If you’re one who goes by the numbers, you might measure the worth of your car by its horsepower, torque or fuel economy. But many buyers also look at other figures, including the power of a vehicle’s audio system and the number of speakers it’s outfitted with.
If you’re among the traditionalists, you might be excited to learn that the base 2.0-liter turbo-four in the base 2021 Acura TLX makes 272 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque, with the 3.0-liter turbo-six upgrade in the TLX Type S pushing to 355 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque.
Intriguingly, as Honda’s luxury brand gets ready to roll out the new sedan, however, it’s been emphasizing the audio side of the equation. And, as we learned spending a good part of an afternoon sitting back and simply letting the 2021 TLX serve as our listening room, that’s for good reason.
Gone are the days of tinny little speakers and AM/FM radio. But, with the latest-generation ELS audiophile system that will be available as an upgrade on the sedan, you may find yourself going out to your car simply to stretch out and relax to your favorite tunes.
Good audio has become a requisite in today’s vehicles, especially on the luxury side, with brands like NAIM, offered by Bentley, and the Mark Levinson systems found in many Lexus models. Acura has been a significant player in the game thanks to its tie up with Panasonic which created the custom-branded ELS line.
The outgoing Acura TLX was already making great music, with an ELS package pumping out 490 watts through 10 channels and 10 speakers. The new ELS Studio system developed for the 2021 sedan, however, now makes 710 watts, delivering that through 16 channels and 17 speakers.
Indeed, look just about anywhere and you’ll see one of those speakers, including “Twin Telford” subwoofers in the trunk – a design developed to eliminate that irritating rattle you often hear when the bass is turned up high.
The layout isn’t random. It’s not a matter of struggling to find a place to put a speaker, but finding the right location. And that can make all the difference in the world. In most vehicles, even those with supposed
“audiophile” technology, instruments tend to aurally appear either in front or in back of a listener, and you get only a moderate sense of where that instrument or vocalist is positioned.
What’s uncanny about the ELS Studio package is that you know precisely where each sound is coming from. Technically known as “staging,” you can all but see that bass player off to the front left, the keyboard to the right, a couple guitars behind you and, with the familiar recording of Bonnie Raitt’s “Nick of Time,” you might swear she is sitting right next to you in the passenger seat.
What’s equally compelling is that you may hear sounds you’ve never noticed before on an album you swore you knew by heart – like the sounds of guitarist Pat Metheny’s fingers squeaking as they fly up and down the frets.
We listened to an array of songs and instrumentals provided in high-resolution form, from jazz to rap and everything in between. What’s significant is how they all came through as one would imagine the producers intended them to sound.
That’s no surprise considering the new Acura sound system was developed with the close supervision of two legendary names in music recording, Mark Zeimba and Elliot L. Scheiner, the eight-time Grammy winner who lent his initials to the ELS Studio package.
A warning to those who might crave a system like this: you’ll find it delivering better-than-expected sound quality no matter what you feed into it, including those MP3 audio files on your iPhone, as well as the compressed music on Sirius/XM. But you’ll want to try to find original CDs, if possible, or opt for some of the new super-high-resolution audio downloads available, among other places on the Amazon HD service. The difference will stun you if you flip-flop between versions of the same tune.
The new ELS Studio package is, as with other recent Acura models, operated using the True TouchPad control system in the 2021 TLX. It will seem reasonably familiar to anyone who has operated a laptop computer. To their credit, Acura now offers a real volume knob as well as a dedicated button alongside the touch controller to let you quickly skip a tune you don’t like. You’ll have to navigate the screen for other audio functions, but it’s easier than in years past with the more intuitive TouchPad.
When it comes to picking a car, there’s no question that buyers look for traditional cues, starting with exterior and interior design. And the familiar horsepower and fuel economy numbers almost always play a role in making a vehicle choice. But more and more buyers now take into account what you might call creature comfort features. And, for those who put a premium on the listening experience, the 2021 Acura TLX outfitted with the new ELS Studio system is clearly going to make a compelling argument.
The system is so good you might wind up occasionally driving past your destination if the right music is playing. Or you might skip out on installing a high-end home system and spend an evening kicking out the jams with your car parked in the driveway.