Sound Advice: Lexus LS 500’s Mark Levinson Audio System
How do you make an LS 500 even better? Add the Executive Package with Mark Levinson Reference Audio System, and some Pink Floyd.
I’m sitting in one of the rear “Relaxation Seats” of a 2018 Lexus LS 500, enjoying a shiatsu massage and listening to Pink Floyd’s 1973 classic, “Money.” To borrow a line from David Gilmour, I feel like I’m in the high-fidelity, first-class traveling set.
Of course, I’ve heard Pink Floyd’s song about the excesses of success countless times before, but now, it is an all-consuming sensory experience that sounds different. It actually sounds better, fuller, phenomenal.
The progressive-rock music surrounds me, seeping into my senses and fully enveloping me as 23 strategically-placed speakers in 16 locations deliver pure escapist entertainment provided by one of the world’s greatest rock bands. And it’s coming from one of the world’s greatest sound systems: a Mark Levinson Reference Audio System by Harman. It was exclusively designed for Lexus and is a standalone upgrade on the new Lexus LS 500, as well as an included part of the 2018 lineup’s Executive Package.
As I listen to the complex intro to “Money,” which is a mish-mash of eclectic chimes from an active cash register and jingling coins, I am slightly confused. It sounds like someone added an extra roll of coins to the song’s beginning, because I’m hearing chimes, bells, and clinks that I have never noticed before.
The output of the Mark Levinson Reference Audio System is so rich and crystal clear that there are exquisite, subtle layers of sounds and music that I am hearing for the first time. For the past four decades, every car and portable stereo that I heard Floyd’s jam on were so inferior in sound quality that I was unknowingly jipped out of experiencing the full magnitude of Pink Floyd’s music. This is something I learn directly from the Mark Levinson rep, Product Planning Sales Manager Kyle Roche, who is providing a comprehensive tutorial on the Lexus LS 500’s audio system.
As I listen to the intro to the Pink Floyd classic ‘Money,’ the audio is so rich and crystal clear that there are subtle layers of music that I am hearing for the first time.
“This vehicle also has a software technology called Clari-Fi, which improves the quality of audio, similar to what buffering does,” says Roche, about how Clari-Fi restores the tonal accuracy of the original music that gets lost during the digital audio-compression process. “The higher the quality of audio, the better the components can perform and the better it is going to sound. So, it all kind of plays into a bridge, and it makes it a fluid system that’s going to make it sound as good as possible.”
A ‘Quantum’ Leap in Audio Technology
To provide some perspective on the “Quantum Logic Immersion” and 3D capabilities of the system’s superior sound quality, the Mark Levinson rep switches the audio selection. Soon, the cabin of the Lexus LS 500 is acoustically enveloped with the loud sound of a helicopter.
As he turns up the volume, it begins to sound and feel like the sound waves are moving through the cabin. The sensation is due to Quantum Logic Immersion, which creates a 360-degree spatial environment. Its impressive audio power also comes courtesy of the 16-channel Mark Levinson Reference Amplifier, which produces 2,400 equivalent watts at 0.05% total harmonic distortion.
“It’s acting in a similar way to what a Dolby Atmos or digital theatre experience would do,” explains Roche. “And this is something that is totally unique to Lexus, and the first time it is appearing in a Lexus vehicle. It adds an element to the vehicle experience that you won’t typically see [elsewhere]. Compared to some of the other systems in its segment, the performance and the 3D capabilities are unparalleled.”
True that. As the helicopter’s propellers get louder, the audio system creates a 360-degree spatial environment. The sound of the rotating propellers is so realistic that it takes a second for my brain to connect with reality and creates a suspension of disbelief that has me instinctively looking up toward the sky. This is when I notice one of the 23 speakers seamlessly embedded in the ceiling above me. Even Pink Floyd could never top this impressive display of acoustic alchemy. The clarity is spectacular, echoing every whirr and rumble of the helicopter. It truly creates an experience where you can feel the audio experience.
Grills, Grills, Grills
When it comes to the audio system’s design, the Mark Levinson 23-speaker surround-sound system captivates in that area, too. Although the system’s interface is somewhat basic – and its integrated CD player unnecessary – the speaker grills steal the show. The intricate, modern, and stylish grills are branded with the Levinson logo and completely obscure the speakers. They are so perfectly melded with the cabin’s design that they are likely to be taken as mere decor rather than practical safeguards for the system’s components.
“The grills are Mark Levinson reference grills, and the pattern is exclusive with the audio system,” says Roche. “So, if you purchase the Mark Levinson Reference Audio System, that specific grill comes with it as part of the audio upgrade.” Further adding to the advanced design of the system is an eco-friendly technology initiative called GreenEdge, which aims to improve sonic performance while reducing power consumption, weight, and heat generation.
The remarkable collaboration between Mark Levinson and Lexus has led the system’s engineers to consider every aspect of how to deliver perfect sound reproduction.
The remarkable collaboration between Mark Levinson and Lexus has led the audio system’s engineers to consider and expertly cover every aspect of how to deliver perfect sound reproduction. From the strategic placement of nearly two dozen speakers to finding a way to increase the audio’s volume and clarity while reducing bulk, the reported “thousands of man-hours” spent to achieve the end result was certainly worth it.
With a simple flick of a finger on the dash’s media system, Roche engages the complimentary Lexus Enform App Suite 2.0 app and connects with Slacker. (Pandora, I Heart Radio, and other radio platforms are also options. Music is streamed via Bluetooth or USB. Or, if you still remember what compact discs are and own a few, you can always opt to use the CD player.)
When he plays a jazzy cover of “My Funny Valentine,” the music surrounds the cabin with warm tones and crisp acoustics that let you hear the guitarist’s pick scratching the instrument’s steel strings. And the female singer’s lush, dynamic vocals set a mood that is as intoxicating and relaxing as the massaging seat. The high-tech seats and high-end audio work in tandem, offering a full sensory overload in the best way possible.
After hearing this system first hand, it seems misguided to invest in an LS 500 for its ultra-luxurious features, cutting-edge design, and progressive Lexus Safety System but skimp on the Mark Levinson upgrade. The Mark Levinson Audio System and ultra-luxurious seats, which are both part of the Executive Package, bring together one very impressive and undeniably comfortable automotive experience. We hold up our lighters with respect to the 2018 Lexus LS 500’s rockin’ refresh.
Lexus will announce the pricing for the LS 500’s Executive Package in 2018.