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.