ELS Surround Implementation Variance


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Staff member
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Since 2002/2003
Oct 18, 2002
College Grove, TN
My favorite vehicle surround configurations specifically include rear speakers aimed forward as opposed to up firing drivers at the windshield and back glass. The exception in my "fleet" is the 2004 Acura TL which is first-year implementation of ELS surround. The drivers, including the subwoofer, all aim up and use the glass to reflect some portion of the sound. It always sounded good, occasionally great - more about the program material I suspect.

Skipping ahead to the preferred delivery scheme, the rear speakers in my old Honda Civic and Toyota 4Runner now feature Tannoy PBM 6.5 near-field monitors. I had a pair sitting around unused for years so I put them in the 4Runner to offset the feeble (unheard) rears in the bottom of the rear doors. What a day and night difference. So I bought another pair and replaced the CSW Outdoor speakers (had to be aimed up because they fall over). The Tannoy speakers do not budge even under heavy braking or sharp turns.

I just got back from a nice vacation in Oregon & Washington, enjoying new and familiar scenery and friend visits. I had rented the same 2020 Nissan Murano for the third time with no surround on my mind. Two weeks beforehand, I received a cancellation notice! It seems that my old standby had been in an accident so taken out of service. So now I had to replace it with something else. Summertime, 2 weeks notice, not much to choose from now. It seemed to be a lot of Ford Focus type vehicles and I always like something nicer for a vacation trip. Finally I discovered a 2014 Acura RDX in Vancouver.

I started thinking about the comfort and familiarity of an Acura so checked on the audio options. The fact that the head unit was ELS DVD-A thru 2015 sealed the deal! So I packed two DVD-A discs along with the iPad jukebox for trip entertainment. I'll spare you the arrival delay details. As soon as I sat in the RDX I relaxed and smiled. Had to watch a YouTube clip to see how to Bluetooth the iPad to link to the system, then I was all set. I found the elusive restaurant I was hoping for, then settled into my Vancouver hotel for a good night's sleep.

When I got on Highway 14 (follows Columbia River Gorge on the WA state side), I decided to try a DVD-A of test mixes of my own past material. While I definitely found flaws to fix, I was very happy with some mixes in this environment. I'd not noticed where the rear speakers were placed. Can't seem to find a photo - they are sleek cylinders blending into the tan interior above the small quarter windows - aiming forward! I sense a trend here. ;) The sound was great whether windows up or rolled down with the sunroof open. This really enhanced my trip. I also brought a DVD-A copy of Tears For Fears - The Tipping Point and that was a joy to hear in this vehicle.

So after all this ramble, what's up with the thread title? I had been thinking that the ELS implementation was largely the same, regardless of years and body style. Boy was I wrong! The 2014 Acura RDX showed me 10 years of improvement over my old TL instance. Bigger better speakers on the door pillars (another factor on my favorite configuration), more power no doubt and the subwoofer (stashed in quarter panel) using the rear body space all added up to greater enjoyment.

I've made the expensive repairs to the TL recently, so I feel like I need to drive it another year or two. This adventure did inform me what I'd likely go after when the time comes. ;)
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I noticed after upgrading my 2004 Acura TL to a 2012 TL Advance that it didn't sound quite as good.
Further testing showed that the rear door speakers were playing the front channel. I presume in order to improve the front channel volume levels for the rear passengers, so that they can also get the surround experience without being overwhelmed by just the rear channel. This really takes away from the proper positioning of each channel, as I can hear some of the front channel behind me. :)

Also my wife's 2010 Acura MDX's ELS system sounded like garbage... 8 years after the original.

Anyway all this to say: time hasn't always improved things for ELS.
Wow I would not enjoy any front content behind me. Probably have to disable rear door speakers. Still has the rear pair on rear deck with sub in center trunk, I imagine.

Models seem to matter to implementation, possibly as much as the years. That 2014 RDX really delivered. Technology package has better power and speakers, so that might be why it sounded so right to me. All controls were flat.

My 2004 Acura TL sound is weak on the RH side at times and overall volume is not what it used to be with playing discs. May need to nab another OEM amp and see if that fixes things.