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Auto-Tune: For Cars That Can't Sing

More and more car manufacturers are using technology to change the sound of their cars. Where does the future lie for a proper, raw engine?

Auto-tuning has been around for years in the music business. It's a way of changing someone's voice in the recording studio so the listeners think they are a perfect vocal artist and can hit every note under the sun. However the reality is, they can't sing any better than you or I.

Worryingly, this has somehow transcended to the motoring industry in recent times. It's becoming increasingly common for car manufacturers to use active exhaust systems to alter the engine noise so people inside the cabin and nearby will hear an artificial sound, which engineers have created in a factory.

This sits uncomfortably with me. Why have humans and computers interfered with the natural music an engine plays every time you bury the throttle or take your foot off the accelerator to hear the engine on overrun? It's not as if cars didn't produce some spine-tingling sounds before this 'X Factor' technology was introduced.

I would like to state at this point, that I don't have a problem with valves in exhausts. They are a clever little trick, mainly used in high performance and sports cars. They allow the car to be refined and quiet while you're cruising up the motorway at lower RPM levels, and then unleash the full fury and volume when you're getting a shift on down a country lane or on a track. The valves usually open at the 4,000RPM region, allowing the orchestra under the bonnet to play you everything it has to offer.


If you're in the market for a sports car, or fortunate enough to be considering acquiring yourself something more exotic, just be warned that the noise you hear from your new pride and joy will probably not come directly from the wonderful process of internal combustion. To rub salt in the wound, if you're sitting there configuring yourself a monstrous new BMW M5, then not only will the noise you hear not becoming from the engine, it won't be a result of anything mechanical at all. Apparently, the high level of refinement in the new model combined with its also-new twin-turbocharged V8 mean BMW has had to play artificial sounds in to the car. Think of it as driving around with a CD constantly playing engine sounds to you everywhere you go. If you enjoy the sound of a 'proper' engine as much as I do, this is saddening news.

I am thankful that Porsche hasn't gone down the 'audio-enhancement' route. Not everyone loves the distinct sound of a Flat-Six at full chat, but I am one of those who does. Especially in its rawest form; firmly nestled in the backside of a GT3 or RS. Although even the boys from Stuggart are downsizing their engines and will be using a forced-induction unit in its new 'baby' Boxster when it arrives in 2014. I'm sure they will introduce some form of exhaust system or synthesiser in that to overcome the inevitable dull chords emitted from any turbocharged engine.


So, where will we be in the futue? Will car manufacturers continue to play around with sounds on a laptop until they find one they like for each model they produce? I hope not.

If plug-in supercars grace us with their presence soon - a likely prospect - then they won't have any choice but to add in fake sounds because, as we know, electric engines are silent. This certainly isn't my idea of 'green'.

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About Matt

Contributor Without the motor car I'd be bored and also late. Lifelong petrolhead. I hope you enjoy reading articles written from a different stance to the rest of the motoring world.  ... read more