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How Grammy-winner Elliot Scheiner helps Acura make one of the best in-car sound systems

Elliot Scheiner Panasonic

In 2004, Acura began establishing itself with critics, audiophiles, and music legends alike with its ELS premium in-car audio system in the third-generation TL at the time. It has been offered in all of the brand’s models since, earning praise in every market segment, yet it’s not tied to a big-shot manufacturer like Bang & Olufsen. That’s because Acura has two secret weapons: Panasonic and Elliot Scheiner.

Panasonic is often perceived as a manufacturer of televisions and personal consumer electronics. It’s just as experienced in making high-quality audio equipment for professionals as any other major Japanese electronics company, however.

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Having Elliot Scheiner tune your car audio system is like having the world’s fastest production vehicle at a speed race.

Scheiner is an eight-time Grammy winner as well as an accomplished music producer and audio engineer. For those unfamiliar with his work, he’s known as a master audio engineer in sound mixing in the recording studio, helping record and produce music for some of history’s greatest musical acts.

The Eagles. Faith Hill. Beyonce. Sting. Foo Fighters. Van Morrison. Queen. Fleetwood Mac. Eric Clapton. Steely Dan. George Benson. B.B. King. These are just a few of the artists Scheiner worked directly with, mainly in sound mixing.

With resume that extensive and incredible, having Elliot Scheiner tune your car audio system at the factory is like having the world’s fastest production vehicle at a top-speed competition. Acura and Panasonic worked directly with Scheiner to tune the ELS sound system to mimic the audible experience of physically being in a recording studio.

We sat down for a chat with Scheiner recently to learn where it all started for him and how it led to designing the Acura ELS Premium audio system in the 2019 RDX crossover.

DT: What does ELS stand for and where did it all start for you?

Scheiner: ELS, well, that was always my name when I started working in the studio. When I started thinking about audio for cars, in the 1970s, I realized cars were the common denominator. You know, you’d get into the car and throw in a cassette or eight-track and then you’d say, “well, it sounds like [crap].” At that point, I started thinking about wanting to do car audio.

“We asked ourselves “where are we going to listen to this?” as we were mixing it.”

It never originally occurred to me. But when surround [sound] came out, to me, the perfect, the most ideal place to listen to surround was in the car. You can’t move, you’re always sitting there. In 2004, we did the Acura TL and the ELS Surround system. And I got deeper into [car audio].

When I did The Eagles’ last record, we asked ourselves “where are we going to listen to this?” as we were mixing it. We had an Acura there, so we set out to play it in the Acura. Now, just picture all five of us out there listening to what we mixed.

Afterwards, I thought “these guys are just sitting here with me, listening to the mix.” And it was usually approved by the car. Working with Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters, they actually sent Dave a car. They were listening to all my mixes, stereo and surround sound, in the car. And that’s how [the Foo Fighters] approved. They never came into the studio, and only heard my work in the car. And then they went and bought [an Acura].

It means a lot to musicians to hear what you do sound like what you did. Whereas you go into – I have a bad mouth – a Lexus, you want to hear what you did but it sounds nothing like it. And I’ve been asked why on numerous occasions. The situation is usually that they have one guy doing it who is a scientist. He decides it has to be a certain way, and says “the frequency has to be like this.” The bottom line is, they don’t know what it sounds like.

I did a Van Morrison record years ago. I wasn’t happy with his acoustic sound. I went into the studio, put my head down on his guitar, listened to it and thought “okay, this is what it sounds like.” So, I went back into the studio room and got it to sound like what he was playing.

Panasonic’s look inside the ELS 3D sound system

We did that originally and now we’re trying to, and we have, made everything sound like what it sounds like in this room, the Power Station Recording Studio in New York, or any other studio.

DT: When it comes to developing a system for the car, what do you actually do? Do they take you and put you in the car or do they put you in a sound-proof room?

Scheiner: No. I’m with the car when it’s in preproduction stage. And we start doing it that way. I’ll be in the car and we usually listen to everything. Listen to stuff I’ve done, or my friends have done, things I really know by heart, and get a basic sound that way.

“[Panasonic] told me they had somebody interested in the project. I was like, ‘you’re kidding…’ “

The tricky part is [the engineers] change so much throughout the development process. You come back a month later, you listen to the car and you ask “where’s the bass?” They changed something in there that caused that. So, it’s like starting all over again, but I’m totally cool with it. I like doing it again. If I can listen to music and do this, I’m fine.

After the 2004 TL came out, people asked why I did it. I said “well, this is the first time anyone has ever asked somebody who makes music for a living, somebody who listens to this every day, to step in a car and point to what’s wrong.” [Acura] was so confident about what this might bring that they let me have a go at it

DT: Was the decision to go with Panasonic yours or Acura’s?

Scheiner: The TL, before the 2004 model, was known as having the worst audio in the business. And it was a Bose system. I came up with the idea in 2001. There was a DVD Empire meeting in New York. Everyone who supplied audio was at this convention. About eight or nine manufacturers. I went up to every one of them and said, “I have an idea for surround sound.” Everyone then said “we’re not really into that, what do we need you for?”

Elliot Scheiner — Acura RDX
Elliot Scheiner with the 2019 Acura RDX prototype. Acura

“Well, I make music,” I said. They didn’t care. Panasonic was there; I went to [Tom Dunn] and talked about what I do. It took about seven months for them to call me back.

They told me they had somebody interested in the project. I was like, “you’re kidding…”

It meant so much to me to be able to work on a car where I can go in and people can go in it and say, “wow, this really sounds like they’re here with me.” Panasonic was willing to do this and the quality of the work they do is really beyond. [Mark Ziemba, audio systems manager at Panasonic Automotive] and I get along really well, so it just came to be. It was one of those things, I can’t imagine being anywhere else. I had Harmon/Kardon come to me at an audio engineering show when the 2004 TL came out and ask how long of a contract I had signed with Panasonic.

“Longer than you would know,” I replied. And, you know, they were all interested in the surround sound and what the car did. Everybody became interested. I’m glad we were the first ever. Acura can claim that responsibility: we made the first surround-sound audio system for a car.

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