Lexus ES How does the Mark Levinson Sound System in the Lexus ES Compare to an Opera House?

FearTheYu

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LS500 is a more Chauffeur-able car per say for the occupants in the back compared to the ES350. Ok, I see what you're saying...but for objective purposes, why is the car owner not sitting up front or driving the car?? And if they are not the primary driver/owner, maybe they should upgrade to the LS500 and have someone drive their vehicle? *Shrug* In my opinion: the driver is the captain, the navigator is the navigator, and the passengers are passengers and along for the ride. Please let me know if I'm missing something here on intended purpose and design here. Also, the front bias I can accept because there is a center speaker in the front dash.
 

Ian Schmidt

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Right, and what I'm saying is that the changes make it more driver-focused and *less* chauffeur-able. It works for me because I'm driving, but if I were in the back I probably wouldn't enjoy the relative lack of sound in back as much.
 

Chops

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Considering your typical music sources do not have any rear channel information (surround sound), then if this new system is putting sound behind you, it's all done via digital signal processing (DSP) to create a phantom surround sound in those rear speakers. SACD and now defunct DVD-Audio were the only media that had multi-channel sound.

Personally, I prefer all of my sound coming from the front with a proper sound stage and imaging. Even my home system is 2-channel only these days. I got rid of all of the multi-channel stuff years ago and never looked back.
 
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It’s rarher incredible to read positive and favorable reviews of the ML 17 speaker surround system in the 2019 ES350. It’s NOT surround sound and only poorly tinny sound from the center deck speaker. Zero back cabin quality sound to the fact that Lexus now describes the system as offering “concert-facing” sound delivery. Call their Texas customer service group and confirm. However when one purchases the upgrade ML audio system in the 2019 ES350 the brand promise is 17 speakers delivering surround sound! And it just doesn’t deliver!
 
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Hello all. I would like to give my 2 cents on this. First of all, numbers don't tell the whole story. Just because a sound system has 9 speakers does not make it better than a sound system of 6 speakers. My old Camry 2001 had the sound upgrade: 6 speakers, but an excellent system. Sound from the front as well as from the back. I could play big time bass music (Robert Miles - Children) and everything would vibrate. I played Pink Floyd live and I thought I was IN the concert hall. Very pleased. Camry had to go, a 2018 Avalon hybrid came. This system has 9 speakers. When playing classic and jazz, it sounds "warmer" and when playing Fleetwood mac style, definitely crisp, but when going into more bass profound songs, I am afraid I might break the 2 front woofers (in the door). I am sure they can handle it, but in my Camry I would never hesitate to turn up the volume for anything, including 50 cents. And then the 3 speakers in the back of my Avalon, they are there but you barely hear them. Using the fader is no use. While the front speakers are probably a tad better than in my Camry, the surround I used to enjoy, is not there. Now the violinists are playing in front of me instead of me being surrounded by them. And so I turned to Lexus to see what they have to offer in this respect, because I want to change the other car in the household at some point. I took my CD along with all sorts of music on it. How incredibly well the 2019 ES drives, how incredibly "crap" the stock 10 speaker soundsystem is. I ask the sales person if I could listen to the stock system in a 2018 ES. Boy, what a difference. Only 8 speakers, but absolutely better. Better than my Avalon too, and in terms of volume and crispness, better than my Camry's as well. Put the fader 20% towards the back in the 2018 ES and there is full surround. So then I listened to the 2019 ES ML system. Very clear and great sound coming to you...from the front! There is no surround because sound from the back is absent. Then I listened to the ML in the LS. Same story. It's good, but I don't understand the philosophy of having so much less coming from the rear. I am waiting to hear 2 cars that the dealer did not have: An 2017/2018 ES with ML and the 2019 LS with the standard 12 speaker system. This whole experience with Lexus' sound systems is going to make me rethink about my next car. Maybe a CPO instead of new. I think Lexus missed the boat on these new systems imo. In math (my back ground) numbers don't lie, but when it comes to sound systems, they do. Hope to hear your opinion.
 
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I stopped by a Lexus dealer today for the sole purpose of evaluating the stock "Premium" sound system in the 2019 ES 350 and to see how well I could make it perform. Let me start by saying that in my humble opinion, the Premium system is definitely NOT a bad sounding car audio system. After adjusting the settings as best as possible I found the audio quality to have a number of rather positive sonic attributes although the system's design has limitations and several idiosyncrasies that can be challenging.

