2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible: Audio Review


Convertibles are not the best vehicles for good sound reproduction. There's all the extra wind and road noise when driving with the top down -- which is the whole reason for owning a ragtop. And the sonic phenomenon known as cabin gain that boosts bass response in an enclosed car evaporates when there's no roof.

Consequently, few systems in convertibles sound as good with the top open compared to when it's closed. The Boston Acoustics system in the 2011 Camaro 2SS Convertible I recently tested is a rare exception. In this case "good" is a relative description since the system has several flaws. But considering that that the Boston system is standard (or a $495 option in the 1SS) and doesn't have a double-digit speaker count or pack lots of power, it does a more than decent job of providing car tunes to accompany the thrill ride produced by the Camaro SS Convertible's 426-horsepower V8.

The Setup
 The Boston Acoustics system in the 2011 Camaro 2SS Convertible consists of 8 speakers powered by 245 watts. The speakers include a 6.5-inch midrange low in each door, a 1-inch tweeter in the "sail panel" in the lower-forward corner of each front window, a 3.5-inch midrange/tweeter in the center of the dash, another 3.5-inch mid/tweet in each side panel flanking the rear seat and a 10-inch subwoofer behind the rear seat. In one of the coolest applications I've seen in an OEM system, the 10-inch sub blasts bass through webbing between the two rear seats. (For a cool photo of the sub without the back seat in the way, click here).

The Sound
As usual, I auditioned the system using the same jazz, rock, folk, pop and rap music tracks I've listened to in hundreds of cars to gauge clarity/lack of distortion, tonal balance, timbre, tonal accuracy, soundstaging, imaging and dynamics. And I tested staging/imaging, linearity and absence of noise using non-musical test tracks. For details on our testing procedure, check out the Edmunds.com article Sound Advice. I also tested the system sitting still with the top up and down, and while driving at moderate and highway speeds.

This is the part of the review where I usually go into detail ad nauseam on the sound quality of the system. I'll skip that this time and only say that the Boston system was slightly above average in just about every sound quality category -- not great but not dreadful. And it had the same basic flaws I hear in about 80 percent of all OEM systems: boomy midbass and harsh highs. Soundstaging and imaging also weren't the system strong points: The stage was narrow and low, and images were localized down near the 6.5-inch door speakers.

The bright side, beside an overall open sound, was bass from the 10-inch subwoofer. While low frequencies tended to be boomy and slightly distorted with most music, on Outkast's "Ain't No Thang" the sub produced bangin' bass with the top up or down. Likewise, the overall sound held up well, with only a slight difference whether I could see there was open sky above me or not.

Here's the bottom line if you're considering buying this car or the 1SS with the optional Boston Acoustics system: The sounds was very good while cruising city streets and carving canyons -- mainly with the top down, of course. While driving with another car-crazy, audiophile friend, we were both impressed with how well the system (and the Camaro itself, of course) performed on twisty mountain roads, even over the throaty roar of the V8. But once on the highway, forget about any kind of sound quality from the system. Better to put the top up if you want to hear other people in the car talk to you, much less listen to music.

The Sources
The 2011 Camaro 2SS Convertible I tested has a CD head unit with AM, FM and XM radio and an aux-in jack and USB port in the center console. Plug the computer-sync cable that comes with an iPod into the USB port and you can access the contents using the head unit's controls. The iPod interface is decent given the head unit's small display and dearth of buttons, and the system includes audiobooks and podcasts as top-line menu items along with the usual playlists, artists, albums, etc. You can also plug in a USB drive loaded with tunes and get the basic menu items. The Camaro has Bluetooth audio as well, but control is limited to track skip forward/back, per usual.

What We Say
The Boston Acoustics audio system in the Camaro Convertible SS is much like the car itself: basic, somewhat brutish, with lots of low-end rumble. It's also fun as hell to drive and hard not to keep a smile on your face when you're behind the wheel on a nice top-down day with great tunes going. That it also delivers great bang for the buck makes the Boston Acoustics a rare convertible system that's a keeper.

The Scores
Sound: B-
Sources: A
iPod Integration: A-
Cost: A+