Our cars: Bowers and Wilkins and XF
- Former COTY winner's year-long review
- Factory visit to stereo suppliers
- Play music loud!, say experts
Test car Jaguar XF 2.7D V6 Luxury
LIST PRICE £33,900 (when new)
TARGET PRICE model just replaced
RUN BY Roger Stansfield
TESTED FOR: 20 weeks/7800 miles
For someone who spends so much time listening to music, I'm ashamed to admit I know nothing about hi-fi. I know what I like, but not why I'm liking it. A bit like my approach to wine, really.
I do like the 14-speaker Bowers and Wilkins system in our Jag, though – a lot – so when the company rang me to see if I'd be interested in visiting the factory to see how it's made and why it sounds so good, I accepted like a shot.
There was an ulterior motive, too. B&W is based in Worthing, on the Sussex coast, and some of the country lanes on the way down there are great driving roads. Take away the modern signage and you could be stepping back 50 years.
On roads like these, achieving a good average speed is about positioning and observation so you can maintain momentum: far more enjoyable than just clogging it down a motorway.
It's what performance driving instructors call 'making progress'. With the torque of the 2.7-litre V6 diesel keeping the car moving forward and the wonderful damping ensuring it stayed planted on the road, I had a great time.
B&W is the Jaguar of the hi-fi world – a relatively low-volume, extremely high quality manufacturer of performance speakers (the rest of the Jag's system comes from other manufacturers). Some of its domestic speakers cost more per pair than my car. A lot more.
B&W can even kit you out with a full seven-speaker, five-subwoofer home cinema if you've a quarter of a million quid to spare.
The company was established by a couple of blokes who were in radio ops during the war. Having been demobbed, they opened a radio and TV shop, then moved into full-scale speaker manufacturing in the 1960s after John Bowers decided he could do a better job than the people whose products he was selling.
The Jag's speakers were set up by the same team that installed the system in the legendary Abbey Road studios. The secret is in the fine tuning, apparently – like the work test driver Mike Cross does to make Jags drive so well.
'What sets us apart is the research we put into sound quality,' says marketing manager Andy Napthine. 'John Bowers used to say that the best speaker isn't the one that gives you most, but the one that loses least.' The Holy Grail is to let you hear music exactly as it would sound if you were hearing it live.
Research engineer Stuart Nevill gave me a demo of how to make the system in our car sound best and what I should be listening for, then delivered the best news I'd heard all day.
With good speakers, he says, music should be played as loud as possible and it won't hurt your ears because there'll be no distortion. I drove home on main roads with the door skins bouncing.
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