2011 Infiniti M56: Worth Going Back to Discs
December 10, 2011
Loading a physical disc into a slot in the dash. How quaint. And antiquated. With so many more music sources in most modern vehicles -- in the case of the Infinity M56, these include good ol' AM and FM, XM satellite radio, a hard disk drive, a USB port for iPod integration (or a USB thumb drive), Bluetooth audio and an aux-in jack -- why even bother with the inconvenience of clunky discs?
In the M56 (and in our Acura TSX Sport Wagon) DVD-Audio capability makes it worth going back to discs. The high-resolution, multichannel music format was pretty much DOA even when it first launched, thanks to the advent and popularity of MP3 and the iPod. But it's still supported by a handful of automakers thanks to "legacy" electronics that linger longer among automotive OEMs than in consumer electronics. (We're looking at you, in-dash cassette deck.)
As a sound-quality connoisseur, I was recently reminded of just how much DVD-Audio adds to the in-car music experience while listening to the M56's Bose Studio Surround audio system.
Compared to the thin sound of most compressed audio formats, DVD-Audio's hi-res reproduction is warm and detailed, and the format's multichannel surround capability gives the music a tangible 3D-like quality. The latter is what makes those small speakers in the top of the front seats sing.
When DVD-Audio was first introduced in the late 1990s, it was touted as the music version of DVD-Video, with better quality as well as extras such as photos and videos. But that association with a hugely popular format and those bonus features didn't save it from the dust bin of largely failed formats. And you can still get some of those features in the car, although only while sitting still. (See pictures below.)
Unless I'm sound-checking a vehicle for an audio review, I admit I rarely listen to DVD-Audio discs, preferring instead the portability and convenience of an iPod/iPhone for everyday listening. And even though I have a DVD-Audio player at home and a 5.1 surround setup, I rarely have the time to sit and listen there either.
But each time I get to listen to DVD-Audio discs in a car like the M56, I wish I did it more often. And I'm glad the format has survived. Good luck finding DVD-A discs, though.
Track list for John Hiatt's Bring the Family, with menu icons for Bio and Lyrics accessible on the M56's in-dash touch screen.
Handwritten lyrics for R.E.M.'s "Man on the Moon" from the band's DVD-Audio version of Automatic for the People.
Michael Stipe when he still had hair.