There's nothing quite like the open road, with the wind in your hair and the powerful roar of the engine as you speed into the great unknown. The classic engine roar of American muscle cars is something that just can't be replicated by newer engines. Or can it?
The big, beefy roar of your new truck or sports car is most likely a fake. That doesn't mean that the engine isn't powerful; in fact, cars today are stronger, faster and safer than ever. But more and more often, that sound is being augmented digitally. That's right: Your car is like Britney Spears in a recording studio. That is not her natural voice.
Car companies are in a bit of a quandary. Cars today are more powerful, and cleaner running, than ever. The problem is that they don't always sound like it, and customers want an engine roar to match the power of the vehicle.
Car companies have been keeping this digital engine augmentation under their hats for years, but the secret can no longer be contained. That has some customers pretty upset.
“For a car guy, it’s literally music to hear that thing rumble,” said Mike Rhynard, 41, a past president and 33-year member of the Denver Mustang Club. He has swayed between love and hate of the snarl-boosting sound tube in his 2012 Mustang GT, but when it comes to computerized noise, he’s unequivocal: “It’s a mind-trick. It’s something it’s not. And no one wants to be deceived.”
On the one hand, it's a fascinating process. To make the newer, quieter engines sound more power, companies like Ford, Lexus, Porsche, BMW and Volkswagen have dedicated digital sounds piped in through the vehicle's speakers - usually aimed at the driver - to recreate the classic engine roar.
"Volkswagen uses what’s called a “Soundaktor,” a special speaker that looks like a hockey puck and plays sound files in cars such as the GTI and Beetle Turbo. Lexus worked with sound technicians at Yamaha to more loudly amplify the noise of its LFA supercar toward the driver seat.
Some, including Porsche with its “sound symposer,” have used noise-boosting tubes to crank up the engine sound inside the cabin. Others have gone further into digital territory: BMW plays a recording of its motors through the car stereos, a sample of which changes depending on the engine’s load and power."
Believe it or not, sometimes adding sound is a good thing. For example, the Prius hybrid car is so quiet that many pedestrians have walked right in front of them simply because they couldn't hear it. Other hybrids have also been given an audio makeover to make them safer for careless or blind pedestrians.
In the end, does it really matter if the engine sound is fake? What do you think? Should car companies keep their digital doings a secret? Let me know in the comments below.