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My New Is350 Is A Brilliant Car But I Feel Let Down By Ml Audio - Fixe


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Hi everyone,

TL;DR = ML needs more bass , has anyone done anything recent with this?

novella version - I am new member here with brand new is350 sports premium that I only picked up on the weekend. I have been driving the is350 for a few days now & am blown away by how great a car it is to drive. But I am becoming less happy with the audio experiance, especially the area of bass response.

I traded in my Suzuki Kizashi which had a pretty satisying stock OEM Rockford Fosgate system with 10 speakers including subs, and I never had issues with the sound in that car. I was less impressed by the vehicle driving dynamics & when I decided a change was needed the lexus is350 was top of the list for consideration.

I did not put much effort into checking the sound quality while I was looking at car options, and every review I read about the IS range mentioned how great the ML system was, so perhaps I came in with high expectations. I also accept that audio satisfaction is a subjective experience so perhaps nobody else will have the same opinion as myself.

After a few days of being in the car & playing with the audio options I cannot arrive at any setting that leaves me satisfied. General sound quality seems fine with no distortion, even at moderate to high volumes, but I notice that tracks with a dominant bass guitar component seem to have a hole where the bass is supposed to be, and it is not adequately addressed by turning the bass upto 11 on the MFD audio controls.

Eg listening to Hotel California (from CD - Best of the Eagles, I must be getting old) there is a prominent bass line in the intro before the drums kick in & the track proper gets running. That whole section seems to be a complete let down, I may as well be humming the bass as it has no kick. When the drums come in they are too loud because I turned up the volume wondering what has happened to the bass guitar?

So at the moment every track I play sounds clear, but not satisfying, and I suspect the lack of enjoyable bass notes is a large part of that. I even went back to the lexus dealers this morning to chat with them & sit in a demo lexus to try that one out & see if the sound had the same characteristics, and it does. So it looks like what I experience now is as good as it gets via the lexus ML system.

I did a search in this forum & notice that a few people in 2008 were playing around with custom audio installs, but mainly to get ipods working. I am hoping someone else has recently done some audio customisation & can provide advice about what they have done & who to speak to about getting something suitable in place. I am not really keen to let someone start ripping out bits of a brand new car, but it may come to that in order to get the audio satisfaction at the same level as the rest of the car.

I will check around for any meets/cruises being organised around Sydney as that may be one way of finding out what options other people have pursued. In the meantime, if anyone reads the above, thanks for any advice that is offered,

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Hi, zbad007, and welcome to the Club.

I also accept that audio satisfaction is a subjective experience so perhaps nobody else will have the same opinion as myself.

For sure. I say this for two reasons:

1. The sound experience with classical music is phenomenal, even with FM radio. Some say they can't tell the difference between the Lexus non-ML (Pioneer) audio and the ML audio when listening to contemporary music, so I suspect the ML audio is best appreciated with classical. (It's also said that classical recordings on CD are already optimised, so one doesn't need to fiddle with the equaliser settings.)

2. I've read a lot of online discussion about the optimum equaliser settings for the Lexus audio. The consensus (amongst bloggers - we can be almost certain they aren't classical listeners) seems to be: Treble: +4, Mid: +2, Bass: +3. Yep, treble higher than bass.

That would suggest that you definitely have a preference for bass response that isn't unanimously desired, although that doesn't mean you're alone. I did read a review of the IS F last week where the journo thought the ML audio was "good, but not great".

I take it you've turned Surround off? (It seems music audiophiles believe that musical recordings should always be heard stereophonic, not in surround.)

Edited by Lexus Nerd
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I agree that the ML audio seems to lack a little "punch". I've had the IS F now for about 6 months (love it) but have found the audio just ok. My other car is an Audi Q7 with just the standard audio system and in my opinion it has a much better depth and quality of sound. I have fiddled with the settings but still not really satisfied. I agree that classical music sounds excellent and I have also noticed that if you play a music DVD the sound seeems sharper from that also (not sure why a DVD sounds better than an iPod which I thought was a digital signal as well but there you go).

