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Audi is revolutionizing what it means to hear an electric car.

Audi’s newest EVs

sound as good as they look

European model shown.

Audi is revolutionizing what it means to hear an electric car.

Few sounds are as evocative as the purr of a finely tuned internal combustion engine, but those rumbles and roars may soon become a thing of the past. The reason? Electric vehicles are virtually silent. In the design of the new Audi e-tron GT and its high-performance sibling, the Audi RS e-tron GT, however, Audi is revolutionizing the sound of a car – not just from a safety standpoint, but from an emotional perspective, too.

Why does an electric car need sound? It’s the law in many parts of the world including the European Union and the United States that electric vehicles must emit clearly audible sounds at low speeds to warn pedestrians, cyclists and the visually impaired that a car is approaching, accelerating or braking. Canadian legislation is coming, too. Ottawa proposed similar regulations – requiring all-electric and hybrid vehicles to have sound emitters by 2023 to improve road safety.

“An electric car is very quiet, so it’s important to have sound in these vehicles to make sure people are aware a car is around them. It’s for their own safety,” says Jason Santos, product manager at Audi Canada.

In this space, Audi is ahead of the curve. The person tasked with composing the notes used for external noise on the Audi e-tron family is Audi sound designer Rudi Halbmeir. “A synthetic sound that is sampled from 32 individual sounds – including reworked synthesizer sounds, for example – offers an authentic and finely nuanced impression of the work performed by the drive system,” he says.

“Designers made a conscious effort to create a pleasant, natural sound – one that intentionally does not replicate a traditional internal combustion engine.”

He describes the sound as “realistic-technical.” The emphasis on technical because those sounds absorb into the subconscious better than harmony or melody. The sound resembles a symphony of music.

The creative process of composing the right EV sound starts at the computer with a makeshift accelerator pedal under the desk to replicate speed while testing different tunes. Then, it’s off to the Audi Sound Lab, a high-tech room filled with foam wedges on the walls and ceiling to absorb sound, a road surface to replicate realistic driving conditions, and small microphones surrounding an Audi e-tron GT demo vehicle. There, designers can adjust the levels, tweak the pitch and alter speeds to perfect the final product.

European model shown.

Simplicity and naturalness are key to Audi’s sound strategy. Designers made a conscious effort to create a pleasant, natural sound – one that intentionally does not replicate a traditional internal combustion engine – to create a more emotional driving experience while keeping pedestrians safe. “The Audi e-tron should sound like an electric car, not imitate a combustion engine,” says Halbmeir.

Felix Enciso, director of product planning at Audi Canada, agrees. “We need to break free from the traditional engine sound into this more dynamic and sustainable way of doing things. We have to invent something new that sounds clean and progressive – not intrusive because we don’t want to create sound pollution, either. That’s very important,” he says.

“The perfect sound evokes emotions.”

The perfect sound evokes emotions, and to do this designers drew inspiration from science-fiction movies and musical instruments. It’s evident in the final product: when accelerating, the Audi e-tron GT resembles Hollywood’s rendition of a spaceship taking off. It’s smooth, crisp, progressive and pleasant to the ears.

Santos describes it as “futuristic and very emotional.” The Audi RS e-tron GT ups the ante even more by adding Audi’s “e-Sound Plus” system, with two exterior speakers in the rear and two interior speakers which are adjustable via Audi’s Drive Select Modes. While the technology behind this is complex, the result is quite simple: the way our vehicles sound is changing, and thanks to trailblazing EVs from Audi, the future of mobility sounds as good as it looks.


Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with Audi. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.