- I got a sneak-peak at the dazzling ELS Studio 3D audio system, in a 2021 Acura TLX.
- ELS Studio 3D won Business Insider’s Car Audio System of the Year award in 2018.
- An update to the system includes a pair of subwoofers, rather than a single unit.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
In the world of car audio, there’s a clear first tier, and near its top sits Acura’s ELS Studio 3D system. It’s so good that we named it Business Insider’s Car Audio System of the Year in 2018.
“The ELS Studio 3D sounds incredibly real,” I wrote.
“It doesn’t sound like you’re listening to a raw studio mix. But it creates a rich analogue impression for music coming from digital sources. It’s the kind of audio system that musicians appreciate because it can max out a mix, showcasing the skills of the players and singers as well as the engineers. More than any other car-audio system, it proves music is a team sport.”
Now, in partnership with Panasonic, Acura has updated the system. The carmaker was kind enough to swing by my house with an all-new, 2021 TLX sedan and let me spend about half an hour in the vehicle with a pre-loaded thumb drive and an iPhone, to sample some sounds and CRANK IT UP!
Actually, I’m not KIDDING! I did crank it up – elevated volume without distortion is one of the things that the ELS Studio 3D system does exceptionally well.
First off, what about the new Acura TLX?
The TLX is new for its second-generation, and about to go on sale. I didn’t drive the car, but I’m certainly looking forward to it. There will be two available engines, a 2.0-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder, making 272 horsepower; and an all-new 3.0-litre turbocharged V6, making 355 horsepower. Both motors will be mated to a new 10-speed automatic transmission.
For those who dig driving and dig sport sedans, there will be an A-Spec trim level on offer, as well as a Type S high-performance variant.
OK, back to the music!
Let’s start with the subwoofers
Subwoofers are tricky: sometimes, all they do is serve up bass, bass, and more bass. Thump-thump-thump! That isn’t what the ELS Studio 3D system is all about, however. This setup is aiming for dynamic balance.
So a new pair of trunk-mounted subwoofers provide a solution to the problem of too much bottom end.
The “13-cm, high-excursion speakers are corner-mounted at opposing 13.50 [degree] angles,” Panasonic said in a statement. “This unique, innovative design dramatically reduces or eliminates extraneous rattles and vibrations, and ensures mechanical rigidity with accurate playback.”
That’s rather technical. The upshot is that you can crank any kind of music, but especially bass-heavy productions, and retain the 3D soundscape without feeling like there’s a gorilla trying to escape from the trunk. Panasonic called the units “Twin Telford” subwoofers, in honour Thomas Telford, a Scottish civil engineer who lived from the middle of the 18 th to the middle of the 19th century and designed many roads and bridges.
A powerful system
I usually test high-end car audio systems using a combination of inputs from my own music library, Tidal’s high-fidelity streaming service, Bluetooth, USB inputs, and SiriusXM (if available) and FM radio. If there’s a CD player, so much the better. I used to plug into AUX ports, too, but the consensus these days is that USB is just as good.
With the ELS Studio 3D system, I used a thumb drive provided by Acura; it has a range of musical styles pre-loaded, including tunes from Steely Dan’s greatest hits, considered by some audiophiles to be some of the best music ever recorded. The system magnificently enhanced “Gaucho,” the Dan’s 1980 release that was among the most intensively and obsessively recorded of the group’s entire career.
I also accessed my own files, including “London Calling” by the Clash, an intense song that demands a lot of an audio system’s true dynamic range (it starts out with a fierce midrange guitar riff, but then gives way to some serious bass). The ELS system handled it with aplomb.
Classical, jazz, and contemporary pop were also effortlessly piped into the system’s 710-watt amplifier, before being distributed to 16 channels and 17 speakers (two subwoofers, remember!). That’s a full-blown setup; a 13-speaker, 550-watt alternative is also available, called “ELS Studio.” The 3D, by the way, comes from four, roof-mounted speakers that Panasonic says can create a sound image that’s suspended the middle of the TLX’s cabin.
I even cued up the MC5’s “Kick out the Jams,” from the famous live record of the same name, released in 1969.
The album is a pretty ragged, intense, proto-punk anthem, and in my view, a stern test of whether a great audio system can reproduce the crude, exhilarating energy of a rock show. Let’s just say I felt like I was in Detroit’s Grande Ballroom, over 50 years ago, rather than in the driver’s seat of a luxury sport sedan.
As with the system I evaluated in 2016, the new configuration was tuned by eight-time Grammy-winning producer and engineer Elliot Scheiner, who has worked with some of the biggest names in music, including the Eagles, Eric Clapton, Steely Dan (see above), and the Foo Fighters. Acura, Panasonic, and Scheiner have been working together since 2004.
The ELS Studio 3D system is, astonishingly, still going to be standard on the higher trims of the new TLX (those cars will cost a bit more, of course, than the base model, which should price mid-$US30,000 range). It was worth it when it took home our top car-audio prize in 2018 – and it’s now better than ever.