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Model 3 premium audio in RHD/UK

LongRanger

Active Member
Jan 11, 2020
1,314
1,198
Wales
Thought I’d get some opinion out there for folks to discuss/ridicule/disagree with as they see fit around the audio system in the model 3. I’ll cover why I’ve put RHD/UK in the title shortly.

Background

Quick bit of context - I spent 5 years getting quite involved in the car audio scene, focussing on sound quality instead of boom boom shake the room - and did pretty well as a competitor, winning UK championships with a couple of different cars and then moving onto judging sound quality in UK and German championships. Plus have a couple of 3rd place trophies at EuroFinals level which is basically top 2 cars from all Euro countries fighting it out once a year.

It’s an intense and very competitive scene, and was fortunate enough to have some really knowledgable and experienced people around me, including some serious build work and great pairs of ears on hand to tune the car systems plus help me learn, this meant I picked up a lot of knowledge and make me think very differently about audio in cars.

A taster of the sorts of installs (under the covers) that make up a highly competitive sound quality or SQ vehicle - we worked extensively without speaker boxes, mostly breathing to the outside of the vehicles using steel rings welded into the vehicle chassis and cutting lots of breathing holes.

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Model 3 Premium Audio

Onto the Model 3 audio system. It promised a lot having read various reviews and watched reviewer YouTube videos.

The basic layout of the car is pretty standard - with 3 exceptions.

Firstly the sub is in the rear corner of the car, firing backwards with a ported design. It’s interesting as it has clearly been designed to work with the environment not against it.

Next the higher frequency speakers at the front of the car have been covered with a treated cloth material which is very unusual in a mass-market car. Somebody somewhere decide traditional plastic and very restrictive (for higher frequency sound) grills were bad. I like that thinking.

Finally the front stage is significantly weighted towards midrange being pushed way forward and firing up into the windscreen. This is both good and bad but I competed with a setup like this for some time and the sound stage benefits are pretty strong.

Other equipment notes - I don’t know the actual manufacturer of the components/electronics behind the audio system and it doesn’t really matter, the rated power numbers aren’t all that impressive so they don’t seem to have chased mega numbers. For example I used to run more power on my tweeters than the midbass in the model 3 gets - but it doesn’t matter. What is very impressive is the way the system has clearly been designed by someone with good ears and they haven’t bowed to packaging/marketing folks when finalising the build design.

Onto the sound, I’ll get onto areas for improvement shortly but first the stuff that is good.

Higher frequencies - overall the highs are solid for any sort of factory install. There is detail and a decent balance.

Midrange - Some good feeling of there being a real “body” behind people, instruments and some decent attack in how stuff plays back to you. The front mids firing up are helping bring things to life due to the windscreen glass being in play.

Midbass - pretty decent punch and a really good effort, they match some of the attack of the mids and speed is pretty good - not as good as a true infinite baffle setup but very commendable

Sub-bass, pretty good integration into the mids (see below), it’s hard not to find fault as you know it’s a small speaker, overall I would say it sounds like a half-decent home cinema sub.

Areas for improvement :

Isolation - the sub and front midbass in particular are losing energy into the car as they flex the factory metal and plastics. More isolation from the mounting points and more treatment of immediate areas would work wonders here, I may have a go at some of that. Plastic chassis, box and mounting points are a disappointment but I appreciate mass-manufacture inevitably leads here. A shame though as with more solid mountings it would be a serious improvement.
The plastic sub box is a bit crap and needs to be much more solid. I’m going to remove mine, isolate into properly from mounting points and then sound-deaden it to see what a quick effort can achieve.

Sub position - this is a real bugger to get right. Every car has peaks and troughs in how we hear lower bass and how the sub integrates into the midbass. It gets a bit hit and miss here but they have at least tried to make it work. I would want to measure frequency response but there are 2 things that’s old work to improve the factory sub - firstly adding a thick plate of alloy or steel around 2 inches from the sub speaker face to “front load” the wave - however could be tricky with the ported design, secondly to change the orientation of the speaker/port to see if that altered the response to the driver position. It can be real trial and error just like with home listening room sub placement but it can be improved with some creativity and patience.
P.s. the reason I put RHD/UK in the title is that bass to LHD drivers will sound different to us in RHD. It matters where you are sitting as the peaks/troughs in sub response will differ for LHD vs RHD drivers with this sub position.