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I traded in my Suzuki Kizashi which had a pretty satisying stock OEM Rockford Fosgate system with 10 speakers including subs, and I never had issues with the sound in that car.

Maybe the Kizashi had RF subs? I don't think the IS has a sub at all... :wacko:

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I've got mixed impressions about the ML system in my IS350 too. Everyone (salesmen etc) that I spoke to prior to purchasing the car said it was a sensational sound system. I've heard that its unreal in the LS460/600H, but I don't think it's 'sensational' in my IS.

Some tracks sound great on it, some not so great. I'm happy enough with it to the point that I won't be modifying it in any way but i think the same as you, it sometimes just seems to lack that little bit of bass punch. I prefer to drive in the "Lexus silence" a lot of the time and mostly have the radio on when I want some noise - and for that it's fine.

I was in a Honda Accord Euro the other week though which had a Fleetwood Mac CD in it and I took that and put it in my IS to compare. It sounded much better in the Honda with its no-name stereo than it did in mine - no matter how much I played with the settings.

My mother had a Lancer VRX (now my sisters) with the Rockford Fosgate system in it and in that car, I'd say I wasn't that impressed by it in the Lancer - could be a different set up in the Kizashi though.

Best sound system I've experienced in a car (factory fitted) IMO, was in my mums old car, a Peugeot 407SV with a JBL Hi-Fi setup. That was outstanding I thought - shame the rest of the car was sh!t.

Not sure how the ML system differs in the LS models - I think it's got a few more speakers?

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ok, it's good to know that I am not the only one that is thinking the ML system is perhaps not the greatest system ever.

I am not the biggest fan of classical music but it may be worth checking a disc, if thats where the ML system shines.

The suzkuki had a couple of reasonable sized subs hanging off the parcel shelf so the RF system was probably designed to be more impressive than most stock systems. I actually had to touch the parcel shelf in the is350 for a while to decide whether the speakers in back are actually doing anything at all, so they are certainly not a prominant part of the sound mix with any setting i have tried, and perhaps are not treated as subs by the system.

I thought initially that maybe MP3s were lacking but perhaps the quality would improve with CD/DVD sources, but I notice the same effect there anyway. Turning of the surround option seems to detract even more from the resulting sound. I have nothing against a good surround mix, if it gets the job done.

When listening to music on headphones I prefer the expansion that occurs with the dolby headphone gadget enabled, it gives a much wider spread to the music or movie soundtrack. In systems with multiple speakers (14 still seems overkill) then the only way to utilise them would be with some heavy-duty signal processing anyway.

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I have the humble Pioneer in my IS, and I reckon its the best standard/non-optioned audio set up in any car on the market under $80k. The ML is better (Ive tried it a few times during my time with loan cars from services), but not by a lot - certianly not worth the $ premium that is commands. It took me a while to get sound I wanted. I found bass response is best set as 'POS ALL'. With 'POS REAR', 'POS DRIVER' and the other positional settings on the Pioneer seem to cut the response to the sub a bit. So with the ML - yes, turn off the DSP/Surround - definitely!!

@UltrasonicISF - the signal from a DVD is always going to be better than from the iPod. Always! The iPod and other digital media players are playing from a compressed audio file (such as an .mp3, .aac etc.). No matter what encoding software and settings you use, you will NEVER EVER get the same audio quality as from a 16-bit, 44.1kHz signal that you get from a CD or DVD. .Mp3 can reduce the original .wav file size by as much 90%, so that data is lost. What .mp3 encoding does is essentially remove through what is known 'psychoacousticanalysis' the bits that the human ear is going to miss the least (sorry, but Im a part-time music producer, engineer and performer!) Its that lost data that is the 'polish' - that crispness, depth and the dynamics. You also get a pink-noise 'warble' with a mp3/aac too which I hate.

For what it's worth, my EQ settings are Bass +3, Mid +1 and Treble +2 on the Pioneer. Never have to fiddle with these settings, no matter what style of music I have on. For some recordings, the bass response is simply massive (Unkle, Gorillaz, New Order, Black Grape are just a handful of CDs I have with extraordinary bass response on my system). On some recordings, its a little lame. It often does come down to the recording and whether they've applied any sub-bass processing in the recording process (I have Waves MaxxBass in my studio - this is what I mean!) What disappoints me just a little with both the Pioneer AND ML systems are the in-door woofers - I think they are poorly matched to the rest of the system. The squawkers and tweeters are nice - the sub I think is ok (its tight which is more improtant than loud I think), but the woofers let the whole system down.

