Mark Levinson and Lexus

Posted on August 7, 2008 at 12:00 am

 

Early in the development of the current Lexus LS 460, the luxury sedan’s executive chief engineer, Takeshi Yoshida, met with a representative of Mark Levinson in Japan. It was to be the beginning of an association between Lexus and Mark Levinson’s company, known since 1972 as a sound purist, developing home and studio systems that audiophiles agree is ‘outside the box in terms of sonic reproduction’.

Actually, Levinson’s innovations have been coveted by many carmakers, who wanted his systems for their vehicles. But it seemed that whenever his engineers investigated the cars, they found their cabin architectures wanting. So, over the years, Levinson declined working with any carmaker since, in his opinion, the necessary and appropriate level of quiet with a resonance-free structure did not exist in an automobile. With Lexus, however, Levinson had the unique opportunity to be involved in the acoustic design of Lexus’s cabins to ensure that his superlative sound qualities could be achieved inside a car.

The representative, Phil Muzio, knew that the launch of the next-generation LS, the brand’s flagship model, would be Lexus’ most important launch since its birth in 1989. In preparation for this key meeting, Muzio and his team had prepared volumes of research for Yoshida and his staff of engineers.

Current LS generation has most advanced Mark Levinson equipment

The ‘reinvented’ LS was a vehicle that would require the most advanced car audio system for any sedan on the market, Yoshida stated. The 450-watt surround-sound system Mark Levinson proposed included fitment of 19 speakers as standard, a figure that caused Yoshida to hesitate, knowing the additional challenges it would present when shaping the sedan’s interior – down to the last detail. Nineteen speakers was unprecedented, and an unlikely number to accommodate. Even this, the largest of Lexus sedans, simply did not have the necessary space. Muzio, however, was intent on introducing a new level of automotive audio to go hand in hand with the new LS 460.

 

This significant meeting, which took place in 2002 – 4 years prior to the LS 460′s launch – typifies the strategic partnership Lexus and Mark Levinson have forged since the beginning of their relationship. It was, and continues to be, a partnership that moved both companies to push boundaries in search of the definitive automotive-acoustic experience.

 

“There are specific Mark Levinson product launches that represent a level of technical and artistic achievement of which I am most proud. The debut of Mark Levinson Reference Surround, designed for the Lexus LS 460, ranks high among that elite group,” said Phil Muzio, director of acoustic systems for Mark Levinson. “Few words are required to communicate the excellence of these products, as the emotions that they convey when listening to our favourite music and movies say it all.”

As the Lexus brand approached its decade anniversary in the late 1990s, the luxury automotive division decided to pursue a superior sound experience for its customers that was on par with the luxurious refinement for which it is was known. With the brand being based on the Lexus Covenant that it treat each customer as a guest in its home, it seemed to be a logical choice to partner with Mark Levinson, the leader in audiophile home sound systems.

Mark Levinson was prepared to develop audio systems for Lexus because the cabin design was unmatched in terms of quietness, allowing the superlative sound quality to be reproduced

After testing the Lexus LS 400 and its luxury competitors, the acoustic engineers at Mark Levinson decided that the LS not only had the quietest passenger cabin on the market but that it had the requisite level of tranquillity – even at high speeds – for engineering an automotive sound experience of the highest quality. In 1998, a strategic partnership was forged between Lexus and Mark Levinson to collaborate on and produce the best automotive audio experience on the market.

 

Reproducing true ‘concert hall experience’ inside a car is a huge challenge but Mark Levinson and the engineers at Lexus have succeeded

The original goal of Lexus’ exclusive collaboration with Mark Levinson -  to exceed consumers’ expectations – is maintained to this day and is integral in the launch of every new Lexus model. As each next generation of Mark Levinson sound systems debuts in the new models, the objective remains faithful to the Mark Levinson philosophy and original mission statement: Recreate in the home the emotional response evoked by the original musical or cinematic event, and closely replicate in the Lexus vehicle the emotional experience music and movie aficionados could previously attain only with the finest home consumer equipment.

The first Mark Levinson Premium Sound system was launched in the 2001 LS 430. The same engineers who fine-tuned and perfected the world-class Mark Levinson home systems spent thousands of hours in prototype vehicles matching the sound system to the LS’ unique interior architecture and acoustic character. The painstaking collaboration resulted in an audio presence with acoustic imaging that had never before been created in an automobile, it was claimed.

The Lexus-Mark Levinson audio evolution took a new, purposeful step with the introduction of the Mark Levinson Surround Sound system on the 2006 GS 300/430 luxury sport sedans. The 14-speaker, 330-watt Surround Sound system was the next-generation audio entertainment experience. Its Discrete 5.1 Surround system improved the 360-degree sound space for all seats. The partnership’s progression continued with the 2006 IS 250/350 sedans that also featured 7.1-channel architecture while combining 14 speakers and 300 watts of power.

 

The debut of the all-new LS 460 and the 19-speaker Mark Levinson Reference Surround system it came to offer reveals the maturing relationship between Lexus and Mark Levinson. The alliance came to fruition with a sound system that uniquely mirrors the benchmark luxury sedan’s personality. Mark Levinson designers and engineers identified the differentiating performance objectives necessary to legitimately earn the “Reference Surround” terms: timbral accuracy, timbral matching and dynamics.

 

Lexus and Mark Levinson have developed a process in which engineers from both sides meet early in the development cycle and continue to work closely throughout the development program. As many as three to seven years in advance of a model arriving in the showrooms, Mark Levinson engineers begin analyzing multiple conditions to determine system content, including both automotive and audio market conditions, cabin size, the price point, and even buyer demographics. Mark Levinson engineers walk through a step-by-step product-planning process with Lexus planners and engineers to determine the optimal audio content for each future model.

 

Mark Levinson systems are not only in the luxury sedans but also in the sports sedans like the IS250 and even SUVs like the RX350 and LX470 (pictured)

The objectives of Mark Levinson Surround Sound systems were ambitious and challenging from the start. They had to provide an exciting and satisfying entertainment experience for both music, music videos and movies commensurate with the quality and performance of Lexus vehicles. They also had to offer compatibility with the new consumer digital formats and with the new consumer media formats. An enhanced automotive-entertainment experience had to be created by refining the sonic performance in each listening seat with all current formats and media. At the same time, this next-generation system was architected to provide a higher level of sonic performance for each of these important sonic attributes: 3-dimensional stable imaging, high resolution, harmonic richness, natural dynamics, musicality, and 360-degree spatial envelopment.

In order to achieve these objectives, the Mark Levinson hardware and software design teams had to create and implement an entirely new digital processing topology, increase the number of power amplifier channels, architect a system topology that utilizes the latest generation of Mark Levinson transducers while allowing for the proper reproduction of multichannel sound, and architect and code new proprietary software applications.

The 2002 meeting between Yoshida-san, Muzio and their engineering staffs was significant for the new Mark Levinson Reference Surround Sound system. Muzio understood Yoshida’s hesitation and the intrinsic difficulty in creating a 19-speaker surround system. He also knew that the LS’ executive chief engineer’s final decision would be determined based on his experience listening to an early incarnation of the Reference Surround.

After exiting the demonstration prototype model, having experienced the new Mark Levinson creation for 15 minutes or so, Yoshida made only an extended pause … and then a simple, yet significant, statement: “I must have this in my car.”

To know more about Lexus models in Malaysia, visit www.lexus.com.my

 

[Chips Yap]
By Motor Trader Editorial Team

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