Audio Review - 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS Long-Term Road Test

2010 Chevrolet Camaro Long Term Road Test

2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS: Audio Review

September 21, 2010

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Maybe it's the retro styling of the 2010 Chevy Camaro SS, but each time I drive it and crank up the stereo, I flash back to a certain Friday night after a high school football game in the '70s (think Dazed and Confused comes alive). A bunch of teen-age longhairs --myself include, when I still had lots left -- are hanging out in a burger joint parking lot around an older kid named Kenny Guillotte's '68 Camaro. (Like D&C's David Wooderson, he had already graduated and also had long blonde hair). The Camaro's doors and trunk are open and Kenny's blasting Aerosmith's Rocks. I remember it clearly 'cause it was my 8-track tape playing, which I thought for sure earned me some cool points with the posse.

I also distinctly recall the Craig PowerPlay "surface-mount" speakers kicking out the jams from the back deck of Kenny's Camaro (or maybe he even moved them to the roof ... that part is lost in the haze), and how that was about as bitchin' as it got for car audio back in those days. I wish I could go back and compare it to the sound of the Boston Acoustics system in our long-term 2010 Camaro SS. Almost as much as I wish I had even half as much hair on my head as I had then.

The Setup
The Boston Acoustics sound system that comes standard in the 2010 Camaro 2SS Coupe consists of nine speakers powered by 245 watts. The speakers include a 6.5-inch midrange low in each door, a 1-inch tweeter in the "sail panel" in the lower-forward corner of each front window, a 3.5-inch midrange/tweeter in the center of the dash and a pair of 6x9 two-way coaxials in the rear deck. The packaging is low-key, with only a small logo on each door speaker to announce the presence of the system.

The Sound
Per usual, I subjected the Camaro's Boston Acoustics system to our standard audio evaluation process. This entails sound-checking it with jazz, rock, folk, pop and rap music tracks I've listened to in hundreds of cars to gauge clarity/lack of distortion, tonal balance, timbre, tonal accuracy, soundstaging, imaging and dynamics. And I test for staging/imaging, linearity and absence of noise using non-musical test tracks. (For details on our testing procedure, check out the article Sound Advice.)

Besides bringing back memories of my misspent youth, the sound of the system in the Camaro also reminded me of similar Boston Acoustics setups in other modern-day muscle cars, specifically the Dodge Charger. While it can't compete with premium systems in even some lower-priced cars, like the Bose setup in our long-term Mazdaspeed 3, it's hard to complain about the Camaro's system performance relative to its price.

Without a dedicated subwoofer, the Camaro system suffered from not being able to provide solid low end, although the 6x9s in the rear deck and 6.5s in the front doors did a valiant job of pumping out decent if not very detailed bass. For example, on the Outkast track "Ain't No Thing," the system produced impressive low-frequency energy -- and also an annoying amount of interior-panel rattles. But on other tracks the low bass and midbass were mostly boomy and distorted.

The system has a center speaker in the dash, although it didn't help much with soundstaging and particularly imaging. The soundstage was narrow and imaging severely side-biased, with vocals and other elements that should be front and center pulled down toward the door speakers. Unsurprisingly, the system failed our non-audio staging and imaging tests.

But sometimes a system like the one in the Camaro can be pleasing even if it doesn't pass technical tests with flying colors. Even given the deficiencies described above, the Boston system was capable of bringing out nuances in the music and had above average tonality, good stereo separation and decent dynamics. One musical test track, Red House Painters' "San Geronimo," is a rock song with a dense, midbass-heavy mix that many systems render as a mass of indistinct sounds rather than individual instruments. But with the Camaro system, the music held together fairly well. And with the jazzy instrumental "The Blues Walk" that kicks off the Lyle Lovett and His Large Band LP, I found I'd stopped listening for testing purposes but instead just for pleasure.

The Sources
Our 2010 Camaro SS comes with a single CD head unit that also offers AM, FM and Sirius radio. It features an aux-in jack and USB port in the center console storage bin, and the USB cable that comes with an iPod can be used to connect the device. The head unit's iPod interface is pretty straightforward and painless. As our Director of Testing Dan Edmunds pointed out, it includes audiobooks and podcasts as separate menu categories and has an "Alpha Accelerator" quick-scroll mode that makes finding music in a large music library much easier. The same menu structure is also used for tunes loaded on a USB drive and plugged into the USB port. I found that the system in the Camaro got mixed up and listed artists on my iPod/iPhone as albums, and albums as artists. But this could have more to do with a recent update of the software on my iPhone to iOS 4 before I tested the car, and which also caused problems in our long-term GMC Terrain. (I've heard reports that an iOS 4.1 upgrade solves the problem.)

What We Say
The Boston Acoustics system in the 2010 Camaro SS may not be the ultimate in auto sound from an audiophile perspective. In fact, it's far from it and I found plenty of nits to pick. But considering it's standard on this trim level -- and that at full throttle the guttural growl of the car's 426-horsepower 6.2-liter V8 tends to make it a mute point -- the system is a great road trip companion in the Camaro, especially when cranking rock 'n' roll. I'm sure Kenny Guillotte would agree.

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

Doug Newcomb, Senior Editor, Technology

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