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Car and Driver: The Cadillac of Audio: We Review the CT6’s 34-Speaker Bose Panaray Audio System


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“What’s a Panaray?” your passenger is liable to ask when you fire up the Cadillac CT6 and the center speaker enclosure pivots up from the middle of the dashboard, displaying its provocative name in a stylish font. It’s a theatrical event, designed to impress your eyes rather than your ears—foreshadowing what’s to come once the music starts playing.


At the most basic level, Panaray is the Bose-supplied top-tier audio system in Cadillac’s current top-dog sedan. The standard offering in the CT6 is a 10-speaker unit that’s also from Bose. Panaray is included in Platinum trimmed cars and available as a $3700 standalone option in Luxury and Premium Luxury trims. The name is a portmanteau word combining “panoramic” and “array”, a reflection of the overriding sound-design goal as well as the speaker technology used. Panaray in the CT6 uses four Class D amplifiers to drive 34 speakers positioned in 19 locations throughout the car, and it’s controlled by the same CUE infotainment interface that operates the audio system in any other Cadillac.


Joe McCabe, technical lead for the Panaray system, told us that Bose wanted to create a wider soundstage, making the music seem to be coming from outside the confines of the vehicle, a common goal for high-end automotive surround-sound systems. Panaray’s difference is that it uses clusters of small speakers, nearly all of them less than four inches in diameter, rather than individual larger speakers. This explains why the CT6 has such a high speaker count. McCabe says it also helps Bose get the coverage it needs so every occupant can hear the full range of frequencies the sound system is capable of producing.


Bose Panaray stereo


But it’s not the quantity of speakers in a car audio system that make it sound good. The quality of the amplification and speakers are more important than numbers, and their positioning and the digital signal processing used to route the correct frequencies to the right locations are crucial to good sound. While some brands, such as Acura, have dabbled in home-theater-style discrete surround sound in their vehicles, the Panaray system is a simulated surround system that takes a two-channel stereo signal and processes it to feed its 12 channels. Bose calls this algorithm Centerpoint. It’s the only surround processing Panaray does; none of the familiar Dolby or DTS surround modes are available.


I played a variety of rock and jazz from multiple sources for my listening evaluation. Cadillac does not include a CD player as standard with the Panaray system (a glovebox-mounted one is a $250 option), but an optical disc player is included with the $2450 rear-seat multimedia package that was in our test car. I used this to play CDs, DVDs, and Blu-Ray discs, but most of my listening was via an iPod, cable-connected to the vehicle, playing music encoded at CD quality using Apple Lossless Audio Codec.


The Cadillac system also will play music from a USB drive, but only in certain formats. I did feed it some high-resolution audio files (24 bit/96 kHz), which played in AIFF format. But Bose’s McCabe explained that high-res audio, whether from a USB drive, a DVD, or a Blu-Ray disc, is down-sampled by the system. One interesting feature included in the rear-seat entertainment package is a wired headphone plug, which allows for use of high-quality headphones rather than the tinny-sounding wireless ones that come with the car, which are geared more for movie watching.


Bose Panaray stereo


As a policy, Bose doesn’t disclose the wattage of its amplification, but suffice it to say power is not the problem with Panaray. The system’s hallmark is volume; it plays clearly at deafening levels, even when cranked to 63, CUE’s curious maximum volume level. I didn’t listen for long with it that loud, but the feeling of being overwhelmed by Panaray’s presentation never left, even at low levels, where the sound can still carry a glare or harshness.


Bose’s Centerpoint 3 (that version number is new for Panaray) surround processing produced mixed results. It worked better with compressed sources, such as SiriusXM Radio, than it did with my test tracks. While satellite radio can often sound closed in and flat, Centerpoint will perk up the sound and give it a little wider soundstage. But listening to a good recording that already conveys the position of the musicians and the space around their instruments leaves Centerpoint little to improve upon.


Turning it on during Miles Davis’s “So What” created the effect of sticking your head in his trumpet, spoiling the delicacy and subtlety of the playing. This trick, drawing the listener closer into the music, made other recordings sound congested in Centerpoint mode compared with listening in stereo. Other times, like during “Cowboy Movie” by David Crosby, Centerpoint would shift the vocals into a strange position in the car—in this case seemingly under the dashboard. Again, switching back to stereo was preferable. In fact, the stereo setting was preferable for most of my test tracks, rarely producing much narrowing of the soundstage compared with Centerpoint and usually improving the sense of space around the instruments.


Panaray is an audio system that always assaults your ears with big sound, which undoubtedly will appeal to some owners. It’s certainly powerful and sure to dazzle neophytes with its motorized center speaker, but I find it lacking in detail and separation compared with the best in-car audio. Once you get past initial impressions, the sound just doesn’t mesmerize like the high-end systems in other luxury models.


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