• Optional Bang & Olufsen audio boasts 23 speakers and 1,920 watts
  • Plays optical discs and digital files including higher-res FLAC
  • Builds on standard B&O A8 executive sedan system
  • High-end option priced at $5,900

 

Some of the finest automotive audio systems I’ve experienced have been from Bang & Olufsen. My first taste of this Danish audiophile’s mobile hardware was about a decade ago in an Aston Martin, and it left my jaw dropped. Since the 2015 acquisition by Harman of Bang & Olufsen’s automotive business, B&O’s offerings have greatly expanded, to the point that their audio systems can now be had in mainstream vehicles like a Ford Ranger pickup truck.

Still, their best stuff remains at the top, such as the 3D Advanced Sound System in the all-new 2019 Audi A8 flagship sedan. This is the highest-end audio system currently available in the A8, and it comes with a price tag to match: $5,900. That’s 7 percent of the A8’s base price of $83,800.

It’s a stiff price, even in the rarified air of audiophile automotive systems. I spent a couple of solid days listening to this B&O to see if it’s worth the money.

The short answer is: It’s very, very good. I’m just not sure it’s nearly $6,000 good.

Loud and clear

Let’s start with the positives. With up to 1,920 watts pumping through 23 speakers – including a pair of B&O’s trademark tweeters that sprout from the dash – your ears will be crying uncle before this system runs out of steam. More importantly, clarity holds up at high volumes.

Then there’s the range of formats that can be played. Of course the larger infotainment system is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible, and can also connect with your phone via Bluetooth or a cable to play mp3 files, which can also be stored on a thumb drive and played via the A8’s USB ports. The real advantage for audiophiles is that the system plays higher-res and lossless formats such as FLAC files, which have CD-quality sound. Lastly, there is a CD player, notable as most automakers are abandoning them. It’s in the glovebox.

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If you don’t consider yourself an audiophile with golden ears that can distinguish the slightest nuances in music, it could be the best thing you’ve ever heard. The system does an admirable job relaying details in an airy sound field.

But here’s the thing: So, could the normal B&O system that already comes standard in the A8. Yes, it has “only” 17 speakers and 730 watts of sound, but it’s a 3D Bang & Olufsen system in its own right, and while I didn’t get to experience it in the new A8, I’ve listened to it in other models and can attest that it’s also very, very good.

Diminishing sonic returns

My issue with the optional system in the new A8 is the sonic diminishing returns for the price. The standard system is already noteworthy, and unless your ears insist on the pinnacle audio for this new luxury sedan, I think it’s a big ask to spend an additional $5,900 for this one.

And while the system is good, I don’t know that it’s better than the Bowers & Wilkins premium offerings in the new BMW 5 Series and BMW 7 Series, which cost less to boot. For that matter, I’m wary that it beats the ELS Studio 3D system that comes standard in higher trims of the new Acura RDX. It’s also pricey compared to other systems. The 34-speaker Bose Panaray found in the Cadillac CT6, for example, costs $3,700.

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Here’s my advice if you’re considering this system in the new A8: Fill a thumb drive with the best quality formats of your favorite music or bring a couple of CDs for your test drive. Give each system a sonic test drive. If this optional system truly sounds $5,900 better to your ears, by all means shell out. Otherwise, you can save that money and still enjoy audio bliss from the standard B&O system in the new A8.

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