I also get a much better sound with my sunroof glass exposed. The sound is deadened a little bit when the cover slide is closed. The higher fequencies typically head upwards and will get absorbed by the cover slide. With glass the higher freqs deflect back to the passengers.

One thing to consider is that the ML and Pioneer systems were developed for the IS way back in 2004-05, so some of its 'rivals' might have newer technology by a good 5 years. I reckon if you were to hop into a new GS in a few months with its 17 spkr? ML system you'd be blown away.

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Just went for a quick play with the settings - I've always had surround ON, tried turning it OFF and it sounded worse to me on FM Radio, USB/AUX and CD. Turned that back on.

Changed the EQ settings to those listed above and it improved listening to FM Radio but made little difference to USB/AUX (MP3s). Tried changing it for CD and it just had way too much Treble with it on 4.

I always had my EQs set on Treble +1, Mid +1 and Bass +2 all with surround ON.

Radio is now T = 4, M = 2 and B = 3.

CD and AUX/USB are now T = 2, M = 2 and B = 3.

Guess its all highly subjective and it all very much comes down to personal preference and opinion.

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Yeah it does....music is certainly very personal. All I can say is Im fussy, and I have driven some bands mad with the amount of fine-tuning I do when it comes to finalising and mastering a recording. However there are a number of extreme steps you could do if you are really particular (but this is ridiculously extreme, however I have heard of it being done)...

- Grab a laptop with some half-decent music editing software (even trial demo 'lite' versions are probably good enough - just need the metering functions)

- Get/borrow/hire/steal a half-decent studio microphone (stereo preferably to determine stereo imaging), yet most mics are mono

- Play your favourite track through a car stereo system you really like

- Record the mic input and take a snapshot of the EQ and loudness profile (with a stereo mic you could take a snapshot of the stereo field as well)

- Then do exactly the same in YOUR car (same track, at the same volume with same mic placement) and compare. Most music editing software these days has a comparison function, when it can highlight where the differences are. It should highlight to you where your system is lacking in what you want, and overcome it by EQ &/or updating the speakers.

- You could go even further by doing the same with the track directly from your hi-fi CD player, and see what the differences are.

- This is what we do for bands who say they want their tunes to have a final mastered sound like a particular CD (and I 'profile' the CD for its EQ fingerprint, loudness, stereo image etc.) and then master according to that profile. Various styles of music, audio engineers, hi-fi systems have their own 'fingerprint' that you can discover if you are pedantic about it.

Yes, this sounds over-the-top, but I have heard of this being done, and I believe its one of the tools used for car companies to 'tune' their upper end systems. Using your eyes to analyse music is all the go these days. I've never done it - I'd love to do it one day if I had so much spare time on my hands!

Not having the ML system myself, I'm just wondering if there is any fine-tuning that could be done through the (hacked) diagnostics menu. Maybe there might even be a discussion forum/FAQ page on the ML website? Audiophiles are a fussy lot, but audiophiles that also own a Lexus are uber-fussy!!

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All of those sound profiling steps seem to be what we are paying for in the ML signature edition package, where presumably someone has done all the hard work of EQing the car listening positions with speaker choice & settings. I have not seen a mention of the pos=ALL on my car, perhaps that appleis the other other systems?

Before today I had never used the FM radio setting, but I went for a drive & checked the sound quality, and it is not too bad within the limits of FM broadcasts. The music being broadcast has already been compressed anyway so its not not vey dynamic compared to CD but the actual listening is pretty decent, probably like the BOSS effect (ie its not accurate but it sounds good, for what it is).

I will be speaking t someone over the wekeend who does high end audio work & they have implied they see a lot of lexus owners who want better sounds, more in mid-bass than sub-bass , whatever that means.

