Tastes differ, and the automotive market demonstrates this perfectly as the car is a highly emotionalized topic. While roaring engines and deep sounds may still be an understatement for some, others consider it noise pollution and a nuisance. Some associate driving pleasure with powerful combustion engines, others merely see emissions and wastefulness.
The sound is never a coincidence
Regardless of the verdict: The sound is never a coincidence. No model nowadays leaves the assembly line without its bodywork’s, engine’s and exhaust system’s acoustics having been extensively tested. Developing the engine noise is an elaborate process, as it’s customized for the car’s target group. It evokes strong feelings when buying a vehicle. What a car sounds like when it accelerates, brakes and rolls over asphalt is a purchase decision’s central element. Besides the visual appearance, the acoustic impression also conveys emotions and secured the customer’s loyalty to the brand long-term – the principle is called “brand sound”.
It is important that the customer’s (the “listener”) expectations are in accordance with the actual performance of the car. When a six-cylinder car can be heard from afar, we expect a Porsche to come around the corner and not a Fiat Panda. The Japanese associate a clear sound with athleticism, Americans however a deep humming. According the engine acoustic experts, the sound needs to be a little “rough” in Europe in order to be perceived as sporty. In Italy, the mechanic sounds of the valve position are even reinforced, to create an aggressive tone.
Consequently, the sound designers have upgraded their technology over that past few decades. Not only the engine, but also the sound of the direction indicators, a closing car door, the seats and the electric interior are their subjects of research. The designers use modern technology that could give a car almost every desired sound – that of a horse-drawn carriage or a chainsaw.
The quest for the perfect sound begins with the elimination of all disturbing sound sources, like mechanically moved engine components. They ring and rattle, thus not making the most positive listening experience. Measuring instruments such as acoustic cameras help: The engineers record all sounds and noises in absolutely silent rooms and test where, when and how every frequency and sound forms.
Which sound matches the car’s character?
In the second step the engineers check which sound matches the car’s character, calculate the necessary components such as sound pipes, resonators or mufflers and then build the prototypes. They can then evaluate and modify the sounds until they find the desired one in their recording studios. Later on, the synthetically produced sound is tested in the streets and evaluated by numerous test persons. Their verdict decides which sound conveys athleticism, performance, or simply is unpleasant.
Porsche develops its sound by itself in its own studios. Audi also prefers acoustics from their own making. The manufacturer makes some of his economic Diesels appear more “sporty” by adding a speaker to the cars’ exhaust pipes and thus dampening the actual engine noise. Manufacturers that don’t have an own department for all things sound, assign their engine development engineers to the task.
In times of the electric car
In times of the electric car, sound studios are facing new challenges: The electric cars’ engine noise almost become inaudible with speed, making the cars less exiting and sexy. Furthermore, the cars are much more quiet and are hard to distinguish in traffic.
The US have already reacted to the potential security risks: From 2017 on, all electric cars need to be noticeable. The European Union will most likely follow with a similar regulation. Many market players are already working on soundscapes for electric cars. An example if VW with its currently nearly silent e-Golf. The perception of a car’s sound will not only depend on personal preferences and good marketing concepts anymore – the security dimension now also plays a role in what our cars sound like.
Latest posts by Odine Mansury (see all)
- Cars & traffic: How did the past envision the future? - 20. July 2016
- It’s all about sound: How car manufacturers make themselves heard - 9. June 2016
- German car manufacturers in China: Eviction from paradise? - 24. May 2016