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I own an Internet development company that specializes in multimedia development. One of our strategic partners is owned by my best friend, an Emmy Award winning composer and musician who owns his own recording studio (we're talking half a million dollars in mixing equipment and computers).

At home I have a decent home theater and listening room, with a 7.2 channel setup. I have over $9,000 in speakers: five top of the line Infinity Cascade speakers, and two Infinity back speakers. I have two Carver Sunfire Signature 12" subwoofers (each driven with its own 2,700 watt amplifier), and three amps for the 7 channels that put out 1,400 watts combined. I had my house built with four dedicated 20 amp circuits for the home theater, and there is a 10 foot copper grounding rod driven into the ground outside so that all four circuits are on their own separate ground (eliminating any interference or hum from the lines in the rest of the house).

I'm pretty serious about sound.

So tonight, for giggles, my friend and I grabbed his laptop with all of his sound software, a $1,000 microphone, and CD with test frequencies and climbed into the Mazda.

Anyone who is a pro in the sound industry knows that Bose quit being a serious speaker manufacturer decades ago. A friend of mine is an electrical engineer with 20 years of experience at JBL and he describes the Bose "accoustimass" system as "$20 worth of cheap speakers and $700 worth of marketing". Sad, but true. You can see some comparison photos I did a couple of years ago when removing the Bose system from my wife's Cadillac and installing some Infinity speakers here: Bose vs. after market speakers

OK, here's what we found. First of all, there is NO bass in the stock Bose system to speak of. We ran frequency sweeps with the Bass and Treble controls on the radio set to zero, and ran sweeps at "20" "30" "40" and "45" on the radio volume. The dB output falls to just about zero at 100 Hz, which is were true bass just starts to begin. Most systems crossover the mid-range and bass somewhere between 80 Hz (The THX reference point) and 100 Hz, above that point your ear can localize the sound and the bass begins to become another point source speaker.

If you like hip hop, or jazz, or any music with real bass, you will be disappointed. The Bose system can be described as being really just mid-range and treble. There is no bass, much less anything that would be produced by a real sub-woofer. Even with the radio's bass setting turned up to +6, it didn't help, still nothing below 100 Hz worth mentioning, just a lot more distortion.

There's a pronounced peak in the spectrum at about 140 Hz, but in listening it's not objectionable--it doesn't produce any boominess.

Mid-range is a little scattered with a bunch of strong peaks and valleys--not the nice relatively flat line you'd like to see, but actually about average for a stock car radio.

The system distorts early, it's fine at low and moderate volume, but push above "40" on the radio volume and it becomes intrusively noticeable.

The system has a terrible stereo image. Ideally, a well setup stereo will produce a "sound stage" that appears to you, the listener, to be in front of you, ranging from your left to your right. In a quality system, there will be a 3D quality to the image, where you can hear sounds that appear to be closer and others that appear to be further away from you. You should be able to "see" where in front of you a specific instrument is in the recording--the trumpet is to the left of the singer (who is in the center of the sound stage), the guitar is to the right of the singer, and the bass guitar is to the left of the trumpet player.

In the Bose, forget about it. There is no sound stage. With the fader and balance controls set to zero, all of the sound appears to be slightly behind the driver and to their right--in other words in the center of the car. It's bad enough to be very, very annoying to anyone used to decent sound quality. You can't really improve on the sound stage, even setting the controls to try to move the sound to the front and the left doesn't do much.

If you want to do a quick test on any car stereo, throw the fader all the way to the front and listen to some music. Then throw it all the way to rear and listen some more. You should basically hear nice, clean stereo sound coming from the front and then the rear. Try that on your Bose and it's an eye opener. The sound goes very dead, and has a very "transistor" radio sound to it. Bose is using psycho-acoustic cues to fool your brain into thinking it's hearing a richer spectrum of sound then is really there. Go ahead, try it for yourself, you'll see what I mean.

So in conclusion, the Moonroof and CD changer are great, but the Bose part of the package is a severe disappointment (unless you gave up on Bose in 1977 when they did). If you listen at low to moderate levels, the system is smooth and pleasant sounding, even if it's due to artificial coloration in the sound and not at all transparent to the original recording.

On a sad note, my wife told me I can't touch her car, so I can't upgrade the system. She doesn't have a very good ear, so she doesn't care what it sounds like.
 

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Discussion Starter #2
I should add, that for the price of the vehicle, I really believe the Bose system is no worse and no better than anything available in the other cars in this price range. My main point is that for all the marketing hype about the 10 speakers, a "sub-woofer", and all that, it's still only average.