I am not an audiophile, but I know what I like, and hopefully something more can be achieved than the current sound

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Your car audio friend refers to 'mid-bass' as being a concern for some Lexus owners. Well that's exactly where I was coming from too as well (with my standard Pioneer system) - i made mention earlier that I thought the woofers let my system down a bit. So Im glad to hear him saying exactly the same thing. And when I have remastered crappy mp3s given to me by friends to decode them back to .wav and re-master them back onto CD for driving, Im having to add a lot more than I should in that 150-500Hz to make them sound good in my in-car system.

Its that mid-bass (your car audio friend is right in terming it that) from about 150Hz to 500Hz or so where with older recordings this is as low as it gets, so bass guitars and the kick drum and the lower end of guitars etc might sound like its missing. Over the past 10-15 years or so, sub-bass treatments are commonplace in mastering which artifically boosts the harmonics created and also artifically accentuates the frequencies below 100Hz or so (65-80Hz is typically the 'hot spot' for sub-bass boosting in the studio - makes a huge difference to bass guitar/synth).

Now earlier comments by a few owners on this thread make mention about how good classical sounds on the Lexus systems. Well don't hold this against me, but I'm actually a classicly trained musician and was in a variety of orchestras for years (despite my preference to listen/write/produce rock/electronic). Orchestral music does not have deep bass - no instrument naturally generates anything below about 150Hz, unless its a harmonic. Even your deep basoons, tubas, double bass and timpani are not that bassy at all - compared with electronic instrumentation. (Many modern classical soundtracks - Harry Potter, Avatar, Star Wars etc. now subtley have bass synth overdubbed in certain sections to get the bass effect that is inherently not there with orchestral) So this again adds weight to this whole thread about the deficiency in the IS (ML and Pioneer) and even other Lexus systems being the mid-bass, as your audio friend quite rightly says. Sounds to me now that the ML and Lexus boffins have been tuning their systems based on a pre-conceived (perhaps stereotypical!) notion that all Lexus drivers listen to classical!!!

(The 'POS-ALL' setting is a Pioneer setting - not sure its offered in the ML - but its by far and away the best DSL setting for the Pioneer)

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thats interesting about the bass-EQ applied on CD mastering, as I probably have not bought a CD for 10 years or more, and all the samples I have in the car are likely older releases. I might have to borrow some new releases to see if they come up better. I imagine thats because of the proliferation of mini-hifi systems which dont have good low-bass & need the extra mid-bass boost to sound acceptable. Seems to be where I am at with the ML systems output, too.

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hey zbad007, have you tried playing the 5.1 dolby version of Hotel California via the Eagles DVD as a comparison? I play it all the time in mine with my ML audio system and I find the bass just fine. Aren't high end subwoofers (including home theatre ones) suppose to sound like that without drowning out with too much bass?

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It mainly because decent systems are now incorporating sub-woofers. Cheaper in-car and at-home systems won't pick up the low bass regardless of how much is on the recording. On cheaper speakers, too much sub-bass will actually interfere with the reproduction of bass in a system without a sub hooked up (sorry too hard to explain in not too many words). So it can be a double-negative of sorts - especially with those cheap n nasty iPod docking station type "hi-fi systems". So I don't think the sub-bass enhancement of the past decade is due to the onset of cheaper systems, its the fact the technology exists (I believe primarily due the work in the early 80s by Lucasfilm (THX etc.))

Back to the original topic (sorta), why can't ML/Lexus etc. offer a lovely touch screen 10-band EQ or something on future audio systems, (where you could slide you finger up n down on each freq) instead of being left with crude Bass/Mid/Treb controls. Surely the programming would be there for drivers to save EQ settings and have pre-programmed EQ settings like we see in iPods etc. That level of functionality would sort out many of the issues we have, especially as it is very individual. It's why seperate add-on EQ units have been around for 30-odd years for car audio enthusiasts.

I believe there might be some after-market set-ups you could install using existing touch screen that might offer a bigger, more user-defined EQ.

