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Audio thread- to KEF or not to KEF?

Skinwarrior

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Location
San Francisco
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Emira on order
Let me be clear- I’m buying an Emira for the driving experience (and its looks). However, even though I’m not a bonafide audiophile, I’m still pretty into listening to music while driving.

I had my test drive a couple of months ago and thoroughly enjoyed it, including the engine sound (which has not been lauded universally).

I was only able to listen to about a minute of music streamed via the Lotus rep’s phone. I wasn’t that impressed with the KEF audio but I didn’t want to draw too many conclusions from such a limited experience.

Since my test drive, I’ve been eager to read reviews from those lucky ones who have had the car for a while. From what I’ve been able to find, the wide consensus about the KEF audio has been similar to mine: not a disaster but decidedly disappointing, especially in the bass response.

I’ve been told by my dealer that there I’m right on the cusp of being able to get a First Edition car. Some of the people ahead of me have cancelled or decided that they don’t want a FE car. I will likely need to lock in my build by the end of March and may have the option of getting a FE car versus speccing options on a base car.

As of this writing, base/option pricing isn’t available yet. If the KEF audio is a significant cost item over the base audio I might strongly consider the base system then doing some aftermarket improvements to the system (there also a few other FE options that I might skip).

I’m interested in thoughts on this topic, specifically:
- any further thoughts from Emira owners on the KEF system?
- is there something peculiar to this vehicle that makes it challenging to have good audio?
- is it a silly idea to get the base system and then upgrade it?
 
Thanks for creating this thread, I’m interested in hearing about this topic too.

I’m coming from Lexus with the Mark Levinson premium audio. To me the ML system is just slightly better than mid grade. I would have opted to rip out the ML system but decided to go with a cheaper route. Used Audioquest’s Dragonfly Red DAC to improve the sound quality. Made a significant improvement in sound quality that allowed me to stay with the ML system. This could be a possible solution for you too.

So my current thinking is to use a mobile DAC when my Emira comes in, and see if the KEF sound system is good enough to keep. If it’s still disappointing, then a full tear down and new aftermarket audio equipment would be installed. Unfortunately the Emira doesn’t have a lot of space, so installation may be somewhat challenging.
 
The Emira has plenty of space if you don’t mind sacrificing some of the storage area behind the seats. My guess is a 10” driver mounted in a false floor there with a dedicated 500w amp would fill in the missing parts of the spectrum.
 
There haven't been any frequency analyses of the Emira KEF system yet, so we're operating on a lot of conjecture and in a pretty significant information vacuum. I'm looking forward to some data, because the system sounded reasonably good to me on my test drive, just not bass-heavy.

Also, just FYI I would question whether a SF area dealer really has any FE slots available, considering the number of deposits that already exist on these cars. This dealer says they're going to give you a First Edition order slot, over any number of existing customers in the order queue that already handed them thousands of dollars for a deposit on the same car back in July of 2021? Seriously curious.
 
There is a long thread about info on the KEF system here:


I think you’re asking a slightly different question about KEF/not KEF or modify so am going to leave this as a separate thread rather than merge into that one.
 
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Thanks for creating this thread, I’m interested in hearing about this topic too.

I’m coming from Lexus with the Mark Levinson premium audio. To me the ML system is just slightly better than mid grade. I would have opted to rip out the ML system but decided to go with a cheaper route. Used Audioquest’s Dragonfly Red DAC to improve the sound quality. Made a significant improvement in sound quality that allowed me to stay with the ML system. This could be a possible solution for you too.

So my current thinking is to use a mobile DAC when my Emira comes in, and see if the KEF sound system is good enough to keep. If it’s still disappointing, then a full tear down and new aftermarket audio equipment would be installed. Unfortunately the Emira doesn’t have a lot of space, so installation may be somewhat challenging.
Thanks for the great idea Silver Storm. I've never tried using a DAC.

In your current setup (with the Lexus) are you able to conceal the unit (such as the glovebox) or is this not possible since I'm assuming that you have to connect your phone to the DAC and then the DAC to a USB input somewhere in the car?
 
