NOVI, MI – The process of creating high-quality audio in vehicles as divergent as Ford’s diminutive ’18 EcoSport CUV and the automaker’s mongo, 3-row ’18 Expedition SUV begins far from the interior of either vehicle.

Instead, Ford and its audio partner Harman, supplier of B&O Play audio for Ford vehicles and Revel sound for Lincoln, start in a 4,317-cu.-ft. (122-cu.-m) reference studio at Harman’s North American headquarters.

Here, a divergent group of at least 10 trained listeners hear selected 30-second audio tracks to establish the sound quality benchmarks Ford and Harman hope to reproduce in the confines of a 191.2-cu.-ft. (5.4-cu.-m) Expedition or a 112-cu.-ft. (3.2-cu.-m) EcoSport.

From the reference studio, those careful listeners move into vehicles and hear the same audio tracks, working with vehicle developers to attain the same sound quality via everything from speaker placement to amplification. The listeners also identify any distortion or unwanted vibrations and noise related to those speakers.

“It’s really the job of the tuner to take you out of the car and put you into that (listening) room,” says Jonathan Pierce, senior manager-global benchmarking in Harman’s lifestyle audio division.

Audio tuning starts from the earliest vehicle builds and continues through prototype production, says Joe Kafati, speakers and acoustics supervisor for Ford North America. All in all, the process takes 24 months and some 1,200 listening hours to tune each vehicle.

“We make adjustments right to the end to make sure that each vehicle is perfect,” Kafati says. “Every vehicle has its unique challenges, but they all go through the same process.”

After all the benchmarking, testing and tuning is completed, every system is evaluated by untrained listeners to validate all the development work.

In production trim, B&O Play audio in the EcoSport (only available on Titanium trim models) features 10 speakers and nine amplified channels powered by a 675-watt digital signal processor. The Expedition’s 1,100-watt B&O Play system uses 12 speakers and 10 amplified channels.

“You can look at speaker measurements and architecture details to try and determine how best to tune a car’s audio system, but that doesn’t tell the full story,” says Michael O’Brien, manager-Ford SUV Group Marketing. “Using trained human listeners is what makes the EcoSport and Expedition audio systems deliver tailored but consistently high-quality audio that can help customers look forward to every drive.”

The EcoSport, arriving early next year, and Expedition, due this fall, are the first SUVs to get B&O Play audio, an option that eventually will be offered across the Ford lineup.

bgritzinger@wardsauto.com @bobgritzinger