“Wolfgang will be along in a minute,” said Carole, “We call him Golden Ears.”
We were in the hospitality area of the Palacio del Negralejo, a country palace built on the banks of the Jarama River, twenty minutes from the Madrid airport. I was feasting on the buffet like a raccoon in a dumpster. My appetite heightened by the recent culling of complimentary snacks on BA flights. It was a 9am flight but I was still chagrined not to receive my free gin and tonic and over-salted potato crisps.
I had been dispatched to Madrid not only to test drive the new Toyota C-HR, but more importantly, minutely inspect the integrated JBL sound system within. Wolfgang Zieglmeier (aka golden ears) the senior acoustic systems engineer for Harman (owners of JBL) carried the look of a technical genius. Tall and wiry, his mop of grey locks thrown back in a stereotypical mad scientist fashion.
Inside the Toyota C-HR Wolfgang ran us through the demo. There’s no missing the 8″ asymmetrical centre console design that illuminates upon ignition. Wolfgang slaps on Bad by Michael Jackson. Immediately I feel the thrumming of the sub woofer by my thigh, mysteriously aroused in a wonderful alchemy of sound and nostalgia.
“The bass was very important,” Wolfgang giddishly explained. “Our target demographic wanted bass, we tailored it for bass. But we didn’t want the sound to come from one point, we wanted you to feel it everywhere in the car. The discussions of how we integrated the speakers started 3 years ahead of manufacturing. A constant struggle and compromise between us, the manufacturers and the designers. A lot of compromise but we worked in tandem, this was important to get right.”
The JBL sound system comprises of an 8-channel, 576 Watt stereo amplifier and 9 high-performance speakers delivering crisp and clear sound. I pumped up the sound to a considerable whack in time for the synthesiser solo, unashamedly miming the portamento wheel on the door trim. The sound is undeniably crisp, the horn tweeters and dynamic sound dispersion gave us a cinematic experience. In fact Robbie Grant from The Everyday Man rounded the experience well by mentioning ‘it feels like we’re in an American Drive-In‘.
I dismounted the C-HR with a renewed respect not only for Toyota, for Michael Jackson’s Bad, but for JBL. A company that is steeped with rich heritage fast approaching it’s 70 year anniversary. They have enjoyed associations with Woodstock and are a prominent supplier to the tour sound industry, their loudspeakers being employed by touring rock acts and music festivals. (Incase you’re wondering why it sounds so good inside the O2 arena then you have JBL to thank with their JBL’s AM4200 speakers for the waterfront and the larger AM6200 in clusters in the piazzas).
Anyway, I digress. Five minutes after walking away from the demonstration I foresaw my disappointment in returning to my old car, abandoned in a Huntingdon train station, utterly miserable. Instead of having the accompaniment of Jacko’s Bad sounding brand new through a refined JBL speaker system, I’ll be listening to BBC Five Live through my one working tweeter. That’s if it starts.