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Q&A: Why Acura is pushing Krell audio for its new RLX

We talk with Acura and Krell about their decision to pair up, and why ELS Surround is not being kicked to the curb.

By Douglas Newcomb Nov 30, 2012 10:58AM

Krell auto system. Photo by Krell.Acura created one of the best stock sound systems available, ELS Surround, with the help of Grammy-winning producer Elliot Scheiner. To create something even better for the brand’s new 2014 RLX flagship sedan, Acura is now turning to award-winning high-end audio specialist Krell.

Unless you’re an audiophile, you’ve probably never heard of Krell. But the same could be said of the Mark Levinson system that Lexus introduced more than a decade ago. Now that Mark Levinson has become synonymous with top-shelf audio, Acura is hoping the same thing will happen with the new Krell system. (The RLX is Acura's replacement for the dismal RL sedan, of which just 1,096 sold last year.)

Unlike most luxury automakers, which take a uniform approach to premium audio, Acura isn’t giving ELS the boot to make room for Krell. The two audio brands will coexist in separate model lines.

To get the lowdown on why Acura chose Krell and why the two companies think that top-shelf audio is still important in the age of the MP3, we spoke with Krell President Bill McKiegan and Acura’s public relations manager, Chuck Schifsky, at the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show.

Exhaust Notes: Why did Acura chose Krell over ELS for the RLX?

Schifsky: When the development of the RLX started, we knew that the midlevel system in the RLX would be a 10-speaker ELS system in the base car and the high-end system would be Krell’s 14-speaker Studio system. We’ll have more info on the specifics of the Krell system as we get closer to launch. But we knew that we wanted a pinnacle audio system in the car. The main thing we were looking for was a very high-end audio system -- and a very high-end name.

McKiegan: Acura wanted to offer a premium audio product to their top-of-the-line customers, the RLX customer. And we fit that mode of offering performance to the ear but to also give buyers the most for their dollar. And that’s Acura’s core value and belief system. We jumped at the chance to be part of this and designed the system in conjunction with Acura to get sound that Krell is known for in the home environment in the car environment.

EN: Why not just go with a high-end ELS system?

McKiegan: ELS doesn’t make products; [Elliot Scheiner] is a tuner. It’s not his engineering. Panasonic makes the components.

Schifsky: As we looked throughout the audio industry, we knew that a lot of the good names were taken. But our audio guys certainly knew of Krell.

EN: But most car buyers won’t recognize the Krell name.

McKiegan: Clearly we’re a specialty system. But if someone was to do some investigation before buying a premium car and go to our website and check out some of the reviews, they’ll see a 30-year history of phenomenal reviews on our speakers, amplifiers, preamps, CD players and surround sound. Everything we’ve ever done we’ve been at the top of the category that we’ve participated in.

Schifsky: It’s going to take awhile to get that name recognition out. We’re certainly aware of that. But I didn’t know who Mark Levinson was at the time that Lexus launched that system. We think the same thing will happen with Krell. The story is good, the company is good. The products are going to reflect very well on the RLX.

Krell auto system. Photo by Krell.
EN: Many people now listen to low-resolution music files. How will spending more for a Krell system in the RLX make a difference?

McKiegan: The technology on our back end is as faithful as possible to the signal we’re given. If that signal is not good, we can’t make it better. But it’s going to be the best that it can be.

EN: Will we see Krell systems in other Acura vehicles?

Schifsky: There's no plan to do that. RLX will be the flagship model. So we really wanted a pinnacle system. The volume will be fairly low. It will be on the Tech Audio and Advanced option packages. The bulk of the sales will come on the midlevel car, and that will be the ELS system. We’re still very committed to ELS. That’s an important point I want to make sure I get across.

Edited from a longer interview.

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