Can in-car audio ever really sound like hi-fi?
I've just got back from the British Motor Show. Why? Quite apart from the fact that I've been helplessly in love with all things automotive since, ooh, birth, it's also because I'm increasingly getting involved in reviewing in-car audio systems, both for What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision, and for our sister title, What Car?.
That's why my show highlight was sitting in a Bentley Flying Spur enjoying its new Naim audio hi-fi system, a £5000, 1100-watt upgrade option that, on my first listen, appears to be worth every penny.
Thing is, despite my best efforts – and those of my esteemed colleague Mr Everard – we weren't able to get hold of a review sample of the new Bentley in time for it to appear in an in-car audio review section in the Ultimate Guide to High-End Entertainment (on sale July 31st, since you ask).
Missing out was a blow – and having just heard it at the Motor Show, I'm even more frustrated that it didn't work out as planned, because on first impressions, this is a genuinely fabulous in-car hi-fi system. In fact, it could be the best of the lot.
Now I fully appreciate I'm talking about a fearsomely expensive luxury car most of you will never sit in, never mind own. Believe me, I'm in the same financial boat as you.
But I'm still thrilled that Bentley decided to enlist Naim's help to devote so much effort to delivering good-quality sound in the car, simply because it means more people are being exposed to the concept of proper hi-fi – people who otherwise might choose to spend their money on other things.
And personally, I think it's a wonderful thing that someone has chosen to construct it in the first place, if only because it would have been much easier not to. After all, and as I commented to Stuart McCullough, member of the board for Sales & Marketing at Bentley, Naim isn't as well-known as, say, Bang & Olufsen or Bose, both rightly respected for their in-car audio systems on a wide range of vehicles.
His response? "We're not overly concerned about high-street recognition. We chose to work with Naim because it's like us: small, tightly knit, adaptable and blessed with an impressive track record in its field. It's a great fit and blends with our brand values 100 per cent."
I'm also well aware that some will always believe that no matter how well-engineered it is, an in-car hi-fi system will never actually sound like hi-fi. Sorry, but that notion is thoroughly out of date. Forget your boom'n'bang preconceptions: I reckon the Bentley Naim system sounds just like proper hi-fi, and just as importantly, just like Naim kit ought.
It's fast, taut, expressive, dynamic when necessary and always rhythmic; it doesn't necessarily go super-deep, but the bass it generates is of the highest, most articulate calibre; and it always – whatever you're playing, from CD to compressed MP3 file – plays a tune.
The full niceties of its performance can wait for a proper review, but based on what I've heard so far, this could be something very, very special indeed. Mr Everard is heading up to Crewe for his own extended listening session next week: I can't wait to hear what he thinks.