With Bose's new car audio, the sound is all in your head

At CES 2016, Bose showed off a range of car audio systems, in low- to high-end cars, that increase immersion and quality through headrest speakers.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
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Bose headrest speaker
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Bose headrest speaker

Bose integrates speakers into the headrest, creating a more immersive and well-staged listening experience, even with few additional audio components.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Mazda's new Miata came out last year with the option for a premium 9-speaker Bose audio system, with 4 of those speakers in the headrests of this little two-seater. Likewise, the new Cadillac CT6 flagship sedan will offer the 34-speaker Panaray system, also with headrest speakers.

At CES 2016. Bose demonstrated how it would build future car audio systems around this headrest concept for cars from the low to high end.

Car audio systems typically use speakers mounted in the doors, A-pillars, and possibly the rear shelf, if there is one. Throw in a subwoofer and center-fill, and you can have a pretty good-sounding system. With increasing interest in premium car audio, however, Bose is looking for creative ways to enhance the audio experience, even in very affordable cars.

Using a Nissan Juke, Bose showed me its new Small Vehicle series branded audio system. Here, two newly developed midrange speakers mounted in the doors provided the lower half of the frequency spectrum, while two tweeters on the A-pillars filled in the high end.

The addition of two speakers in each headrest, right by my head, enhanced the sound considerably and gave it an immersive quality.

A Bose representative played a Daft Punk track, using a tablet to control the amount of immersion. Reducing immersion, staged the sound neatly over the dashboard, as if I was front row at a concert. Dialing up the immersion enveloped me in the sound field, the different instruments and effects in the track filling the car's small cabin.

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I never distinctly heard a particular speaker, even with two of them right near my head. Instead, the result was well-staged and distinct music, much beyond what I would expect in an inexpensive car, whether staged in front or with full immersion on. Of course, with only four additional speakers and no subwoofer, the system lacked some richness.

At this point, the Small Vehicle series is not available in a production car, as Bose attempts to sell automakers on the idea. A Bose representative said the company was targeting about a $400 option price, making it an inexpensive addition for small car buyers. You can hear Bose's recent work with headrest speakers in the aforementioned Miata and, soon, the CT6.

Check out the rest of CNET's CES 2016 coverage here.