Review: 2004 Acura TL XM/CD/DVD-Audio System

I've always felt that cars were relatively poor acoustic environments. For all the money I used to invest in aftermarket car stereos (nearly $5,000 in one case), I never really felt such systems sounded as good as $1,500 setups in my home.

I haven't had a car at all for the last two years--I've been subway-dependent ("Metro," in Washington, DC parlance). Now, however, salary and circumstances have allowed me to reconsider this position. Seeking freedom (without sacrificing some measure of aural refinement), I set about my search for a quality mid-sized sedan.

One car that caught my eye was the Acura TL. Well-regarded by both "car guys" and Consumer Reports types, I noticed that the TL had an XM/CD/DVD-A system. Since I wasn't too keen on the idea of paying some other car company $800 for a garbage Bose system that passed for "high end," I decided to bring a few DVD-As and CDs to the Acura dealer for a test drive/listen.

On entry, it becomes clear that this was designed as a whole new paradigm for automotive audio. Above the center of the dashboard is a center channel to allow for 5.1 channel processing while listening to DVD-A or 5.1 DTS recordings. It only rises a couple inches off the dash, and does not discernibly affect visibility. When a regular CD is playing, or AM/XM/FM is on, only the main speakers are in use and the center channel is silent. Also, Acura claims the setup is capable of 24/192 performance.

I'm used to hearing DVD-A on a Pioneer 563-A at home, a piece that has had 2-channel modifications and bybee filters performed by Dan Wright of Modwright. That system is running through a Sony 5000-ES receiver and Ascend Acoustics speakers, via Analysis Plus Crystal Oval interconnects and speaker cables.

Running through a steady diet of DVD-A classical, jazz, and rock recordings, I felt the system performed quite well...for a car. The acoustic environment still wasn't quite perfect, but there was a noticeable improvement in dynamics. Midrange was separated nicely from instruments, and the bass had nice punch without being boomy or excessive. Instruments that normally challenge a system, like piano, also challenged this system. 192/24 DVD-A sounded slightly better in all areas than 96/24 DVD-As (or 48/24).

Redbook sounded like...well, redbook. It was basically an enhanced version of what I'm used to hearing in a car (and what I'm used to hearing from CD in general). It was a letdown in comparison to DVD-A, but that seems to be the case in all but the most accomplished digital front ends.

The relationship from XM to FM was similar. I prefer Sirius' to XM in terms of both sound quality and channel lineup, but certainly XM is a meaningful improvement over FM in both areas.

AM sounded about as good as AM can sound in a car stereo, I believe. Much AM-type material can be replicated on XM's talk-oriented channels, so I would typically prefer to do that instead of listening to AM programming.

All in all, this was a pretty good car stereo system. A lot of headbanger types might disagree, since the system will not ascend to huge levels of volume. But for detail and dynamics, without a forward or "in your face" type of presentation, I felt the TL was a solid value.

It's difficult to say how much it costs, because Acura doesn't really have option packages. The only add-on is a navigation system. For what it's worth, the Nav screen (8") is helpful in that it indicates the artist, song, and album information on the screen when in audio mode.
Interesting review, it sounds like Acura has done some work improving their system. I have a 2001 3.2 Type S, I absolutely love the car but hate the Bose stereo. The worse part is it's damned near impossible to remove the stock unit and replace with a quality aftermarket system; you'd thoroughly screw up the dash trying to use something else. Buy the car cuz it's a very solid performance automobile, but do know the stereo system (at least in my car), is sh*t.
I should have mentioned...this stereo is done primarily by Pioneer, which does a respectable job in the home audio hi-rez area.
The Acura TL is the Bose of cars.......just kidding I own a TL, Mucho Congrats !!
arent acura and lexus about equal?
how does the lexus mark levinson system stack up?
i hear its a pretty pricy option
I drove one two weeks ago, everything about that car impressed me, esp. the bluetooth phone integration, the touchscreen navi, and the audio system for a stock car setup was quite enjoyable (not bright/tinny/boomy as sooooo many are these days).