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When I am not listening to the music of the Joe-Z exhaust and turn up the stereo I am always a little dissapointed in its output. Although it is crisp it lacks volume and base. On the other hand, my Nissan Pathfinder system always impresses me with its good sound quality and excellent base for a standard system that is not supposed to be anything special. I only have DVD's loaded and agree that they play a lot better than the ipod - this plays so poorly that I rarely listen to it in the lexus. The same ipod in a Malibu boat system plays perfectly so cannot fault the ipod. Other than this small gripe, I love the car.

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I had not considered that there is a burn-in period for the speakers, maybe I should not be too hasty in assessing the sound quality.

I loaded up some music DVDs, and it does seem to cope better with DD5.1 tracks, the DSP is probably using the sub track to better isolate the bass & send it where it can do some good. I would have the Eagles DTS disk somewhere around, if I can locate the right storage box.

Opening the cover on the sunroof does seem to have a subtle impact too, so thats interesting to check out more. I'll still make enquiries over the weekend & see what sort of work people typically get done, I'd like to have the MP3 situation improved from what is currently a pretty mediocre experience.

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i think the bass is good for a stock system, even better (as in louder, bassier, watever you want to call it) than some aftermarket options

i want to add two 10" subs too the boot, but then the boot space is just way too small

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Certainly, if its a brand new car (and therefore brand new set of speakers), "burning in" the speakers will help a little. I wouldn't say it makes any material change, but it gives the chance for the speaker diapraghms/cones to soften and settle a little bit - I wouldn't call it a huge difference, but it will help. I find for studio headphones, especially the top-end ones I've had from Audio-Tecnica and Sennheiser it can take months for them to wear in. For you, it may indeed take a few months as well!

zBad - For your .mp3 issue, it sounds to me its how you are encoding. Freeware or standard conversions done via iTunes etc. don't do the best job. Don't underestimate the importance of decent software when converting to mp3. Of course, you should be selecting 320kbps if you can, to get the best possible sound, 192kbps as a minimum. Anything below that (128 is the typical default for most software) and the quality drops away fast. I use Steinberg Wavelab for most of my encoding/decoding for mp3's. Its a professional software suite and it takes its time to encode/decode and it makes a big difference. Also there will be some loss as well as the audio signal is going through cable from your iPod/media player (as an analog signal) into the unit via the AUX input, whereas with CD/DVD its a digital lossless signal via the laser.

If you want the best sounding mp3 experience, encode your tunes to 320kbps using a good piece of software, and then burn them onto a CD (you can set them up in folders of course). You will notice a difference - I can assure you of that!

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... I'd like to have the MP3 situation improved from what is currently a pretty mediocre experience.

Have you tried burning to lossless WMA format? (You can write to a USB stick if your MP3 player doesn't support WMA.) That should at least tell you whether the problem is with the ML system's "rendering" of files on USB versus CD playback, or whether it's just the MP3 decoder that's the main cause of mediocrity.

Edited by Lexus Nerd
Changed "the lossy MP3" to "just the MP3 decoder" - Malibu already suggests that it isn't the lossiness of the MP3 format that's the problem
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For more discussion on this complex topic, try this old thread:

http://au.lexusownersclub.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=8562

Sapphire Cam and others offer some interesting thoughts. Same divided thoughts (great bass, bad mid-bass, bad bass full stop), but interesting ideas on improving the experience, and even a suggestion that there is indeed a problem with the quality of the ML MP3 decoder.

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woah , that link to the previous discussion is freaky, seems this one is now just a rehash of the old stuff.

I made some enquiries today about how things might be improved for my purposes, spending about an hour with a chap who seems to be pretty expert at customising car audio. His demo CD didnt point out anything too horrible about the ML factory setup, and apparently this system is one of the better factory installs he has come across, I think he mentioned the Q7 setup as being about the best one he has seen.

He suggests that rather then go overboard & swapping speakers that a simple fix should give decent results & may leave me satisfied. By treating the door internals & installing some proper deadening & diffuser pads the current speakers response should become more refined & allow better clarity, and especially add punch to the bass.

So far it seems like a decent option & one that should be undertaken as the first step even if further work was eventually decided upon. I'll do some more research on the topic & if it pans out I guess this is where i will start.

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