RVE Sound Enhancer - Tricking the Ears

 

One of the primary emotive characters of an automobile is how it sounds. A melodic exhaust note can help you overlook certain inadequacies in other departments. A rip-roaring soundtrack can make a car seem faster than it might actually be, especially true when talking about older modified vehicles. It’s getting harder for manufacturers to make their latest wares sound truly grand, however.

Words: Kyle Cassidy   |   Photos Tom Gasnier
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There are certain approval hoops to jump through in order for cars to comply with drive-by noise limits, while needs in other areas, chiefly tougher emissions requirements, work against an engine delivering a decent bellow.

However, the use of exhaust valves linked to drive modes allows performance machinery to purr quietly in Eco mode and then roar effusively when the Sport button is prodded. This has the exhaust flap rerouting the flow of gases through a less restrictive path in the silencer to be liberated to the world as pure noise. And the manufacturers are getting so good at it that there are fewer opportunities for aftermarket firms to do a better job.

Now this is all well and good when the engine lends itself to making a strident noise, and that usually means something with a cylinder count of more than four. Some four-pots sound okay, especially horizontally opposed examples, but not compared with an eight.

There aren’t many cars available with both four- and eight-cylinder engine options, a few Mercs and BMWs, and a certain Pony car.

We couldn’t find one that mimicked a big V8 but it can sound rotary-like, or V6-ish while we liked a bassy beat that it had throbbing like a WRX at idle.

The Mustang GT is popular because it sounds like it should. It outsells the four-cylinder EcoBoost almost six to one, despite its $16k premium.

The Ecoboost isn’t all that bad either; it’s not far behind the eight on performance, and with less iron over the front axle, it handles nicely too. But that it sounds more like a Mondeo than a Mustang on start-up puts people off. Some say it would be like kissing your sister; you just wouldn’t. In the digital era, it’s not surprising that the sound of a vehicle can be manipulated to trick your ears.

The Mustang pictured here looks ordinary enough, save for its promotional wrap (sorry about that, it was loaned to us from the good people at North Harbour Ford) but sure doesn’t sound like your usual EcoBoost. It’s fitted with an RVE Sound Enhancer that can literally change the noise this Mustang makes with a touch of a button.

Using technology that was developed initially for active noise cancellation (creating a sound at the same amplitude as the ‘noise’ but out of phase to create a new, quieter tone), the system uses an external loudspeaker to generate an exhaust note that is completely different to that emitted by the tailpipe. The system is electronic, so doesn’t plumb into the exhaust in any way. The connection to the car is via two wires into the CAN-BUS system.


The Controller Area Network allows all the various electronic processors and controllers to talk to one another, and the Sound Enhancer then takes the digital info it needs, chiefly vehicle and engine speed, to generate a sound that is consistent with the operation of the car. The speaker itself is about 20cm in diameter and 16cm deep, living in the ‘steel can’ you can see in the photos.

Depending on what vehicle you are connecting this to, it can either live in the boot, spare wheel well or, as it does on the Mustang, sit externally up under the rear of the vehicle. The system uses a Bluetooth connection with your smartphone so that it can be configured and controlled using an app. The Sound Enhancer can be linked to the drive modes of a car where available, while on this Mustang, it used the cruise control button to turn it on/off. You then toggle through the set sounds, configured via the app.

You can play with the sounds and their character on the go too via the app, but there are obvious safety issues there. Once you’ve set the tones to your liking you can save them and then activate them with the cruise button. This alleviates the need to drill holes and fit extra buttons and wires to the car’s cabin. This also means the Sound Enhancer can be fitted and removed without worry. And as it’s not a performance part, there’s absolutely no warranty issues here.

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There are various parameters to fiddle with, including the sound itself, with five to choose from. You can alter the idle volume and the amount of sound it emits when driving, and also the way the sound reacts to the throttle. This can be in line with the engine, or it can be made to sound like it is revving faster than it actually is.

You can also alter the idle from lumpy to fast, even give it a launch control-like tone off the mark. While there’s not an infinite range of sounds to choose from, there are some interesting tones. We couldn’t find one that mimicked a big V8 but it can sound rotary-like, or V6-ish while we liked a bassy beat that it had throbbing like a WRX at idle.

And it’s loud when you turn the volume up, judging by the amount of pedestrians turning to investigate the source of the racket. It’s at idle and town speeds where you hear the benefits of the system most. And it’s interesting watching people’s reactions when the noise alters as you toggle through the settings, and then turn it off.

As speeds rise, it’s the tyre roar that dominates, just as it does on the standard EcoBoost ‘Stang. The sound mimics the engine speed better when using the manual mode for the auto as the Mustang 10-speeder slurs through multiple ratios at low speeds, and there’s not a lot of variation to your throttle inputs around town, so the sound can remain quite flat.

This system may be best suited to a ute, and indeed most are being fitted to high-riding double cabs. This would be better at cancelling out the rattle of the diesel, while giving it a powerful exhaust note that you’d hear better at speed as there’s a lot less tyre-generated noise.

The RVE Sound Enhancer can be fitted at the dealership prior to delivery, or retrofitted, and costs $3286, regardless of vehicle it’s fitted to.

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