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How cars proved to be the perfect vehicle for next-generation audio at CES

Over the years, CES has brought us some of the biggest cultural and technological milestones in audio. From Sony’s and Philips’ collaborative launch of the CD player in 1981 to the introduction of cloud-based music in 2011, the show has set the pace in audio innovation over the past half-century. In 2023, its reputation has been cemented, but a paradigm shift was felt. Forget headphones, forget home audio, tech companies were keen to demonstrate that the future of immersive sound lies inside the car.  

It makes sense: cars are, by nature, self-contained, immersive, and well set up for spatial sound. They provide the ideal environment for high-quality listening experiences, and many companies outlined their intention to capitalise on this at CES 2023. 

Amazon takes the driver’s seat 

Perhaps the biggest show of commitment to in-car audio came from Amazon. The tech giant exhibited multiple technologies to elevate audio in the car, with the user experience taking top priority.  

The company’s partnership with Panasonic signalled a contribution towards tech interoperability. The collaboration enabled Panasonic’s Automotive SkipGen in-vehicle infotainment system to give drivers voice access to both Alexa and Siri. The movement towards multi-device integration is being witnessed in numerous industries, and now with backing from tech giant Amazon, the era of interoperability may accelerate.  

Another Amazon partnership came with Fraunhofer, this time with a focus on high-res immersive audio. The 360 Reality Audio was streamed to the inside of a vehicle at CES, using Fraunhoser’s MPEG-H 3D Audio standard and Sony’s object-based 360 Spatial Sound technology. This crossover represented the height of in-vehicle immersive music streaming. The high-resolution sound system delivers audio exactly as intended by music producers in an entirely new setting.  

When you consider that driving will, in all likelihood, become mostly automated, Amazon’s investments become future-proof. Mercedes-Benz announced that customers will soon be able to benefit from SAE level 3 conditionally automated driving in California and Nevada. Developments like these could one day allow drivers to give in-car entertainment systems much more of their attention – a possibility Amazon has clearly picked up on. For Amazon, at least, the vehicle has become the future of high-resolution sound.  

Peugeot’s visionary offering  

Peugeot was another forerunner of in-car experiences with the showcase of the new Peugeot Inception Concept electric vehicle. As well as being externally impressive, bearing the “magnetic pose of a big cat ready to spring”, the vehicle’s lounge-like interior is equally as luxurious. Importantly, this supreme comfort and design create the perfect venue for immersive audio experiences. The vehicle is equipped with the Focal premium soundbar system, offering spatialized sound in custom-made locations, an amplifier, and two subwoofers. 

Linda Jackson, CEO of the Peugeot brand, also announced that the company’s entire line-up will be electrified. The company’s goal is to make Peugeot the leading electric vehicle brand in Europe by 2030 – and they seem well on the way to achieving this. Jackson’s showcase of the Hypersquare – a tablet-like steering control centre – nods towards a future of immersive in-car entertainment. She referred to the Hypersquare as like ‘gaming in real life’, which could create boundless opportunities for audio.   

In-car virtual assistants  

Another CES showstopper came during BMW’s keynote speech, delivered by none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger. The actor helped unveil BMW’s i Vision Dee – the ‘Dee’ standing for ‘Digital Emotional Experience’. As a concept car, there’s no guarantee of production. But the showcase teased what technologies we might see in future designs, with virtual assistants being a key feature. 

If you thought that was it from Amazon, you’d be wrong. The company also expanded upon its in-vehicle VA offerings by unveiling the Lucid Air with a built-in Alexa. This will provide solid integration of in-car controls through speech, allowing users to adjust seat heaters, lighting, sun shades, and navigation. 

Car manufacturers wave goodbye to AM 

The future of in-car audio looks bright, but these gains are not without losses. CES 2023 affirmed that AM radio is becoming a thing of the past. Tesla, Porsche, and Ford (to name just a few) have already phased AM receivers out of their vehicles, citing problems with audio quality caused by high levels of electromagnetic interference. It’s a problem unique to electric vehicles. With many manufacturers committed to developing entirely electric fleets, AM could be ditched for good. 

Other key launches…  
  • Mercedes-Benz vehicles’ collaboration with Apple Music means that Mercedes-Benz now offers the first non-Apple device to natively offer spatial audio with Dolby Atmos by Apple Music. 
  • DSP Concepts showcased their partnership with Tymphany for optimising in-vehicle audio experiences. 
  • Harman unveiled its ‘Ready on Demand’ scalable software platform, to provide consumers with customised audio in the car. 

Get the full rundown on all the developments the Futuresource team spotted at CES 2023. Download your copy of our post-show report now. 

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Olivia Lowden

About the author

Olivia Lowden

Olivia Lowden is responsible for the long-form content, press, and partnerships at Futuresource. Prior to her career at Futuresource, she completed an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, demonstrative of her lifelong love of words.

Guy Hammett

About the author

Guy Hammett

Guy Hammett is a Senior Market Analyst in the Consumer Electronics team at Futuresource Consulting. Guy joined Futuresource in 2016 and has worked in a variety of different Consumer Electronics areas, both continuous tracking services and one-off custom projects, and has specialised in audio research for the last four years.

He currently heads up Futuresource Consulting’s quarterly Home Audio tracking reports and twice yearly market reports forecasting out to 2024 and regularly represents Futuresource at trade conferences across the globe.

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