Here's the list I came up with a few months back, it covers most of the high end unions in the industry.
I can't say that I've heard one myself but Volvo has a number of vehicles which have Dynaudio systems in them. It would definitely be worth a listen if that particular make of car is of interest to you. I just did a quick search and it appears as though Dynaudio has some of their gear in certain Volkswagen models as well.
Why buy a car around audio system? I mean to say there are gizmos for sale in Crutchfield and so fourth that allow you to keep stock unit and optimize its sound, speakers are easy to swap and if your spending big bucks deal with the car you really weant then tweak it. My Enovy's Bose system is pretty good but not exceptional. My parents have a couple of Lexus systems and they dont sound all that great.
I had Bose systems in my last two cars and was not at all impressed with their performance.
The sound was always "in your face," including loose bass and punched up EQ sounding mids and highs. I even set the EQ to "below flat," in an attempt to repair the skewed frequency problems, to no avail.
Last week I bought a BMW X-5 and the sound system in it is really excellent.
Now I find myself listening to CD or radio every time I get in this car, and actually liking it. I can't say who built the sound system. It's not marked up with logos like most.
My Acura MDX with the premium sound system sounds really good. In the Car and Driver comparo with other luxury SUV's the MDX took top honors in driving performance as well as the stereo sound. When I get stuck in Bay Area commute traffic I just switch from driver to listener mode and enjoy the music rather than get frustrated with traffic. Standard with XM receiver. Only drawback is really crappy AM when I listen to the news. Fun car too if you get the magneto-rheological sport suspension!
I have been lucky enough to spend some time with an Audi A8 equipped with the Bang & Olufsen "advanced sound system", and it is by far the best audio system I've ever heard in a car, period . . . whether stock or aftermarket/custom. Too bad the car is simply way out of my budget.
The thing I hate the most about most car sound systems is that they're abnormally bass-heavy, and you can do very little with the tone controls to improve matters. The bass also usually seems "late" or "behind the beat", depending on the program material. For some reason I associate this with the Bose 'house sound', but they are by no means the only or even the worst offenders . . . I have even heard some Bose car systems that I liked OK.
The 'premium' system in my wife's new Mini is especially bad in this department. It's really too bad because it sounds nice otherwise . . . and it would only take a single band of parametric EQ to fix it.
I have been lucky enough to spend some time with an Audi A8 equipped with the Bang & Olufsen "advanced sound system", and it is by far the best audio system I've ever heard in a car, period . . . whether stock or aftermarket/custom.
I second that. Too bad is sooo expensive. The tweeter towers popping up from the dashboard are awesome.
The other excellent system I have heard is a Naim system in my neighbour's Bentley Continental GT Speed.
Mark Levinson systems that can be found in variuos Lexus models are all overrated IMO (heard one in LS460 and SC), although still better than bose from my Audi, whcih is a complete crap.
(I'm a former car audio "Pro 600" champion and GASCA - German Auto Sound Challenge Association judge).
For the most part, the last car system I heard that sounded any good at all was a circa 1975 Nakamichi a/d/s biamped Mobile Fidelity System.
I have heard many after market systems most of which were pretty bad but I am with Cruz123 - most stock systems, especially the upgraded ones are TERRIBLE.
Albertporter, I am shocked. I heard the BMW system in a new M5 earlier this year and thought it as TERRIBLE. Maybe the one you heard was significantly different.
Bose systems? Forget it. TERRIBLE.
And "Mark Levinson" systems? TERRIBLE. No relation to the real Mark Levinson whatsoever.
I have noted only one exception as mentioned by Audiojedi:
Although I bought the car for the interior and the performance, I have been pleasantly surprised with the system in our '07 Volvo V70 R wagon.
It is not boomy or bloated at all, the flat settings on the tone controls sound surprisingly neutral, and in general it is remarkably smooth and fatigue free for a car system. Yes, I believe the speakers are made by Dynaudio.
Have not heard the B&O system or the megabuck Naim systems, but maybe they are good.
Not sure if the stereo was the same, but the substantially similar Volvo R wagon has been made since 2004 so you could search around for a bargain. Practical, nice interior and can easily be tuned to 400 HP.
Albertporter, I am shocked. I heard the BMW system in a new M5 earlier this year and thought it as TERRIBLE. Maybe the one you heard was significantly different
My 4.4 X5 is not new, I can't afford $70K for a new one. Maybe they changed them in the last couple of years. The system in mine is good, especially with the iPod glove box cord and Video iPod files as Apple Lossless.
I get to choose my favorite driving tunes from the steering wheel. On the way home today I was spinning Adrian Belew "Side One" and "Shiver and Burn" by Azure Ray.
Buy the car you like and then improve the sound system if needed. Typically head units are pretty good these days. The weakness is amplification and speakers/sub. Find a good Car Stereo shop and buy some good components and have them put in. Even a little over $1K for amps speakers and sub (plus installation parts and labor $) will crush 99/100 factory offerings.
I read that the problem with aftermarket car stereo systems is that they are not calibrated to the specific car's interior and interior acoustics but that stock systems are calibrated to the car's interior by the manufacturer. Therein lies the problem with the performance of many aftermaket systems (supposedly). I'm not sure what goes into "calibration." I assume this means the system is tailored to the interior the way we try to get the right speakers and system for a particular room. Is this calibration true or a fallacy? If this is true, are the good aftermarket shops addressing the issue of calibration?
Well, few OEM's are "calibrated". Bose had a little speaker/enclosure with an amp inside and EQ circuit in it that was "set" for the particular car. This is not the biggest issue. A good shop will look at this and should have a spectrum analyzer. Implementing improved noise reduction through dynamat and other products can really improve sound as well. Still the better aftermarket drivers/crossovers and dynamics from amps with more power are a big thing. Focal and Oz make nice car gear. Kef used to and may still.