Go Back   Club Lexus Forums > Lexus Model Forums > GS Models > GS - Fourth Generation
Sign in using an external account
Register Forgot Password?

Mark Levinson and Premium Audio - Notes from an Audiophile

Reply
 
 
 
 
Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
Old 08-19-12, 12:12 PM   #1
photoguy
Rookie
Trader Score: (0)
 
Join Date: Oct 2006
Location: TX
Posts: 70
Default 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...
This ad is not displayed to registered members.
Register your free account today and become a member on Club Lexus!
photoguy is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-19-12, 01:14 PM   #2
95bat
Driver
Trader Score: (0)
 
Join Date: May 2012
Location: CA
Posts: 100
Default

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
95bat is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-19-12, 01:20 PM   #3
photoguy
Rookie
Trader Score: (0)
 
Join Date: Oct 2006
Location: TX
Posts: 70
Default

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 View Post
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 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-19-12, 02:25 PM   #4
mehran888
Lead Lap
Trader Score: (0)
 
Join Date: Mar 2012
Location: ON
Posts: 523
Default

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.
__________________
Now driving: 2013 Red on Cab GS350 F-Sport
Other car: 2008 Grey on black EX35 Journey
Previous cars: '02 Civic Coupe DX-G (18 mo), '01 IS300 Pearl on black (9 yrs), '94 Toyota 4Runner Green on tan (3 yrs), '89 Volkswaggen Jetta Wolfsburg (4 yrs)
mehran888 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-19-12, 02:55 PM   #5
photoguy
Rookie
Trader Score: (0)
 
Join Date: Oct 2006
Location: TX
Posts: 70
Default

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 View Post
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 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-19-12, 04:36 PM   #6
95bat
Driver
Trader Score: (0)
 
Join Date: May 2012
Location: CA
Posts: 100
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by TexasTen View Post
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.
95bat is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-19-12, 06:11 PM   #7
mehran888
Lead Lap
Trader Score: (0)
 
Join Date: Mar 2012
Location: ON
Posts: 523
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by TexasTen View Post
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
__________________
Now driving: 2013 Red on Cab GS350 F-Sport
Other car: 2008 Grey on black EX35 Journey
Previous cars: '02 Civic Coupe DX-G (18 mo), '01 IS300 Pearl on black (9 yrs), '94 Toyota 4Runner Green on tan (3 yrs), '89 Volkswaggen Jetta Wolfsburg (4 yrs)
mehran888 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-21-12, 10:35 AM   #8
Blackraven
Lexus Champion
Trader Score: (0)
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Makati, Philippines
Posts: 3,302
Default

It's great to hear an opinion from the perspective of an audio enthusiast/specialist. It's mostly highly appreciated
Blackraven is online now   Reply With Quote
Old 08-21-12, 11:34 AM   #9
PLAYTYM
Lead Lap
Trader Score: (0)
 
PLAYTYM's Avatar
 
Join Date: Sep 2010
Location: Vermont
Posts: 630
Default

+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!
__________________

SOLD: 2002 Lexus SC430 - April 14, 2012
PURCHASED: 2013 Lexus GS350 AWD, Nebula Gray Pearl/w Black Leather and Linear Espresso wood, Luxury, Cold Weather, HDD Nav, Blind Spot, Park Assist, Remote Start, DuPont Protection
PURCHASED: 2013 Nissan Pathfinder SL Premium, Dark Slate/w Black Leather, Cold Weather, Park Assist, Heated Rear Seats, 3 Zone Climate Control, Duel Panorama Moonroof, Power Liftgate, Remote Start
PLAYTYM is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-21-12, 01:45 PM   #10
jtrue28
Lexus Champion
Trader Score: (0)
 
jtrue28's Avatar
 
Join Date: Sep 2008
Location: #BBNine
Posts: 2,069
jtrue28 jtrue28
Default

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.
__________________
2008 GS350 AWD - Black Sapphire Pearl/Cashmere - Non ML - TOTALED 11/18/2010
2011 GS350 AWD - Deep Sea Mica/Black - Non ML - SOLD 2/7/12
2013 GS350 AWD F-Sport - Riviera Red/Black - SOLD 10/19/14
2010 RX350 AWD - Tungsten Pearl/Grey - Premium/Comfort/Nav/OEM RSES/19"
2015 GX460 - Silver Lining Metallic/Black - Luxury - Loaded except for "cool box" and RSES
jtrue28 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-21-12, 02:27 PM   #11
ECL
Lead Lap
Trader Score: (0)
 
Join Date: May 2011
Location: AZ
Posts: 442
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by jtrue28 View Post
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.
ECL is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-21-12, 03:06 PM   #12
4TehNguyen
Lexus Fanatic
Trader Score: (0)
 
Join Date: Jan 2006
Location: Houston, Texas
Posts: 18,252
Default

Songs from Google Play are 320 kbps bitrate. Amazon uses 256 kbps.
__________________
14 IS350 Nebula Gray/Rioja Red + FSport + ML/Nav + JoeZ Intake/Exhaust
06 IS350 Crystal White/Black + Sport/ML + 2014 IS F Sport Wheels
4TehNguyen is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-23-12, 11:56 AM   #13
MarkGS
Rookie
Trader Score: (0)
 
Join Date: Mar 2012
Location: TX
Posts: 66
Default

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.

Last edited by MarkGS; 08-23-12 at 12:01 PM..
MarkGS is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-23-12, 01:55 PM   #14
4TehNguyen
Lexus Fanatic
Trader Score: (0)
 
Join Date: Jan 2006
Location: Houston, Texas
Posts: 18,252
Default

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
__________________
14 IS350 Nebula Gray/Rioja Red + FSport + ML/Nav + JoeZ Intake/Exhaust
06 IS350 Crystal White/Black + Sport/ML + 2014 IS F Sport Wheels
4TehNguyen is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 12-29-12, 11:10 AM   #15
modthispny
Lead Lap
Trader Score: (0)
 
Join Date: Sep 2012
Location: CA
Posts: 439
Default

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!
modthispny is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 12-29-12, 11:10 AM
 
 
 
 
Reply

Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
Perfect companion for the ML system Ascari_2 LS460, LS460L and LS600h 30 11-11-14 03:20 PM
My 430 has no bass lamealibi LS430 20 07-04-14 05:22 AM
Dislike bluetooth phone audio sound in this car Rexus300 GS - Fourth Generation 10 05-07-14 11:20 AM
Vaistech ML Plus (ML+) Review - Buy Recommendation from former SL2i user!!! *Batman* Lexus Audio, Video, Security & Electronics 405 01-14-13 09:52 AM
Audiophile Compares ML stereo to Premium Stereo............. Cut-Throat GS - Third Generation 48 01-08-08 06:40 PM


Tags
200, 2013, 300, audio, es350, levinson, levinston, lexu, lexus, low, ls430, mark, premium, sound, stuff, vocals, wired

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are Off

Forum Jump

All times are GMT -7. The time now is 11:16 AM.

Join ClubLexus
Advertising


Copyright © 2000-2008 Internet Brands, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Privacy Policy | Disclaimer | Terms of Use | JOBS


Get all contact info