Naim Audio's Bentley Conti GT amp has 500bhp per tonne*
*the equivalent of, naturally. Naim's Conti GT setup is off the scale good
I've written about how astronomically good Naim's audio setup is in TG's long-term Bentley GT, more of which you can read here. In short, it is astronomically good. So good in fact, it's literally changed the way I listen to music.
Here however, is a little Q&A with Naim Audio's technical director Steve Sells, who explains just how powerful, and how intricate a job it is to create a luxurious sound system for the Bentley Continental GT...Advertisement - Page continues below
What are the challenges of putting audio in a car?
“When we started, the first car we did was the original Continental [Flying Spur] four door and we went through this whole program of analysing how it absorbs and reflects sound, what frequencies are transparent and – this was a key thing actually – Bentley wanted it so that when you're sitting at the traffic lights you haven't got music coming out. So you've got privacy. So we looked at the acoustic transparency of the car, put accelerometers on the doors and vibrated them. And we found that you can put more bass into the boot and it won’t leak out. The whole process of development probably took two years to do initially.
“Then with the Conti GT coupe the acoustics changed because the first reflections from the back are different, then we did an extra two months tuning for the Sport because the materials inside were different, the extra carbon and so on.”
What he doesn’t mention is that Bentley was so keen to get Naim Audio on board that they actually went to the expense of building a garage at their premises so they could work on the project.
How powerful is the system?
“On the first gen Conti GT we had 15 speakers and 1,100 watts. In your car [TG's long-term Conti GT] there are now 20 speakers and 2,000 watts [nine mid-range BMR speakers, four tweeters, four bass drivers, one subwoofer and two active seat shakers]. There are 746 watts per horsepower so our little amplifier box is nearly 3bhp – I did actually work out that‘s the equivalent of 500bhp per tonne.
“The amplifier box itself has to fit into a tiny space on the sidewall of the boot, and also has to be subjected to all of Bentley’s testing procedures. The infotainment manager at Bentley told us, ‘it will be taken out for a party in the desert. We’ll open the doors, turn the volume up and it mustn’t destroy itself’. We did the heat testing for the first Bentley system in the canteen oven, turned it up to 90 degrees, with wires coming out and sensors. We just had to get it out again before the chefs came back in the morning and put their croissants in. Things have moved on a bit from there – we’ve now got our own temperature and humidity cycling oven."
In addition to trying to inject dust and shaking and baking components, Bentley has a one metre ‘drop test’. This posed no issues to Naim – during the tour we’d paused in a stairwell and I’d been told that in the past, the employee of the week was allowed to select any system (in its packaging) and throw it off the balcony onto the concrete floor below. Quality control, in its most brutal form.Advertisement - Page continues below
Am I right in thinking a heavy, solid Bentley is actually a pretty good starting point for car audio?
"It’s a good environment – weight helps the microphonics of it. The acoustics too as there’s more damping materials. We tried various noise reduction systems, but found that we didn't enjoy the music as much, so we took them out. We want music to not only be accurately reproduced, but it has to feel alive and real, we want you to get an emotional connection. This is difficult because really you want the speakers at eye and ear-level so it sounds a bit more natural, but all you can fit in the A-pillars are tweeters.
"But there's an acoustic trick because the first way the ear hears, is where it perceives the sound’s coming from. So you slightly advance the high frequencies coming out of the A-pillars to make it sound as it's lifted the sound from the mid and bass speakers on the doors."
Am I ruining everything by listening to music through streaming services?
“Spotify is actually a pretty acceptable sound for a car environment. CD is good too. Bluetooth does limit the data rate. In the future as cars become driverless, people will want more premium audio in their cars, but the bandwidth for streaming will be higher so it won’t be a problem.”
To read more of what life with a Bentley Continental GT is like, click here.