2015 Volvo S60: Top-of-Class Audio System
by Dan Frio, Automotive Editor on January 25, 2016
Our 2015 Volvo S60 has a really nice Harman Kardon audio system.
"Fine, fine," I hear you say. "Define nice."
OK then, but all you get is my subjective opinion as a music nerd, a musician, and my experience in a past life writing about car audio geeking. If we wanted to, we could debate the output and frequency response specs of the S60's H/K system. Borrow someone's RTA to see the cabin's tuning curve.
But really, what does that all matter? We've noted before that cars are terrible listening environments. That hasn't changed. A confined space of plastic, glass and metal reflective surfaces is no place for good ears to hang out, even when idle, and it's a testament to the aftermarket and OEM installers, manufacturers, and audio engineers when they can pull off something that sounds almost like your living room.
So what makes the S60's system so good?
First, it's Harman Kardon. Almost everything H/K and its JBL child company touch is quality, especially their loudspeakers. Not always the best in its segment necessarily, but always good (H/K's customer service is another story, as I learned recently). And no secretive, proprietary cult-sauce like Bose. Just quality materials and engineering.
At home, I've got JBL studio monitors, JBL earphones, and Jennings Research speaker towers, a company started by a former JBL engineer. I've had JBL amps and speakers in my car systems, and rank JBL speakers just above my current favorites from Morel. Even their desktop computer speakers are good. I'm a fan.
Second, I'm a sucker for any audio system that not only gives me an EQ to futz around with, but a 5-band EQ at that. You rarely see this from any automaker these days, let alone one in the S60's class. I like bass, not to the exclusion of everything else, but I like it keyed up. I want to hear the rumble of a good Fender bass guitar, the punch of a large kick drum, and the legato throb of that Southern hip-hop drum machine bass.
This EQ lets me dial down the midbass and mid-highs, boost the vocal midranges, and add some sparkle on top with the 12 kHz band. The S60's cloth-dome tweeters help shave some of the top-end brittle, helpful when listening to digitally compressed files.
And yeah, I'm that guy constantly messing with the EQ while driving. Bad habit, old habit. At least the S60 makes it somewhat intuitive with its dial and "OK button" method of selection and confirmation.
Once you get the hang of it, it's easy, but still distracting.
The S60's 5-channel system is rated at 650 watts, and it's limited by its four largest speakers sizing in at just 6.5 inches. There's just not enough output or cone mass for its 12 speakers to compete with obnoxious boom-boom mini-trucks or clapped-out Maximas.
But there's plenty of power to crank it high and clean with the windows up, drowning out wind and road noise, or even with windows down. You won't impress anyone at a stoplight with power and dBs, but someone might take notice of the system's clarity at high volume.
It might be the best audio system in our fleet, although the TLX is also high on that list. I'll have to sit in them back-to-back one day. Overall, well worth the $3,750 for its inclusion into the Platinum package, which also bundles adaptive cruise, collision warning, lane-keeping assist, retractable side view mirrors, rearview camera and xenon headlights.
Since we're on the topic, and everyone looks for something different in an audio system (ranging from rabid to indifferent), what qualities impress you or do you look for in a car's audio system?
Let us know and we'll start drafting up a consistent protocol for reviewing the systems in our LT cars. We've done it before, but time and technology have progressed. Time for us to review and renew.
Dan Frio, Automotive Editor