Dear car makers: stop putting fake engine noise into the cabin.
I'm looking at YOU BMW!
The automotive world has dealt with numerous problems surrounding certain "innovations" in the car industry. From autopilot that doesn't autopilot, to emergency breaking that does nothing of the sort. But perhaps the most predominant issue that has still not been resolved, and is still causing issues to this day, is the idea of fake engine noise. Yes, BMW, I'm looking at YOU!
To be fair, BMW are not the only ones who are guilty of implementing this, infact, companies like Volkswagen, Lexus and Ford are alll equally to blame for the rising popularity of this concept: Pumping fake noise into the cabin via speakers, to make the car sound better than it does. An obvious example of it in a car, is the video below, which happens to be a BMW.
With reference to the above video, I don't see the 'Active Sound Design' making that much of a difference, that it necessary in modern cars.
An article written by Core77 was titled "Cars are Now So Well Built, Manufacturers Pipe In Fake Engine Sounds". I believe that it's the total contrast, that 'new cars are built in a way that requires us to pump fake noise into their cabins to keep them stimulating'.
The BMW M135i X Drive is a common example of fake engine noises. Image: Newspress Australia
It might surprise you to know that almost every new BMW has 'some' noise pumped into the cabin. But at the same time, it might not surprise you, what with BMWs track record when it comes to fake noise. The M5 F10 was well known for having fake noise pumped into its interior via the speakers, as if a Twin Turbo V8 and 550 hp is not enough to constitute the M5 being known as a performance car. It needs fake engine noises too. The inherent idea has always been to improve the sound a car makes, but it's one of those situations where the moment you see it, you can't unsee it. Once you know it's fake, theres always something different about your car.
Volkswagen used to use a mechanical version of their system called Soundaktor, which increased the volume of the actual engine noise, making it louder, but not fake. Now, they use an electronic version of Soundaktor, which pumps fake noise into the cabin to make it sound like the car is less noise insulated than it is.
The fake noises are known as audio skeomorphisms. A skeuomorphism is essentially a design idea that emulates a real world object, for example, the fake crystals on rings from the $2 shop, are attempting to be skeuomorphs of real diamonds.
If done correctly, skeuomorphs can be hard to pick out, for example, do you reall know whether the leather on your phone case is real leather? Unless the company tells you, you can end up completely oblivious to the fact that what you are holding, or using, is infact a skeuomorph. Unfortunatley for car companies, the fake engine noises are not necessarily realistic enough to fool everyone.
The worst case of fake engine noise in my opinion, has to be Renault.
Listen if you dare.
The whole idea of the fake engine noise system is to improve the sound made by the engine, not worsen it. Renault have clearly done the latter.
As was aforementioned, Ford also use an engine noise system, but their system is different. They call it the "Sound Symposer" and instead of using a speaker or prerecorded tracks, it works by opening and closing a vavle while you're driving. If you're driving in a calm way, it stays closed, but when you accelerate hard, it opens, giving you a really nice sound, no frills. Best of all, you can customise the level of noise through the infotainment system, and all it does is limit the amount the valve can open.
But Ford are not off the hook. Unfortunatley, the Mustang Ecoboost uses a similar system to BMW, instead of the "Sound Symposer" system used in the Mustang 5.0 and other performance Fords.
So what should they do instead?
Instead of making these fake noises, they should find MECHANICAL ways to amplify engine sound. It would improve the sound, be more cost effective, and keep us, the car enthusiasts, smiling. There are multiple ways to do this, from muffler deletes to Fords Sound Symposer. It's actually CHEAPER to design a valve that opens and closes based on an electrical relay, than to engineer an entire system from scratch. If it's done correctly, engine amplification might actually be able to add to the experience of driving, rather than detract from it.
If you want to know more about fake engine noises, check out this video from donut media, it's absolutely brilliant and Nolan does a superb job of explaining it all.
Thanks for reading! If you like what you see, comment what you think!
“BMW M5.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 29 Mar. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BMW_M5.
“Cars Are Now So Well Built, Manufacturers Pipe In Fake Engine Sounds (Listen Here).” Core77, www.core77.com/posts/79755/Cars-are-Now-So-Well-Built-Manufacturers-Pipe-In-Fake-Engine-Sounds-Listen-Here.
CharlestonCarVideos, director. VW SOUNDAKTOR - 2016/2017 GTI & GOLF R | Review & Test - OFF & ON. YouTube, YouTube, 26 Oct. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6CeeNpFeZY.
DeMattia, Nico. “BMW's New ‘Reduced’ Interior Engine Noise Is a Revelation.” BMW BLOG, 13 Mar. 2020, www.bmwblog.com/2020/03/13/bmws-new-reduced-interior-engine-noise-is-a-revelation/#:~:text=Using%20speakers%20to%20play%20an,engine%20noise%20you%20can%20hear.
“Soundaktor.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 11 Feb. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soundaktor.