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Sony sound overload

With its 12 speakers and 390 watts, you'd think the Ford Fusion Hybrid's optional Sony audio system would sound fantastic - and initially it really impresses with its powerful bass and ability to pump out the volume. 

I had not heard it before ordering my FFH because I ordered the car sight unseen to get under the wire for the $3400 tax credit on March 31.  A week or so later I was able to test drive a FFH at the dealer.  A big smile crossed my face as I hooked up my BlackBerry Pearl to the USB port and played some electronica with deep bass.

Nine weeks later my FFH was delivered.  The Sony continued to impress, but I didn't really focus on it because there was so much to learn about the new car.  Yet a sneaking disappointment was forming - the Sony just didn't sound clean and crystal clear like my old Audi Bose system.  It was tiring to listen to at anything over about 1/2 volume.

I tried fiddling with the settings.  I had hoped it would have a graphic equalizer but it only has bass and treble.  It also has left to right balance, front to rear fade, and "stereo" or "surround" modes.  The "surround" mode is selected automatically when playing a DVD with Dolby 5.1 surround sound - the Sony has 6 discrete channels of amplification for surround sound.  When playing stereo ( from the radio, via stereo bluetooth, from a CD or the Jukebox, or from the USB port), the surround mode simulates surround sound from the stereo signal using Dolby Pro Logic II. 

I couldn't decide between "stereo" and "surround" modes.  In "stereo" mode, the Sony sounds full and punchy with lots of bass and a solid, centered stereo image; yet it often sounds distorted and overblown in the bass, and overly bright in the highs.  In surround mode using Dolby Pro Logic II, it was easier to listen to but often sounded thin and diffuse, as if the mid bass had been sucked out; and the sound stage was ill-defined.

I listened to lots of music and decided that surround mode was doing odd things to the music and that stereo mode provided the rock solid sound I was looking for.  But stereo mode sounded too forward in the car, too bassy, and too bright - it made me tired to listen to it.  After lots of fiddling with the controls and comparing the sound to good headphones, I've decided on the following settings which seem more balanced and accurate:

"Stereo" mode - for a solid sound stage

Fader at "-1" - pulls the sound a little further back in the car and envelopes you more

Treble at "-1" - reduces listening fatigue while maintaining extended treble response

Bass at "-2" - reduces the overblown, distorted bass while maintaining good deep bass

Volume at "3/4" or less - too much volume and its tiring to listen to for any length of time

These settings are much easier on the ears and still sound great.  My guess is that Sony felt compelled to exaggerate the lows and highs to make the system sound impressive.  Too bad they couldn't have just gone for great, accurate sound!