The Aural dichotomy – Faking Engine Sounds

The idea of an enhanced engine sound isn’t a spring chicken. Some automakers have been inventing ways to enhance the visceral sound of a robust engine for their performance-oriented model. In 2012, Popular Mechanics explained that many automobiles included noise-amplifying components, like the Corvette’s valve system that “opens under full throttle and bypasses the muffler,” or the “noise pipes” of the Ford Mustang that links the vehicle’s intake system with the cabin.

Just thump the gas pedal of the new Ford Mustang or F-150 and one can hear a muscular growl, a growl that has become an insignia of the auto power and performance for decades. We won’t be spilling the beans if we say; all of this is a sham. This engine growl of America’s best-selling cars and trucks is nothing but a case of lip-syncing, amplified through special pipes. The BMW M5 is also not far behind when it comes to deception. An exterior recording of the car’s engine is captured and played through the car’s stereo via Active Sound Design. Some manufacturers are simply not interested in amplifying the growling engine sound but they are playing back the taped engine sounds using a device called the Soundaktor. An audio file is stored on the car’s computer and then played during certain throttle applications.

It won’t be unfair if the mellowed down engines are associated with the progressing engines and gas economy. But automakers believe that relying on the gimmick of an artificial engine noise would still pay dividends as they understand the car-buyer paradox. They know that old school drivers can compromise on anything but the iconic sound of an old gas-guzzler. Faking engine noise has become one of the most popular tricks, carried out by the automakers. Without that noise, most fuel-efficient cars would sail past without a whiff of a sound. This can bring nightmares to the automakers worry, swaying away the potential buyers.

For the 2015 Mustang EcoBoost, Ford sound engineers and developers worked on an “Active Noise Control” system that amplifies the engine’s buzzing sound through the speakers. Ford said in a statement that the vintage V-8 engine boom “has long been considered the mating call of Mustang,” but added that the newly processed pony-car sound is “athletic and youthful,” “a more refined growl” with “a low-frequency sense of powerfulness.”

Talking about the traditionalists, they feel that this trickery of automakers has instigated a big time identity crisis. According to them, the “aural experience” of a car is priceless and should not be adulterated with digital goof ups. For a car enthusiast, it’s like tampering with the melody of musical piece. This kind of response from the purists has made the auto industry shy about discussing its sound technology. Several attempts to speak with Ford’s sound engineers about the new F-150, a six-cylinder model of America’s best-selling truck that boast of a muscular engine, were quietly rebuffed. Car companies are increasingly getting wary of alerting the buyers that they might not be hearing the real thing, and many automakers have started working with audio and software technicians to come up with a more realistic engine sound.

Having a glimpse on the positive aspect of the fabricated engine noise, when it comes to electric cars, the manufactured engine noise has become a necessity. Such cars run so quietly that they can be a horror for the passing by pedestrians.  Certain drivers getting bored from the traditional engine prefer this artificial noise and see it as an added luxury. Without it, drivers would hear an unsettling silence or the mumblings of the road that they would rather like to ignore.

This raises a pertinent question: Does it matter if the sound is a digital goof up? A driver who don’t know the difference might sleep through the discussion but for a car junkie, this is a million dollar question.

To let you get down to the nitty-grtty of this dichotomy, here’s an infographic showing how such animal-like engine sounds are changing the tradition.

 animal sounds vs cars engine noises

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