Evaluate Your System with the Rolls Royce of Playlists

Playlists. In the world of audio, especially when it comes to critical listening and system evaluation, there is nothing more important than playlists. Those sonic references play a critical role in designing and evaluating an audio system’s performance. And when that system is in a $500,000 vehicle, it’s even more important to get it right.

Everybody wants their audio system to sound good. Or, at least to sound as good as it can. Even the best loudspeakers can sound bad in a living room if the room’s acoustics aren’t properly dialed in. In fact, few rooms are dialed in. But in a car, a sound system can be precisely tuned for that vehicle’s particular acoustics. You even know exactly where the listeners will be seated. No sound system is perfect, and cars have their own kinds of limitations and liabilities, but when the tuning is done right, vehicle playback sound quality can be brilliantly optimized.

Car audio tuners, the men and women who painstakingly adjust the levels, equalization, time delay, and other critical processing parameters to optimize the quality of a car’s sound system, are unsung audio heroes. They take a head unit, amplifier, DSP code, wires, and speakers, and fashion them into true instruments capable of the finest musical performance.

Of course, unfortunately, cheap cars have cheap sound systems. Very limited resources are spent on the system’s hardware and tuning. As a car’s price tag goes up, generally, so does the sound quality. The hardware is upgraded, and the number of hours spent tuning increases dramatically. At the very high end of the car market, the technology should be superb, and the tuning should be expert. In the best vehicles, with the best sound systems, the listening experience can be extraordinarily good.

When tuning a car’s system, very sophisticated analytical means are used, but the final tuning uses the most basic tech — some songs and some ears. Just as every audiophile has their “go to” list of songs that they know and trust, references that they can play through a system to evaluate its performance. Professional tuners have the same.

Some engineers treat their playlist like the formula for Coca-Cola, jealously concealing its contents as if it would do anyone else any good if they stole it. Other engineers know that songs are just songs; it’s not the material itself that is valuable, but the ears that listen to it. The audio engineers who tuned the Rolls Royce Bespoke Audio system in the Phantom are apparently in the latter camp. Thus, they have shared their playlist, or at least a portion of it. Without further ado, here are 22 songs from the Rolls Royce system tuning playlist:

1. “Wish You Were Here,” Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here (1975)
2. “From Here to Eternity,” Giorgio Moroder, From Here to Eternity (1977)
3. “Across the Lines,” Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman (1988)
4. “Sad But True,” Metallica, Metallica (1991)
5. “Bembe / Abakwa,” Terry Bozzio, Solo Drum Music II (1992)
6. “Klangfarben Melodie,” Terry Bozzio, Solo Drum Music II (1992)
7. “Know Your Enemy,” Rage Against the Machine, Rage Against the Machine (1992)
8. “Fistful of Steel,” Rage Against the Machine, Rage Against the Machine (1992)
9. “Passion (Naked Edit),” Gat Décor, Passion (1992)
10. “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?,” Nirvana, MTV Unplugged in New York (Live) (1993)
11. “Stimela (The Coal Train),” Hugh Masekela, Hope (Live) (1994)
12. “Hotel California,” The Eagles, Hell Freezes Over (Live) (1994)
13. “Paranoid Android,” Radiohead, OK Computer (1997)
14. “Lyric Lickin’,” Del The Funky Homosapien, Future Development (1997)
15. “Insomnia,” Faithless, Insomnia (1995)
16. “Raining in Baltimore,” Counting Crows, Across A Wire: Live in New York City (1998)
17. “Safe in New York City,” AC/DC, Stiff Upper Lip (Deluxe Edition) (2000)
18. “Scrappy,” Wookie, Wookie (Deluxe Edition) (2000)
19. “Marionette,” Matthew Jonson, Marionette (2004)
20. “Intro,” Nemesea, Pure: Live @ P3 (Remixed & Remastered) (2012)
21. “Bass Solo,” Nemesea, Pure: Live @ P3 (Remixed & Remastered) (2012)
22. “Drum Solo,” Nemesea, Pure: Live @ P3 (Remixed & Remastered) (2012)

Some songs might not be familiar, but you know others by heart. Run through the familiar songs in your head. If you were doing critical listening, what would you listen for in each song? Vocal clarity? Bass response? Spatial accuracy? You’re starting to think like a tuner. To a tuner, these songs no longer function as music. Instead, they are complex test signals that provide far more insight than sine, square, or triangle waves ever could.

Stay tuned and we’ll return to this topic. In particular, we know that Rolls Royce makes automobiles of the highest quality, but would this playlist enable their tuners to achieve the same high sound quality?

Ken C. Pohlmann is an electrical engineer specializing in audio topics as a consultant and writer. He is Professor Emeritus at the University of Miami.

teacher1000's picture

I stopped using Nirvana's MTV Unplugged, and Neil Young's because they are too good. They make any system sound good.

mikethemusician's picture

Two tracks on this album have always been my favorite "go to" for speaker auditions, including the B&O system in my 2011 Audi A8 & the Bowers & Wilkins system in my current BMW.

The deep bass in Steve Gadd's drum solo on "Nite Sprite" & the vocal highs in "Looking At The World" have provided great initial stress tests for many speaker systems over the years. Of course, it's hard to argue with their choices.

BTW, the Audi A8 system mentioned above was featured in IEEE Spectrum years ago (after I had purchased it), from the perspective of the acoustic engineer who had helped design it. Short, interesting article.

mikethemusician's picture

Here's a link to the IEEE Spectrum article (I assume you're a member?) from January 2013: https://spectrum.ieee.org/consumer-electronics/audiovideo/bang-olufsens-...

James Igoe's picture