2011 Honda Odyssey Touring: Audio Review
June 04, 2011
No matter how much swagger automakers try to give their minivans or try to make them man-up, there's still the stigma that you're essentially driving a mommy mobile. But just because you may feel like Rodney Dangerfield behind the wheel of a minivan doesn't mean you have to suffer with an audio system that sucks.
The seven-speaker, 246-watt audio system in our long-term 2011 Honda Odyssey Touring comes close to falling into that category, and we didn't spring for the non-branded premium audio system available on the Touring Elite trim. I found myself in that top-of-the-line model for a week, and here's what you can expect sound-wise if you pay an extra $2,495.
The 2011 Odyssey Touring Elite comes with 12 speakers powered by 650 watts. The speaker includes a 3-inch midrange in the center of the dash, 1.5-inch tweeter at each end of the dash, a 6.5-inch midrange in each of the four doors, two 3-inch mids straddling the rear-entertainment system above the middle-row seats and two more in the D pillars and an 8-inch subwoofer in the driver's-side wall of the cargo area.
As with every sound system I test, I listened to about 10 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. The music ranges from jazz to folk to rock and rap. I also use several non-musical tracks to further test soundstaging, imaging, linearity and absence of noise. For more details on this testing process and the tracks used, check out the Edmunds.com article Sound Advice.
The Odyssey Touring Elite's premium sound system didn't disappoint but neither did it stand out. It scored slightly above average in each sound quality category but exhibited the midbass boom and high-end harshness that's the hallmark of most so-so car audio systems. Low bass was one bright spot. The low-end was surprisingly solid -- if slightly distorted -- for an 8-inch sub mounted so far away from my front-seat listening position.
I usually only listen from the driver's seat, but while checking out the rear-entertainment system I was impressed by the sound in the third-row seat. With the combination of the D-pillar and overhead speakers, the sound was robust and clear. But there was no sense of a soundstage or imaging and it was like listening to a good portable system.
Plus, the system's main strength while listening from the front seats is its very wide and deep soundstage. The stage extends beyond the confines of the vehicle, giving music a wide-open, airy feel. Imaging wasn't quite up to par, though. Vocals that should be anchored in the center skewed towards the left and right channels.
This was confirmed by the two non-musical staging/imaging tests: voices were recorded so that they appear in the right, center and left of the soundstage and seven drum beats are supposed to move across the dash at precise intervals. The system failed both tests. As for linearity, a measure how well the sound holds together at low- and mid-volume levels, the system scored poor and fair, respectively. It easily passed an absence of noise/zero-bits test.
The 2011 Odyssey Touring Elite I tested (sticker price $44,030) comes with a single-CD radio with AM, FM and XM and a separate DVD player. The DVD is for the rear-entertainment system, which features an "Ultrawide" 16.2-inch screen that can play two separate video programs at once in a split-screen view. The second video source can come from RCA aux inputs next to the third-row seat or an HDMI input, the first of its kind in a car, in the passenger-side wall next to the third-row seat.
An iPod connects to a cable in the glove compartment with a USB port on the end. Access to the contents of an iPod is a lot like that of our long-term Acura TSX Sports Wagon: mostly through the clunky controller in the center of the dash. Also like the TSX, the Odyssey has a voice-activated "iPod search mode" that easily understands commands like "Play artist Foo Fighters" but gets tripped up by commands like "Play song Arlandria." The iPod menu includes playlists, artists, albums, songs, genres, composers and podcasts but not audiobooks for the bibliophiles.
You can plug in a USB drive loaded with MP3, WMA and AAC/iTunes files and get largely the same functionality. You can also rip files from CD (but not a USB drive) to the 15GB hard drive and they're cataloged in an iPod-like menu structure. The system also has Bluetooth audio for wirelessly streaming music from a compatible device.
What We Say
The premium system in the Honda Odyssey Touring Elite is definitely a cut above the one in our Touring model. It's certainly not $2,500 better, but the extra coin also gets you the upgraded rear-entertainment system as well as bi-xenon headlamps and blind-spot warning.
If a minivan is in your future, the best-selling Odyssey is hard to beat. And despite the deficiencies of the Touring Elite's premium audio system, it will let you rock out even if you're rolling with the family.
iPod Integration: B
Doug Newcomb, Senior Editor, Technology