Midbass > sub overall sound - there is a muddiness/confusion where the 2 speaker types try and come together (see below).

Midbass peak 300-500 hz somewhere in that region - this is inevitable with the speaker position, angle and centre tunnel distance. To eliminate this you would either need a speaker that has a deliberate dip in response at that level (unlikely) or to change the angle of speaker mounting significantly. Or a dedicated EQ, but that brings more technical problems so just have to live with it. Not ideal. It’s simple physics that at this frequency range you will get either cancellation or amplification due to the wavelengths involved. Big peaks are not good anywhere but it is a very common car related issue.

Midrange could sound a bit more open and life-like if being really critical but I find bringing the upper mid response into play with the surround-setting helps a bit. Not purist but again a very good effort at increasing system enjoyment in a car.

Mid>High / High - there is a peak around 8khz that gives a slight unpleasant edge to the sound, and makes true highs feel like they are lacking a bit. It might also be that the very highest stuff above 12-14k is rolling off and the tweeters just aren’t that good. Again would need to measure this to understand more.

Minor adjustments to EQ. So far I’m happiest with a reduction on Sub -1.5, reduction on midbass -0.5 and a reduction on upper mid by -0.5. Doesn’t sound like much but so far it adds up to a more balanced sound and allows volume increase. For my personal preference I also shifted fader forward by 3/4 and to the left by a few notches to avoid the RH midbass taking over and dragging the sound down. I may revisit these settings after isolating the lower frequency speaker surrounding panels.

Conclusion

Hope this is a useful take on the system and a helpful perspective. Now for the honest bit - there is no right and wrong and my opinions may completely differ from yours - am completely good with that and appreciate every has a preference / hears differently / has their own take on what they want from audio.

What I will say as a summary is that overall it’s a really excellent and slightly disruptive effort by Tesla on this system, it has some real flair and is a bit embarrassing for all those B&O, Dynaudio etc type options that cost £5-6k on the more established brands.

With some more DSP capability, and better physical mounting construction it would be even better. Something like the DIRAC Live setup with user-configurable setup could really knock your socks off if combined with this overall design. Oh and ditch the plastic speaker mounts in favour of aluminium or good old fashioned steel :)
 

LongRanger

Active Member
Jan 11, 2020
1,314
1,198
Wales
Honestly, none of the kit needs changing and nothing needs buying beyond some simple sound isolation materials.

To make this system noticeably better (instead of just different with different problems) you would need several £k and some custom electronic interfaces/integration to get tuning capability for fine adjustment.

Others may disagree but everything I’ve seen on replacing speakers etc would be the last thing I’d want to do, it won’t make an overall improvement without knowledge of how to improve the physical environment.

For a company car “stock” audio system it’s pretty damn good, I’m just naturally inclined to want to look into the design of the system and try and work out why it sounds like it does.
 

Drew57

Member
Apr 4, 2020
909
1,020
Chester UK
Interesting thread @LongRanger - live music & audio systems have been one of my main interests for over 40 years & have absorbed far more expenditure than any car I have owned, much to my wifes' grudging acceptance.

The Performance audio system used in the Model 3 is actually quite impressive given the compromises of a car interior/materials and the differing wavelengths involved. I agree with your comments.

One of the key elements to 'hyper realistic' sound is absolute precision in time & phase alignment at a listening position together with treatment of the listening environment itself ('nodes' mainly affecting bass frequencies, reflection points especially higher frequencies and sound diffusion etc). Whilst I am knowledgeable of the processes involved to achieve this in a room environment, I have no experience in automotive use, nor do I plan on changing anything in my own car. However I would say that good as it is, it seems to me to be typically American voiced with deep but not necessarily tight or dynamic bass (transient response is quite muddy where proper time coherence could work wonders)... the level of road noise intrusion at speed compromises everything anyway. I will be very interested to hear of your progress in this area.

(For background, I design and build speakers, an image of one of my 'final' home system 3 way speakers being acoustically measured is attached below. It's part of a 6 way, 2 channel open baffle setup controlled by two DEQX DSP processors, mostly analogue vinyl front end but also NAS, SACD & CD. The system measures 'flat' +/- 3dB 16hz-25khz - in a heavily acoustically treated room).

vm37LGN.jpg
 

davidmc

Active Member
May 20, 2019
1,505
1,569
Leicester
Nice write up @LongRanger and congrats on those awards :)

I believe the M3 (I think also the S & X) car audio system is designed by Ex Bang & Olufsen engineers who now work for Tesla.

