If you’ve ever wanted to turn your car into a DJ, with the sound controlled by how you drive, then you need to buy a Benz, stat. Mercedes-AMG and will.i.am have turned up at CES 2024 in Las Vegas with what they’re calling MBUX SOUND DRIVE (all caps, as if to be bellowed). Sadly, it’s hard to talk about what it is and what it does without robbing it of its mystery, so apologies in advance: It’s essentially a system that pulls data from the car’s suite of sensors, which then helps control a specially-deconstructed music file. But, as joyless as that description sounds, once you’ve experienced it, you’ll wonder why it hasn’t been done before. Not to mention that, at the risk of gushing, it really does deepen the emotional connection between driving and the music you’re listening to.
The announcement came as part of Mercedes’ CES push, which this year is focused on the power of its audio setup. Alongside the announcement of MBUX SOUND DRIVE, it’s boasting of a new partnership with Amazon Music and Audible. That’ll see Dolby Atmos versions of its exclusive audio dramas, podcasts and books come to compatible vehicles. (The highlight of the event was when legendary British audio producer Dirk Maggs took to the stage, the figure responsible for the latter radio versions of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.)
MBUX SOUND DRIVE works by pairing musical elements in a song with ten inputs taken from the car. Start the car and all you get is the track’s bed, so to speak, looping in the background waiting for you to get moving. Push on the accelerator at low speeds and it’ll add some bass reverb to the song, while turning the steering wheel gets you extra effects or the chorus loop kicking in. It’s only when you open the car up on a clear highway and the main music and lyrics will start blasting, rewarding you for moving along. And then, when you’re coasting toward a stop light, the lead vocal and melody will peel away, returning you to the far less intrusive backing track.
If nothing else, it’s a spectacular piece of hardware and software development, given the fact even the fanciest in-car platform wasn’t designed to do this. It’s worth pointing out the extent of the achievement that’s enabled something like this to happen on an existing system. And there are plans to extend it further so, for instance, if the windshield wipers detect rain, the music will change to reflect the mood.
The demo I experienced had 16 tracks pre-loaded, including The Black Eyed Peas’ I Got A Feeling and Le French’s Night Drive. These songs have all been broken down and rebuilt to take advantage of MBUX SOUND DRIVE’s separated format. When you’re just cruising around a Las Vegas parking lot, it’s all pretty restrained, even if you do put some heavy reverb on while you’re parked. In fact, the whole experience at slow speeds could almost be described as teasing, offering you hints of the song you know and love, but never giving you the whole thing.
It’s only when you (or in this case, your qualified driver) puts their foot down and you suddenly start screaming down the road that the whole song kicks in. Even a song like I Got A Feeling, hardly the most bombastic, suddenly feels epic in this format. The closest thing I can compare it to is those moments in Grand Theft Auto when you’re opening it up on the highway and a great track kicks in. Of course, the best example of that would be cruising down the road while David Bowie’s Somebody Up There Likes Me plays. But, despite will.i.am’s promises that when the system arrives halfway through 2024 all genres will be well-represented, I’m not so sure. After all, it’s clear that tracks primarily based on discrete loops are going to be the easiest to translate and the most well-suited to the environment.
In terms of the future, will.i.am shared his hopes that tracks could be hard-coded to reflect a geography. He used the example of a car going through a tunnel, which would prompt a gas car driver to put their foot down to fill the space with engine noise. But in our electric future, where there is no engine noise, users will instead have to content themselves with the jolt from their favourite song. He added that he also dreams of building in easter eggs for songs, which would only start playing when the car reaches a specific location. On one hand, I’m curious how many musicians would take the time to remix their existing songs for the size of the addressable market. Which, in this case, is only Mercedes-Benz vehicles equipped with a second-generation MBUX system. Then again, money talks.
We're reporting live from CES 2024 in Las Vegas from January 6-12. Keep up with all the latest news from the show here.
This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/im-ashamed-how-much-i-love-mercedes-amg-and-williams-attempt-to-turn-cars-into-djs-023948867.html?src=rss