2015 Hyundai Sonata: Fun to Play With the "Beats Effect"
by Dan Frio, Automotive Editor October 16, 2015
When rap producer Dr. Dre signed his name to a line of now-ubiquitous headphones, he had a music industry legend, Jimmy Iovine, to provide the marketing muscle, and consumer electronics manufacturer Monster to build the product. A cool logo, cool, crisp colors, and celebrity and athlete endorsements helped sell thousands of the headphones at around $200 a pair. They were the perfect complement to the iPod Era, flashy sneakers for your big head, and they invigorated a dormant headphone market.
But they didn't sound that good. Early versions were what you might expect from a hip-hop marketing angle: big, boomy and bassy, muddy, with not very accurate frequency reproduction. Even by most objective, not-fussy audio standards, they were more fashion than frequency. Iovine has said that critics missed the point, that the headphones were meant to excite, and not be neutral, audiophile-grade listening experiences. Sorry Jimmy, but they sucked.
To be fair, Beats by Dre headphones have improved. Seems like the company, now owned by Apple, has heard the criticisms and started to address them. But they won't shake the early bass-heavy reputation so easily.
Turns out the whole "Beats Effect" has even touched our 2015 Hyundai Sonata.
First off, the Dimension audio system in our Sonata is nice, nicer than you might expect at the Sonata's price. It's doesn't pack a ton of power, and the 400-watt Infinity system upgrade isn't available on the Sport trim, so for what we've got, it does the job.
But dig into the Sound settings menu, and you'll find this Variable EQ menu. In a separate menu, you can adjust bass, midrange and treble settings, but if you want a quick default bias setting, you can choose from Normal, Dynamic and Concert.
Normal is just that. It's basically a midrange-forward tone that favors balance, and there's no appreciable change in the sound stage or imaging. Just a basic go-to setting. Concert brings the mids even further forward, shaves the highs, and seems to add a bit of reverb to trick you into thinking you're in a theater or hall. It's not super convincing, unless you were in a concert hall with only a few working bass cabinets in the PA system.
And then you have Dynamic, or the "Beats Effect" setting. As it says, it boosts the bass tone, pulls back the mids and highs, and shifts the soundstage from the dash to the doors. And it's effective. It's nice for the right kind of music like hip-hop or electronic-heavy material.
No, it's not very accurate. This system and setting won't win awards for frequency response or EQ curve, and you'll hear the same music pretty differently on even a decent home stereo or theater system. But you will get some of that punch and rumble, which again can be fun with the right tracks. I enjoyed feeding some newer hip-hop and old classics through this setting.
But the underpowered system can only hang so long. A track like Outkast's "Spaghetti Junction," which features deep, elongated pulses of trademark hip-hop bass drum beats, leaves the speaker cones croaking and trying to leap from their foam surrounds with each pulse.
Still, it's a fun feature to offer, even if it's only an occasional one-trick pony, and not one you'd expect to find in a family sedan.
Dan Frio, Automotive Editor