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There haven't been any frequency analyses of the Emira KEF system yet, so we're operating on a lot of conjecture and in a pretty significant information vacuum. I'm looking forward to some data, because the system sounded reasonably good to me on my test drive, just not bass-heavy.

Also, just FYI I would question whether a SF area dealer really has any FE slots available, considering the number of deposits that already exist on these cars. This dealer says they're going to give you a First Edition order slot, over any number of existing customers in the order queue that already handed them thousands of dollars for a deposit on the same car back in July of 2021? Seriously curious.
Thanks for your feedback Porter- who knows when we'll get frequency analyses of the KEF system? Is this done for all high end audio systems?

As for your FE slot question, let me clarify: I was a relatively early depositer (August '21). I was initially told that I narrowly missed the dealership's allocation- there were 7 people ahead of me. I assumed that I would be waiting to do a build of the non-FE when it became available. At my test drive in November I was informed that some of the people ahead of me have dropped out so I now might be able to get a FE car. I was told that I should know by March (but I'm not holding my breath).
 
Thanks for the great idea Silver Storm. I've never tried using a DAC.

In your current setup (with the Lexus) are you able to conceal the unit (such as the glovebox) or is this not possible since I'm assuming that you have to connect your phone to the DAC and then the DAC to a USB input somewhere in the car?
Don't have time right now to explain in detail. Will post up pics in a few days to show you my current setup.
 
@Skinwarrior Here are the pics of my DAC setup as promised. My iPhone is plugged into the Apple connector at one end, and the other end is the Dragonfly Red DAC. 3.5mm audio cable is connected to the Dragonfly, and the other end is plugged into the AUX input of my Lexus which is located under the arm rest. I also have USB to lighting wire to recharge my iPhone at the same time. So to answer the question, can you hide the DAC? Yes, I can hide it inside my arm rest but that means I also hide my iPhone as well. The only problem is that you won't be able to manually scroll through your phone to choose what songs to play (not that I encourage or endorse the use of one's phone while driving). Hiding your phone/DAC works if you only want to listen to your playlist and don't have a need to fiddle with it.

Is the DAC worth getting? As Porter mentioned, it works great and it does transform the audio system. It makes a mediocre stock system sound much better. For the regular person who is not an audiophile, it should be more than sufficient. But if you are a true hardcore audiophile, you won't be completely satisfied. There's only so much a portable DAC can do. The other parts of the factory audio system is the weakest link. For the true audiophile enthusiast, a tear down and rebuild is the only way to get hi end audio.
 

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I went for quick drive in a demo car at the factory today, hooked up to car play the speakers sounded extremely good to me. They were plenty loud enough, great bass and no distortion at high volume. They may be lacking volume at high speeds with the super charger whine behind you, but that wouldn’t be a concern for me
 
@Skinwarrior Here are the pics of my DAC setup as promised. My iPhone is plugged into the Apple connector at one end, and the other end is the Dragonfly Red DAC. 3.5mm audio cable is connected to the Dragonfly, and the other end is plugged into the AUX input of my Lexus which is located under the arm rest. I also have USB to lighting wire to recharge my iPhone at the same time. So to answer the question, can you hide the DAC? Yes, I can hide it inside my arm rest but that means I also hide my iPhone as well. The only problem is that you won't be able to manually scroll through your phone to choose what songs to play (not that I encourage or endorse the use of one's phone while driving). Hiding your phone/DAC works if you only want to listen to your playlist and don't have a need to fiddle with it.

Is the DAC worth getting? As Porter mentioned, it works great and it does transform the audio system. It makes a mediocre stock system sound much better. For the regular person who is not an audiophile, it should be more than sufficient. But if you are a true hardcore audiophile, you won't be completely satisfied. There's only so much a portable DAC can do. The other parts of the factory audio system is the weakest link. For the true audiophile enthusiast, a tear down and rebuild is the only way to get hi end audio.
So the theory here is that a portable DAC does a better job of decoding the bitstream into analog waves than the head unit? And I guess you’re not wortied about picking up crosstalk in the analog 3.5mm stereo line or in the wiring from the jack back to the head unit?
 
