Mobile Home Theater

It seems like nearly every high-end audio company is trying to get out of the house and into the car these days. While at first this appears strange, it makes a lot of sense. The home audio market has been stagnant for years, and every bit of exposure can only help. The car also has several aspects that make it somewhat easier to design for than the home. For one, you know where your listeners are going to be, and you know with a lot of certainty what and where the reflective and absorptive surfaces are. The downsides, of course, are road noise, and less than perfect speaker placement. There are many ways a company can approach these problems, and done well, they can sound vastly better than the stock system, and often better than any aftermarket system as well.

THX II Certified Car Audio System and the Lincoln MKX

In most ways, the Lincoln MKX is pretty typical of sport utility vehicles of late. It’s pretty big, heavy, and has a certain “I’m here!” look to it. There’s a fair amount of chrome, but certainly not as much as some others. Perhaps not as typical are a V6 engine (most have V8s), a stepped on jelly bean sort of look, and a high end audio system option. The $995 price for the aural upgrade isn’t bad, and far less than some audio system upgrades.

The MKX was the second Ford product that THX designed from scratch, the first being the Zephyr (now called the MKZ). THX head guru Laurie Fincham praised the Lincolns for one aspect that makes any car audio designer’s life easier; they’re quiet.

Every car audio speaker system is approached in different ways, as every car, company, and designer is different. THX and Ford looked at the fact that most media played back in a car is just 2-channel. That, and the fact that surround sound can sound very odd to the people in the back, drove (yes, a pun) them to design the MKZ system as 2.1. From scratch it was also made to maximize the bandwidth, so it can play both deep and high cleanly.

The 2.1 configuration doesn’t mean there isn’t a center channel. A specially designed slot speaker was integrated into the dash. This so the stereo sound doesn’t get pinned to the doors. There are three modes: “Driver,” “All Seats,” and “Front.” Depending on the mode the center channel gets activated to even out the mix. “Driver” centralizes the balance so the driver gets the best sound. “All Seats” spreads the sound so it’s as good as it can be for everyone. The sound spreads more to the doors, but there is a fullness that “Driver” doesn’t have. “Front” does as you’d expect, sounding a lot like “All Seats,” minus the fill from the rear. I found “All Seats” to sound the best overall with most material.

The speakers themselves are mostly in the doors. A 1-inch tweeter is in front of the door handle, and a 5x7 mid-woofer is a little below. The dash has that special slot center channel, which is a 1-inch tweeter and a 2.75-inch midrange. The back doors house a 5x7 two-way. The subs are located on the sides of the trunk. Like many of the new car audio systems, the rear 1.5-inch rear speakers are up out of the way (and aimed towards the passenger compartment) on the D-pillars.

The MKX’s 12-channel (one for each speaker) amp has integrated DSP. It has built in limiters to reduce clipping, or very occasionally for heat.

The sound is quite good. There is no boomy bass, easily the most trite and annoying trend in car audio. THX succeeded in their goal for bandwidth, as the entire frequency range is readily audible. Well, at least it sounds that way, I couldn’t measure the frequency response. The treble is clear, but not harsh. Bass is not quite as defined as some car audio systems, but isn’t bad. There is plenty of volume capabilities.

Is it worth it?
It’s odd reviewing car audio, as for most readers here, they’ll probably upgrade the audio system regardless. So instead, what if you’re in the market for one of these types of vehicles. Is this one more or less worth it because of the audio? Well, yes and no. The audio system is quite good, and its integration into the electronics of the vehicle can’t be duplicated by any aftermarket installer. Here’s where my hobby intersects with my job. I just can’t see why anyone would buy this car. It’s an excellent example of the mediocrity of current Ford vehicles. I will grant that I would never buy an SUV, but as far as SUVs go, there are far better. The inside of the MKX has miles of plasticy crap. The engine is fairly torquey, and makes nice sounds, but the driving experience is mundane even for an SUV. There is little wrong with the MKX, it’s just not very good. Hopefully THX will be able to put their substantial experience and talent into a system in a decent car. Oh, wait, they do…

Lincoln MKX $34,120
THX II Certified Car Audio System $995