Over-the-air audio tuning coming to car stereos

The ability to improve your car’s sound system simply by downloading new software could become reality as manufacturers and their suppliers look to find new ways to upgrade existing cars during their lifetime.

Buying premium audio at a later date is the brainchild of American company Harman, which has a significant presence in the automotive field through its Harman Kardon, JBL, Mark Levinson and Bang & Olufsen brands. This seemingly impossible task, announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in the US, will be made possible as wireless software updates become more prevalent.

Harman’s pitch to car makers is that they install slightly better speakers and more computer power into models sold with the base audio system, then persuade the customer to buy an upgrade from whichever audio brand they prefer.

Harman argues that tuning audio systems via software is nothing new, and that they already do it to achieve a certain quality of sound to suit each particular brand.

Those unconvinced will be able to download a trial or receive a demonstration at a dealership. Harman is currently talking to car makers about offering the digital upgrade; it estimates this will be slightly cheaper than the current premium option, which costs around $1000 (£750) in the US.

Harman also suggested that rental companies could offer temporary upgrades for customers who value better sound in their hire cars.

Wireless upgrades were a big topic at CES as car makers figure out how to boost revenue by enabling customers to add more features over the life of the car, much like many do with smartphones. They argue that this would keep the car up to date and therefore could boost residual values.

Audi, for example, showed different on-demand options, such as upgraded parking assistance. “You have the decision to upgrade the car at any point later, and that’s a huge difference to what we have now, because you have to make a decision when you purchase the car,” said Jana Ackermann, the company’s electronic modules manager.

One advantage presented by upgrades and add-ons after purchase of the car is that they wouldn’t increase its list price, she added. This would reduce taxes affected by list price, such as benefit-in-kind tax for company car users in the UK.

Nick Gibbs