The Tesla Model S ‘Standard’ and ‘Ultra High Fidelity Sound’ systems are middle of the road offerings (if you will excuse the pun!): they are no better or worse than other OEM (Original Equipment Manufacture) car audio equipment. This article provides an introduction to how car manufacturers approach car audio, discusses the two Tesla audio options and describes the results of one UK Model S owner’s pursuit of audio performance to match the car’s acceleration, which resulted in a solution that embraces the energy efficiency principles of the car whilst considerably raising sound quality.

OEM Audionomics

Ferrari California JBL front speakers (estimated manufacturing cost ~ £5):

You will probably be surprised by the pictures of the Ferrari California speakers above. How on earth did a £150,000+ car end up with speakers costing about a fiver to produce? This is pretty much par for the course: motor manufacturers typically partner with an established audio brand to develop their standard and premium audio systems, and in Ferrari’s case their partner is JBL…

The economics are quite straightforward. When you select the premium audio option from Ferrari – for several thousand pounds – and expect your car to sound like a recording studio, this is how your money is spent:

  1. The audio partner spends several hundred thousand pounds designing a system and working with Ferrari to optimise the design of the car for audio purposes (sound shaping materials and, in extremis, changes to metalwork (bracing etc.) to ensure an optimal environment for speaker placement).
  2. The audio partner then works with the car manufacturer on the design and optimisation of the head unit (the control system for the audio, typically now a touchscreen in anything decent) from an audio perspective and sources tweeters, midrange speakers and sub-woofer/s in addition to the required amplification to drive these.
  3. By the time that the R&D for the car manufacturer and its audio partner are taken into account, the equipment has been sourced, procured, shipped and installed and the gross margins of both parties are satisfied, there will be only a few hundred pounds allocated to the sound equipment itself.

This is why, on a £ for £ basis, any spend with a decent aftermarket audio specialist will yield disproportionately better sound results than selecting the upgrade option from a car manufacturer.

The Tesla Model S audio systems

Although Tesla has a ‘build it in-house’ approach for the majority of components there are some exceptions (like navigation for example). When designing the audio system in the Model S Tesla sought specialist assistance from S1nn, who work with several other car manufacturers, including Porsche. Unlike the majority of manufacturers, Tesla did not partner and co-brand with their audio specialist (S1nn) when specifying the ‘Standard’ and ‘Ultra High Fidelity Sound’ systems but instead went with their own branding.

‘Standard’ system The basic version of the sound system, this generates 200 watts and comprises 40-watt speakers (160 mm) incorporated in all four doors and two passive tweeters (30 mm) in the A-pillars. A mid-range speaker (80 mm) located centrally on the dashboard adds a further 40 watts to the sound stage.

The standard audio is really quite limited with a poor sound stage. Significant areas of the sound spectrum are weak or missing and distortion occurs at modest listening levels.

‘Ultra High Fidelity Sound’ option – the premium version of the sound system, this has an output of 560 watts. Two tweeters (30 mm) in the A-pillars each deliver up to 20 watts and two mid-range speakers (80 mm) each add a further 40 watts. Two 80-watt woofers (200 mm) are fitted in the front doors and two 40-watt speakers (160 mm) in the rear doors. Three 40-watt mid-range speakers (80 mm) and one 80-watt bass box (sub-woofer) complete the surround sound system. The subwoofer used in the Model S is noteworthy as most cars have base boxes with a volume of between eight to twelve litres, but the Tesla Model S has a 25-litre bass box which is afforded by the generous boot. In the press release by S1nn about the Tesla audio system reference is made to Tesla strengthening the bodywork of the car around the speakers to provide for better sound.

The ‘Ultra High Fidelity Sound’ option is a substantial improvement over the ‘Standard’ system but there are still missing areas of the sound spectrum and from an acoustic point of view Tesla’s (or S1nn’s) placement of the sub-woofer in the boot of the car is sub-optimal (pun intended!) resulting in diluted bass tones for occupants of the car (unless they are occupying the rear jump seats!).

