Continental GT W12
Turn it up
You listen to stuff in your car. Of course you do, it’s what helps pass the time. So do I, almost exclusively podcasts and audio books. Until the Bentley arrived.
It has the Naim Audio system in it. It was a £6,595 option, which is clearly a massive extravagance. Well, until you factor it against the price of other Bentley options. Or the price of other Naim Audio kit. Its top-line Statement system costs more than a Conti GT.
But here’s the thing: it’s fundamentally changed my listening behaviour. I now listen to music rather than spoken word simply because it sounds so sensational in here. I’ve run plenty of other cars with top notch audio in them, Bang and Olufsen-equipped Astons and Audis, Burmester Mercs, a BMW M5 with Bowers and Wilkins (that was impressive, actually) and I’ve deeply enjoyed them. But none has been so good that it’s changed my behaviour. Maybe it’s the synergy between car and hi-fi, that the Conti GT’s wafting road manners are simply more conducive to relaxation and listening.
Whatever the truth, alongside an appreciation of its gait and refinement, listening to music is perhaps the biggest pleasure I get from living with the Conti GT, an intrinsic part of daily use, inseparable from the driving because they complement each other so perfectly. Which made me want to learn more, so off I went to Salisbury to see Naim Audio.
Like any specialist UK manufacturing firm it’s based around the back of an Argos on a nondescript light industrial centre. But inside. Boy oh boy. I don’t really know where to start, so instead let me give you two examples of the lengths they go to in the name of home audio sound quality.
The cables they use come from suppliers. They’re vastly costly per metre and arrive coiled up. The engineers at Naim realised that the process of coiling fractionally changes the way electricity flows through the cable. So they built a rig that gently shakes every cable. 180 times from one end, and then 180 times from the other.
Then there’s the transistors. Again these are top end components already. But Naim realised there were minute differences in the electrical tolerances between supposedly identical parts. So they built a box which very precisely measures electrical resistance. It fits 128 transistors. It’s then switched on and the box beeps every time it finds a pair which are exactly the same. Those two are then good to be used together.
You see this everywhere. I have to wear strips on my shoes to diffuse static, there are diagrams for how the perfect cone of solder should look, every circuit board is a work of art, wiring perfectly slipped and curved so there’s no interference. Forget cars – I’ve seen satellites assembled with less care.
Naim has been fitting its systems in Bentleys for 12 years now. They don’t do audio for anyone else currently. Real luxury to me is not the agony of choice, but the removal of it – of something working perfectly without you having to adjust it. Something I wish German car firms would realise – the last Merc I got in was utterly baffling. Anyway, I can move the sound balance around in the Conti, adjust the bass and treble, but I don’t tend to. Well, my 14-year old does, but what I do is go into the DSP (Digital Signal Processor) modes and choose either Spoken Word or Digital Media. That’s it. But then as you know, I’m barely ever listening to people talk these days. Because in the Conti GT it’s all about the music. And it transports me.