How Bruno Mars tunes helped develop the C-HR’s JBL sound system

According to a recent survey, the car is the preferred place for people to enjoy listening to music. And yet the car is one of the most challenging environments for achieving great audio. There are packaging constraints and speaker locations to consider, not to mention a range of interior materials – each of which absorb and reflect sound waves at different rates.

In view of these factors, we wanted to understand how Toyota and audio partner JBL collaborate to produce high-end audio systems, such as in the new C-HR Lime Edition. So we got in contact with JBL’s senior acoustic engineer Rishi Daftuar (below) to get the inside line on its development.

Was the JBL audio system in the C-HR engineered in from the outset?

Daftuar: “The sound system design and speaker layout is a true collaboration between JBL and Toyota. Once Toyota shared the vehicle specifications and layout, our engineers worked up a proposal for what we thought was an ideal – and feasible – design for that vehicle model’s sound system. Once the engineering teams were aligned, we worked very closely together with Toyota to make the system a reality.

“Packaging a sound system in any vehicle is quite difficult and complex. It’s crucial that it’s a joint effort in order to meet both the vehicle and audio requirements and deliver a great experience for the end customer. We were delighted that much of our initial proposal for the C-HR made it to production.”

What customer analysis was carried out?

Daftuar: “JBL works with Toyota to identify the customer needs in every vehicle sound system. We consider the target demographic when identifying key factors such as speaker architecture, design and layout, feature sets and price point. It’s a true custom system design based on all these factors.”

Why did you decide on a nine-speaker layout in the C-HR?

Daftuar: “I believe that the nine-speaker system in the C-HR is the sweet spot when delivering the core JBL sound – a punchy, clear and concert-like sound. The nine speakers achieve this by having a traditional three-way system in the front, two full-range speakers in the rear, and a subwoofer in the rear corner.

“In the front of the C-HR, the door subwoofers deliver powerful bass. The mid-range speakers reproduce vocals and instruments, and the horn tweeters accentuate transients and provide a wide sound stage. The rear speakers support the fronts by adding punch to the system and creating the listening environment in the second row.”

In what way is the tweeter location a JBL signature, as other vehicles have tweeters in the A-pillars?

Daftuar: “The C-HR has the signature horn tweeter found in many JBL speakers. The horn tweeter is part of JBL’s DNA, and now it can be experienced in the automotive environment. It delivers a clear and wide soundstage that helps improve the ‘sweet spot’ for more listeners in the vehicle. The tweeters are arranged in a cross-firing position, near ear level. This is what delivers precise imaging and a lifelike sound.”

Is it possible to tune the system to sound great irrespective of the number of people in the car?

Daftuar: “Absolutely. JBL acoustics engineers aim to deliver a great sound experience for every seat in the car, whether there is a person occupying the seat or not. While the presence of people does change the sound characteristics in a vehicle, similar to the difference between an empty and full concert venue, the system is tuned to work well for both driving solo and traveling with others.

“But while all seats in the C-HR sound good, the driver’s seat sounds best. When designing and tuning a sound system, there are always trade-offs between the seat position, speaker locations and the cabin of the vehicle. Most of those trade-offs are made in favour of optimising the driver’s seat, because that seat will always have someone in it.”

Does the location of the subwoofer and its port outlet have an effect on the sound?

Daftuar: “Each subwoofer implementation in a vehicle is a unique design. The type of speaker, enclosure, and location are all considered and adjusted to work within the constraints of the vehicle packaging.

“The 19cm subwoofer in the C-HR is no exception. The subwoofer and ported design were customised to work specifically in the car. The rear corner position is a good location for bass and it achieves the low frequency response found in all JBL sound systems.”

Does the C-HR’s complex diamond-pattern speaker grille design affect the sound waves?

Daftuar: “Similar to other aspects of the sound system, the speaker grilles are also uniquely designed for every application in the vehicle. Grilles serve both acoustic and aesthetic functions. From the acoustics side, we consider the type of speaker, the properties of the sound waves, and the packaging location to determine the appropriate criteria.

“Even with such a visually compelling pattern, the speaker grilles in the C-HR are optimised within the standard vehicle constraints to deliver the high-quality sound for which JBL systems are known for.”

Were any particular audio tracks or artists used to tune the system?

Daftuar: “We always use a wide selection of music to optimise the audio system for a variety of musical styles and genres. Artists we used specifically to tune the C-HR system included Bruno Mars, Regina Spektor, Daft Punk, JR JR, Diana Krall, Meghan Trainor, Queens of the Stone Age, Alvvays, St. Vincent, Joshua Bell, Toto, The Benny Goodman Orchestra and Kendrick Lamar, to name a few.”

Was the system primarily designed for modern music?

Daftuar: “A JBL sound system is never designed to only work for a certain genre or era of music. Any good sound system can reproduce audio from a variety of different time periods and styles. While modern music sounds excellent in the C-HR, so does most other music as well. That’s important as what we listen to day-to-day changes.”

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