ACURA/ELS 3D Studio Audio System
- WILL PLAY STEREO: [16/44, 24/44, 24/48, 24/96 .flac and .wav files]
WILL NOT PLAY STEREO: [24/192 .flac or .wav]
- WILL PLAY PROPERLY IN 5.1: [5.1 24/48 .wav files], [5.1 24/48 .flac files with ZERO compression]
WILL NOT PLAY PROPERLY IN 5.1: [5.1 24/96 .wav files], [5.1 .flac files with > ZERO compression)], [DTS encoded .wav files]
As most of you all know, since Acura first introduced the ELS Surround sound 5.1 system in 2004 with the Acura TL sedan, that I have been a big supporter of, and owner of, the Acura surround sound capability in select models of their cars. There have been 3 versions of Acura ELS systems available since that first TL system in 2004. Below is the official breakdown of the three variations. All support 5.1 surround sound:
- ELS Surround was the first generation system that supported DVD-A and DTS CDs. [2004-2014*]
- ELS Studio was next generation which did not support DVD-A but did support DTS encoded CDs [2014*-2018+]
- ELS Studio 3D is the current generation which will evolve to support more high definition digital file formats. This system does not include a disc player. [2019- ]
* - This date varies depending on model generation changes
Upon the system's debut, only Acura's with the "Technology Package" had the DVD-A capable ELS systems that played true HiRez surround from DVD-A's. Between then and 2013, the ELS Surround systems were included with many different Acura models, including the MDX, TL/TLX, RDX, and TSX. In 2014, many models were updated technically and mechanically, but downgraded audio-wise as the DVD-Audio player was replaced with a CD player. Fortunately for surround fans this system retained the ability to play 5.1 DTS-CD's and the ELS engineering standards set forth with the original systems. With the proper sourced DTS CD this second generation ELS system sounded pretty damn good, but it would have been even better had it also played native SACD discs, including the 5.1 layers, but since these are basically Panasonic Systems, that was not going to happen. The saving grace for surround fans was that at LEAST the car retained a discrete way to properly play back 5.1 audio via the DTS CD.
The DTS-CD systems met with mixed reviews. Owners who had invested in DVD-A discs for their cars were upset. Sure, there was some 5.1 material that when put to DTS-CD made the system sound pretty good, but it never sounded as good, to me, as the older DVD-A systems. Worse, the Sirius XM and stereo iPod/Radio sounded hollow when compared to a good 5.1 source.
So when the new ELS Studio 3D system was announced a while back, I was very interested to see if it would support 5.1 HiRez playback. Rumors abounded, and back and forth it went from yes to no to yes to maybe to yes and but.... When the car finally arrived at my local Acura dealer I arrived with a USB stick with 5.1 24/96 .flac and .wav files, and the car instantly rejected the .flac files, but did play the .wav files - but something did not sound right. I was not sure I was hearing discrete playback, as I was certain that I was hearing rear channel information in the fronts.
To be sure, I went back (what a pain I was to the salesman) armed with test files that had tones and individual channel identification, both with 24/48 and 24/96 files in both .flac and .wav. What I found was that the .flac's would not play, and the 24/96 files were indeed compromised in that the rear channel info was indeed coming from the front speakers! However, the 24/48 5.1 wav files played perfectly and sounded great. That was enough for me to bite the bullet, annoy my wife (not really), and trade in my 2 year old DTS-CD modelRDX (that I never warmed up to) for a new 2019 RDX. Talk about buying an expensive media player!
Once I took delivery of the car, I tried EVERYTHING I could try to get .flac's to play. If you look at the ELS Facebook Page
you will see me going back and forth with their people who kept telling me that .flac files would play. Others over there verified that they would not play. They tried to be helpful but they just did not give us the exact specifications needed to create the proper .flac file.
Thanks to our great QQ membership base, I was given enough info to be dangerous, and finally with their help and my stumbling and experimenting I found that yes, a 24/48 5.1 .flac file would indeed play, and sound great, if it was created with ZERO COMPRESSION
So, now I am happy, and hopefully others will be too. I know that many of you cannot afford a car like this, so I don't want to come off as some asshole bragging about what I have, so please don't take it that way. There were many years in my life when I could not afford a used car, let alone a new one. The last thing I want to do is "brag".
So the bottom line is this: The car audio sounds INCREDIBLE with proper 5.1 files on a USB stick or drive. There are many controls in the system for the driver to tailor the sound the way they want it, so this particular ELS system is a freaking winner all the way!
The one caveat is this: It is not "gapless" playback, which means that if you take an album like the Beatles "Love" or Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon", convert your DVD-A or BluRay to files and set them up on your stick, the system will pause a moment between tracks thus breaking the flow of continuous playback of multiple tracks. With normal song files, you will not notice this. With an album like DSOTM, it's a bit jarring.
Whether ELS software updates can remedy this situation remains to be seen. So far there has been no word spoken about gapless playback, but the car does accept "over the air" updates, so maybe this is something that can be resolved.
Also as of now, the system will not read a .cue file created for a large .flac file to simulate gapless playback. When I inquired about this feature to the ELS people on their FB page (who have been very helpful by the way), I was informed that this was a function of the head unit software which they do not create or modify. So for now this is not a possibility.
Anyway, here's a look at the system from inside my car (I have the all black interior):
The speaker layout from Acura promotional material (NOTE: Image belongs to Acura/Panasonic ELS Premium Audio):
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Here's what they look like in the car. These are the back speakers in the ceiling and in the back deck:
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The back door speaker:
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The front passenger speakers (I had to lighten the lower area because my camera sucks):
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Here is the speaker above the front passenger seat:
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The LFE Subwoofer is on the passenger side of the back storage area. It's hard to judge the size from this picture, but it does the job.
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The center speaker is in the center of the dash, behind the display screen. It does a great job of spreading the audio across the windshield and back at the listener.
Volume for the center speaker can be controlled from within the system settings.
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These are all really nice speakers. They sound great and reproduce the audio exceptionally well. I do not know the spec's of each speaker, but they do not sound like cheap paper cone deals. They move a lot of sound and support the 700+ watts dispersed by the ELS Amplifiers.