Music Features And A $6300 Audio Upgrade Package
Audi takes an interesting approach to I/O in the A8L. There is no USB or auxiliary input. And normally, this is where we'd start complaining about a lack of connectivity. But Audi gives us a suitable alternative in the form of SD card slots. The company exposes a pair of them, accessible behind a flip-down flap that also hides a SIM card slot and DVD player. I'm a big fan of SD storage because the cards are small and a lot easier to conceal than a USB drive or iPod. And because MP3s don't require much bandwidth, any SD card you have laying around will work for storing music in the A8L.
With that said, we still expect USB connectivity, particularly in a car this expensive. SD slots are nice, but USB is also useful for charging the battery of a depleted smartphone. In 2014, it's really a must-have feature.
Navigating the contents of an SD card using Audi's interface is easy using familiar folder and artist views. The control knob is both ergonomic and fast, getting you to the song you want to hear quickly. It's similarly well-suited to jumping between radio stations. You may need to acclimate to the lack of dedicated presets. Instead, Audi exposes a list of favorite stations that can be scrolled through. Fortunately, the A8L's steering wheel controls are excellent for cruising through your top picks.
Bang & Olufsen's $6300 Upgrade Package
Audi offers a Bang & Olufsen sound system for the hefty price of $6300. You get an upgraded 19-speaker sound system with 1400 watts of combined power. As with most liberally-specified sound systems, those 19 speakers count every driver individually.
The high-end package does include a pair of motorized tweeters that pop out of the dash every time you start the A8L. They have B&O's signature design and look very nice.
You wouldn't catch me spending $500 on headphones and another $500 for a matching amp, or thousands of dollars on the pieces of a home theater. At the same time, I've heard plenty of high-end automotive sound systems, including custom setups built by my friends at German Audio Specialties. I was really excited about listening to Audi's B&O-sourced configuration, and I imagined it'd sound amazing given such an extreme price tag.
But I was wrong. The upgrade package did not live up to my expectations. Its tweeters sounded great, punctuated by excellent detail and clarity. But the mid and low range lacked substance, almost sounding muddy. Just to be sure I hadn't created unrealistic expectations, I had the same group of friends at German Audio Specialties audition the A8L, and they came to the same conclusion.
Talk about a major disappointment, given such high hopes. But Audi's B&O option just falls short. If you're on the fence about spending $6300 for better sound in this car, skip it and consider something aftermarket if you really need an upgrade.