2013 Ford Escape Sets a Classic Sound Stage

Ford has a new Escape, and they have put together a sound system that will hold you captive.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

Ford is getting ready to roll out its 2013 Ford Escape at this year’s New York Auto Show, and they’re particularly proud of their new audio system out there in Dearborn, Mich.

Their engineers call the audio system inside the new Escape its “sound stage.” And, to try it out, they used some key sounds from famous popular music as their touchstones.

According to Ford’s own report on their work, Ford audio engineers listened to bits of music from different genres – “from classical piano to rock to rap” – to tune the sound stage.

Some of the artists tapped by the sound designers for the Escape’s acoustics included Rihanna, Johnny Cash, Lou Reed, PJ Harvey and Eminem – but only parts of their songs were used to calibrate what drivers will hear.

For example, the “buzz” in Stevie Ray Vaughn’s cover of the Jimi Hendrix classic Little Wing is from a single-coil pickup amplified by tubes. Ford audio engineers used that original recording to “evaluate tonal balance and ensure quality in the bass region” of the Escape’s speaker set up. And, a lip smack in Suzanne Vega’s a cappella hit Tom’s Diner was used to check the center staging of the sound system. Rihanna’s S.O.S. helps evaluate clean bass mixed with vocals.

Christine Templin, an Escape audio engineer, explained: “We tuned the audio system so that it sounds natural – as if you’re listening to music inside a theater rather than in your vehicle.”

To design and setup the Escape’s systems, Ford audio engineers must first monitor sound wave files on laptop computers hooked up to speakers within the vehicle while playing the various chosen touchstone songs.

Then, they must rely on their well-trained ears to fine-tune the quality of the system to

Templin said she and her fellow engineers decided Jennifer Warnes’ recording of Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat should make the driver/listener feel the listener “like you have been transported to a gloomy environment.”

“PJ Harvey’s Electric Light was used to make sure the instruments don’t modulate the vocals and the bass doesn’t shake the doors.”

The Escape will three available audio systems: the standard six-speaker system, a nine-speaker system and a SONY-branded 10-speaker system.

And, in case you’re interested, Ford included the rest of the “benchmark songs” used to pin down the fine tuning of the Escape’s sound stage:

• ZZ Top – La Grange – Listen for the clean snare drum clicks, left and right rhythm guitars and strong bass guitar.
• Yello – The Race”– Listen for a sensation of the car racing from right to left, and left to right.
• Lou Reed – Walk on the Wild Side – Listen for backup singers to move from far to near, testing image depth. Check for tonal balance and loud dynamics.
• Kenny Chesney – Summertime – Listen for clean vocals, instruments should be clearly defined.
• Eminem – Remember Me – Listen for loud dynamics, bass extension.
• Rihanna – S.O.S. – Listen for tonal balance, clean bass, nothing shrill in the tweeters.
• Beyonce featuring Jay Z – Déjà Vu – Listen for bass to be clean and even. Vocals should not break up or sound overly bright.
• Peter, Paul and Mary – I Have a Song To Sing O – This is an old recording with vocals panned left-center-right in order to test staging and imaging. Voices should retain a natural timbre.
• Johnny Cash – Bird on a Wire – This intimate recording (as if Cash were in his living room) tests tonal balance and spatial qualities. Vocals show a close-mike effect.
• Bruno Giuranna – Mozart Piano Quartets 1 & 2 – Allegretto – Listen for a natural piano tone. Strings should be forward.