We headed up to Silverstone recently and hopped into the Porsche Panamera Turbo -- the company's first four-door luxury saloon. It sounds like a recipe for tyre-shredding hooliganism, but our intention wasn't to drive the car. Oh no: we went up there to listen to its radio.
That might sound like we've got our priorities wrong, until you realise that the stereo in question was designed, built and hand-installed by German hi-fi supremos Burmester Audiosysteme -- a company that doesn't sell hi-fis for less than £15,000 a pop and thinks nothing of charging $50,000 for a CD player.
Before listening to the sound system, Porsche insisted we take the Panamera Turbo for a spin to get a sense of how the pinnacle of German automotive engineering compares to the pinnacle of German audio engineering. The car was definitely fun, dispatching 0-60mph in a Aston Martin DBS-destroying 4 seconds, and acquitting itself around Porsche's handling-test circuit with an agility that belies its size and, seemingly, the laws of physics. As good as it was though, it's the Burmester sound system that stole the show.
Its mid-range audio reproduction in particular is staggering. Fire up Junior B by Yello and you'll be mesmerised at the way the system renders mid-range tones. The track's silky female vocal and melancholy strings dance around each other with a clarity that almost fools you into thinking you were hearing it live.
Many high-end sound systems fail to deliver in the low end, but the Burmester setup excels here, too. Listen to Our Own Happiness by X-Dream and you'll feel as if the subwoofer is kicking you in the spine. In a nice way. It's never too overpowering though, since the sound is always balanced. The tonally elaborate Danse Macabre, Op. 40 was rendered with such precision that were there not people around, we could have wept.
Everything about the Burmester sound system is enormous. Even at low volume, sound was delivered with a strength and presence virtually unheard of in anything outside of the very best high-end home setups -- even at high-speed cruising. A sound-conditioning microphone located on the car's ceiling detects ambient noise levels, adjusting the audio to compensate for the drone of the Panamera's sporty exhaust and the burble of its twin-turbocharged V8.
It achieves its near-perfect audio reproduction thanks to a set of 16 speakers -- which isn't outrageous, considering cars such as the Jaguar XJ have as many as 20. Burmester says the comparatively low speaker count is of little relevance, however, as those 16 speakers have a combined diaphragm area of 2,400cm² -- a record for any factory-fitted sound system.
Power is delivered by two subwoofers -- one 16-channel, 700W unit driving the woofers and tweeters, and a separate 300W Class-D amp powering a 250mm (10-inch) subwoofer in the Panamera's considerable boot. Impressively, the total weight of the system totals less than 12kg, so performance enthusiasts needn't worry about extra drag affecting the car's performance.
It isn't all good news, sadly. While the Burmester setup plays CDs and 5.1-channel DVD surround sound via the Harman Kardon in-dash CD changer, and has USB and iPod connectivity, it lacks a hard drive-based storage system, so it's impossible to rip audio from CDs to keep permanently in the car. More disturbing is the fact it doesn't support lossless audio formats. Those who want to listen to digital audio files via the USB interface will have to stick to the lossy MP3 format.
Would that put us off buying it? Not in the slightest. The poor format support is a little diffcult to swallow, but the quality of sound from CDs makes up for it -- and then some. We've heard some wonderful in-car audio systems in our time, but this Burmester setup shows them all up. No matter what type of music you throw at it, it'll throw it back in a way that will render you speechless every time.
Buy a Panamera just so you can have a listen. While you're cracking open your piggy bank, have a look through our photo gallery.