I’m not much of an audiophile. Don’t get me wrong, I’m constantly listening to music and love going to live shows, and I’m always excited by a fancy sound system in a car. But in my personal life, I’m fine to just stick with my Apple headphones and my big TV’s built-in speakers for movies and gaming — even playing music out loud at home is a rarity. Feel free to throw tomatoes. Where I really appreciate sound quality the most is when at the movies. I always make sure to see blockbusters on the biggest, best screens with the best sound systems possible. Most recently, “Dune: Part Two” in IMAX blew me away with its use of surround sound and in-seat bass rumble for both the music and effects.

Two weeks after seeing the new “Dune” for the first time, I spent a few days with the 2024 Mercedes-Benz E350, a lovely all-around luxury car that just so happens to pack one of the best sound systems in the industry. Not only that, it provided such a cinematic experience that it convinced me to finally bite the bullet and upgrade my home theater setup.

Optional on the new E-Class is a Burmester 4D surround sound system that consists of 17 speakers: One midrange speaker in each door and one tweeter in each door, a center-fill speaker in the middle of the dash, two 3D speakers in the front section of the roof, two surround speakers in the parcel shelf, two speakers in the driver’s seat headrest, and two FrontBass subwoofers integrated into the structure of the front footwell. All of that is fed through a 15-channel amplifier that pumps out 730 watts.

Burmester speaker grille of a 2024 Mercedes-Benz E350

Photo: Daniel Golson/Jalopnik

In addition to offering your standard equalizer settings, Mercedes’ latest Burmester systems has a sound personalization mode that tailors the volume and intensity of specific types of music to your taste, for instance whether you want the bass to be warmer or punchier, or if you want vocals to be clearer or more muted. I find that it’s much easier to get the audio set up how I want than with a regular equalizer.

The 4D part of the system is what really sets it apart from other in-car audio. Both front seats each have two sound exciters built into the seats, which gives them IMAX-level bass rumble and vibrations. The E-Class isn’t the only car with this feature — the new BMW 7 Series is another — but it’s fantastic nonetheless. You can choose between ten different intensities (or just turn it off), but I keep them at ten the entire time I have the car.

Beyond that, the E-Class supports Dolby Atmos and Spatial Audio through Apple Music streaming, which is what makes the listening experience truly immersive. Instead of the normal left-right setup, the Dolby tech gives the car a true 360-degree field of sound; the company says it provides “sensations of depth, clarity and spatial definition that more closely match the artist’s original vision in the studio.”

Center screen of a 2024 Mercedes-Benz E350

Photo: Daniel Golson/Jalopnik

The new “Dune” soundtrack is the perfect testbed for this Burmester system, with tracks ranging from subtle, low-volume instrumentals to thunderous, epic orchestral pieces with those signature yells. I can not only hear but feel every detail in the music, completely enveloping me in sound and bass just like in the theater. Crank up the volume and you’d think you’re actually riding a sand worm. But it’s never overwhelming or too intense, at least not to me, and even at lower volumes the 4D effect adds new dimensions to the audio.

It’s incredible when listening to all sorts of other music too, but especially highly produced pop music. In Beyoncé’s Renaissance album or hyperpop songs by the likes of Charli XCX I’m able to hear sample tracks, ad-libs and production flourishes that are normally obscured. It’s also perfect for soaring ballads, intense electronic music and punchy rock hits. Concert albums, like Tina Turner’s excellent 2009 recording Tina Live, sound so clear and crisp that it’s like I’m right there on the stadium floor — and the seat transducers enhance that feeling even further.

Dashboard of a 2024 Mercedes-Benz E350 at sunset

Photo: Daniel Golson/Jalopnik

On top of the sound system itself, the E-Class is available with active ambient lighting that gives you visual effects to match the sound effects. The light strip that runs from the front door panels and wraps around the top of the dashboard pulses along to the music, and not in a simple way. Says Mercedes:

This in-house development by Mercedes-Benz is available in conjunction with Active Ambient Lighting. Software analyzes the audio signals based on the parameters of frequency (bass/mid-tones/treble tones) and direction (right/left). The visual representation is beat-synchronous, in other words with practically no time lag. Depending on the preferred color selected of the Active Ambient Lighting, the bass, mid tones and high tones are visualized locally in coordinated color tones and levels of brightness. For example, fast sequences of beats can cause rapid light changes, while flowing rhythms can create softly merging lighting moods.

People will surely find the active lighting to be silly or distracting. I’m not one of those people. I don’t typically get fatigued by screens or ambient lights when driving; even at night I almost always keep them at max brightness and want the lights to be in the most outrageous color scheme. The animations are super slick, and they act and look differently on every song. It may be a gimmick, sure, but it’s a gimmick that makes me really happy. (My iPhone camera can’t properly capture it, but check out the video below for a taste.)

Almost every time that I took the E-Class out on a drive or to run an errand, instead of going straight home afterward I would park the car in my neighborhood and just sit and listen to music. Sometimes I got some work done, sometimes I played games or browsed the web on the E-Class’ Superscreen display, and sometimes I scrolled on my phone like I would be doing on my couch if I had just gone home. Mostly, though, I turned my brain off and let myself be engulfed by the music and the light show.

Best of all, the Burmester system is a downright bargain. It’s a $1,030 standalone option, or bundled as part of the $3,400 Pinnacle Trim that also adds an illuminated grille, a head-up display, noise-insulated glass and the active ambient lighting. In comparison the S-Class’ optional 4D system costs thousands more, though it does have even more speakers and power, while a 4D system isn’t even offered on models like the EQE.

A Samsung soundbar on an entertainment center

Photo: Daniel Golson/Jalopnik

After not even a full 24 hours of driving this E350 around I said, “Hey Mercedes, direct me to Best Buy,” and walked myself back into the home audio section. The extremely helpful sales associate had me try out a few different options, and crucially he started with a 3D soundbar from Samsung that has Dolby Atmos — I had been telling him about the E-Class and how much I enjoyed the tech. While fantastic, it was double the budget I had in my head, so I tried a cheaper setup that lacked the 3D effect.

It just wasn’t good enough. So we went back to the first setup I tried to give it another listen, this time using a more specific Dolby sound demo. The sales guy then mentioned how it could work with the speakers in my 75-inch Samsung TV for an even greater surround setup. I just had to have it, and justified the purchase in my head because it was on sale by a couple hundred bucks, so really I saved money. And guess what? I’m so much happier. Thanks, Mercedes.

Front 3/4 view of a grey 2024 Mercedes-Benz E350

Photo: Daniel Golson/Jalopnik

Source link