2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Bose? Oh Noes!
by Josh Sadlier, Senior Editor on July 22, 2016
Mazda has a checkered past with Bose stereos, and when I say "checkered," I mean I can't remember a Bose setup in a Mazda that really cranked. They sound OK, don't get me wrong; they just tend not to meet the higher expectations that the premium branding creates.
Which brings me to the nine-speaker Bose system in our long-term 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata. Does it break with tradition? Let's see about that.
As a roadster owner myself, I can report that a great top-down stereo really elevates the driving experience. I can also attest that Bose knows how to make one, so don't tell me "no highs, no lows, must be a Bose." My SL600 from forever ago has a factory Bose setup with a subwoofer behind the driver seat, and the sound cuts through the wind and envelops you at any sane speed. That's how it should be, right? I think it's a reasonable expectation when there's a premium label on the system.
Alas, our Miata's system falls well short of that standard. To some extent, I get it, because from a financial perspective, it's a wonder that little-guy Mazda keeps building this car at all. When the Bose sales team stopped by with a range of components to choose from, I imagine the Miata planners were not at liberty to splurge.
Nonetheless, when I look at Mazda's official description — "Bose 9-speaker audio system with...driver and passenger headrest speakers and subwoofer" — I'm thinking wind-cheating bass and a full, rich soundstage.
And when I actually turn the thing on, I'm getting a pronounced forward sound bias and, yes, "no highs, no lows" on the open road, where the wind too easily muffles the output.
I'll chalk these results up to two primary issues. First, the headrest speakers contribute effectively nothing when you're listening to music. If you're using Bluetooth to make a call, the person's voice comes through loud and clear on those speakers, so they're functional (and quite handy for this purpose, I might add). But they're hardly involved at all when it comes to music reproduction; I even put the fader on full rear to test them out, and I still couldn't hear much. Headrest speakers with real musical capability — assuming that's technically feasible — could go a long way toward balancing out the soundstage.
Second, there's just not enough power behind the sound. If you want it to cut through the wind, you need amplification, and this setup could use a lot more of it. Of course, that would require pricier components, so again, I can appreciate where Mazda's coming from.
Still, it'd be nice if the Miata offered a stereo that sounded great right off the rack. When you're plunking down $30,000-plus on a new roadster, that doesn't seem like too much to ask.
Josh Sadlier, Senior Editor @ 11,278 miles