Imagine a car without speakers that still produces killer sound.
That’s the demonstration Toyota Venza produced by Johnson Controls Inc. and legendary record producer and recording engineer Tony Bongiovi, on display at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Bongiovi said automakers have long known that they could make anything vibrate and produce sound — even auto interior parts. All you have to do is put a transducer on them — the bottom part of a speaker that makes the cardboard cone vibrate.
“People have had the ability to do that since 1927, when the speaker was invented,” Bongiovi said. “The problem is it didn’t sound very good. When I first wrote the paper on this in the early 1970s it took racks of equipment to make it work. Only in the last five years has digital technology been good enough to do this and be cost effective.”
The Johnson Controls Toyota makes everything from the head liner to the A-pillars to the floor pan vibrate, acting as speakers. Sophisticated digital signal processing is required to marry the different vibrational sounds of the different interior parts.
Bongiovi’s diagnosis? “It works,” he said. “We’re taking this to all the OEs.”
Bongiovi said the system has the advantage of using the head liner to make the sound of characters on a car’s backseat video screen appear to come directly from that screen, while the background surround sound is behind and above the listener. Instead of a subwoofer, the system uses the sheet metal beneath the seats, “so you can feel it,” like the theme park ride seats Bongiovi has designed.
Bongiovi praised Johnson Controls as a development partner for the system. “When I go to their lab in Holland, Michigan, it’s like Disneyland for me, all that engineering stuff,” he said.
The system offers auto designers several other advantages. For one thing, speakers in a car when not used become passive radiators of sound — so having no speakers in a car makes for less noise in the car. Also, having no speakers in a door means more space within the door, so designers can do exotic things with door panels and have more room for safety gear.
Bongiovi is a legend in the music industry as an engineer and record producer, earning more than 50 gold and platinum albums. He began at age 17 under the tutelage of Barry Gordy at Motown in Detroit working as an engineer on sessions with Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Diana Ross and the Supremes and The Temptations. His production credits include Jimi Hendrix, Bon Jovi (fronted by his second cousin Jon, who changed the original spelling of the family name), Talking Heads, The Ramones, Ozzy Osbourne, Aerosmith and Gloria Gaynor. Bongiovi conceived, designed and built the legendary Power Station Studios in Manhattan. Bongiovi has also consulted for 3M Corp., Turner Broadcasting, BASF Corp., and CBS (the latter, to improve the sound quality and acoustical environment for The Late Show with David Letterman.)