One owner wanted better sound whilst retaining the energy efficient ethos of the Model S

The owner contacted a firm that has worked on several of his previous cars and asked them to design a high quality upgrade for the standard Tesla audio system, whilst taking into account a requirement for minimal energy usage. The customer wanted to retain use of the Tesla audio controls on the basis that they were both simple and intuitive.

Tesla Model S standard audio front speakers (estimated manufacturing cost ~ £4):

Auto Audio designed a system for the owner that utilised the Tesla head unit (and therefore the controls and integration in the OEM system), replaced all of the speakers in the car with competition-grade units and added an energy efficient sub-woofer in the passenger footwell to complete the soundstage.

The Tesla Optimised audio upgrade

The system replaces the standard Tesla front Tweeters with 2 Morel competition-grade silk dome Tweeter units and also replaces the other Tesla speakers with 4 Morel Maximo Midrange units in the doors and 2 more Morel competition grade Tweeters in the rear. Finally, an energy efficient amplified sub-woofer is installed in the passenger footwell and trimmed in leather to match the cars interior.

The Pioneer energy-efficient sub-woofer (4A draw at typical volumes) is connected to an emergency power down circuit in the car that protects power consumption in the event of very low battery power levels. The sub-woofer controls are very neatly installed on the back of the front tray area or can be placed in the glovebox. The sub-woofer powers down as soon as you exit the vehicle: while the energy usage of even highly amplified systems is quite small compared to the Model S drive system it is very cool that this sound system upgrade is aligned with the ethos of an electric car.

The company that did the design and fitting has won numerous awards for their sound systems over the years (check out the trophies in the reception area if you visit them) and their view is that the upgraded system could compete and hold its own in a sound quality competition.

The speakers take approximately 40 hours of play to ‘burn in’ from installation, during which time the sound will keep on improving.

The result

Missing frequencies and sound stage are filled in by the audio upgrade, particularly in the low frequencies. Tweeters add considerable additional detail over the standard units, providing the full spectrum of sound and considerably improving the sound stage in the car. String instrument reproduction is particularly improved by the silk dome Tweeters. The audio upgrade is all about quality and balanced sound, if you are looking for something that vastly increases listening volumes then this upgrade probably isn’t for you.

A customer describes the improvement:

“I am so pleased with the (Tesla) aftermarket upgrade. Took the car in on Friday morning, and it was all finished by late afternoon. The thin, disappointing sound is gone and in its place is a rich, spatial tonal treat, with some proper bass. The difference is particularly noticeable for classical and folk music but “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC now rattles my fillings too!”

The installation process and timescales

Whilst the system was a lot of work to design and fit for the first customer (some of which was R&D as this was Auto Audio’s first Model S upgrade, although they have done several Roadsters as well) the number of Model Ss now fitted with the Auto Audio upgrade is well into double figures. Two fitters work on cars at the same time meaning that if the car is delivered to the workshop by 08:30 the upgrade can usually be completed the same day.

There is no permanent alteration of the vehicle or damage to speakers being removed, you can keep the OEM speakers and – if required – the upgrade can easily be reversed.

What to do if you would like to order

The cost of the upgrade is £1,600 including VAT which represents a discount to the company’s usual pricing.

Contact Auto Audio and ask to speak with Greg (he is one of the owners) to get your car booked in for the upgrade.

About Auto Audio 

Auto Audio specialises in aftermarket upgrades of performance and luxury cars. Founded in 1972, Auto Audio was one of London’s first in-car entertainment specialist. The brainchild of one keen and enthusiastic young man, the company opened and commenced installations of record players to some of the most luxurious vehicles on the road at the time. Today Auto Audio provides vehicle upgrades to more than 150 cars per week, from a simple stereo installation to bare metal restore of classic Ferraris. Auto Audio annually hosts the European Mobile Media Association’s sound quality championships, as well as numerous other events. It services clients all over the globe, including various royal and high profile families.

One last thing!

In closing it is worth highlighting that Teslapedia has no financial connection with Auto Audio.