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Sennheiser and Continental turn a car’s interior surfaces into a giant speaker

In-car audio is a point of pride for many of the world’s most prestigious carmakers, with many boasting brands like Bose, Mark Levinson, and Meridian. Beyond partnering with top-tier audio brands, these manufacturers have had to find ways to include more and bigger speakers in their cabins. Those speakers have always come at the cost of increased vehicle weight and decreased interior space.

Today, at CES 2020, we saw evidence of that compromise possibly coming to an end: Sennheiser and Continental (yes, the tire company) have joined forces to create the first “speakerless” car audio system that effectively turns a vehicle’s interior surfaces into a massive, all-encompassing sound system.

Continental Ac2ated Sound Sennheiser Detail Shot

The speakerless tech belongs to Continental, which calls the invention Ac2ated Sound. It creates sound by positioning specially designed audio-caliber actuators behind various parts of a car’s interior. Depending on the frequencies needed, different areas and materials are targeted. The A-pillar trim, door trim, roof lining, and rear shelf can all be made to vibrate just like speaker diaphragms, thus eliminating the need for conventional speakers. It’s not the first time an object designed for another task has been co-opted to create sound: Sony has successfully turned the entire display on its OLED TVs into a giant speaker using a similar principle.

Continental claims that the result of turning interior surfaces into speakers is “an extremely natural sound experience for the occupants, who feel as if they are sitting in a concert hall surrounded by sound.” Another benefit: It saves between 75% and 90% in the required space for an audio system, not to mention the weight savings — Continental says that conventional audio systems weigh up to 88 pounds.

Of course, it’s one thing to have a clever speaker system that hijacks a car’s interior elements to produce sound, but it’s another thing to be able to manage the sound produced in order to deliver a truly immersive experience. That’s where Sennheiser comes in. Its Ambeo 3D audio technology turns out to be the ideal platform, thanks to the company’s Ambeo Mobile software. It uses the same algorithms that are present in the company’s superb Ambeo Soundbar — one of the best soundbars we’ve ever tested.

“Our Ambeo immersive audio solutions deliver the ultimate quality in sound capture, processing, and playback,” Sennheiser’s co-CEO Daniel Sennheiser said in a press release. “Crucially, the ability to enjoy breathtaking immersive sound does not require specific 3D audio sources — Ambeo Mobility’s spatialization algorithm can turn any stereo material into an immersive experience. By intelligently analyzing the content, the patented algorithm artistically remixes the sound to provide an emotional experience, transporting the listener into the music.”

So how does this new speakerless 3D immersive audio system sound? We’ll hopefully get a chance to give our ears-on impressions soon — Sennheiser and Continental are offering a sneak peek at the system at CES 2020.

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