Just to point out that there’s no 3.5mm aux input in the Emira, only USBs.
So you’ll need a DAC with USB output.
 
So the theory here is that a portable DAC does a better job of decoding the bitstream into analog waves than the head unit? And I guess you’re not wortied about picking up crosstalk in the analog 3.5mm stereo line or in the wiring from the jack back to the head unit?
I can’t 100% guarantee that a portable DAC does a better job of decoding bitstream into analog than stock head unit. But from my experience (and Porter’s), the portable DAC does indeed do a better job. The best way to confirm this is to test one yourself.

As for crosstalk or feedback noise, did not notice for the most part. There was maybe one or two songs that had some crackling when played, but I think it’s due to either the limitation of the stock speaker or possibly the DAC itself. This occurs only for specific songs with high frequency. 99.9% of the songs played have no issues.
 
Just to point out that there’s no 3.5mm aux input in the Emira, only USBs.
So you’ll need a DAC with USB output.
Yes good point. Going by memory, I believe the Dragonfly DAC can be purchased with a USB output.
 
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@Skinwarrior Here are the pics of my DAC setup as promised. My iPhone is plugged into the Apple connector at one end, and the other end is the Dragonfly Red DAC. 3.5mm audio cable is connected to the Dragonfly, and the other end is plugged into the AUX input of my Lexus which is located under the arm rest. I also have USB to lighting wire to recharge my iPhone at the same time. So to answer the question, can you hide the DAC? Yes, I can hide it inside my arm rest but that means I also hide my iPhone as well. The only problem is that you won't be able to manually scroll through your phone to choose what songs to play (not that I encourage or endorse the use of one's phone while driving). Hiding your phone/DAC works if you only want to listen to your playlist and don't have a need to fiddle with it.

Is the DAC worth getting? As Porter mentioned, it works great and it does transform the audio system. It makes a mediocre stock system sound much better. For the regular person who is not an audiophile, it should be more than sufficient. But if you are a true hardcore audiophile, you won't be completely satisfied. There's only so much a portable DAC can do. The other parts of the factory audio system is the weakest link. For the true audiophile enthusiast, a tear down and rebuild is the only way to get hi end audio.
Thanks for the photos and the explanation.

I wonder if this type of DAC setup would preclude the use of the wireless Carplay in this vehicle?
 
I wonder if this type of DAC setup would preclude the use of the wireless Carplay in this vehicle?
I believe you are correct in your assessment. CarPlay is wireless connection between your phone and the head unit. But you could bypass CarPlay by using a DAC with USB output, as KJD mentioned. You’ll get better sound but you sacrifice functionality. Not sure if this is acceptable even for me lol.
 
I believe you are correct in your assessment. CarPlay is wireless connection between your phone and the head unit. But you could bypass CarPlay by using a DAC with USB output, as KJD mentioned. You’ll get better sound but you sacrifice functionality. Not sure if this is acceptable even for me lol.
If the output is USB, then where is the D/A actually happening?
 
If the output is USB, then where is the D/A actually happening?
I’m no techno/audio geek, and I’m not gonna say I’m right on this…a DAC stands for digital to analog converter. So it’s reasonable to assume that the mobile DAC will convert digital audio (from phone) into analog sound. From there it goes via audio cable to the Aux port. But Instead of using audio cable, we use USB instead and we plug into USB port. Knowledgeable stereo peeps feel free to chime in to clarify if I get anything wrong.
 
Just to point out that there’s no 3.5mm aux input in the Emira, only USBs.
So you’ll need a DAC with USB output.

That's not possible though. DAC = Digital to Analog Converter. If the music is converted into analog, the analog signal can't be carried over USB since USB is a digital connection. If there is no AUX input in the Emira, then it cannot benefit from a simple DAC like this.

The only possibility is to add a DAC after the head unit by interfacing with its A2B bus. I though that might have been what's been referenced when talking about adding a DAC.
 

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