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2021 Acura TLX raises its audio game with a new ELS Studio system

The latest ELS Studio 3D setup brings studio quality audio to the TLX with 17 speakers and Acoustic Motion Control technology.

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Sharper styling and a great-sounding ELS audio setup are highlights of the 2021 Acura TLX.

Acura

The 2021 Acura TLX has a lot going for it. With styling derived from the gorgeous Type S concept, it's a visually more interesting specimen than the outgoing 2019 Acura TLX. On the performance front, old-school Honda and Acura enthusiasts like me also have the return of double-wishbone front suspension and hotter Type S model with 355 horsepower to look forward to. Unfortunately, driving a new TLX will have to wait until this fall, but Acura did extend an olive branch by offering up some stationary time in one so we could experience its latest and greatest ELS Studio 3D audio system.

Even though companies like Bose and Harman Kardon have better name recognition, the ELS audio hardware developed by Panasonic for Acura vehicles has become formidable audio equipment. The range-topping system in the previous TLX had 10 channels, 10 speakers and 490 watts of output, but the 2021 Acura TLX betters it with 16 channels, 17 speakers and 710 watts of power in the updated ELS Studio 3D unit that will be available in the Advance, A-Spec and Type S trims.

To provide a more immersive audio experience, four new slim speakers have been integrated into the TLX's headliner in key locations, providing front and rear passengers with an improved listening experience. There are Twin Telford corner-mounted subwoofers placed at opposing angles to cut down on unwanted rattles and vibrations, and titanium dome tweeters for clearer vocals. All are controlled by a multichannel amplifier with Panasonic's Acoustic Motion Control tech, allowing engineers, with the help of Grammy Award-winning producer Elliot Scheiner, to optimize each speaker independently for studiolike audio.

Crisp audio in the TLX comes courtesy of a 17-speaker ELS Studio 3D surround-sound system.

Acura

How does the ELS system sound? Pretty darn good when listening to high-quality audio files of hits from the Eagles, Guns N' Roses, Gorillaz and Toto. It doesn't matter if you're in a front or rear outboard seat, sound quality is remarkably clear. Vocals are crisp, instrumentals seem to be transmitted directly into your head and there's never any unwanted distortion or buzzes when cranking the volume up to really rock out. If I'd had more quality files to listen to, I wouldn't have minded sticking around in the parked Acura for another hour or two.

When sampling lower-quality audio files from my Samsung Galaxy phone, it still sounded all right, but there's no question that in order to take full advantage of the TLX's ELS system you'll want the best-quality uncompressed files you can get your hands on.

During my ELS audio immersion, I also played around with the latest iteration of Acura's True TouchPad infotainment interface. It has the latest software, both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and the addition of a volume knob and skip button to the right of the touchpad. I thought the system was intuitive when it first debuted in the RDX crossover and believe that still holds true. Navigating quickly through the screens is easy and the additional hard controls are appreciated when adjusting audio and sifting through music tracks.  

The slick-looking metal grilles on the ELS audio setup's midrange speakers.

Jon Wong/Roadshow

The interior in the preproduction TLX is a nice place to be, with an attractive dash design and quality materials like lots of soft-touch surfaces and open-pore wood trim. The sport seats first seen in the RDX are comfortable, and it's nice to see Acura decided to still include traditional buttons on the center stack for climate controls. While there is good space up front, the rear is lacking a bit in the headroom department.

Soft leathers and wood trim dress the TLX's cabin.

Jon Wong/Roadshow

As I said, the exterior on the TLX is more aggressive than before. On this Advance trim tester, it's not as menacing as on the Type S, but it's a decent looker still. The long front clip, slim headlight housings and subtle character lines on the hood and along the sides give it a clean, understated appearance. But make mine a Type S, please.

Overall, my time spent hanging out inside of the 2021 Acura TLX and listening to some tunes on the excellent ELS system was worthwhile, though I'm still looking forward to seeing how it drives later this year before the base models start hitting dealers in fall. The wait to sample the Type S is going to be a bit longer, as the higher-performance model is slated to go on sale next spring.