Making noise

Image credit: Sam Kaplan
Date:30 September 2012 Tags:, , ,

To make engines sound better, some manufacturers broadcast engine noise through speaker. Has a line been crossed? By Larry Webster

Anyone who’s heard a Ferrari V8 at full wail knows perfectly well that engines make music. But today, that vroomvroom is getting harder to hear, thanks in equal parts to turbochargers that muffl e the noise, increasingly insulated cabins, and government noise regulations.

Car manufacturers are well aware that a snarly engine note enhances the behind-the-wheel experience. The Chev Corvette’s exhaust system has a valve that opens under full throttle and bypasses the silencer. The Porsche Cayman and the Ford Mustang both have “noise pipes” that connect the intake system to the cabin. These passive systems, however, are slowly being replaced with active systems that play a prerecorded track through speakers.

Case in point: VW’s GTI used to have a noise pipe, but when the latest version appeared in 2011, the pipe was replaced with the Soundaktor. This system uses a hockey-puck-size speaker mounted on the fi rewall to generate extra noise. VW didn’t exactly advertise the feature, and when word got out, the forums lit up.

“The Soundaktor is only there to lie to me,” fumed one GTI owner on vwvortex.com when he found out his car had the system. “It’s false advertising, plain and simple.”

VW is not alone. The new BMW M5, which ditched the sonorous V10 for a twin-turbo V8, plays an engine soundtrack through the car’s audio system. From a carmaker’s perspective, these active sound generators have definite benefits over a sound pipe: there’s no need to cut a hole in the fi rewall or package a separate tube in the already crowded engine bay. Plus, the active devices allow a far greater degree of tunability and can be used to mask unwanted noise.

Wallpaper> New on the block (September 2012 issue)