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-   -   Mark Levinson and Premium Audio - Notes from an Audiophile (http://www.clublexus.com/forums/gs-fourth-generation/651113-mark-levinson-and-premium-audio-notes-from-an-audiophile.html)

photoguy 08-19-12 12:12 PM

Mark Levinson and Premium Audio - Notes from an Audiophile
 
Wanted to chime in with some thoughts on the Lexus audio systems since I spend a fair amount of time worrying about audio quality.

I've had an LS and 3GS with ML Audio, and now a 2013 Lexus with premium audio. Before getting the 13' I had a car with a very high end custom audio system, hybrid audio component speakers, active amplification, bitone parametric equalization, professionally calibrated to have perfect frequency response at the driver seating position. I'm really into this stuff.

The Gen5 ML Audio systems I found to be just ok, but only could only stand them a few months before upgrading them with much better sound. Even though the 13' ML cars were supposed to be better I didn't even bother getting it because I thought it would be another throw away, and went with premium sound.

Turns out the 2013 premium system sounds about 90% as good, to my ears, as a 10k aftermarket system. I'm seriously thinking about keeping it.

There a few major caveats here, starting with the fact that "90% as good" does not include the subwoofer performance. You would notice right away the bass in my 10k system sounds dramatically better than any ML system, and I don't just mean louder. Super tight, clean, powerful, neither the Premium or ML trunk enclosure bass is any match for it.

Second caveat on 90% as good is that my lowest quality source used is 320kbs MP3s from Spotify. Many people, including me, believe 320kbs mp3s can sound outstanding. My highest quality sources used are a CD, or "Apple lossless" which is equivalent to CD quality and you can use iTunes to create this format for your phone.

Third caveat is how loud the system can play with no distortion. For many people the Lexus systems are adequate and so far I haven't wanted to push louder than the premium system can go (not including the bass as mentioned above). However if you ever have times you want to play music you really love at the limit of what your ears can take the Lexus systems won't always cut it.

On XM, if you're using it at all you are losing a large part of your sound quality. Whatever you think of the Lexus systems, even the average person is missing out pretty big here. XM is one of the lowest quality sources of digital audio and I recommend not using it for music even if you're not an audiophile.

On Pandora, it's better than XM but still very low quality. For example if you buy a song for 99 cents from iTunes, the quality is more than double that of Pandora. At home Pandora sounds better, but via a phone the quality is very different (low) compared to what Pandora gives you on your computer. For people who are not audiophiles you may or may not notice. In blind A/B testing I could pick out the poor sound of Pandora in a Lexus every time, but for "normal" people maybe it's 50/50 on whether it would bother you after hearing it back to back with the equivalent CD.

I've seen comments that connecting via USB is better than bluetooth audio. This is not true if you have an iPhone or many other high quality smart phones. The bandwidth allowed by bluetooth is easily enough to allow 100% lossless audio to be played back (equivalent to CD quality). The lossless compressed bitrate for two channel audio is less than 1 megabit per second, no sweat for bluetooth.

I've also heard people recommend that audiophiles should "rip out the head unit" and replace it with something better. This is probably a bad idea. Even if you want to upgrade your system, many super high end systems leave the stock head unit in place and replace everything else. I recently saw in person an upgrade of a $200,000 Porsche system to a 20k audio system. They left head unit in place, and it keeps your interior appearance looking stock.

Another very big advantage to the '13 premium system is that it has 3.5 speakers in the dash. When you have only tweeters at head level you can do backflips with expensive equipment but it won't change the fact that vocals are hitting your feet.

Just another take...

95bat 08-19-12 01:14 PM

Nice to see somebody else using Hybrid Audio :)

I had nearly the same system in my previous car. Hybrid Legatia active components, Hertz sub, Audison amps, and a Bit One controlling it all. That system was flat from 20-20khz, except when I turned up the bass to have some fun once in a while :)

photoguy 08-19-12 01:20 PM

Then you know what a compliment it is to say a stock system even comes close :).

Have you had a chance to form an opinion on the quality of the new Lexus systems compared to your custom system? (not counting bass or volume limits)


Quote:

Originally Posted by 95bat (Post 7432318)
Nice to see somebody else using Hybrid Audio :)

I had nearly the same system in my previous car. Hybrid Legatia active components, Hertz sub, Audison amps, and a Bit One controlling it all. That system was flat from 20-20khz, except when I turned up the bass to have some fun once in a while :)


mehran888 08-19-12 02:25 PM

iPhone is a high quality smart phone? :) I actually use Bluetooth (first my iPhone 4S and now my HTX One X) audio in my car, and haven't had a benchmark to compare to. But when I used to use my iPhone 4S with headphones, it paled in comparison to my Zune HD.

photoguy 08-19-12 02:55 PM

Well, bluetooth / and headphones are different outputs.

The bluetooth is a digital signal and there is not really anyway to lose quality with an iPhone 4S unless the bandwidth is impeded or there is some other kind of problem.

The Zune is a nice piece of hardware, so I believe it sounds good

Did you use the same headphones for both?

Quote:

Originally Posted by mehran888 (Post 7432445)
iPhone is a high quality smart phone? :) I actually use Bluetooth (first my iPhone 4S and now my HTX One X) audio in my car, and haven't had a benchmark to compare to. But when I used to use my iPhone 4S with headphones, it paled in comparison to my Zune HD.


95bat 08-19-12 04:36 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by TexasTen (Post 7432323)
Then you know what a compliment it is to say a stock system even comes close :).

