Judging audio systems as a car reviewer is a tricky business. Even if my colleagues and I have listened to hundreds (if not thousands) of audio systems over the years, we are not audio professionals. There are people whose job it is to be those audio professionals, and we should listen to them.
But! There are also people like me. I don’t have that professional ear, but I’ve had the privilege of listening to the best premium sound systems in the industry and have always been obsessed with high-quality audio, be it in a car, home theater or through headphones. And I’ve come to see one sound system as the holy grail of car audio: the McIntosh 23 speaker system in the 2022 Jeep Grand Wagoneer.
Yes, this article gets the opinion tag, because this is strictly an opinion. Some audiophiles may perform professional and instrumented testing to determine which is truly the “best”. However, most of us just want a system that sounds as incredible as the price we pay for it. For me, the new McIntosh system is untouchable.
If you like high-end home audio, you know McIntosh. They are among the best in the industry and have been in business for over 70 years. Not only that, but McIntosh is an American company and the gear is made in America. Pairing with Jeep to put its system in a car that literally carries an American flag on its flanks just makes sense. This is also McIntosh’s first foray into the car in a long time, as the last full car system was in the Ford GT of the 2000s. That car was more about the sound of its rumbling V8. This time, McIntosh is all about impressing luxury buyers in a six-figure Jeep.
I was able to listen to the Grand Wagoneer’s audio system in a controlled environment at the Chicago Auto Show last year, and while I was extremely impressed, I wanted to wait until I had a chance to listen to it in a finished car while I over a highway to make any declarations. But before we get to the in-car audio driving impressions, I managed to chat with McIntosh CEO Jeff Poggi about how this system came about and what McIntosh is bringing to the table.
“So we took this prototype car and brought it to Detroit,” said Poggi. “It was in a Jeep Grand Cherokee, and we brought a system like this, a two-channel Mcintosh audio system, installed it in a room, and we sat down with Sergio Marchionne, Ralph Gilles and Harold Wester. We gave them the demo, so this is what we do in two channel audio, this is what we can do in a car, we think this could be a really interesting brand match.”
And just like that, Jeep joined in. At the time (more than four years ago), McIntosh didn’t realize it was getting into the Grand Wagoneer project, but all FCA executives knew that this crazy audio system was its first true luxury vehicle. Over the years, Poggi said, Jeep has really embraced McIntosh as a brand and had them run the project.
“Everything in this audio system was designed specifically for this experience in this vehicle,” Poggi told us. “And they were super partners. They really allowed us to put the products where we wanted for the best acoustics, giving us all the capabilities we needed to give that goosebumps experience you can get, and we’ve got the key McIntosh technologies from home to brought the car, it was important for us to make it really authentic.”
When I finally got into the new Grand Wagoneer for a seven-day test with this 23-speaker, 1375-watt system, my feelings of the Chicago Auto Show were confirmed. The range of songs it was able to play with wonderful accuracy and control was unparalleled. Challenge it with jaw-dropping bass like you’d find in AWOLNATION’s “Sail,” and there’s no hint of distortion or dip in quality. Start a more delicate track with details you know only come through with great audio equipment, and the clarity and control are amazing. Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” was epic – the guitar just surrounds you and the lyrics add to the feeling of warmth throughout the stage. I really couldn’t find a single track that caused problems for this audio system. And just as a set of new headphones or speakers can do, listening to many of my favorite songs was almost a new experience. I just wanted to keep listening to more and more songs to hear how this audio system would elevate them.
And before you think this audio system is just some fancy speakers with the McIntosh name on them, Poggi explained how this system uses the core technology of McIntosh’s mega-expensive home systems. Poggi has described for us two of the most impactful technologies: Low Distortion/High Performance (a unique engine design) and Power Guard (a limiting software).
“So in the speaker you have a magnet and a coil,” Poggi said. “And that’s the basic motion of how a speaker moves back and forth, putting electricity through the windings to move the magnet, and we have a special design patent around that motor design that allows us to push higher sound pressure levels out of that transducer to give us really, really low distortion. That’s the core of McIntosh. We want to give you the most impact, the most dynamic range with no distortion, coloration, none of that.”
You can turn the volume up as high as you dare in the Grand Wagoneer, and those speakers will play with you, as Poggi says, without any distortion or loss of quality. This check can also be attributed to the following McIntosh tech Poggi detailed: Power Guard.
“Power Guard is basically a restrictive software we developed that ensures that the amplifier never overdrives the speakers, causing problems,” Poggi said. “You don’t want the amp pushing too hard and the speakers breaking with distortion, so there’s a hallmark in the amp, a red light, and when the Power Guard is on, the red light comes on in the amp. The Jeep team even went to extremes, and we not only put Power Guard in the vehicle’s amplifier, but then implemented the red light on the user interface so that you as a consumer can really see when the Power Guard is on.”
That’s really great stuff for an audiophile. This attention to detail extends elsewhere in the Grand Wagoneer’s cabin. The door speaker grilles are illuminated in McIntosh’s signature blue. Green McIntosh logos are visible as branding and the speakers feature the same aluminum finish found on the company’s home audio equipment. Even the volume knob is designed to mimic the tuning knobs on McIntosh systems.
And then there’s the user interface in the Grand Wagoneer’s large infotainment system, which takes it one step further. You can open a screen showing the sound meters if you’re extra nerdy like me.
Not only is the classic two-channel stereo sound quality the best, but also the software with features such as 3D surround sound is masterfully tuned. The cabin of the great Grand Wagoneer is in fact transformed into a glorious concert hall as the music bounces around you in such a natural and correct way. There are plenty of audio systems that offer gimmicky surround sound, but McIntosh’s system doesn’t fall into that category. It’s so much better.
Whatever kind of car I was driving—at a stoplight or on the highway—the McIntosh system in the Grand Wagoneer provided the best car audio I’ve ever heard. The price of admission is steep with the 23-speaker system only standard on the Obsidian and the premium Grand Wagoneer Series III (optional on Series II as part of a $3,995) package, but I don’t think there’s anything even remotely like it. close to this Jeep in price ($109,025 as tested) can provide a superior audio experience. However, the arms race of premium sound continues to pick up steam and I’m excited to see what comes next.