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The Top 10 Cars for Audiophiles

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Car stereo robberies are on the decline. So are sales of aftermarket audio solutions. Why? Factory systems simply have become too good, essentially making both theft and the aftermarket unnecessary. Thanks to ever-increasing commute times, modern cars feature practically all the entertainment and amenities you'd expect from your living room—in fact, many offer audio quality that puts home theater systems to shame. So if you're a car-shopping audiophile, checking the stereo system that comes with the car is more important than ever. Here are our ten top picks, including obvious luxury players and some surprisingly affordable examples.

2011 Mazda Mazdaspeed3

We start off with a Bose car stereo system that actually doesn't disappoint: the 10-speaker system included in the Technology Package of the spunky Mazdaspeed3 sport compact wagon. While it's not ultrapowerful by today's "premium audio" standards, the 265-watt stereo still delivers crisp, balanced sound and a surprising thump from the subwoofer cleverly mounted inside the spare tire. It's a great, traditional audio setup in a lively car that's already famous for its bang-for-the-buck dominance.

2012 Infiniti M

Like the previous generation, the latest Infiniti M37 (and M56) luxury sport sedan offers a tremendous level of audio quality when equipped with its Bose Studio Surround system. We're not typically blown away by Bose offerings, but the 5.1-channel, 16-speaker setup available in the M37 is mighty impressive, especially when sampling high-fidelity DVD audio. For whatever reason, official wattage figures are nowhere to be found, but the system never felt short on power.

2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

Starting with the 2012 Jetta GLI, Volkswagen is rolling out its new, 400-watt premium audio system by Fender, the American brand more famous for its Stratocaster guitars than its stereo equipment. After three years of cooperative research with VW and Panasonic, Fender has delivered a nine-speaker setup that emphasizes clarity at every volume. Although the collaboration may sound like a marketing ploy, the sound doesn't lie. For us, it's the new standard for entry-level automotive audio, easily surpassing the Dynaudio premium systems VW traditionally offers.

2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8

Chrysler's newly redesigned 300 sedan brings a Harman Kardon premium sound system to the market, at least for the SRT models. This setup boasts a 12-channel amplifier, 900 watts of power and a total of 19 speakers—seven 3.5-inch midrange units, each with seven integrated tweeters, along with five "subwoofers" (although only the rear deck's 10-inch unit is a traditional round subwoofer design). Bottom line: The new SRT's stereo packs a wallop, much like the engine under its hood.
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2011 Mitsubishi Outlander

The Outlander, an often-overlooked SUV by Mitsubishi, may be a surprise entry to this list. However, its optional 710-watt Rockford Fosgate Punch stereo is phenomenal for a car less than $30,000, so it's easily one of the best options at this price. This audio system features digital signal processing and gets the job done with just six speakers, including the 10-inch subwoofer, producing a sound worthy of a luxury car. No, we weren't expecting it either.

2012 Acura TL

Acura's excellent ELS audio system is available across the entire vehicle lineup (except on its flagship RL model, ironically, which still packs an underwhelming Bose setup). It sounded the best in the midrange TL luxury sedan. Designed by Grammy-winning sound engineer Elliot Scheiner, the 440-watt, 10-speaker surround-sound system aims to reproduce studio-quality sound, including the full 24-bit, 96-kHz audio found in DVD-A discs—the highest quality currently possible.

2011 Lexus LS

The Lexus LS was one of the first vehicles to truly advance the art of car stereos back in the '90s. Today, it continues to impress with a 7.1-channel surround-sound Mark Levinson Reference audio system. At 450 watts, it's far from the most powerful setup on the market, but it boasts less than 0.1 percent total harmonic distortion, 19 bespoke, metal-coned speakers and a range of 20 to 20,000 hertz
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2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550

For just $6400 extra, the latest S550 from Mercedes can come with a Bang & Olufsen BeoSound premium sound system. Along with four acoustic lenses, its 15 speakers feature exterior grilles for a greater sense of space and ambience. Two separate amplifiers produce a total of 1200 watts: There's a 750-watt ICE Power primary unit working in conjunction with a 450-watt digital signal processing unit for converting audio signals into 7.1-channel surround sound.

2011 Audi A8

Audi's flagship A8 luxury sedan is packed to the brim with state-of-the-art technology, and so it's not surprising that its audio system is one of the best we've ever experienced. The A8's top stereo option costs more than $6000, and Bang & Olufsen designed it for the Audi during the car's engineering phase. This digitally amplified system features an outrageous 1400 total watts and a 19-speaker layout, with each speaker meticulously designed and placed to match the acoustics and air space inside the A8.
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