• Mar 27, 2009
I just experienced one of the most amazing sound systems that that I ever heard in a car. What makes it so amazing is that it doesn't use a power booster, or equalizer, or better speakers, or anything like that. Instead, it's all done with software.
The inventor of this system is a guy named Tony Bongiovi, a brilliant recording engineer who's worked with a lot of the biggest names in music business: Aerosmith, Talking Heads, the Ramones, and Gloria Gaynor, to name a few. He also launched the career of his second cousin, Jon Bonjovi. He got his start back in the mid-1960s as a 17-year-old high school student from New Jersey who managed to wrangle his way into Motown Records as a recording engineer. That is a story unto itself but too long to recount here.

To hear Tony tell it, he used to drive around a lot of sub-compact rental cars and was always disappointed they did not come with better sound systems. So he set to work to figure out a way to improve the standard radio in the car to make it sound like a premium system. But he knew he had to do it in a low-cost way.

John McElroy is host of the TV program "Autoline Detroit" and daily web video "Autoline Daily". Every week he brings his unique insights as an auto industry insider to Autoblog readers.

As long as a radio has a digital signal processing (DSP) chip in it, Tony can work his magic on it. All you have to do is download his software into that chip and it miraculously makes any sound system instantly sound a whole lot better. I'm not an audiophile, but even I can hear the difference, and what a difference it makes!

I fully admit that I'm in way over my head in trying to describe how the system works, but here's how Tony explained it to me. Basically, he's using digital power to aggressively modify the program material (music). He takes apart the frequency response characteristics, and processes it by modulating and modifying the signal to make it louder. Bongiovi says this leaves more "headroom" to play with the signal, because if you try to equalize the sound you run out of room in the amplifier or the speakers.

As long as a radio has a digital signal processing (DSP) chip in it, Tony can work his magic on it.
Since a car is sort of like a small room, there's not enough room to reproduce the dynamics of the sound the way the artist wanted it to be heard. So, he says, you have to modify the sound before you can play it in a car, otherwise it will exceed the design limitations of the speakers. So he uses the DSP chip to constantly modify and manipulate the sound. And by using acoustic coupling, he makes all the bass sounds respond in a way that makes it sound like the system has a subwoofer.

Bongiovi says that while there are some terrific premium sound systems in cars today, they achieved their premium sound with high-end hardware. He claims that no one has ever touched the source material before to get a premium sound.

But to get the full effects of his system he has to "profile" each model of car. That means he has to get in a car and listen to all types of different music from all different eras to make sure that any kind of source material will sound great. He says it takes six hours a day, five days a week, (and joking adds) that it takes two cases of beer to profile each car. That's a lot of beer. Tony has already profiled 250 cars! Once a car is profiled it's a simple matter to download the software into the DSP chip in the radio.

There are huge advantages for automakers to use Bongiovi's system. He wants $10 a car for an automaker to use his system, but that can be marked up to $400 a car at retail for a mid-premium system. As good as his system is, he admits that premium sound systems are still going to sound better simply because they have better hardware. Of course, there's nothing preventing anyone from using his software in one of those high-end systems.

It's one of the big Japanese car companies. And you'll see it in a new vehicle coming out later this year.
But his system also allows automakers to save space, and cut cost and weight. Speakers have big heavy magnets on them and Bongiovi's system means a car can use smaller speakers with lighter magnets. Those speakers also save valuable "real estate" inside a car, something that interior packaging engineers are always fighting over.

Tony is a proud American and wanted to sell his system to the Big Three to gain a competitive advantage. At first they essentially told him to get lost, but now they're starting to come around. Unfortunately, in the interim another automaker jumped into the void. While I'm sworn to secrecy as to who that is, I can tell you it's one of the big Japanese car companies. And you'll see it in a new vehicle coming out later this year.

But if you're really interested, it's already available in the aftermarket as the JVC KD-S100 Mobile Entertainment system. If you get a chance, check it out, it is truly a transformational technology.

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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 28 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      Bongiovi's been trying to push his "tech" for several years. At my last job he came in with a demo vehicle, and I came away with three things:

      1) what he showed was nothing that we weren't already doing with the equalization functions of the DSP, and

      2) the demo car he brought sounded horrible; squawking midrange and spitting tweeters were the most notable.

      3) the presentation showed a fundamental lack of understanding about how speakers work.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Agreed. There's only so much software can do. Equalizers, SRS, WOW, all been done before. There's no replacement for better hardware.

        Granted, I haven't heard this, but I'm very skeptical.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I just have to chime in here. As others have said, there is no subsitute for good speakers. Yes, you can monkey with frequency-dependent time-delay (as BBE Sonic maximizers do) and you can apply all sorts of equalization, you can synthesize new "information" and call it a "virtual subwoofer". Yes, all these things can be done. But if the speakers have poor linearity or resonant buzzes or poor transient response, it won't make the music more hi-fi, it will just make it sound different.

      Frankly, Dr. Bose is on of the foremost practicioners of this audio snake oil. It has always been this way from day one. He's had one useless idea after another. The sad thing is that people eat it up. Unless, of course, they get a chance to hear what good sound quality sounds like.

      As for recording engineers, there are all kinds. I met one of the finest ones I know while working at Bose back in the 1970s. As a former recording studio owner I've known quite a few awful ones as well.

