Tech Trends '09: Licensed to Thrill

One minute, I'm standing in the lobby of a Manhattan hotel - a total nobody, utterly ignored by the throngs rushing about. The next minute, people are stopping on the street to take pictures of me, an instant celebrity, as I step into a "storm black" Aston Martin DBS. Thus began my experience with the car company's latest pinnacle of achievement, a vehicle suited and styled for the likes of 007 himself.

Car audio isn't Sound & Vision's primary focus, but the invitation to audition Bang & Olufsen's BeoSound DBS sound system was simply too good to pass up. Since this isn't a vehicle you'd hand over to the Geek Squad for an aftermarket install, Aston Martin needed the DBS to have a sensational system as standard gear. B&O accepted the design challenge, crafting the 1,000-watt, 13-speaker system from the ground up, incorporating many technologies from its home audio lineup. Since nothing replaces a firsthand experience, I flew to New York City to give the system a listen - and enjoy the car for an entire weekend.

For $276,260, you get a hand-built piece of art that also happens to be a fully capable racecar. The auto's drop-dead sexy exterior is a combination of aluminum, lightweight magnesium alloy, and carbon-fiber composites that imply it can part the winds merely by suggestion. Upon seeing the DBS for the first time, I was reminded of Jodie Foster's lines from Contact: "No words to describe it. Poetry! They should've sent a poet. So beautiful."

Nothing as pedestrian as a key would suffice to start this beauty. Rather, owners are issued a stainless-steel-and-sapphire Emotion Control Unit (ECU). When I placed the ECU in the dashboard slot, it glowed a gentle red, assuring me that something wonderful was about to happen. Pressing it in awoke the 6.0-liter, V12 power plant, eliciting an excited, throaty rumble from the 510 waiting horses. The note of the 12-cylinder engine is such pure pleasure that DBS owners should have the sense to leave the stereo off whenever engaging the ignition.

Cruelly, the weather was totally uncooperative on my weekend with the DBS. With temperatures in the 20s, regular snow flurries, and icy road conditions, I had to constantly restrain both myself and the mighty V12. With each touch of the accelerator, the engine responded instantly, the deep rumble asking, "Now?" Unfortunately, the overwhelming power was too much for those road conditions; the specially formulated Pirelli P-Zero tires were unable to grab the traction needed to rocket this car forward the way we both wanted, nay, needed it to. Even at freeway speeds, a stiff press on the accelerator caused the rear tires to break loose, simultaneously pitching the car sideways and plummeting my heart into the empty recesses of my wallet.

With no possibility of breaking any speed records, I focused on the sound system, which was, after all, what I had come to do. Fortunately, this proved a reward in its own right. Visually, the smoothly contoured, molded-aluminum speaker grilles perfectly integrate with the sleek, fluid lines of the car's interior, proving that the sound system is part of the vehicle rather than an accessory. The 13 speakers are arranged in 10 locations around the cabin, with the entire system powered by B&O's patented ICEpower amplification, whose ultra-compact and cool operation makes it a perfect fit for the relatively confined quarters of the DBS's cockpit.

Beyond the dash-mounted AM/FM radio and 6-disc CD changer, the system features full iPod integration, with the 30-pin iPod connection cable steathily concealed in a leather-lined compartment. (Mini-jack and USB connections are also provided for other sources.)

B&O engineers used extensive DSP modeling to mate the system's sound with the car's internal characteristics. They also called on the powerful DSP engine to provide dynamic modeling that automatically adapts that sound to changing conditions. By recording noise inside the cabin, the system constantly adjusts the performance of all the speakers and optimizes the sound for noise and speed conditions.