The Kia EV9 e-SUV, which will be launched across Europe, Asia and the US for the 2024 model year, will be one of the first vehicles to be fitted with a sound system designed and tuned specifically for the unique audio characteristics of a pure electric vehicle.

The system has been developed by British firm Meridian Audio following extensive research into the requirements for delivering an ‘immersive acoustic experience in electric vehicles’. The 14 speaker system employs a suite of proprietary Digital Signal Processing technologies optimised for the acoustic environment.

The electric-only EV9 SUV is the third Kia vehicle to feature Meridian technology, following the K8 luxury sports sedan and the EV6 premium electric crossover.

“Based on the success of our current collaborations, Kia challenged us to engineer an immersive surround sound system that will enhance the luxury experience for all occupants,” said Meridian Audio chief executive, John Buchanan. “Kia wanted to retain the design purity of the EV9 concept car, so we worked closely with their design team from an early stage to ensure this could be delivered without affecting audio quality, cost or manufacturability.”

Managing EV background noise

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“The challenge with delivering a fantastic audio experience in an EV isn’t the level of the background noise, it’s the complexity of noise sources and their frequency profiles,” says Buchanan. “These are typically at significantly higher frequencies than in a combustion vehicle, which can affect our ability to perceive the position of sounds, and they can be more random, which makes the acoustic environment more difficult to manage with active noise cancelation.”

The solution, according to Buchanan, is to move the focus from hardware to software, managing the acoustic environment through Meridian’s proprietary Digital Signal Processing (DSP) algorithms and then overlaying further DSP technologies to tailor the sound to the requirements of the specific vehicle and the tastes and activities of the vehicle occupants. Meridian typically re-invests around 15 percent of its revenue in research, with a significant proportion focussed on software for optimising and tailoring the audio signal in a given listening environment.

Meridian’s engineers have selected and tailored a suite of DSP technologies for the EV9. Meridian RE-Q optimises the audio system to the precise acoustics of the vehicle cabin, while Meridian Digital Precision maximises the signal-to-noise ratio, preserving – it is claimed – the natural rhythm of the performance. Meridian Horizon, an upmixing technology, provides multi-channel audio from both two-channel stereo and native 5.1 content, delivering a ‘surround sound experience complete with centre image and ambience level controls for the user’.

Meridian lntelli-Q Data-Driven Equalisation psychoacoustically optimises audio playback by responding to the changing nature of the in-car acoustic environment as vehicle speed changes.

“Intelli-Q also allows us to manage the unique acoustic inputs of an electric vehicle,” adds Buchanan. “Unlike earlier systems that simply increase the volume as a response to background noise, Meridian’s proprietary technology reacts to the profile of the background noise, for example increasing the low and mid ranges as tyre noise becomes more prominent with speed or rougher road textures. This gives us a managed acoustic environment onto which we can build an immersive, captivating listening experience.”

Meridian also says an open-air connected subwoofer (OCS) was selected for the EV9 as it removes the need for a large box enclosure. Conventional enclosures require substantial packaging volume and can create resonances and rattles. They also limit frequency extension and timing. The combination of the OCS and Meridian’s proprietary tuning techniques has eliminated these issues, providing exceptional bass performance that is fast, precise and deep for all seating positions.