Audio Review - 2011 Ford Mustang GT 5.0 Long-Term Road Test

2011 Ford Mustang Long-Term Road Test

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2011 Ford Mustang GT 5.0: Audio Review

January 28, 2011


The 2011 Ford Mustang GT 5.0, the latest American muscle car to grace our long-term fleet, has a heritage of fast fun spanning almost 50 years. It's the kind of vehicle that's synonymous with the joy of driving, whether weekend street cruising, canyon carving or even everyday commuting. And if it doesn't put a smile on your face, you're either probably in need of therapy or have a hang-up about Ford.

If you want more of a musical soundtrack than the rumble of the car's 412-horsepower V8 and the throaty dual-exhaust note, you can upgrade to the Shaker 1000 audio option. We did and it added a hefty $1,295 to the sticker, and a big 'ol bass box in the trunk holding two 10-inch subwoofers. Is it worth it? It depends on how much boom you want and how much you want to spend on a new 'Stang.

The Setup
The Shaker 1000 system in our 2011 Mustang GT 5.0 consists of 10 speakers powered by 640 watts. The speakers include a two-way 5x7-inch coaxial in each door with a mid-woofer and tweeter, an 8-inch dual-voice-coil (DVC) subwoofer also in each door, two 5x7-inch full-range speakers in the rear deck and two 10-inch DVC subs in a "Shaker"box in the trunk. The door and rear-deck 5x7s each get 20 watts, the door subs see 110 watts each and the two 10s in the trunk receive a whopping 170 watts each.


The Sound
As with every system we put through our audio-evaluation process, I listened to a dozen different musical tracks on the Mustang's Shaker 1000 system to test clarity/lack of distortion, tonal balance, timbre, tonal accuracy, soundstaging, imaging and dynamics. I also used several non-musical tracks to further gauge soundstaging and imaging, as well as check linearity and absence of noise. For more details on the testing process and the tracks used, click over to the article Sound Advice.

The Shaker 1000 system is obviously designed to be bass heavy, and if you like to roll with big-time boom you won't be disappointed. But it's also a pretty sweet sounding system -- once you shut off the Shaker sub box. I listened to my test tracks with the Shaker box on and off, and with the EQ set to Driver (instead of All Seats).

It only took a few tracks to discover that I much preferred the sound with the 10-inchers silenced, which, fortunately, the system allows you to do. The only exception is a track I use to test for bass extension, Outkast's "Ain't No Thang."The 10s added considerably more oomph to the song's bombastic bass, although it wasn't very musical -- if you can even say such a thing about a rap track. Plus, the 8-inch subs in the doors provided plenty of low-end even with the 10s muted, and without so much bass coming from the rear the system was also better balanced.

With the big subs shut off, the Shaker 1000 system had the typical midbass thickness, over-emphasized highs, compressed dynamics and slight distortion of most middling OEM audio systems. But overall the system was fairly refined for such a simple, bass-heavy setup -- and in a brawny muscle car to boot.

While tonal balance was skewed towards the low-end and timbre and tonal accuracy were far from perfect, the system had a generally pleasing sound, with suitable separation. It also brought out a surprising amount of detail on even the most complex tracks, and didn't get tripped up by the cuts I refer to as my midbass torture tests, such as Luka Boom's "Cold Comfort"and the Red House Painters "Cabezon,"which feature intensely resonant acoustic guitars that many systems grossly distort.

And for a system that lacks a center channel -- or even dash-mounted speakers -- the soundstaging and imaging were impressive. The soundstage was wide and deep, and imaging was so remarkable I kept looking for a center-channel speaker. With staging and imaging, I cross-reference what I hear with music by using two test tracks: one with voices mixed so that they should appear left, center and right, and one with seven drum beats that are supposed to span across the soundstage at precise intervals.

With the vocal track, the imaging was so close to spot-on I scribbled in my notes, "Nailed it ... and w/o a center channel!"The difference between the Driver and All Seats settings made a significant difference. With the Driver setting, the soundstage was narrower from left to right but imaging was more precise; with All Seats on the soundstage was wider but imaging was pulled down towards the door speakers.

In the linearity test, which measures how well the sound holds together at low- and mid-volume levels, the Shaker 1000 system scored fair and good, respectively. It easily passed a zero-bits/absence-of-noise test, although most cars usually do. But with ambient noise from the engine and exhaust in this car, even while sitting still, the point of this test is almost moot.

The Sources
The Mustang GT 5.0 comes with a single CD player with AM, FM and Sirius satellite radio. It also has Ford's Sync system so iPod and other portable media player integration is pretty much a piece of cake. But good luck getting Sync's voice-activation feature to hear you while ripping along in this car -- and if you do, maybe you're driving too slow and should buy a different car. The system also has Bluetooth audio, which you'll discover right away if you have a compatible smartphone since it's the default audio setting for Sync -- and can confuse the heck out of you if you're not familiar with the feature.

What We Say
The 2011 Mustang GT 5.0 is the kind of vehicle that begs for a bangin' system when being driven at speed. But, even packing 640 watts, the Shaker 1000 system doesn't quite match the muscle of the car itself. And more than half of that power is somewhat wasted on the two 10-inch subwoofers in the trunk, which only serve to add a bunch of boom -- and take up quite a bit of precious trunk room.

At $1,295 for the Shaker 1000 system, you're better off going with the Shaker 500 system that comes standard with this car -- and is an identical setup, sans the 10-inch subs. And if you want bass, save some dough and add an aftermarket subwoofer instead.

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

Doug Newcomb, Senior Editor, Technology

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