We took a ride in a Mercedes that remixes songs while you drive. The future of the travel playlist?
Published: in 2024 January 11
The first thing to understand about an audio CD is that it is really hard to understand.
Mercedes and William, the creative force behind this project, compare it to a car that acts like an orchestra, with the driver as its conductor. Responding to sensor readings from the pedals, steering wheel and suspension, Sound Drive remixes or even creates songs from pre-recorded samples during your journey.
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But unlike the soundtrack Hans Zimmer created for, say, the BMW i7, we're not talking about a crescendo of a note rising like, well, an engine note. Sound Drive completely rebuilds all existing songs. Once you have samples to work with, there are effectively endless ways to improvise with them, depending on how you drive.
Oddly enough, Mercedes thinks this is a safety measure. While the bass dip and voice punch when you lift the throttle is addictive, the system is linked to GPS and notifies you of the current speed limit. If you are in a 30 mph zone, the song will only “reward” you for accelerating to 30 mph. If you start to pick up speed, the song stays at the same pace instead of accelerating like you would on the highway at 70 mph.
I didn't expect to review Sound Drive. I thought it was going to be another one of those gadgets like the ambient lighting that glows red when you turn the heat on and then turns blue when you turn it off. Or gesture control. Or voice assistants. It's the future, we're told, but it's a novelty at best or boring at worst. An easily forgotten sub-menu.
But maybe it was something quite clever: the positive mutations of the protagonist's syndrome.
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When you listen to music, life seems cinematic. Whether you're driving, working, sitting on the bus or cooking in your kitchen, the right song at the right time makes you feel like you're soundtracking it in real time. But nothing is more annoying than your favorite track playing while you're streaming.
With the music edited and your speed and driving behavior manipulated, the “good part of the song” is always ready to go. In the same way that a fast-paced song will be used to introduce a car chase in a movie, when the sound disc is on, you can't escape the idea that your life is being recorded in real time. He created flashbacks to the film's title sequence in the neon-lit streets of Las Vegas To drive.
And everyday driving becomes a little more complicated. It's also more authentic than an electric car emitting a fake engine note to fill the awkward silence.
I uploaded the Sound Drive video to my Instagram and got a lot of responses saying it was a complete waste of time, a gimmick, a distraction. I think one of its main flaws is that it has to be experienced live to appreciate – impossible to explain, hard to describe and easy to ridicule. And that requires a huge ecosystem of compatible songs as soon as possible. Nowadays, people are used to having the entire musical catalog of mankind on demand.
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The smart thing is that using sensors already in modern cars, the Sound Drive should be easily installed wirelessly in many modern luxury cars. Which usually have pretty impressive sound systems. I found getting into the car with a 'passive' pre-recorded playlist a bit fruitless when I experienced Sound Drive. Somehow it seemed old-fashioned.
There are few things as subjective as taste in music. And yet, listening to music while driving is an activity that millions of people engage in every day. Now that they can contribute, an electric car might just be fun to listen to. And if it makes the EQE relevant to younger customers, it will also be music to Mercedes' ears.
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