      Want to really make your car stereo sound better? Find out if you can replace the speakers with some nice components from one of the Scandinavian companies (Vifa, SEAS or Scan-Speak). A few hundred bucks spent here will work wonders.
      • 5 Years Ago
      This article is an explanation of what equalization is.
      Bongiovi can equalize each car really well because he is a recording engineer.
        • 5 Years Ago
        "1) recording engineers have done more to destroy the sound quality of recordings ever since the commencement of the loudness war.
        2) One set of skills does not imply competence in another. I'm not a qualified F1 driver just because I'm an automotive engineer."

        I agree about the loudness war being terrible for music, but equalization is part of a recording engineer's job. And you surely can't say that an individual recording engineer is bad because of what others have done.
        --
        "Yes, and people (myself included) have been doing so for years. "

        But just as you said, being an automotive engineer doesn't make you good at equalization. I'm saying that Bongiovi is probably good at equalization because he is a professional.

        Don't get me wrong though, I think the fact that he wants to sell equalization curves is silly.
      • 5 Years Ago
      First of all, Bose uses very cheap and poor quality speakers in their automotive systems (their expense is in the DSP amp). Most Americans hold the opinion that "it cost more; therefore it must be better", but if you have a knowledge of audio, you can put together a better system that's way less expense. Also, not all low cost speakers are crappy, as put forth by some others above. Paper cones DO NOT mean a speaker can't be good. I used to work on audio systems at an OEM and the measurements proved that $100 dollar plastic cone speakers have problems that you don't see in the low cost parts that come standard in your car (okay, Japanese cars use speakers that are both very cheap and very poor).

      BonGiovi's treatment is merely smoke and mirrors. Any decent entry level system has EQ developed specifically for that vehicle, which will give the best possible performance. Of way more importance than your speakers is the geometry of the car and the placement/packaging of the speakers. The EQ is not there to compensate for the speakers, but to compensate for the acoustics of the cabin. The same components in a mid-sized car will yield much better results when compared to a pick-up truck.
      • 5 Years Ago
      No offense, John, but you pronounced 'Hyundai', 'Hyun-die'(pronounced Hyun-day like Sunday) today on your daily Autoline installation. Unacceptable.

      Such a mistake calls into question your knowledge about so many other things. Hyundai (like Sunday) is the world's 6th largest automaker, and now outselling companies like Hunda....errr..Honda.


        • 5 Years Ago
        Actually, you are the one that's wrong. I studied Korean for a semester in college, and the proper pronunciation of Hyundai is exactly how John said it. I know this because we studied that word specifically in class when trying to get used to the differences between Korean and English pronunciation/enunciation (I'm from the US).
      • 5 Years Ago
      Sooo it's basically what Creative are doing with their X-Fi...?
      • 5 Years Ago
      I think McElroy is drinking the same cool-aid as Tony Bongiovi. Cheap speakers will not perform no matter what is done to the source of the music, period, done, finis.
      • 5 Years Ago
      That's nice, but putting in speakers that cost more than $3 ea and not programming the head to kill bass - because that would, of course, distort the $3 speakers - would be nicer.

      Other curious stuff:
      1) The reviews pretty much say the virtual subwoofer doesn't quite cut it
      2) JVC put out a press release 2 years ago saying they had a 5 year exclusive on the technology, so what happened?
        • 5 Years Ago
        Considering the JVC unit has been dead and they hasn't done anything else with the tech, I'd say JVC abandoned their deal. I can't imagine JVC would be happy with selling a $700 head unit while this guy sells to OEMs at $10 a pop.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Sounds like this does for sound systems what lookup tables (LUTs) and tone reproduction curves (TRCs) do for enterprise-level color laser printers.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Tony Bojoivi has carried the principle first used by Bose to build their systems to its logical limit.

      When people first wanted to produce good sound reproduction they worked hard to get their electronics and their speakers to produce a "flat response", or an output equal to input, when the program material was fed to it. That was very expensive and lead to large and massive eletronics and speakers,

      Dr. Bose said that was stupid. It was much easier to modify a electronic signal, then the signal reproduced by a magnet moving air in a speaker. Instead they took their cheap, inferior speakers, looked at their distortions that they produced, and changed the profile of the signal sent to those cheap speakers, by their electronics adding purposefull distortions, so as to produce a "flat response" output. Canceling the distortions, by adding their own purposely built distortions, so that the output was the equal to the original music recording.

      The most obvious extension of that idea, is those Bose "Noise cancellation" headphones they sell. Bose samples the noise incoming and produce an inverse signal equal to the "Noise" to to add it and "cancel" it out, y the time it gets to your ear..

      What Tony Bonjoivi has done has recognized that digital electronics can do even more. If he can sample the response of a particular room, and then he uses the electronics to break down the original recording and then reconstructs it so as to produce an output, IN THE ROOM IT IS LISTENED TO, so that it resembles the original recording.

      From one Engineer to another Engineer. "Slick! Nice piece of Engineering."



        • 5 Years Ago
        ... and how much respect does Bose command these days?

        For most regular music lovers it commands quite a bit. To the guy who swears he can tell a difference between the $99 monster cable and the $6 Walmart one then maybe not so much. When you're trying to show everyone that you're a 'serious' audiophile and not some poseur then bagging on Bose is step #1.
        • 5 Years Ago
        ... and how much respect does Bose command these days?
      • 5 Years Ago
      So, the JVC KD-S100 is not available through competitive sources, but only at the ripoff price of $699 and up, even though really nice car stereos now sell in the $200 range, and the royalty on this new technology is $10?

      Screw this.

      Kabayo
      • 5 Years Ago
      wait wait wait wait WAIT..... so youre telling me, it makes a normal paper cone system sound better than a BOSE???? no way!
        • 5 Years Ago
        Almost anything sounds better than Bose.
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