2012 Audi R8 e-tron - Acoustic Innovation e-sound - Feature e-sound
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Published on Apr 6, 2012
Acoustic innovation: e-sound by Audi
• The brand is developing new sound signatures for its future e-tron
• A control unit generates sound based on signals from the car
• A loudspeaker broadcasts the sound signature
Audi's future e-tron models will cover long distances powered by practically
silent electric motors. To ensure that pedestrians in urban settings will hear
them, the brand has developed a synthetic solution: Audi e-sound.
Rudolf Halbmeir's workstation is not exactly typical of an Audi engineer. There is a
digital piano on his desk, two studio-quality loudspeakers next to his computer
monitor, and a pile of music magazines off to the side. "A car's sound," says
Halbmeir, an acoustics engineer, "is similar to music."
Sound is an especially exciting aspect of a vehicle. Although it can be described in
physical terms, there is no substitute for experiencing it firsthand. A car's sound is
emotional, not intellectual. Although we consciously register a car's sounds only
occasionally while on the road, they are always there -- playing a crucial role in the
driving experience. Sounds send signals. Low-range frequencies suggest power
and composure, while mid-range frequencies emit sportiness and agility.
All Audi models produce sound signatures which are not only well-rounded and
harmonious, but also broadcast performance, premium quality and respectability.
"Good sound design is a complex endeavor," explains Dr. Ralf Kunkel, Head of
Acoustics at Audi. "We have gathered a lot of expertise over the years. We have
also learned how to amplify pleasant frequencies and to suppress unpleasant
In a series-production Audi, a combustion engine currently supplies the music.
Conversely, the motor in an electric-powered e-tron is not an option, as it is too
quiet and its high frequencies are not exactly melodious. Audi's e-tron models will
therefore feature a synthetic sound signature. Rudolf Halbmeir teamed up with his
colleagues Axel Brombach and Dr. Lars Hinrichsen to create it.
They used computers to do most of the work. Using software to mix and listen to
tones, assess, and then re-mix: Halbmeir is truly enthusiastic about the creative
process. After all, in his spare time, he writes songs and composes music in his
own recording studio -- where he himself plays a lot of instruments. "I create oneof-
a-kind emotional sound structures," says Halbmeir. "There aren't many
differences between music and a vehicle's sound. I trust my instincts and have to
try out new ideas to determine where they will take me."
Which ideas, exactly? "Some science-fiction films provided inspiration suitable for
certain frequency ranges," responds Halbmeir. "But there was nothing in the real
world which offered quite the right sound. When you compose music or sounds,
you have to be true to your convictions. The moment you cut corners, you
essentially end up with elevator music." Dr. Ralf Kunkel adds: "Because we here at
Audi are all automotive experts, we have a great advantage over sound specialists
elsewhere. We know our vehicles inside and out, not to mention how they operate
The e-sound by Audi may be artificial, but it is authentic. In fact, the e-tron itself
generates its sound by the millisecond. Dr. Lars Hinrichsen, the expert for
hardware and software, explains: "Data relating to the electric motor's rotational
speed, vehicle speed, loads, and other parameters is continuously supplied by the
vehicle to the control unit. It then uses this data to generate sound."
The e-sound is played via a sturdy loudspeaker attached to the car's
undercarriage. Axel Brombach, the specialist in this field, shares details: "We
designed it to handle as much as 40 watts, but during normal operation it ranges
between five and eight watts. That's loud enough for nearby pedestrians and
cyclists to hear the e-tron." A fraction of the sound signature enters the vehicle's
interior via airborne and structure-borne sound waves. "We could utilize sound
paths and mechanical actuators for more sound in the interior," explains Dr.
Kunkel. "After all, a vehicle body is basically a large soundboard.
But we believe strongly that our e-tron models call for an atmosphere of calm,
which best conveys the unique experience of electric driving."
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