||Bentley Continental GT Speed
|2 200 watts
||If you have to ask
||You’re kidding, right?
||The wrong side of two tons
||18 speakers, two shakers, 20 channel amplifier, eight DSP sound modes and active bass
PRICE +/- R6.4M
SUPPLIED BY Bentley
“One does not simply just march into Mordor.”
I beg to differ. Marching is well, so last year. These days, one drives. In a Bentley.
One of my favourite motoring memories is of Deon’s old desktop background — when Windoze 3.11 allowed you to set your own. His was of a speedo reading 300 km/h — and that was taken from inside a Bentley Continental. It’s with mixed feelings that I write this because I like to think he would have enjoyed the experience as much as I did, despite my initial misgivings at listening to 2 200 watts, the most powerful sound system factory fitted to a road going car.
In the world.
Car sound from my background was always a dark art, and always best left to the after marketers who could focus and obsess on their customers’ whims and foibles. For me power equated to SPL — if you have 2 200 watts of it I would expect clothes to be blown off. The fact that this is a Bentley, I would even expect said clothes to be blown off ‘insert suitably PC term here for attractive human’ in a few milliseconds, because, well, why wouldn’t you?
What I was not expecting is what I got. My prejudices of the brash ostentatious and in your face display of wealth on offer that is the footie yobbo image of the Continental (and God, I want one more than life itself) got the better of me, and the first thing I was expecting to hear from NAIM was its expression of high end smash and grab bass dominated screechy mids and ear shredding tops wrapped up in a velvet glove.
I was not expecting to hear music. As an R220k optional extra, the system (shall we say), isn’t chump change. In terms of the total vehicle price however, hear me now and just get it installed. There is no point in living life without it in a car like this. And if it takes this to get a footie yobbo into appreciating more to music that Blur and Blink 182 busting bass and terrible lyrics into the semblance of what one would like to call music then it is money well spent.
For the rest of us though, what NAIM has managed to pull off here is nothing less than spectacular. They have no client brief. They’re given a car and told to make it sound good.
How do you do this and ensure Bentley, of all companies, is going to be happy with the result? This is not just throwing some DSP, a couple of amps and some speaker componentry into a Bentley and ‘that’ll do mate’. Because sooner or later you are going to run into the likes of me and if the emperor has no clothes on, you’re going to be exposed.
Hugo and I were in the car — two sets of ears are always better than one in cases like this. Confirmational bias is a thing and I like it.
But we both heard the semblances of a sound stage. In a car. Running DSP. Of course you’re not able to switch this off and NAIM has made a serious effort to give you sensible variants on a theme — we chose ‘driver focussed’ and then ‘front seats focussed’ as our preferred listening modes, and I have to say that switching between the two delivers definite changes to how the sound is projected for you.
The rear seats are for very small, very patient children only — so any sound aimed at that side of the car is, shall we say, pointless? But for the driver and the passenger there are real rewards. To be sitting in a car and discussing positioning of instruments and vocals was one of those very special moments in which one realises that one was mistaken in expectations and happily so.
The actual specs on the system we have requested, and if Bentley release them we’ll share them here. We gave them a few weeks, but in all honesty, this is one of those cases where actually it makes little difference to me other than academic. You can’t change them — and I don’t think you’d want to. I quite enjoy a degree of freedom in not knowing how it is that NAIM manages to envelop Bentley owners and their passengers in a quality of music that starts to stack up against music played in a listening room.
No. We are not there yet, but we are getting close and in as an aggressive and horrible (sonically!) environment that a car presents it’s nothing short of staggering.
And so we listened. Bentley wouldn’t let us drive the car (probably because we’d not come back with it) but the engine was running and we managed to do 5 kms standing still whilst listening. I can’t comment on cabin insulation consequently but it is pretty entombing with the doors closed. Too much bass SPL in such an environment will reverb and cause standing wave issues beyond measure, but the NAIM wasn’t having any of that. Bass is, as expected, deep, and rolling off in the lower frequency extensions without booming. The drivers are manhandled into submission such that a recorded door slam doesn’t pop open the actual doors, but gives you a chest kick of realism without over the top home theatre-type drama.
It means that the bass is controlled, perhaps warmish even, but has slam and punch and subtlety that goes against everything I was expecting. It’s musical and with this revelation out of the way with, the rest just follows. The system is able to project across the tonal range — but it is with female vocals, where usually it is pretty easy to pick up issues, that things started to really show some bite. It is in fact on most vocals that the NAIM appears to be really delving into ensuring maximum punch and delivery with an impressive degree of believable conviction.
This MIGHT be coincidence that this is a car, or it might not be. I cannot stop myself singing along to music when I am in the car (and also when not if truth be told) and so I have to ask whether this excellence in vocals is intentional or not? No matter, the music is better off for it. And whilst the subtleties of nuanced harmonics are there when the car is stationary and ergo will be compromised when driving and road noise interference becomes more impactful on the sonic environment, I loved the fact that NAIM seems to be of the opinion that it is accuracy that must come first. This in my mind is the correct approach — when driving one cannot and should not be focussed solely on the listened experience, but on staying alive with keeping 485 kW under control.
Staging such as it is comes down to spatial control, courtesy of the DSP box and setup, combined with the positional inputs of the upper frequencies. Get these wrong and you end up with a confused stage with instruments mushing into each other. Get it properly wrong and you will find harshness creeping in, and digital fatigue (so called because your brain eventually times out because your ears have had enough). The fine line between balancing performance with accuracy and sound levels against detail are ever present tugs of war.
But the brains in the NAIM box are far too clever to allow this to happen. The last thing you need is a cranky old geezer with 485 kW under his foot in a bad mood. It is not going to end well.
And happily short of bashing out Rage Against The Machine’s eponymous Bullet In The Head, because, why wouldn’t you? I can see no reason why anyone would emerge from the Bentley in a bad mood thanks to the sound system. Quite the opposite in fact, and I would hope that NAIM at least claims credit for saving lives because the truth of it is that anyone who enjoys music, and can hear it played in such terms, IN A CAR, will become an advocate of world peace instantly.
Quite unbelievable and worth every cent. Just take my money.