Active Sound: Is the New M5 Faking its Engine Note?

During our time with the M5 at last week ‘s press launch, we came away impressed by the soundtrack of the new twin turbo V8 more than we expected. As you can hear above, it ‘s aggressive yet nuanced and always interesting. So it sounds great on the outside (as you can hear above). But of that noise, what really makes it inside the cabin? With all the required sound deadening and cocoon like quality of modern cars, it ‘s getting harder to actually hear the powerplant. And in something like an M5, that ‘s a crucial part of the experience. So BMW has introduced what they ‘re calling Active Sound to bring back some of that aural pleasure inside the cabin. We ‘re going to give you a very detailed view of the new M5 ‘s sound system and are thoughts on how successful it is in the coming days. But first we wanted to re-introduce you to the Active Sound concept from BMW.

Last year we previewed BMW ‘s Active Sound system as a prototype in a 630d and a MINI Clubman. In the 630d the idea was to make it sound like a 650i. It worked… almost flawlessly. In the MINI we sampled what they call the “sound machine”. It ‘s a system that could change (on the fly) the engine note to any one of four settings. The system is tied to the engine speed and accurately reproduces engine notes as they are happening.

BMW isn ‘t the only automaker dabbling in faux engine noise. Audi ‘s new V8 goes from eight cylinders to four under light load. Great for efficiency but no one buying a 100K A8 wants to hear the putter of a four under the hood (even on the highway). So Audi has introduced an Active Sound system of their own that eliminates engine noise when it four cylinder mode and replace it with the purr of all eight cylinders.

So Active Sound is here to stay. In fact in the coming years look for it to show up on a number of BMWs. How does work on the M5? We ‘ll give you our opinion soon. Until then, here ‘s the official information from BMW about the new system.

Official Release: The M5 ‘s Active Sound System

M5 drivers will be given an even more direct reminder of their car’s performance capability by technology that brings the distinctive sound of the high-performance V8 – in all its glory – into the cabin of the new BMW M5. The Active Sound Design technology specially developed for the new BMW M5 takes its cues from the driving situation at any one time to deliver an accurate reproduction of the engine’s sound through the car’s audio system. The system’s digital signal processing exchanges data directly with the engine

management, allowing it to reflect the engine’s revs and torque, and the car’s speed over the road. The result over a smoothly driven journey is a discreet soundtrack in keeping with the harmonious and assured characteristics of the V8 powerplant. A stamp on the accelerator, meanwhile, prompts an immediate audible response to match the instantaneous – and typically M – burst of power from beneath the bonnet.

In generating its signals, Active Sound Design takes its cues from the firing sequence of the eight-cylinder engine and the frequency range of the exhaust system. This gives the driver an extremely accurate impression of current engine load and an even more intense sensation of the V8’s high-performance characteristics. At the same time the Active Sound Design control unit ensures an even spread of sound across all five seats of the new BMW M5, while observing the legal guidelines governing noise emissions inside and outside the car. The characteristics of the sound produced by the technology also adjust to the engine settings selected by the driver. For example, switching to “Sport” or “Sport+” mode sharpens not only the engine’s responsiveness but also the acoustic experience inside the car.

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  • Adam

    This new M5 impressing me more and more as time goes on, but I am not really dont know about active sound managment. I guess not hearing anything is worse than hearing something. If anyone complains about this they can blame the Eco maniacs and emission regulations Barack Obama put fourth, if it weren’t for those factors the V10 would have survived. Oh well at least it drives!

    • It’s not EU government regs (and certainly not the non-existent ones in the US) that keep sound out of the inside. it’s strictly the race for in car opulence. And since the M5 is being sold as executive transport – this is tough problem to solve for BMW.

      • Adam

        Very true Gabe, I guess Ive listened to way too many forum trolls complain about this system. I just feel as if efficiency concerns were lessened and gas guzzler taxes didn’t exist the V10 may have clung on longer. But like I said, it doesn’t trouble me too too much, because active sound or not this car drives.

    • Yes, President Obama wanted to silence the M5’s of the world -_-

      • Adam

        I think you misunderstood what I meant… he (and the EPA) are pushing for even more lofty C02, emission, and fuel economy standards for I believe 61mpg standards in 2020 or so.  I believe lawn mowers and big rigs are also included in that plan.

        My point with that comment (with a blatant sarchasitc tone) was that fuel economy, C02 regs are a huge reason why BMW felt that NA motors were no longer viable.  So I’m sorry if you found what I said to be obsurd or offensive I more or less was being purely sarcastic. 

        • Dr Obnxs

          Another reason? They’re finding that the turbo technology that they are packaging makes a smaller, lighter power plant that has much more torque at low RPM where most street driving is done, without a peak HP penalty, and does it all with a HUGE increase in efficiency. This means that you have a more drivable car, with significantly more “area under the curve” that just makes for a better, and faster, vehicle.

          While regulation does have it’s downsides, it has it’s upsides as well. When cats became mandatory, carbs could no longer do the job of holding A/F ratios well enough, and we ended up with computer controlled fuel injection, that was a huge plus for both engine efficiency and power production. Same thing here with the turbo technology. The very same regs that demand lower CO2 mean that you can have that, along with massive amounts of torque from what is very close to off-idle. This is a case when one can have one’s cake and eat it too!

          Another hallmark of the higher performance engine that is going to go the way of the Dodo is all those nice, pretty single throttle bodies in a row. They won’t be needed because variable valve lift technology makes the throttle body obsolete.

          Who really cares if it’s a V10 N/A or a twin turbo V8? What is the car as a drivers car? How well does it do it’s mission? Without a doubt, the newer boosted engines are better at getting the job done than what was cutting edge tech of even a couple years ago. This isn’t something to lament, it’s something to celebrate!

  • Dr Obnxs

    I just hate crap like this. I’m with Reeves Calloway: Make it do what it’s supposed to do and you don’t have to engineer stuff into it that fakes doing what you think it should be doing. I wouldn’t want a single dollar of my money to go into creating this type of junk, or paying for it on the bill of materials. But then, I’m so far (economically) from this buying demographic so what I think and feel means nothing. 

    I guess if the people who want a car like this want a synthesized soundtrack, who am I to say they are wrong? It sure does open one’s eyes to some interesting possibilities: Make a CVT sound like a normal car based on engine speed, or a 3 cyl sound like a V8 or 12 cylender. Right now it’s just an “augmentation” because the sound insulation is so good, but there’s no reason you Geo Metro 1 liter three banger couldn’t sound like a Harley V-Twin or even a Dodge Viper!