Watch any movie that takes place in The Future and the aural landscape is an orchestra of electronic whirs and mechanical thrums set to the rhythm of a next-gen cityscape. In particular, the exhaust-fueled reverberations of cars and trucks have been replaced with the space-age sounds of science fiction in motion. Audi thinks it knows what the future sounds like, and the first application of its e-sound system will be powering onto roads when the Audi R8 etron arrives late next year.
If the Fisker Karma sounds like a Klingon Warbird at idle, the R8 etron sounds like it’s ramping up to warp speed, with a melodic cacophony of speed-dependent tones emanating from two speakers mounted at the front and rear of Audi’s all-electric supercar.
Rudolf Halbmeir has been tasked with crafting what the R8 etron will sound like, paying particular attention to the coupe’s audible presence when navigating through a city. Bicycle and pedestrian safety — especially for those with hearing disabilities — is of particular importance to automakers developing electric vehicles, and with no traditional engine noise available, Halbmeir and his team have a blank canvas to work with. But they had to start somewhere.
“Some science-fiction films provided inspiration,” Halbmeir says. “But there was nothing in the real world which offered quite the right sound.”
So with a keyboard, a computer and an electronic throttle pedal, Halbmeir sought to craft a sound that’s both mechanical and musical, combining low-range frequencies that convey power with mid-range tones that are more sporting and fitting of the R8 etron.
As you’d expect, the results have to be heard to be understood, so after testing an R8 etron prototype in its 1,100-square-foot sound lab (complete with dynometer and assorted microphones), Audi’s engineers took to the road.
The synthetic sounds are loud enough to be heard by pedestrians, but not enough to grate on the driver and passenger’s nerves, and once the R8 etron gets up to speed, tire and wind noise takes the tones’ place as the speakers shut off over 20 mph.
Audi says the R8 etron is just the first in a long line of EVs the automaker will begin producing in the coming years, and each will have a sound signature all its own. The R8 needs the acoustic presence befitting of a supercar, so here’s hoping the all-electric A3 doesn’t sound like a synthesized washing machine.