Yes, if you buy a $50K BMW, you get a much better radio, and yes, I know this car is only $24K with this system package.

Still, if you want a rockin' system, plan on installing your own.
 

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+1 on if u want ur own system, i was kinda of glad i didnt get the bose package in my car back in 04 as it was never an option, in my house we have a cx7 and a 2006 mazda 3 with the bose package, it was great but after it started to break in it just didnt sound good anymore
 

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Right.. Bose is hype. I picked up my CWP / Dune GT hatch last Friday. I love the car, but the sound system is just okay. My 05 Infinity G35 coupe Bose system sounded even worse though.. so I'm not complaining.

For my home theater, I use B&W with an SVS sub so, yeah, I know what real bass should sound like.
 

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Holy audiophiles batman!

Sure, its not a 10k sound system, but the frickin car costs 24 out the door lol. I'm lazy, and stream slacker radio from my blackberry via bluetooth, so even if the system was capable of those kinds of ranges, I sure wouldn't be able to hear it. 256kb is plenty for me, I could even get away with 128k. Who listens to cd's anymore? lol
 

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Discussion Starter #7
B&W with an SVS sub
Oh, very nice. I love B&W speakers.

Even for a $24K car, there are a lot better sounding systems. My friend's $23K 6 cylinder Mustang has a very nice 8-speaker system with very good imaging, nice strong and quick low end bass. You can get a $24K Dodge with a Kicker sound system that includes a real 10" sub-woofer and nice polypropylene speaker cones.

It's not a matter of the price of the car, it's the selection of the audio vendor by Mazda that's the problem.
 

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I am sure the reason they went with Bose is because it has the name recognition that the masses will go "oooohh" over. Bose is typically regarded as overpriced for the performance you get. I would much rather them went with Harmon Kardon or MB Quarts, but it is what it is.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Do you ever wonder if Mazda R&D reads forums like these? If so, maybe if we complain loudly enough that we want a better audio system upgrade option, they'll listen!
 

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I too have B&W speakers in my house and absolutely love them. I work at the Mitsubishi plant in Normal Il, yes I am a trader:shocked:. We use Rockford Fosgate components in some of our cars. I'm not saying they are the best in the world, but they seem to be a lot better quality components than what our car does. One thing I can't figure out is why there is no seperate subwoofer control in the 3. What is the point of having a subwoofer if you can't adjust the sound based on what you listen to? My carpool budy drives a LancerGTS with the upgraded sound and I love the feature of his system that allows controlling the ouput of the subwoofer. Mazda are you listening????????
 

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Discussion Starter #11
I'd at least like a 3-band EQ instead of just the Bass and Treble controls. Just that alone can often help.

But I'd prefer something like the Kicker system in my Dodge! It came with a real 10" 2 ohm subwoofer in a real box, 4 5x7 mid-bass speakers, 4 mid-range speakers and 4 tweeters (yes, 13 speakers but it works). Yes it was an extra cost option, but so was the Bose, and the Bose can't hold a candle to the Kicker system.
 

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I have the bose system, I am pretty picky about my sound quality and I'm not 100% dissapointed with the car's audio quality like I have been with previous vehicles I've owned. A big increase in my satisfaction occured when i turned off the centerpoint crap. With centerpoint off i got much better stereo reproduction. You might try that out.

The main reason for the bose was eventually when i have time to install a slammin aftermarket setup, I will already have places to mount speakers and keep the car feeling factory. I wanted the audio system to be after all my other upgrades and alterations, so the bose was a nice option, and the 6 disc in-dash CD-player is a nice touch.

Any idea if the stock radio has any pre-amp outputs?
 

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Do you ever wonder if Mazda R&D reads forums like these? If so, maybe if we complain loudly enough that we want a better audio system upgrade option, they'll listen!
Yep, we have a lot of Mazda corporate (international & U.S.) people who read our homepage and forums! I'm sure Mazda probably has a contract with Bose for the sound and there doesn't seem to be a bigger player in the OEM car audio market than Bose. I liked the Logic7 sound system in the last 3-series I test drove, preferred that to the Bose in my Mazda 3 and in my G35x.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
With centerpoint off i got much better stereo reproduction. You might try that out.
Yeah, did that quickly.

I hooked ZZ up to my bench recharger and ran a pink noise CD in the car for several nights in a row to make sure the speakers were broken in.

In summation, at low to moderate volume levels, perhaps with the Bass and Treble controls dialed up to +4 or so, I would guess that most consumers will be very happy with the sound. As long as you're careful with the volume dial, the high-end is not harsh or fatiguing, and the mid-range is fine.