I have a SR+ with Partial premium (door and upper tweeters don’t work, no sub or rear shelf speakers). One thing that the SR+ seems to lack is the mid to high range. It just seems muffled at this level, and also the sound seems to sit around the front of the car even with tweeking the setting (Lack of rears causes this). The more you set it back, the more muffled it gets.

I did a small tweak to my car that has massively improved the overall quality in highs, mid’s sound clearer too and the Bass has popped out a bit more. The Sound now surrounds you a lot more, making it feel more immersive.

I upgraded 2 of the front 4inch mid’s (Left & Right but not middle) with Audison Prima APX 4 speakers and that’s all. I am looking at upgrading the front door 8inch woofers but may do later this year but at the moment im enjoying the simpler upgrade.
 
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LongRanger

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Jan 11, 2020
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It’s very common for the “standard” level audio systems in cars to only use a midrange speaker and run them “full range” meaning the speaker attempts to play approx 500-600hz up to 20k.

A 4” midrange will play up to maybe 7-8khz if you are lucky and then roll off very quickly, meaning you sort of get sound but something will always be missing. Usually the whole of the top end, it’s just a very cheap way of car makers to pretend to have delivered an audio system.

Your upgrade has used a co-axial speaker to bring those higher frequencies back into the mix, the speaker will have a little capacitor in line with the tweeter that sets its lowest frequency range and the midrange will still play up to wherever it plays.

It’s not a bad plan as you’ve kept it simple. It will have issues as you are firing highs off the windscreen glass, but it will enhance the feeling of depth to the sound stage for the same reason.

The reason you will have the sensation of lower frequencies improving is that for real bass instruments and even for electronic music, lower notes have corresponding higher frequency elements. You don’t have more bass, but you have a more complete sound and you ears convert these “harmonic” sounds into “ooo that is better”. It’s because you have created different harmonics by making the sound more complete.

However, you may have introduced new issues into the midrange region - but in this case the trade off will almost certainly be worth it vs having no highs at all.
 

LongRanger

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Jan 11, 2020
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P.s. be very careful on the 8” door upgrade. It gets very technical but a door is not a great place for an 8. It’s why in that pic above you can see an 8 reverse-mounted into the kicks, wired out of phase and using the air outside of the car as its “box”, doors have limited air volume and the sheer volume of air that most 8’s need is bigger than a door cavity, so the speaker ends up being strangled and having even more peaks/unintended bad stuff happening.

You need to find an 8 that has a low FS, meaning it is expecting a smaller air volume to produce a flat response down to its crossover point. Also make sure it’s paper cone as otherwise it will get all sluggish and sloppy.

I don’t know the factory Ohms rating of the front doors 8” speaker but the Jehnert XE200 (used for BMW under-seat in a small sealed enclosure) is a really good speaker for the money, will check on suitability when I have the front door cards off this week. It is slim and well made.

However - now we are into changing kit before putting equivalent effort into treating the environment, so I’ve broken my own rules and the speaker will still be losing valuable energy into plastic mounts, thin door metal and rattling plastics/fixings.
 
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Adopado

Active Member
Aug 19, 2019
3,355
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Scotland
It’s why in that pic above you can see an 8 reverse-mounted into the kicks, wired out of phase and using the air outside of the car as its “box”...

... I now understand why some cars with modified audio seem to make so much "noise" outside the vehicle! Also why I sometimes come across a car in a car park blaring an ongoing phone call to the world ... the occupant apparently oblivious to the fact that everyone nearer than 50 yards is hearing every detail!
 
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LongRanger

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Jan 11, 2020
1,314
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Wales
ah, ok - that is a misconception. My competition car was virtually silent outside with around 90-95dB inside.

what you are hearing is the car resonating and turning into a speaker.

lower quality installs, no use of isolation techniques and over-blown setups that are all about volume not quality is what you are hearing out and about.

speakers in boxes then inside cars are more likely to make unsuitable noise away from the car because they have the box-inabox effect. this is why large subs in large boxes carry sound for miles - long wavelengths and peaking frequencies amplify this effect.

with an infinite baffle setup the air behind the speaker (in my case the front of the cone but with reverse phase wiring it make the front the back) just acts as suspension for the cone, not another box that amplifies the sound.

