Road Trip! The Ford Edge Ltd
When Ford's PR company offered to loan me a fully tricked-out Ford Edge Ltd for our trip to the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, it didn't take me a New York minute to say "Yes please." My regular ride is a 1984 Mercedes-Benz 500SEC coupe, and as much as I love that car and its five-liter V8, automotive technology has made major strides since it left the Stuttgart production line.
The standard Ford Edge starts at $34,220. The Ltd that arrived ($39,995, per Ford's website) was fitted with all the trimmings: a 12-speaker, 390W Sony audio system, with CD player, Sirius-XM satellite radio, FM/AM and HD radio; adaptive cruise control; active collision-avoidance system; pushbutton engine start/stop with keyless entry; a panoramic vista roof; and a rear-view video camera that activates when you shift into reverse and is accompanied by beeps that increase in frequency the closer you get to whatever lurks behind you. The vehicle's high belt line at the rear makes looking over your shoulder a fruitless endeavor, but to offset the blind spots, the collision-avoidance system lights an orange lamp in the appropriate wing mirror when something is coming up on either side. Nice.
The rear-view video is displayed on the 8" color touchscreen in the center of the dash; this screen is the core of the MyFord Touch system, providing navigation, climate control, and full control of the Sony sound system, all via touchscreens or voice commands. And if you have a smart phone and iPodand who doesn't, these daysthe Ford's Microsoft Sync system hooks up the phone via Bluetooth and the iPod via USB ports in the center console, at which point these, too, can be controlled with touchscreen or voice commands. There's an audio/video input on three RCA jacks adjacent to the USB ports so you can look at what's on your camcorder on the 8" screen, but that is activated only when the car is stationary.
Under the skin, the Ford Edge Ltd sports a 3.5-liter V6 engine with Twin independent Variable Cam Timing (TiVCT) and cast-aluminum cylinder head and block. This delivers 285HP at 6500rpm with 253 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm to a six-speed automatic gearbox. (My quarter-centuryold Benz's power plant puts out 184HP at 4500rpm but with 247 lb-ft of torque at 2000rpm.) The Ford's EPA-estimated fuel economy is claimed to be 19mpg city/27mpg highway/22mpg combinedone of the display modes for the smaller LCD displays on the dash shows the instantaneous fuel mileage. Whereas F1 pilot Jonathan Scull used the steering-wheel controls to set this display to tachometer mode, I set it to fuel-economy mode to arrive at a satisfying 25.7mpg for the 3000 miles I put on the car. It also shows how many miles before the tank is empty, which, in conjunction with the navigation system's ability to find gas stations, allowed me to make the minimum number of fuel stops.
But this is Stereophile, not its stablemate Automobile. What about the sound of the Ford Edge Ltd's Sony audio system?
I wasn't sure what to expect. My experience of contemporary automotive sound has been of the systems in the cars I rent, which tend toward the Screech/Squawk/Boom school of sound, even when I've returned the treble and bass controls to their neutral settings from the maximum-boost positions at which the previous renter had left them.
The Ford Edge has a tweeter in each windshield pillar, a central midrange speaker on the dash, speakers in each of the four doors, forward-firing surround speakers in the roof behind the rear-passenger headrests, and a single subwoofer in the driver-side sidewall of the rear cargo bay. With the treble, midrange, and bass controls set to their neutral positions on the touchscreen, I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard. There was a touch too much mid-treble energy and the lows were elevated, but the midrange was clean and uncolored. I set the treble and bass to "1"; this left the top octave a little too mellow, but gave the best mid-treble balance. While there was too much bass in absolute terms, it wasn't unpleasant, adding to the magnificence of orchestral basses and cellos, and seeming to boost the level of bass guitar in rock recordings without affecting the rest of the spectrum. The Sony's DSP can be set to Stereo or Surround. To Jonathan's and my surprisewe are purists, after allwe preferred Surround, for its more enveloping effect on the road.
Measuring the frequency response of an in-car system is very different from doing so for a domestic system. In a conventional listening room, the speakers are small compared to the room dimensions and the room is large enough to allow all but the lowest bass octave to be played back above the frequencies of the lowest room resonances. In a car, none of these assumptions is true. In effect, with the multiple, widely spaced drive-units, it's almost as if you're inside the speaker system! More to satisfy my curiosity than to provide an absolute measure of its performance, I examined the Ford's system in two ways. (I took these measurements with the engine off and the vehicle stationary.) First, I estimated the power response by taking the response with an Earthworks QTC-40 microphone and the FuzzMeasure program running on my MacBook at 11 randomly chosen positions in the cabin (footnote 1). Second, I played back the 1/3-octave warble tones from my Editor's Choice CD (Stereophile STPH015-2), which had been ripped to my iPod, and assessed the sound-pressure level with Studio Six Digital's SPL Meter app for the iPhone, which I had previously calibrated with an AudioControl SA3050A.
Fig.1 Ford Edge Ltd with Sony 12-speaker sound system, 1/6-octave power response (blue trace) and 1/3-octave warble-tone response measured at driver's ear position (red). (10dB/vertical div.)
The blue trace in fig.1 shows the power response with the treble control set to "1." The top two octaves slope down, but the response from the lower midrange through the mid-treble is remarkably even. The low frequencies are boosted by the fact that the drive-units are pressurizing the cabin. I was surprised by the degree of this low-frequency boost; it didn't sound that extreme, but, of course, you don't hear only the system's power response; you're also hearing the direct sound from the closest drive-units. The red trace in fig.1 shows the warble-tone response measured at the position of my ears in the driver's seat. It is, indeed, impressively flat, and the lows are not as boosted as they are in the power response. What you actually hear will be a mix of the two responses and it does indeed correlate with Jonathan's and my listening impressions.John Atkinson
Footnote 1: See Jan Abilgaard Pedersen's paper, "Sampling the Energy in a 3D Sound Field," presented at the October 2007 AES Convention: www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=14319. Pedersen was Lyngdorf's chief engineer when he wrote this paper; he currently heads up the automotive audio division at Bang & Olufsen. The footnote section to this paper offers a comprehensive listing of everything of note that has been published about the behavior of loudspeakers in rooms.