How Mercedes used the Force to turn the new SL-Class into a concert hall
While technology in new cars has finally begun to catch up with modern times over the past few years, there's been one harsh exception: factory stereos. With a few exceptions, stock head units and speakers usually require aftermarket tweaking to achieve sonic nirvana. Mercedes engineers are having none of that.
For the past seven years, they've been working on an innovative subwoofer set-up called FrontBass which uses the metal chassis of the 2013 SL Roadster as a sound cabinet. To hammer the point home that the Three Pointed Star should be known for great sounds, Mercedes enlisted Skywalker Sound - the audio arm of George Lucas' film empire -- to custom-engineer a Signature Sound disc of pop classics aimed at highlighting the roadster's surround sound capabilities.
Although FrontBass currently is only available on the pricey SL, it will soon come to most of the Mercedes line-up. In its current incarnation, the new audio system is available in three tiers: with non-branded speakers and electronic parts, Harman Kardon gear or a 940-watt Bang & Olufsen outfit.
Mercedes trotted out recently at Skywalker Ranch, the sprawling Marin County, Calif., compound that Lucas bought after "Star Wars" profits started rolling in. Although the great bearded one didn't make an appearance, a few of his top audio people gave a tour of the cavernous recording facility where a prototype SL sat disguised as the team massaged songs such as Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" and Seal's "Amazing" using the original master tapes provided to Mercedes by each performer. The procedure was comically simple: Tweak the tune. Run to the car and play the disc. Mull. Tweak some more. Test some more.
For months on end.
"Cars are really a great place for people to experience music," says Leslie Ann Jones, Skywalker Sound's director of music recording and scoring and the ears responsible for the disc, which is available only to new SL owners.
"You're in a static position, for hours often, thanks to today's traffic. So our job was to take these hit songs and re-record them so you could hear them in a new way, unique to this car," says Jones, daughter of famed 1940s bandleader Spike Jones. "The only disappointing thing was our prototype SL had no engine. So I've never even driven it."