EXCLUSIVE REVIEW: B&O's in-car audio system for the Audi A8

Audi A8

If an Audi A8 is your motor of choice, then you can specify a Bang & Olufsen system with five ICEpower digital amplifiers, 14 speakers, 7.1 processing and very funky 'acoustic lens' units that hide in the dashboard, then rise into view when you start the car.

So there's no doubting the A8's system is packed with technology, but can it deliver the performance that (very steep) price demands? We've been trying one out to discover how well it performs.

Audi A8

4 stars

Excellent imaging and overall sound quality; looks fantastic

Costs an absolute packet – and the car's hardly cheap, either

World-class sound, but the price, and the fact you have to pay even more for iPod support, is an issue

The system in the A8 is the easily the most sophisticated and expensive in Audi's arsenal: even in top-of-the-line A8 models, it's a £3775 option, rising to £4500 in 'entry-level' versions of Audi's biggest car. Astonishingly, you'll have to find another £200 for proper iPod support, too.

However, the 14-speaker system certainly looks the part. Most factory-fit in-car systems are fairly discreet, but not so here. The Bang & Olufsen system positively shouts its presence, its highly polished aluminium speaker grilles and remarkable, motorised tweeters announcing its presence in no uncertain terms.

These 'acoustic lens' drive units hide in the dashboard when not required, before motoring into view when you fire the car up. Their design helps to deliver stereo imaging and vocal realism like no other, helped by an additional, fixed 7cm full-range driver in the middle of the dash to handle centre-channel duties.

Each front door, meanwhile, has a 9cm midrange speaker unit and a 14cm bass driver, with 25mm tweeters and a 13cm mid/bass driver in the rear doors, bolstered by a single 20cm subwoofer.

Digital power amps pack a punch
The promise all of these speakers is further bolstered by its amplification: the A8 features five of B&O's acclaimed ICEpower digital power amplifiers, and a further unit containing an additional nine power amps connect to a single DSP brain via fibre-optic cable.

This gives access to a proprietary B&O-based 7.1 processing mode, able to optimise sound to suit up to four different listening locations in the car.

It's reassuring after all that build-up that the B&O system sounds simply superb. It images really well, its pop-up tweeters shaming most rivals for clarity: at times, it can make you gasp with its realism, while bass is never less than taut, agile and (when you're up for it) thunderous.

So why only four stars? Simple. This system costs too much. B&W wants far less for its system in the Jaguar XF, and while the relative merits of the B&O and B&W set-ups are open to debate, the fact that one costs almost four times as much as the other can't be ignored.

Power 1000w

Drive units 2 x tweeters/front, 7cm mid/front, 2 x 9cm mid/front, 2 x 14cm bass/front, 2 x 25mm tweeter/rear, 2 x 13cm mid/bass rear, 2 x 9cm mid/rear, 20cm sub

iPod support £200