Hip hop fans won't be happy, but then they're used to adding subwoofers to their cars. Same for fans of loud music, as the system distorts if you ask more than moderate volume from it.

Those owners with experience with high quality home and auto audio systems will be disappointed, but I'd guess that this is a very small percentage of the target demographic for this car. I'd say 90% of owners will never notice the complete lack of imaging or sound stage presentation.
 

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I guess the advantage I have that caused me to be less unhappy with the stereo was that I have never EVER had any faith in a factory installed stereo to sound anywhere near what i like.

You're at least a few notches up the ladder from me in the audiophile category, but I grew up listening to a pair of Vanderstein open tower speakers that my dad purchased from the guy back when it was still a one man show. Those things are incredible.

I've got a set of Definitive Technologies Bi-Polar towers which are easily some of the better sounding speakers I've heard in the price bracket, and will tide me over until I can afford something from Paradigm or the like.

But i got off track. Bose has never been good, at least not in my lifetime (I'm 25). All of their systems sound "electric" and processed. I hear it a little bit in the Mazda 3, but with Audiopilot and centerpoint off its not there unless i listen for it.

My main goal was to get the head unit, in hopes that when i do aftermarket later on it will be good enough to avoid having put in a deck that will ruin the integrated look the factory deck offers.

Since I assumed it would sound awful, i was pleased when it sounded pretty good for the car's price off the lot. It sounds a hell of a lot better then I expected it to at least :)

You're definatly right in saying that most people purchasing these cars probably havn't heard the difference between "speakers in a room" and "Speakers set up in a room".
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Def Tech speakers are excellent, you must enjoy them!

As I said, it's livable. But Bose's rep is based on marketing, not product. In almost any price range on their products, you can find waaaaay better sounding equipment from almost any major brand. And Bose ain't cheap either!
 

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Right now, i've got my Bass at 4 and trebel at 5. Seems to help smooth out hte midrange which is a little harsh.

I also swear to god, and maybe im nuts, but it swear that the audiopilot didn't actually disable until i had set it to off, and turned my car off and then on again. When the radio came back on it was much louder at the same volume level (and the same song on my ipod).

Maybe I'm nuts and had the volume at a different setting. But maybe check that out. The centerpoint is definatly toggling when you change it, but the audiopilot might not switch off until a restart of the system. It's worth saying that I feel i've got much better stereo presentation then it sounds like you have (all based on the listener though, obviously).
 

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Discussion Starter #18
Yeah, centerpoint takes a bad sound and makes it worse. With it off, and after many restarts, I have listened to some Chesky Records CDs (small recording company known for the highest quality CD and hi-def audio recordings) and listened to them. Where in my Dodge I hear a nice sound stage, with the instruments in various places between far left and far right, they all blend into the center on the Bose.

I also ran an experiment last night. My business partner mixed a left to right tonal sweep and put it on a CD. That's where you take a tone (in this case at 2,500 Hz) and start out 100% left channel, and then do a linear sweep over to 100% right channel. When listened to in my Dodge (Kicker sound system option), the tone does a nice smooth movement from the left channel, gradually to the center and then gradually to the right speaker.

Interesting thing. In the Mazda on the Bose, it starts out fully left, and then sort of leaps into the center, stays in the center for a long time, and then leaps into the right channel. There's no gradual transition, it's like: LEFT...CENTER...CENTER...CENTER...CENTER...CENTER...RIGHT.

I'm pretty sure there's some DSP steering going on in the head unit. The sweep result reinforces my impression that there's an emphasis on centering the sound rather than transparently handling Left/Right sound information.
 

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I wonder if unhooking the center speaker would help. It is possible that anything that isn't 100% left or right is being fed into the center speaker as well and causing the poor stage. It's a shame it'd be so hard to get to. If you have any sound dampening material, maybe try covering the center up with it so that you can't hear its output so much as an experiment to see if it'd be worth the trouble to unhook or modify.. . It could be that fading out the center channel with either a disconnect or just a resistor so that it isn't so "involved" in the music might help.
 

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Discussion Starter #20
I don't know if it's worth it. I don't know how much if any sound is being steered there if CenterPoint is turned off.

By the way, you don't have to take it from me. There are hundreds of websites trying to tell the truth about the lousy quality of Bose speakers. I try to save anyone I meet from their horribly overpriced and lousy sounding products. But here, peruse this online article for a careful dissection of a popular Bose speaker system:

BOSE Acoustimass - Better Profits Through Marketing
 
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