How Car Sound is Engineered for Driving Pleasure

luxury car sound is carefully designed - like for this silver sports car on the open road

When you think of a ride in a really nice car, what springs to mind? Massage seats? Automatic parking? Cabin lighting that feels like you’ve stepped onto a private jet? Or maybe, it’s that luxury car sound.

You know what we mean. The roar as the engine comes to life, the gentle hum of a properly soundproofed cabin on the open road.

Did you know cars are actually engineered to sound as luxurious and enticing as possible?

Here’s how.

Car sound: the key elements

When you think about the sound of a car – any car – you’ll probably associate one (or both) of these elements:

  1. The engine. The rumble of a sports car as it pulls away, the soft purr of a luxury sedan, the hoarse vibrations of an old banger.
  2. The sound system. The way your speakers’ equalisation is perfectly set up for your roadtrip playlist, the deep vibrations emanating from the subwoofer, or even just the way a good tune sounds 10 times better in the car than on your Bluetooth speaker at home (unless you’re a proud owner of a not-so-youthful car).

But a car’s “soundscape” is actually about so much more than that.

In fact, it has very little to do with the mechanical sounds that your car makes.

What’s a soundscape?

Ok, so what’s a soundscape anyway?

A soundscape is a sound, or combination thereof, which creates a perception of a place or area. It’s similar to a landscape in that it helps to describe everything around you. Except instead of visual cues, they’re audio.

What does it have to do with car sound?

The soundscape comes into play right from the design phase of cars. Essentially, it’s not enough for a car to be made well. It also needs to sound like it’s been made well.

So, the soundscape of a luxury car is designed by specialised audio engineers. The main aim is to create a better user experience. That’s why the sound of closing the boot or unlocking your doors in a brand new Porsche Cayenne sounds totally different to the same actions in a Nissan Micra.

Award-winning audio designer Karel Barnoski says “Sound is perceived very much in the same way as any other stimuli. By manipulating sound, you can affect the user’s perception of an experience. Through sound, you can make a product as elegant, simple, or complex as you desire.”

In fact, soundscape is so important in the automotive industry that Hollywood composer Hans Zimmerman is creating the soundscape for BMW’s future electric cars.

Basically, masterminding the car sound that you experience at every point of the driving journey can go a long way towards making your car feel more luxurious. Crazy, right?

Oh, and if your pulse started racing at the thought of an electric car, read our tips on green cars and how to help the planet. Thinking about buying one? Check out the different types of electric cars.

the interior of a luxury car like this is an important part of car sound including indicators, buttons, and handbrakes.

Creating feeling from car sound

One example of product sonification in cars is that familiar click-click of indicators. Originally, the blinking sound was a byproduct of the way they were designed. Nowadays though, the sound isn’t actually necessary.

In fact, indicators could be completely silent. But just imagine how strange it would feel to turn on your indicator and get complete silence. Drivers are so accustomed to the sound that it’s part of the driving experience. Plus some of us forget to turn the indicator off when need be… so that might become confusing on the road.

These days, the indicator sound is painstakingly designed. All so you get exactly what you expect when you flip that indicator.

But where those super-luxury car sounds are involved, sound engineers have even more funding and options to play with. Take Bentley, for example.

Here’s the sound of Bentley’s original indicator.

You probably don’t hear anything wrong with that at all. Except Bentley wanted an out-of-this world user experience. So the old indicator sound wasn’t good enough.

After lots of experimentation their indicators now use the sound of a grandfather clock. Listen to it here.

You’ve got to admit, that’s a pretty luxurious indicator.

The role of silence in car sound

Whoever said silence was golden was onto something.

If you’ve ever driven a car where you can hear what feels like every ambient sound in the world, you’ll know what we mean. It can be jarring and tiring to hear every gust of wind, each change in the road surface, the creaking of an elderly interior, and the sound of your fellow road-users’ music.

Driving in perfect silence (while having a buttery smooth driving experience) has been associated with luxury cars for decades. That’s because the technology involved in achieving that gloriously peaceful ride comes with a hefty price tag. Though if you’re looking to ride in luxury without spending a cent, here’s some advice on simple car technology you should be using.

And there’s another old adage that rings true here: you never miss the water until it’s gone. If you’re used to quiet cars, you probably haven’t consciously thought about how opulent they feel.

That is, until you catch a lift or hire a car.

See? It’s not just about sound, but about the absence of certain sounds too.

hybrid cars are more eco-friendly than petrol only cars

How does your car sound?

Next time you pick up your keys, take a second to appreciate the soundscape of your car.

The click as you unlock the buttons, that satisfying thud as you close your door, and yep – the rhythmical blinking of the indicator.

Chances are, all of these sounds were carefully curated by a team of unsung heroes to enhance your driving pleasure. If that doesn’t make you smile, we don’t know what will.

Need car insurance for that “not so good” car sound?

Amongst the usual car sounds, sometimes there’s also a rattle or buzz that definitely wasn’t created by an audio engineer. Car insurance can help you when your car sounds get a bit more interesting than you’d like – and by that we mean due to some kind of accidental damage. It’ll help keep your car looking and sounding good for years to come. Get a quote now.

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