Daily Archives: November 10, 2008

The Hyundai Genesis: High fidelity on a budget

When we’re sitting in traffic, top speed and quarter-mile times tend not to mean that much. What’s really important is how comfortable are the seats and how good is the stereo? With regard to the new Hyundai Genesis luxury sedan, the first question must remain unanswered until Dan Neil puts his tush on the case. But the other question can be answered now.

To call this system a stereo is to do it a grave disservice. Like Jaguar has its Harmon/Kardon and Lexus has its Mark Levinson, Hyundai has gone to Lexicon. This may not be a familiar name to many people, but almost everyone will have heard the fruits of Lexicon’s labor. The company’s products abound in every serious music recording studio and in many cinema sound facilities. Lexicon processing is heard on more than 80% of all professional audio recordings.

The only other car manufacturer that offers a Lexicon sound system is Rolls-Royce. So nothing too shabby. The mission is to reproduce sound as neutrally as possible, with the minimum of coloration and distortion, to be the most faithful of high-fidelity systems.

Mission accomplished. It surrounds the listener — no matter where he or she is sitting — with clear, detailed sound. It’s meaty enough to cope with heavy bass, even explosions on a DVD soundtrack, and sufficiently delicate to handle light cymbal touches. Door speakers are set into the metal to provide a vibration-free response, while the front screen and passenger windows are double-laminated to help insulate the cabin from exterior noise.

The system comes in two forms, the Premium Package Plus is the least expensive. For $3,000, it adds 18-inch wheels, rain-sensing wipers and a few other bit and bobs. The most significant being a 528-watt, 14-speaker setup with a six-CD changer in the dash and a compact 11-channel digital amplifier in the trunk. This system has the ability to take a conventional two-channel (stereo) recording and open it out so the listener feels more enveloped by the sound.

With the Technology Package, there’s a 17-speaker, 7.1 surround sound system (same wattage); that’s seven separate channels. This option costs $4,000, but it also includes such toys as a reversing camera, parking sensors, auto-cornering and -leveling headlights, and a cooled driver’s seat. And in a way, it’s still a bargain; to get something sounding this good for a home system could easily cost twice as much.

It’s a more ingenious arrangement that can read DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 recordings and play them back through seven separate channels. Genesis owners probably will be tempted to go out to the garage, sit in the car and watch a DVD just for kicks.

Lexicon’s engineers have been working with Hyundai since the car’s design stages, which has given a far better result than just trying to install an audio system as an afterthought. If Hyundai is to pull off this luxury-on-a-budget ploy with the Genesis, then it needs to be convincing in every relevant area. Audio-wise, it’s already there.

— Colin Ryan