with the solid center images for vocals and certain solo instruments, and this was verified with the non-musical tracks for staging/imaging. The overall detailed sound of the system was confirmed by scoring "good" and "excellent" in tests of low- and mid-level linearity, respectively.

The system includes Bose's Centerpoint technology to recreate stereo recordings in surround, but I'm not a fan of such matrix processing and prefer to listen to good ol' unfiltered two-channel. Unless, that is, the system can reproduce discrete 5.1 surround, which is one of the biggest benefits of this Bose setup. Years ago, when I first saw the small speakers in each front seat near the headrest I was skeptical. But they help the Bose Studio Surround Sound System recreate one of the most truly immersive 5.1 experiences on wheels

Compared to other top-notched 5.1 OEM systems -- Lexus's Mark Levinson Reference Surround and Acura's ELS Surround, no slouches when it comes to DVD-Audio playback -- the Bose Studio Surround Sound System arguably creates the most realistic and enveloping ambiance, thanks to the silly looking speakers straddling the front-seat headrests and what Bose calls TrueSpace processing. Listening to the DVD-Audio versions of John Hiatt's Bring the Family and R.E.M.'s Automatic for the People, I was reminded of how high-resolution, surround versions of familiar recordings can make you fall in love with old favorites all over again and also allow picking out details that are absent or buried in stereo mixes.

The Sources
The Bose Studio Surround Sound System is headed up by a six-disc CD/DVD changer, and thankfully Infiniti has done away with the separate DVD drive in the center console, as on previous M models. (Same with the outdated Compact Flash slot in the center stack.) Likewise, Infiniti no longer requires an M owner to buy a proprietary cable to plug in an iPod; it can be hooked up to a USB port in the center console, as can other USB-compatible players and USB thumb drives loaded with tunes. There's the requisite aux-in jack next to the USB port and Bluetooth audio is also available if you just want to leave all the cables at home. The system includes a 9.3GB Music Box hard drive for storing music files.

Some may consider it overkill, but the Infiniti M37x gives you three ways to access music while on the fly. Four if you count voice control, although it can be spotty. You can use either the rotary controller in the center stack, the in-dash touch screen or steering-wheel buttons. And I especially like that Infiniti allows almost complete iPod control using the latter.

What We Say
The question of whether or not the Infiniti M37X has the performance and perks to win over ultra-picky buyers of sport-luxury sedans may depend on who's asking and who's answering. But when it comes to premium audio, the Bose Studio Surround Sound System makes a compelling reason for music lovers to consider the car, at least over the Teutonic titans of the class.

One potential bummer is that you have to pop for the pricey $3,800 Deluxe Touring Package to get it, and a second is that you have to spend an extra $3,350 on the Premium Package for the hard drive with the nav system and Bluetooth audio. And depending on your view of Bose, you may not even get to brag about the system to your snooty audiophile bros. Until you take them for a ride. 

The Score
Sound: A
Source Selection: A
iPod Integration: A
Cost: C

To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit Edmunds.com's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.

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