The Mercedes-Benz E-Class’s great sound system convinced me to upgrade my home audio

By | March 29, 2024

Photo: Daniel Golson/Jalopnik

I’m not much of an audiophile. Don’t get me wrong, I listen to music all the time and enjoy going to live shows, and I’m always excited by a nice sound system in a car. But in my personal life, I’m fine sticking to my Apple headphones and the built-in speakers of my big TV for movies and games. Even playing music out loud at home is a rarity. Feel free to throw tomatoes. Where I appreciate the sound quality most is in the cinema. I always make sure I see blockbusters on the biggest, best screens with the best sound systems possible. Most recently, “Dune: Part Two” in IMAX blew me away with its use of surround sound and in-seat bass rumble for both the music and effects.

Two weeks after I first saw the new “Dune,” I spent a few days with the 2024 Mercedes-Benz E350, a beautiful all-around luxury car that happens to have one of the best sound systems in the business. Not only that, it provided such a cinematic experience that it convinced me to finally take the plunge and upgrade my home theater setup.

Optional on the new E-Class is a Burmester 4D surround sound system that consists of 17 speakers: one midrange speaker in each door and one tweeter in each door, a center fill speaker in the center of the dashboard, two 3D speakers in the front part of the roof, two surround speakers in the parcel shelf, two speakers in the driver’s seat headrest and two FrontBass subwoofers integrated into the structure of the front footwell. All of this is powered by a 15-channel amplifier that delivers 730 watts.

Photo: Daniel Golson/JalopnikPhoto: Daniel Golson/Jalopnik

Photo: Daniel Golson/Jalopnik

In addition to offering your standard equalizer settings, Mercedes’ latest Burmester systems feature a sound personalization mode that adjusts the volume and intensity of specific types of music to suit your taste, such as whether you want the bass to be warmer or more powerful, or whether you want that the vocals are clearer or more muted. I find that it is much easier to set the audio the way I want than with a regular equalizer.

The 4D part of the system really sets it apart from other car audio. Both front seats each have two sound amplifiers built into the seats, giving them IMAX-level bass and vibration. The E-Class isn’t the only car with this feature – the new BMW 7 Series is another – but it’s fantastic nonetheless. You can choose from ten different intensities (or just turn them off), but I keep them at ten the entire time I have the car.

In addition, the E-Class supports Dolby Atmos and Spatial Audio via Apple Music streaming, making the listening experience truly immersive. Instead of the normal left-right arrangement, the Dolby technology gives the car a true 360-degree sound field; the company says it “provides sensations of depth, clarity and spatial definition that better reflect the artist’s original vision in the studio.”

Photo: Daniel Golson/JalopnikPhoto: Daniel Golson/Jalopnik

Photo: Daniel Golson/Jalopnik

The new ‘Dune’ soundtrack is the perfect testbed for this Burmester system, with tracks ranging from subtle, low-volume instrumentals to thunderous, epic orchestral pieces with those signature screams. I can not only hear, but also feel every detail in the music, completely enveloping me in sound and bass, just like in the theater. Turn up the volume and you might think you’re really riding a sandworm. But it’s never overwhelming or too intense, at least not for me, and even at lower volumes the 4D effect adds new dimensions to the audio.

It’s incredible when you also listen to all kinds of other music, but especially highly produced pop music. On Beyoncé’s Renaissance album or on hyper-pop songs by the likes of Charli XCX, I can hear sample tracks, ad-libs and production flourishes that would normally remain hidden. It’s also perfect for stirring ballads, intense electronic music and punchy rock hits. Concert albums, such as Tina Turner’s excellent 2009 recording Tina Live, sound so crisp and clear that I feel like I’m standing on the stadium floor – and the seat transducers enhance that feeling even further.

Photo: Daniel Golson/JalopnikPhoto: Daniel Golson/Jalopnik

Photo: Daniel Golson/Jalopnik

In addition to the sound system itself, the E-Class is available with active ambient lighting that gives you visual effects to match the sound effects. The light strip that runs from the front door panels and wraps around the top of the dash pulses to the music, and not in a simple way. Mercedes says:

This in-house development by Mercedes-Benz is available in combination with Active Ambient Lighting. Software analyzes the audio signals based on the parameters of frequency (bass/mid/treble) and direction (right/left). The visual display is beat-synchronous, i.e. virtually without delay. Depending on the chosen preferred color of the active ambient lighting, the low, mid tones and high tones are locally visualized in coordinated color tones and brightness levels. For example, fast series of beats can cause rapid lighting changes, while flowing rhythms can create softly transitioning lighting moods.

People will certainly find the active lighting strange or distracting. I’m not one of those people. Normally I don’t get tired by screens or ambient light while driving; even at night I almost always keep them at maximum brightness and want the lights to be in the most outrageous color scheme. The animations are super smooth and look and feel different with each song. It might be a gimmick, sure, but it’s a gimmick that really makes me happy. (My iPhone camera can’t capture it well, but check out the video below for a sneak peek.)

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Almost every time I went for a drive in the E-Class or had to run an errand, I would park the car in my neighborhood instead of going straight home and just listen to music. Sometimes I got some work done, sometimes I played games or surfed the web on the E-Class’ Superscreen display, and sometimes I scrolled on my phone like I would on the couch if I’d just gone home. But mostly I turned off my brain and let the music and light show wash over me.

Best of all, the Burmester system is nothing short of a bargain. It’s a $1,030 standalone option, or bundled as part of the $3,400 Pinnacle Trim, which also adds an illuminated grille, a head-up display, sound-insulating glass and active ambient lighting. By comparison, the S-Class’ optional 4D system costs thousands more, though it has even more speakers and power, while a 4D system isn’t even offered on models like the EQE.

Photo: Daniel Golson/JalopnikPhoto: Daniel Golson/Jalopnik

Photo: Daniel Golson/Jalopnik

After driving this E350 around for less than 24 hours, I said, “Hey Mercedes, send me to Best Buy,” and walked myself back to the home audio section. The extremely helpful sales associate let me try out a few different options, and crucially, he started with a Samsung 3D soundbar with Dolby Atmos – I’d told him about the E-Class and how much I enjoyed the technology. While fantastic, it was double the budget I had in mind, so I tried a cheaper setup without the 3D effect.

It just wasn’t good enough. So we went back to the first setup. I tried listening to it again, this time using a more specific Dolby sound demo. The salesperson then went on to explain how it could work with the speakers in my 75-inch Samsung TV for an even better surround setup. I just had to have it and justified the purchase in my head because it was on sale for a few hundred dollars, so I really saved money. Guess what? I am so much happier. Thanks, Mercedes.

Photo: Daniel Golson/JalopnikPhoto: Daniel Golson/Jalopnik

Photo: Daniel Golson/Jalopnik

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