Whoever said you can't have your cake and eat it too hasn't listened to a Toyota equipped with the optional Bongiovi Digital Power Station. In an exclusive arrangement with renowned recording industry acoustic wizard Tony Bongiovi, Toyota Canada makes it possible to seriously upgrade the sound system in any of its vehicles.
A compact computerized module, designed and programmed for each individual Toyota, Lexus or Scion vehicle, compensates for the acoustic shortcomings inherent in mass-produced systems installed within the confines of a passenger vehicle.
Tony Bongiovi is a cousin of rock star John Bon Jovi. In 1977, Bongiovi developed the world's most famous recording studio - Power Station. Due to its acoustics and the advanced engineering available, this New York facility has been the recording site of choice for such artists as Aerosmith, B.B. King, The Beach Boys, Billy Joel, Eric Clapton, Madonna, Maria Carey, Miles Davis and many more. Using the experience gained at and engineering talent available from that studio, Bongiovi developed the Digital Power Station (DPS). One of the first, and certainly his biggest client to date, is Toyota Canada.
The patented Digital Power Station available in Toyota products is about the size of a paperback, weighs only 0.6 kg, is integrated into the factory wiring harness and hidden from view behind the instrument panel.
The result of a collaboration between Toyota engineers in Canada - this is, so far, exclusive to Toyota Canada products - and Bongiovi engineers, the system digitally re-masters program material, whether from AM/FM/satellite radio, CD or in compressed MP3 format so you hear it the way it was intended.
When recorded, music is mastered to be played in a home or similar environment where speakers can be sized and placed for maximum clarity and accuracy. However, in passenger vehicles, speakers are a secondary consideration, sized and placed where they fit, commonly facing the windshield or one another from the doors. The result is a less-than-accurate reproduction of what was intended in the studio.
Granted, there are some amazing high-end systems available in luxury cars costing thousands of dollars. In these cases, the systems have been custom-tailored to that specific vehicle with terrific results. But in most other cases an audio upgrade costing hundreds of dollars consists of upgraded speakers and a more powerful amplifier. For half this cost (a $330 option in a $15,000 Yaris), the first digital audio upgrade certified for automotive use transformed the standard audio system.
Using the same standard amplifier and speakers that come with the vehicle you could hear sounds that were not audible without it. The test vehicle I used was equipped with a switch allowing you to compare with and without.
Not only was the bass deeper and more full, it lacked the muddiness common when you turn up the volume in a normal system. The highs were crisp and clean, the clarity across the entire spectrum was vastly improved, with no need to turn up the volume to make out the vocals or enjoy particular instruments.
The DPS also does a pretty good job of smoothing out or levelling off the difference in volume when switching back and forth between different sources. Unlike the traditional approach of fixed equalizer settings for different styles of music (jazz, classical, rock, etc.), it "recognizes" material from different genres and can even sense older recordings and bring that quality and sound level close to that of more modern sound.
How does it work? The DPS is individually calibrated in a laboratory with 120 algorithm calculation points for each vehicle model. These profiles are programmed into a computer chip within the module. Sixteen active elements constantly monitor the sound from the source in real time, whether it is radio, CD-player or iPod/MP3 player - and re-master that sound to suit the environment or profile of that particular vehicle before sending it through four-channels to the speakers.
The beauty of the system is that it uses the standard speakers and audio system. Does it equal the sound obtained from expensive aftermarket installations costing many times more? No. But it comes darn close without emptying your bank account and subjecting your vehicle to being torn apart and hopefully put back together without rattles or other issues.
And instead of an obvious aftermarket faceplate, you get the one designed for your dash with a simple little button to push.