Settings: The best sound was achieved by adjusting the Treble -2, Mids -1 and Bass +1. On some recordings I could set the Treble to -1 but on other recordings there was too much treble so I settled on -2 overall. The Mids might have been a little better at -1.5 but you can only change by whole steps so -1 was the best compromise. The bass also might have been better at +1.5 (+2 seemed to be too much for most recordings) so +1 was the best compromise. The fader made the system sound best when set to three clicks towards the rear. When the fader is set to the center position there is far too much volume coming from the front compliment of speakers. It makes the system sound "aggressive" and restricts the ability of the system to exhibit adequate spatial (or surround) qualities. The further toward the rear you set the fader the more the spatial qualities of the system become evident. The problem is however, that every click towards the rear restricts the overall volume capability of the system to a greater degree. I found the best compromise to be -3 (three clicks toward the rear). This setting "opened up" the spatial qualities significantly and still provided adequate overall volume levels. Even so, the maximum volume level these settings provided did keep the system on the more "polite" side and I would think that the peak volume when set this way might not get loud enough for some listeners. Four or more clicks to the rear just seemed like there was too much volume restriction overall. It's possible that if I lived with system for a while the final settings might be slightly different.

Tonal Quality: With the above settings (Treble -2, Mids -1, Bass +1, Fader 3 clicks toward the rear) the system sounded fairly good to my ears. The mids and highs are not that "transparent" and can sound somewhat harsh, edgy and aggressive depending on the recording. Bass was okay. The system is not outstanding but I think it's pretty adequate.

The ten speaker positions seem to be:
Dash: Right, Left and Center = three
Front Doors: Low and high in each door = four
Rear Doors: High in each door = two
Subwoofer in the rear package shelf.

The complaints about the fader are probably (as I mentioned in my previous post) because people are used to hearing the mids and highs coming from the rear package shelf when fading toward the rear. The ES 350 rear mid/high speakers are instead placed in the upper forward part of the rear doors and the majority of their sound is blocked by the front seats when you're the driver or front passenger. It's possible that the high in the door positioning of the rear speakers is better for the rear passengers although I didn't sit in the back seat to check that. Additionally, the volume restrictions that occur when fading toward the rear can make using the fader frustrating for many listeners - especially if they are expecting it work similarly to other car stereo systems they've had in the past. Even with the above settings, the center image seemed to be optimized for the driver rather than for the front passenger as the image was primarily centered in front of the driver position as opposed to being somewhat more diffuse and in the center of the dash. I verified this by switching seats to the passenger side. I suspect there may some intentional manipulation of the phase aspects of the audio between the front center dash speaker and front driver's side dash speaker to provide this effect. It's also possible that the center dash speaker and driver's side dash speaker are angled somewhat inward toward each other so that their output converges at the driver's head position causing such a tight image.

All of the comments above are my opinion but I have extensive experience with high performance car audio having had many elaborate custom systems in my vehicles since the mid 1970s (Nakamichi, Rockford/Fosgate, A/D/S, Infinity, Alpine, Pioneer and many other top brands). Please let me know your thoughts and whether or not you agree with any of my findings.
 
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I stopped by a Lexus dealer today for the sole purpose of evaluating the stock "Premium" sound system in the 2019 ES 350 and to see how well I could make it perform. Let me start by saying that in my humble opinion, the Premium system is definitely NOT a bad sounding car audio system. After adjusting the settings as best as possible I found the audio quality to have a number of rather positive sonic attributes although the system's design has limitations and several idiosyncrasies that can be challenging.

Settings: The best sound was achieved by adjusting the Treble -2, Mids -1 and Bass +1. On some recordings I could set the Treble to -1 but on other recordings there was too much treble so I settled on -2 overall. The Mids might have been a little better at -1.5 but you can only change by whole steps so -1 was the best compromise. The bass also might have been better at +1.5 (+2 seemed to be too much for most recordings) so +1 was the best compromise. The fader made the system sound best when set to three clicks towards the rear. When the fader is set to the center position there is far too much volume coming from the front compliment of speakers. It makes the system sound "aggressive" and restricts the ability of the system to exhibit adequate spatial (or surround) qualities. The further toward the rear you set the fader the more the spatial qualities of the system become evident. The problem is however, that every click towards the rear restricts the overall volume capability of the system to a greater degree. I found the best compromise to be -3 (three clicks toward the rear). This setting "opened up" the spatial qualities significantly and still provided adequate overall volume levels. Even so, the maximum volume level these settings provided did keep the system on the more "polite" side and I would think that the peak volume when set this way might not get loud enough for some listeners. Four or more clicks to the rear just seemed like there was too much volume restriction overall. It's possible that if I lived with system for a while the final settings might be slightly different.

Tonal Quality: With the above settings (Treble -2, Mids -1, Bass +1, Fader 3 clicks toward the rear) the system sounded fairly good to my ears. The mids and highs are not that "transparent" and can sound somewhat harsh, edgy and aggressive depending on the recording. Bass was okay. The system is not outstanding but I think it's pretty adequate.

