World Music Day encourages people around the world to enjoy making and sharing music together. For Lexus, it is an opportunity to celebrate an exclusive and long-running partnership with luxury audio specialist Mark Levinson that has brought great music to millions of Lexus drivers and passengers.
Together, Lexus and Mark Levinson (one of many prestige brands owned by parent company HARMAN International) have been raising the bar for the quality of in-car entertainment for more than 20 years. Today, bespoke sound systems are developed for each new model, benefiting from ever-more sophisticated technologies to deliver the best listening experience for everyone on board. That’s true whatever your listening preference: the grandeur of a symphony hall, the intimacy of a jazz club or the thrill of a stadium gig – the sound reproduction gives you the sense that you are part of the event.
“It’s really a partnership that begins with understanding the vision for the car and its occupants,” explains Savion Thompson, Acoustics Engineer at Mark Levinson. “Our team makes a point to learn early what a model means to Lexus, then we develop the system to enhance this vision.
“We do a lot of listening – to the chief engineers, the factory workers and the dealerships, and then to the buyers. Part of my job is to know what is out there, but even more important is to choose the right fit for the car. That’s a process that takes an entire team and constant feedback at every checkpoint, following a strong philosophy of constant improvement, or kaizen,” continued Thompson.
The synergies between the two companies include the fact they both aim to deliver the highest standards. “We strive to be the highest performing audio brand in the world,” says Kyle Roche, Senior Global Marketing Manager at HARMAN. “Aiming to achieve near-zero per cent harmonic distortion and crystal-clear acoustic performance, our goals align with Lexus very closely. That is one of the reasons why the partnership has lasted for more than 20 years.”
One of the most recent examples of Mark Levinson’s work in a Lexus production model is the audio system tailor-made for the new NX 350h hybrid-electric SUV. The focus of the development programme was to use the new PurePlay architecture to create a 7.1 surround sound effect, bringing the sound closer to the listener’s ear level and taking the listening experience beyond what might be expected from an in-car audio system. This reflects how the quality of the audio contributes to Lexus’s famous omotenashi hospitality principles, going beyond people’s expectations to make them feel completely at home in their car.
Work began on designing the audio system around five years before the model’s market launch and involved close scrutiny of the size and shape of the vehicle interior.
“Space is always at a premium, particularly in a vehicle the size of the NX,” says Savion Thompson. “However, both Lexus and Mark Levinson set a goal to keep the sound system as close to ideal as possible. This called for months of vehicle study, lots of hand-made prototypes, simulations, measurements and presentations. The team persisted, even stripping the vehicle down to the sheet metal and reworking the factory process to make way for innovation.”
There is also the quest to find the right balance between performance and efficiency: “As vehicle manufacturers strive to increase output while using fewer resources, the multimedia system has to respond to the same challenges. Every millimetre of space and gramme of material needs to be negotiated with a clear value-added purpose,” Thompson adds.
The Pureplay speaker layout in the NX features seven matched 90mm speakers, positioned strategically around the cabin to create an enhanced sound stage. To this are added an internally coupled subwoofer, an 8×9 door woofer and a brand-new, fully discrete 12-channel amplifier.
“The amplifier is the core of our sound,” says Thomson, “we have been working on it for five years in what has been a true collaboration between our automotive and luxury teams.”
On Lexus’s part, there is great appreciation for Mark Levinson’s contribution to the quality and appeal of its vehicles: “During the past two decades our two companies have evolved side-by-side with our shared values of precision craftsmanship, innovation and an amazing experience for our customers,” says Spiros Fotinos, Head of Lexus Europe. “With each new model, we have been able to deliver a more immersive and rewarding listening experience, thanks to Mark Levinson’s leadership in audio technology and close understanding of our values as a global luxury brand.”