Have you had a chance to form an opinion on the quality of the new Lexus systems compared to your custom system? (not counting bass or volume limits)

I have been pleased with the Lexus system so far. I do have the ML system. It is one of the best sounding factory systems I've heard.

When comparing it to my previous system, the biggest difference that I can notice is the separated sound stage. The sound stage in my previous car was very accurate. If you closed your eyes you could locate instruments in front of you instead of hearing them coming from the door panels. It was even very difficult to notice bass coming from the back of the vehicle. All of the sound came from the middle of the windshield like a true concert sound stage. The Lexus is not like that. It is easy to notice the midbass coming from the doors and the highs are slightly biased toward the driver door (without changing any settings). It is difficult to have a sound stage that good without a high dollar processor, so the Lexus is doing a pretty good job I think. The crossover tuning, time alignment, and frequency tuning required on each individual channel to achieve that was very time consuming. Luckily a friend of mine is an IASCA world champ :)

I don't think it is fair to compare bass or volume limits between the two. My previous car had a 15" subwoofer so of course it'd get louder. It also had almost twice as much wattage, too. That system played so loud and so clear it was out of any factory stereo's league. I do miss it (left it in the car when I traded it in), but the ML system keeps me happy now. I haven't felt the need to tear apart my brand new car to put a stereo in it and I don't think I ever will. The Lexus system gets plenty loud, sounds very clean, and, though it won't rattle any windows, the bass is enough to make the music very enjoyable.

mehran888 08-19-12 06:11 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by TexasTen (Post 7432481)
Well, bluetooth / and headphones are different outputs.

The bluetooth is a digital signal and there is not really anyway to lose quality with an iPhone 4S unless the bandwidth is impeded or there is some other kind of problem.

The Zune is a nice piece of hardware, so I believe it sounds good

Did you use the same headphones for both?

Interesting, very good to know! I just presumed that bluetooth audio was poorer quality.

Yes, for my Zune tried out a number of headphones. Upgraded (ie. not the ones that come with the players) Creative, Zune, JLab (don't have the models handy) ones on the low/mid end, and ultimate ears TripleFi on the high end. I really only use buds - so not able to test both devices with high end over-the-ears.

Interestingly, after the break in period, I found the Zune headphones (again, purchased separately) the best for fit, feel and sound after the break-in period. Second to only the Ultimate Ears.

M

Blackraven 08-21-12 10:35 AM

It's great to hear an opinion from the perspective of an audio enthusiast/specialist. It's mostly highly appreciated :)

PLAYTYM 08-21-12 11:34 AM

+1...So glad to hear someone with real audio knowledge compare the premium Lexus sound system against aftermarket systems. I went back and forth about whether to purchsae the GS with ML or just keep the premium sound system. So glad I saved the $2300. Great write-up!

jtrue28 08-21-12 01:45 PM

How do you convert an MP3 you've dowloaded from Napster to Apple lossless 320kbs and make it sound better? Quality can only be as good as the source. ie 128kbs MP3 from Napster/Kazaa/LimeWire, etc....

Thanks for the write up though. I've never seen the point in wasting money on a marginally better "factory" system.

ECL 08-21-12 02:27 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by jtrue28 (Post 7436721)
How do you convert an MP3 you've dowloaded from Napster to Apple lossless 320kbs and make it sound better? Quality can only be as good as the source. ie 128kbs MP3 from Napster/Kazaa/LimeWire, etc....

Thanks for the write up though. I've never seen the point in wasting money on a marginally better "factory" system.


Sign up for iTunes Match.

4TehNguyen 08-21-12 03:06 PM

Songs from Google Play are 320 kbps bitrate. Amazon uses 256 kbps.

MarkGS 08-23-12 11:56 AM

Nice write up and good info from other posters on this thread.

I personally wouldn't hesitate to get the ML. My last 3 Lexus have all had ML audio and the Lexus before was Nakamichi. All provided rich audio. I especially enjoyed the quality of redbook CDs on the ML.

The greatest reason I had ML in my last Lexus was its ability to play DVD-A and DTS in multi channel. However, the previous version of ML did not decode DVD-A correctly, even though it decoded DTS very well.

I have auditioned the ML system in the '13 GS and determined that the issues with DVD-A have been resolved. However, it was auditioning the ML system in the '12 LS that moved me into this car. A lot of the audio quality can be attributed to the environment you are listening in. I believe the LS has double paned glass and other acoustic improving qualities that enhance the audio, because I don't believe the 2 speaker difference in the LS vs. GS can make up the difference I noticed auditioning the ML system in both models.

This is my first vehicle with BT capabilities, and I have to agree with the poster that I get very good quality out of this wireless interface. I also agree about the comments on satellite radio - its all very compressed. But I still enjoy having sources of talk and music that I don't currently own. It keeps me up on new musical releases that I may consider purchasing.

4TehNguyen 08-23-12 01:55 PM

did any owners buy ML audio as a separate item? When you try to build on the website you have to get one of the 10/12k Luxury/FSport packages. On my 06 IS I was able to get ML as a separate option for $900

modthispny 12-29-12 11:10 AM

so was doing some reading and discovered FLAC files, AKA lossless audio(as mentioned by the OP).

a lot of music i've purchased on iTunes i've realized is pretty poor quality, AAC, etc, and with the ML audio system, I feel we need the best source for music to get the full use out of the system.

went ahead and got flac versions of some music i have, converted it to apple lossless(so i can put in my iphone), and going to compare them side by side in the car to see if i can hear a difference.

size wise, the difference is staggering. about 15mb vs 90+ mb, and lossless files are at around at lease 850kbps compared to 256kbps or even lower on itunes.

i will let you know how it goes!


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