The ten speaker positions seem to be:
Dash: Right, Left and Center = three
Front Doors: Low and high in each door = four
Rear Doors: High in each door = two
Subwoofer in the rear package shelf.

The complaints about the fader are probably (as I mentioned in my previous post) because people are used to hearing the mids and highs coming from the rear package shelf when fading toward the rear. The ES 350 rear mid/high speakers are instead placed in the upper forward part of the rear doors and the majority of their sound is blocked by the front seats when you're the driver or front passenger. It's possible that the high in the door positioning of the rear speakers is better for the rear passengers although I didn't sit in the back seat to check that. Additionally, the volume restrictions that occur when fading toward the rear can make using the fader frustrating for many listeners - especially if they are expecting it work similarly to other car stereo systems they've had in the past. Even with the above settings, the center image seemed to be optimized for the driver rather than for the front passenger as the image was primarily centered in front of the driver position as opposed to being somewhat more diffuse and in the center of the dash. I verified this by switching seats to the passenger side. I suspect there may some intentional manipulation of the phase aspects of the audio between the front center dash speaker and front driver's side dash speaker to provide this effect. It's also possible that the center dash speaker and driver's side dash speaker are angled somewhat inward toward each other so that their output converges at the driver's head position causing such a tight image.

All of the comments above are my opinion but I have extensive experience with high performance car audio having had many elaborate custom systems in my vehicles since the mid 1970s (Nakamichi, Rockford/Fosgate, A/D/S, Infinity, Alpine, Pioneer and many other top brands). Please let me know your thoughts and whether or not you agree with any of my findings.

Great review. I have a similar opinion and over time have figured out the ideal settings. While my settings are different, I do enjoy the heavier front sound as I listen to my home stereo in 2.1 (no rear speakers or surround).
 
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Today I picked up my new 2019 ES 350 Ultra Luxury with the Navigation / Mark Levinson system. Wow - what a beautiful vehicle!

I just took a drive and experimented with more audio settings. At the moment, I've set Treble -2, Mids -1, Bass 0, Fader -3 (3 steps to the rear). I was only listening to various stations on Sirius XM. Even though I don't normally listen to the "Pitbull" channel, I must say, I heard some impressive low end coming from the system when I had the volume set from 40 - 44 depending on the song. Other channels sounded good as well and the difference in recordings was apparent. Some recordings sounded quite good and others not as much. It's a positive attribute that the system lets you hear the variations in recording quality.

I found as I backed off the Treble and Mids I could play the system at higher volume levels before things would get too harsh or edgy. This allowed the bass to be more prominent overall which I thought put things in better balance. I do believe that an audio system needs to be played for fifty or more hours at higher volumes before it "breaks in" and I'm hoping some of the forwardness I'm hearing will be greatly reduced when that happens. Things are sounding pretty good now, though.
 
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spwolf

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Today I picked up my new 2019 ES 350 Ultra Luxury with the Navigation / Mark Levinson system. Wow - what a beautiful vehicle!

I just took a drive and experimented with more audio settings. At the moment, I've set Treble -2, Mids -1, Bass 0, Fader -3 (3 steps to the rear). I was only listening to various stations on Serius XM. Even though I don't normally listen to the "Pitbull" channel, I must say, I heard some impressive low end coming from the system when I had the volume set from 40 - 44 depending on the song. Other channels sounded good as well and the difference in recordings was apparent. Some recordings sounded quite good and others not as much. It's a positive attribute that the system lets you hear the variations in recording quality.

I found as I backed off the Treble and Mids I could play the system at higher volume levels before things would get too harsh or edgy. This allowed the bass to be more prominent overall which I thought put things in better balance. I do believe that an audio system needs to be played for fifty or more hours at higher volumes before they "break in" and I'm hoping some of the forwardness I'm hearing will be greatly reduced when that happens. Things are sounding pretty good now, though.
I wonder if you can sit in the back and let us know how that sounds. Quite possibly due to the position of the speakers, rear passengers might end up having a better sound from the back, but you have to sit in the back to experience it.
 
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Today I picked up my new 2019 ES 350 Ultra Luxury with the Navigation / Mark Levinson system. Wow - what a beautiful vehicle!
Congratulations on your new ES. Glad that the ML system passes muster.

As I've commented before, I'll need to swap cars in November and if I get a Lexus, will likely have both 2019 and 2020s to chose from. Hopefully the base system in the 2020s will have been corrected by that time but if not, I know I can always shell out another $900 and get the ML stereo to avoid a car with a useless system.
 
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