Audio Review - 2010 Mazda Mazdaspeed 3 Long-Term Road Test

2010 Mazda Mazdaspeed 3 Long-Term Road Test

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2010 Mazdaspeed 3: Audio Review

September 15, 2010


Our hot little 2010 Mazdaspeed 3 is hoot to hoon and (naturally) a favorite among the heavy-footed on the editorial staff. And with a sticker price that pushes just past $23k, it's also a road rocket that won't burn a hole in most pockets. But if you want good stereo sound from the factory, you got to pay up.

The premium Bose Centerpoint Surround Sound system is part of the pricey $1,895 Tech Package on our long-term MS3, which also includes a "compact" in-dash nav system and keyless entry/pushbutton start. So the almost-$2,000 question is whether paying for all the extras to get the Bose audio is worth it. In a word: Yes. For more words on the system's merits and to see how it measures up, keep reading.

The Setup
The Bose system in the MS3 consists of 10 speakers powered by 242 watts. One is a 5.25-inch woofer cleverly mounted in a sealed enclosure that sits atop the spare tire in the hatch. We've seen a similar setup from Bose before (in our former long-term 2009 Nissan 370Z Touring for example), and it works wonders at producing big bass in a small space. The other eight speakers consists of a 3.5-inch "Twiddler" mid/high-frequency speaker in the center of the dash, a 1-inch tweeter near the lower-front corner of the window in each front door, a 6.5-inch speaker low in each front door, a 5.25-inch speaker in each rear door and another 3.5-inch mid/high speaker in each D pillar.


The Sound
We ran the MS3's Bose system through our standard audio evaluation process, which includes listening to jazz, rock, folk, pop and rap music tracks as well as non-musical test tracks to gauge clarity/lack of distortion, tonal balance, timbre, tonal accuracy, soundstaging, imaging and dynamics. (For more on our audio evaluation procedure, see the article Sound Advice.)

The Bose system was a bit boomy overall and often the low end overpowered the rest of the audio spectrum. But it's nothing that can't be tweaked away with a twist of the bass tone control. On the flipside, the system handled with aplomb the deep bass notes that start the Joan Armatrading track "In Your Eyes" (which make weaker systems buckle), and the bass quake of Outkast's "Ain't No Thing" was palpably powerful.

Low bass was also discerned as coming from the front of the vehicle, indicating a smooth transition between the front midbass drivers and the woofer in the rear. This was especially apparent on percussion-heavy sections, in which the visceral impact of the kick-drum was as in-your-face as the muscular midbass and taut upper-bass frequencies. And this meant none of the dreaded ping-ponging bass effect that some systems with rear-mounted subs exhibit.

Timbre and tonal accuracy -- a measure of how faithfully a system reproduces the sound of musical instruments and of the original recording -- were also above average. Midbass-heavy tracks, like Luka Bloom's "Cold Comfort" and Red House Painters' "Cabezon," were reproduced with very little distortion, although high-frequencies could be a bit shrill.

Where the system really excelled was with soundstaging and imaging, which is even more remarkable for such a small car. Width-wise the soundstage stretched slightly beyond the confines of the exterior and it was high and fairly deep. Imaging was mostly spot-on, particularly with vocals, thanks to the center-channel speaker. Bose's Centerpoint processing spreads the soundstage out even more, but at the cost of making the music -- and particularly vocals -- sound thin and unnatural.

The system easily aced our non-musical test tracks for staging and imaging, and it scored a rare "Fair" rating for low-level linearity and even rarer "Good to Excellent" rating for mid-level linearity, which shows how well the sound holds together at low and mid volumes.

The Sources
Besides music from AM, FM and Sirius radio and from one of six CDs that can be loaded into the in-dash changer, the MS3 doesn't give offer as many source options as most other cars. It does support Bluetooth audio for streaming music files, but you have to own a compatible mobile phone or portable music player. And the MS3 has an aux-in jack for plugging in a portable music player, but otherwise doesn't offer iPod integration, such as through a USB port, as with many automakers.


What We Say
Like the MS3's turbocharged 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine, the Bose system may not appear impressive on paper, but it out performs more powerful competitors. And it easily aced an test of branded system in cars costing less than $30k. Since the Tech Package option in the 2011 MS3 has been jacked up to $2,515 -- and the included Bose system pumped up to 265 watts -- the cost of the premium audio in our 2010 model looks more like a bargain.

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

Doug Newcomb, Senior Editor, Technology

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