Very few audio systems use this as it involves taking an airsaw to the vehicle metal and fabricating suitable waterproofing grills.
 

Durzel

Active Member
Jul 17, 2019
2,913
1,952
Bath, UK
Great writeup.

Those amps remind me of Genesis ones. It prompted me to go and check to see if they were still in business, and thankfully - they are.
 

Adopado

Active Member
Aug 19, 2019
3,355
2,528
Scotland
with an infinite baffle setup the air behind the speaker (in my case the front of the cone but with reverse phase wiring it make the front the back) just acts as suspension for the cone, not another box that amplifies the sound.

Very few audio systems use this as it involves taking an airsaw to the vehicle metal and fabricating suitable waterproofing grills.

I am reading that you are venting the sound coming from the side of the speaker that is not facing into the car (back or front depending on which way you use them) into the air outside the passenger compartment and into free air ... (closer to a real "infinite baffle" than the closed box "infinite baffle" designs that we are more familiar with at home). Doesn't that mean you hear a lot of sound outside the vehicle?
 

LongRanger

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Jan 11, 2020
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nope the car was pretty silent outside. when you cranked it up the mids did get slightly noticeable as they were venting into the scuttle panel / wiper area but midbass were eerily quiet to passers by.

always freaked folks out when they had listened to the car / seen the install and had several onlookers poking around at the wheel arch liners to try and find the invisible box.
 
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Drew57

Member
Apr 4, 2020
909
1,020
Chester UK
With some more DSP capability, and better physical mounting construction it would be even better. Something like the DIRAC Live setup with user-configurable setup could really knock your socks off if combined with this overall design. Oh and ditch the plastic speaker mounts in favour of aluminium or good old fashioned steel :)

Agreed - in an active setup with even fairly basic drivers, once everything is time coherent at the crossover points this can be a real game changer, including for bass integration. In an easily modelled & treated room environment this often produces a stunning illusion of reality but I'm sure the situation in a car is many degrees more complex.

In your experience has anyone been able to integrate DSP measurement & time/phase alignment (including group delay) into a car environment? I would be genuinely interested to hear that.
 

LongRanger

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Jan 11, 2020
1,314
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the best all-in-one system out there is probably DIRAC Live - the B&O system in Audi uses it plus others I'm sure. It uses an active mic to adjust real time but I've not had a chance to play with the interface for it.

I used to use a Pioneer ODR setup with remote control, and then had a magic set of ears (not mine) to help me get the phase bit right as my hearing has slight difference between right and left. Between that set of ears and various sound judges providing feedback for us to work on - we got it pretty much as good as you can notwithstanding inherent car peaks which did need some EQ treatment but you never fix everything 100%.

Other more complex solutions are available, for example sub-specific processors borrowed from the home cinema world.

Always found it amazing how much you have to adjust midbass time alignment to get in phase with sub - it's often a couple of metres "distance" (i.e. time vs speed of sound at a crossover frequency) of adjustment to pull the closest midbass to the listener into time with the sub, then of course the distance difference between L and R midbass is quite a big adjustment too.

We used to time align midbass as pairs first, then mids in a pair, then mids into midbass as a group, then tweeters as a pair, then tweeters into mids - then finally delay all 3 groups equally to bring sub into line. All using the same reference track on CD, round and round in circles forever lol.

As I said, it can get really involved and intense, no plans to get into all that on the Model 3 but the possibilities for a really high quality audio result are there in a car. However you need the base environment right first.
 

hingus2000

Member
May 24, 2020
217
158
London
Really interesting. Particularly good to see a suggested set of EQ values. I must admit to my untrained ear I haven’t found the perfect setup yet.

I find that the front (windscreen) speakers dominate the sound stage, to the point where you don’t really get any impression that sound is being delivered from around the car. They do sound good, to be fair, it just isn’t as spatially interesting as I would have hoped.
 

m3gt2

Member
Sep 14, 2015
878
298
england
Great writeup.

Those amps remind me of Genesis ones. It prompted me to go and check to see if they were still in business, and thankfully - they are.
You must be from my era, I went Zapco for the amps though (wish I still had the Studio 500s) and I will never forget the first time I listened to my CDT Eurosports :)
 

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