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Harman finds new uses for car stereos

With its high-tech Summit audio system at CES, automotive equipment supplier Harman shows how it can create natural soundscapes, and let a car's steering change a song's focal point.

Harman Summit soundscape demo

Harman demonstrated how its Summit audio platform can simulate natural environments, such as Yosemite National Park.

Photo by Harman

Harman, which makes a wide array of automotive electronics, demonstrated unique uses for a car stereo during CES, relying on technology that lets it localize musical focal points around the cabin. This audio technology comes as part of Harman's high-end Summit audio platform, which automakers can implement in their cars.

During a demo at CES, Harman put me in a car fitted with its Summit audio platform and video screens in place of the windows, to show what it might be like to drive a car fitted with its suite of audio features.

Playing what Harman calls Ambisonics Escape, the car's audio system simulated the natural sounds of a California beach and Yosemite National Park. Crashing surf and light winds made up the beach sounds, while the Yosemite soundscape featured wind blowing through trees and the sound of a deer making its way through a meadow. Each soundscape sounded somewhat enhanced but real enough.

With this feature, Harman says a driver could listen to a more pleasing environment than the one through which she is currently driving, or have the soundscape tied to GPS, automatically activating when the car passes through an area it simulates.

Headrest speakers like these are not required for the Summit system, but they make the features work better.

Photo by Harman

A somewhat whimsical feature that also happens to show off how well the Summit system controls the focal point of music, Harman's Dynamic Sound Stage feature reacts to the position of the steering wheel. As a drive down a winding road appeared on the demo car's windshield, a music track played, with its source seeming to track the curves in the road. In the car, it felt like I was chasing the music, a feeling likely to be enhanced by the physical movements of the car in the real world.

This feature representations a new generation of what audio system engineers generally call soundstage. Typically, soundstage programming makes it seem like a listener is sitting in the front row at a concert, with the band right in front. Harman's Dynamic Sound Stage technology moves the soundstage in response to steering input.

To get down to business, Harman brought up a simulated conference call for a self-driving car. Video images of each participant appeared around the cabin on the car's windows, with three across the windshield. The Summit audio technology localized each participant's audio to their image, simulating the feeling of being in an actual conference room. Better than current conference call technology, it was very easy to pick out who was speaking, as the audio directed my attention to each.

Harman has previously demonstrated how this Summit system can simulate actual concert venues and isolate audio for each seat occupant.

The Summit system for this demonstration used headrest speakers in addition to speakers placed around the car, although automakers would customize the installation for different models.

Harman Chief Engineer Christopher Ludwig said the Summit system has been in development for two years, and is ready for production now. He would not say which automakers might implement the system.

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