Is the Rolls Royce Playlist Worthy of the Marque?

A few months ago, we considered the playlist used to tune the bespoke sound system in the Rolls Royce Phantom, a car that sells for a tidy $500,000. We discussed playlists generally and why they are so important. But is the Rolls Royce Phantom playlist a good one, and truly worthy of the marque?

When a carmaker develops a new vehicle, audio engineers use reference music (as well as high-powered analytical software) to optimize sound quality. In a car, unlike home systems, the sound system is integral and unchanging in the listening space; engineers can precisely tune the system, dialing in its parameters to achieve incredible results.

But that’s only possible if the playlist is up to snuff. Although it’s highly unlikely, if a tuning engineer used garbage songs, or songs that were wrong for the system at hand, the resulting tune would suffer. The playlist is paramount for achieving a high-quality tune.

Having compiled and used playlists for many years on countless projects, I have a few observations about the Rolls Royce playlist. For starters, it’s a pretty good list. Overall, the selections will stress the system and test its limits, and generally provide enough variety and nuance for an engineer to evaluate and tune the system. Several of the songs (Pink Floyd, Tracy Chapman, Eagles) are classics in playlist lore. I have used them extensively, as well as some others on the list. I’m sure that the tuning engineers used many more than the 22 songs on the list. But, just for fun, let’s take the playlist as presented and add some useful tuning tools to it.

As much as possible, a playlist should mimic the music that will ultimately be played on the system. That is impossible, but customer demographics can provide some direction since a customer for a Kia Soul probably listens to different music than a customer for a Rolls Royce Phantom. The tuning engineers need to adjust the list according to the vehicle under test.

Consequently, I am surprised that the Rolls Royce playlist does not include any classical orchestral music or opera selections. I imagine that a sizeable chunk of Rolls Royce customers listen to high-brow classical music, so the system should be well-prepared to handle that repertoire. Moreover, this material is very difficult to reproduce well. Let’s add the final 15 minutes of Wagner’s Die Walküre to the list.

Just for fun, let’s take the playlist as presented and add some useful tuning tools to it.

I would also like to add some spoken voice. It may not stress the limits of a sound system, but voice is a “go-to” item for many tuners. After listening to “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits a million times, its sound is imprinted in your brain. That’s useful when your goal is to tune the system to replay that recording exactly as you know it should sound. But a slightly different goal of tuning is to reproduce sounds as naturally as possible. Simple spoken recordings can be used for that. You might not have heard the live sound of a Steinway piano very recently, but you hear the sound of human speech every day and can instantly tell when it’s “off.” Let’s add Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.”

Also, I can’t help but notice that the newest songs on the Rolls Royce playlist date to 2012. I’ve always felt that while a playlist must have familiar songs that are time-tested and sonically ingrained in your brain, it should also have new music that reflects how music is changing and anticipates how future music might sound. In the days of LPs, the drum part in Pink Floyd recordings pushed the bounds of technology and musical taste. But the band’s once-epic bass sound is a far cry from that in contemporary pop songs. Let’s add Sia’s “Saved My Life.”

It’s also important to pick music that is intended to be played back at different volume levels. Heavy metal should be played back at loud levels, and conversely harpsichord music at soft levels. Tuning engineers battle against NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness) that obscures the softer details in music, and that challenge is compounded when the music is played softly. But the Rolls Royce Phantom, carrying 300 pounds of sound-deadening material and special tires with a noise-reducing foam layer, is an extraordinarily quiet vehicle. The playlist should include material that allows the engineer to listen for nuance even at soft listening levels. Let’s add Adele’s “Someone Like You” and Anson Seabra’s “Somewhere in Ann Arbor.”

So, how successful were the tuning engineers with the bespoke system in the Rolls Royce Phantom? Unfortunately, I cannot opine since I have not had the pleasure of auditioning it. If anyone in Goodwood is reading this, I would be quite pleased to obtain a long-term loaner. Also, I am partial to your Salamanca Blue color, if it’s not too much trouble.

My Update of the Original Playlist
Additions appear in bold at the end of the list.

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)
23. Wagner’s Die Walküre, Richard Wagner (1870)
24. “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry,” Neil deGrasse Tyson (2017)
25. “Saved My Life,” Sia (2020)
26. Adele’s “Someone Like You,” Adele (2011)
27. “Somewhere in Ann Arbor,” Anson Seabra (2020)

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.

NiviM's picture

Fantastic Playlist! well done Ken.
I'm listening to "Hugh Masekela - Hope" a lot recently.