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Car audio at the New York auto show

People pay big bucks for optional car audio systems, but how good are these systems?

The Chevy Sonic Boom concept car Steve Guttenberg/CNET

I went to the New York International Auto Show with just one thing on my mind: car audio. Like many New Yorkers, I don't own a car, so this was my chance to sample a wide range of premium car audio systems in everything from Smart cars to Rolls-Royces. For the most part, generic car audio or famous name-brand systems like Bose and Mark Levinson sounded thick and muddy. Not one was up to the standards of a decent home hi-fi system. They played loud and had lots of bass, but even the most expensive car systems at the show didn't have audiophile quality sound.

The Chevy Sonic Boom concept, on the other hand, made a strong impression at the show. A scaled-down, regular production Sonic Boom may be available later this year; I hope it'll take up a lot less interior space! The little Sonic Boom concept car's hatch was jam-packed with two throbbing 15-inch subwoofers, 24 speakers, and a hefty 4,000-watt sound system. The sound lived up to the car's name.

Check out more photos of the car audio I saw at the show. Click on any image below to start the slideshow.