Noise is everywhere. Picture noise can distract you from your favourite TV show, electrical noise can upset the sound of your hi-fi and noisy neighbours can disturb a decent night’s sleep.
When it comes to in-car audio, engine noise can hamper your experience. From a V12 symphony to a gruff diesel grumble, the various frequencies emitted from your engine all have an adverse impact on the audio from your sound system.
The effects can be mitigated through the sound-tuning process, and systems can be put in place to compensate. But what happens when the engine is taken out of the equation? We got behind the wheel of the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace to find out.
Build and design
The Meridian Surround System comes with the top-spec Jaguar I-Pace HSE tested here. The S and SE versions of the car come with the standard Meridian Sound System, although this surround set-up is available as a £600 optional extra.
It sees a hike in power from 380W to 825W, while speaker count rises from 11 to 15 – it includes a pair of rear surrounds and a coaxial midrange/tweeter centre speaker.
You also get Meridian’s Trifield audio tech which takes a stereo signal and blends it into the centre and surround channels in an attempt to create a more immersive and consistent sound for all occupants.
The speakers in the I-Pace system use the same ‘Coscone’ drivers found in other Meridian systems across the Jaguar Land Rover line. The I-Pace’s system also features a ‘Fresh Air’ subwoofer. This allows for greater efficiency and an increase in sound pressure, which means better reproduction of bass frequencies below 60Hz.
The advent of electric cars doesn’t just mean new challenges for automotive engineers, but audio engineers too. In the case of the I-Pace, it’s the type of noise heard in the cabin. A petrol engine tends to emit low frequency noise, but the different characteristics of electric engines affects how the speaker system is tuned and how the mic-based in-car noise compensation adapts the sound.
Due to the car’s rapid acceleration, the I-Pace’s system has been designed to react quicker to drive inputs. During testing, we get the impression that the compensation system used is less intrusive than in Meridian systems we’ve heard in other Jaguar vehicles. Meridian claims the audio system has a negligible effect on the car’s battery life and so no sacrifices were made on the quality/spec of amplifier used.
The I-Pace HSE is equipped with Jaguar’s Touch Pro Duo infotainment system with a 10in touchscreen acting as the primary display with an additional 5in touchscreen positioned below.
It is a slightly tweaked version of the dual screen set-up first introduced on the Range Rover Velar. You can split functions between the two displays, so you can have sat-nav running on the big screen while you’re controlling audio playback over bluetooth through the smaller one.
The displays are bright and easy to read thanks to the punchy, sharply drawn menus and icons. They look attractive, but the class-leaders still have the edge when it comes to ease of use. Prodding and poking the system still feels a little vague and there’s a whiff of sluggishness when responding to taps and swipes.
Sometimes even a simple task like skipping back to the start of the track can trip the system up. Tap the screen to skip back a track, and although the previous song starts playing, occasionally the counter for the current track remains. There can also be a delay before the relevant album artwork appears on the screen.
Controlling the system from the buttons on the I-Pace’s steering wheel works reasonably well. The controls are positioned at three and nine o’clock and work like D-pads on a game controller – the left-hand pad is split into quarters so you can navigate audio controls, phone and cruise control. In the middle there’s a scroll wheel for adjusting volume.
Smartphone owners can access Apple CarPlay or Android Auto through the touchscreen. Jaguar has its own equivalent, InControl Apps, but you get more joy using Apple’s or Google’s solution. Bluetooth connectivity, DAB/FM radio and a couple of USB inputs are also provided.
Normally, we can’t resist delving into the menus to fine-tune the audio, but although bass, treble and subwoofer levels can all be adjusted on a sliding scale, we find the Meridian’s default settings deliver the best overall sound. We don’t feel the need to adjust the fader, either. Sliding the cursor sends more information to the front of the cabin, but we find it affects the balance too much, so leave it focused on the middle.
You’re also presented with three audio processing modes to choose from. Dts Neo: 6 which sounds a bit messy and smeared, Dolby Pro Logic IIX, which gives highs and lows more of an artificial boost and the Meridian mode, which sounds the most transparent of the three. There’s a greater sense of stability to the soundstage, too.
Purists can switch to the car’s Stereo mode, which we actually find the most solid and dynamic-sounding. The trade-off is you don’t feel as immersed and the stereo imaging isn’t quite as generous.
With no engine to trample over your music, it feels as though you are able to hear more detail within a track. Add to this the system’s refined and hugely listenable character and you’ve got a sound that you can sit back and enjoy, whether you’re driving around town or hitting the afterburners on the motorway.
Play Lisztomania by Phoenix and the track is superbly judged. Highs and lows are treated equally, with weighty bass notes balanced with crisp, precisely drawn highs. The track’s vocal is suitably expressive, while the bubbly drum beat and punchy kick-drum propels the track along sounds lively.
More intimate recordings get a new lease of life, with more subtle details allowed a chance to shine. Playing the acoustic version of Twin Wild’s Fears, the guitar hangs in the middle of the soundstage, each string pluck beautifully weighted.
The Meridian does a great job with the echoey, atmospheric intro, capturing the subtle drops in dynamics and the quieter moments of the song well. In absolute terms, we would like a bit more drive, but delivery is effortless and it’s a highly polished performance for the money.
It’s great that the Meridian Surround System comes as part of the I-Pace’s HSE package, but we’d willingly pay the £600 option to upgrade.
The lack of engine noise helps, but it also exposes the qualities of a sound system. This makes the I-Pace’s sound all the more impressive – for the money, it’s easily the pick of Meridian’s current in-car systems.
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