B&W’S in-car surround sound system comes close to greatness
FOR Intuitive idrive system; detailed, expressive midrange AGAINST Tubby bass affects timing “You can spot the midrange drivers and tweeters a mile off – their presence is highlighted by some subtle illumination in the front and rear doors”
Bowers & Wilkins’
Diamond Surround Sound System made its debut in BMW’S 7Series. As a premium audio option for when you’re driving, it made perfect sense.
But it was only a matter of time before the system trickled down to another BMW range with a bigger pool of potential customers. So, this flagship audio set-up is now available for the 5Series, one of the most popular saloons on the planet.
Like the original 7Series system, this set-up features 16 speakers powered by a 10-channel, 1400W Class D amplifier. Both front-left and front-right speaker configurations boast Bowers & Wilkins’ trademark Diamond tweeters – ultra thin, ultra rigid diamond domes usually reserved for B&W’S flagship stereo speakers.
Behind each one is a diffuser designed in a spiral shape – an idea inspired by B&W’S high-end Nautilus speaker. Its job is to dissipate any sound from the rear of each tweeter.
Unlike B&W’S in-car speaker systems for Volvo and Mclaren, the 7Series system doesn’t use the company’s tweeter-on-top technology – a distinctive design with a tweeter mounted on top of the centre of the dashboard, firing straight into the cabin.
The 5Series system makes do with a more traditional design. Here, the centre channel (an aluminium tweeter and Kevlar midrange driver combination) fires straight up from the centre of the dashboard. Kevlar isn’t just good at stopping bullets; the material has been a trademark ingredient of B&W loudspeakers for decades, and there are seven Kevlar midrange drivers dotted around the 5Series cabin.
You can spot the midrange drivers and tweeters a mile off – they’re placed behind beautifully etched stainless steel grilles, their presence highlighted by some subtle illumination in the front and rear doors. Bass is delivered by two 22cm subwoofers underneath the driver and passenger seats.
It’s worth noting that the speaker layouts for the saloon and Touring versions of the 5Series differ slightly. In the saloon, the rear surround speakers are positioned on the parcel shelf, while the Touring model sees them bumped into the rear roof lining.
At the heart of every BMW lies idrive, the company’s much-lauded infotainment system. The 5Series uses the latest idrive 6, which includes a 10.2in touchscreen display on top of the dashboard. You can navigate with a finger but, when driving, the circular controller and shortcut buttons in the centre console will get the most use.
Our test car is fitted with BMW’S Premium Package (£1820), which includes a special ceramic finish on the main controls. It feels more luxurious and more tactile than the standard plastics. The display is smooth to operate – not quite up to Apple ipad standards, but it’s much more responsive and boasts less lag than some rival set-ups.
The main display is made up from six tiles (you can see three at any one time) which you can scroll between. You can customise and reorder them by pressing, holding and dragging, like on an iphone.
But choose BMW’S Technology Package (£1405) and you’re treated to gesture control. Position your finger in range of the sensor and twirl it clockwise or anticlockwise to move the volume up or down accordingly. From the outside it looks odd, but once you’re locked into the sensor’s sweet spot, it works surprisingly well. However, we stick to the more convenient steering-wheel controls when driving.
The centre speaker is located right in the middle of the dashboard The B&W’S main control dial (top); Midrange drivers are lit up (below)