The world is flying by as I sit behind the wheel of a Porsche 911. Everything looks so colorful. Oh, and what glorious sound! A victim of sensory overload, I close my eyes, and my hands fall from the wheel.

Don't worry. The 911 is parked in a hotel conference room in Memphis. The stream of images in front of me are on a screen propped on the hood. It's for effect — an exhilarating way to illustrate the outlandish capabilities of the new 225-watt Bose sound system in the 2002 911.

The press kit says how proud Bose is for customizing a sound package that produces nothing but crisp highs and chest-thumping lows. There is no distortion, even at full volume, the kit says. Yeah, right. I want noise — that hissing of protest that screams from your speakers when you push the auditory envelope too far.

First, the music is soothing — a classical arrangement. If I turn it up, I can practically feel the bow coursing across the violin's strings. Crank it up, and it's as if I can see two pursed lips blowing into a flute. The visuals turn bucolic, and I could swear that a swarm of crickets has invaded the 911 as the volume twists clockwise again.

When waves start crashing on the beach, it reminds me of the Who's “Quadro-phenia,” and that inspires a volume spin that would make Pete Townshend proud. Epiphany comes, my eyelids fall and I suddenly realize what it would be like to surf in a 911. The music starts again, and, thanks to the sub-woofer over my shoulder, it feels like my 5-year-old is sitting behind me, kicking the back of my seat with all his might. No distortion.

Fancy cars and sweet sound systems go together like Jagger and Richards — you don't want one without the other. Several times while road testing the 911, I shut off the stereo to hear the world-class 3.6L engine, which makes its own music.

Of the vehicles produced in North America for the U.S. in 2000, 2.4% had optional premium sound with graphic equalizers for optimal signal processing, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank. More than 7% of vehicles had name-brand audio systems from companies such as Bose, JBL and Alpine. Delphi Automotive Systems' Monsoon audio and Visteon Corp.'s Mach brand names also are making inroads.

The imports — thanks to luxury cars — show a much greater penetration of upscale sound systems. In 2000, a not-too-shabby 57% of new imports sold in the U.S. were equipped with name brand audio systems and CD players.

The premium sound segment has been growing recently, so it will be interesting to see if that trend can continue through a recession. On the 911, the optional Bose system is package priced at $3,240, including Bi-Xenon headlamps. If you can afford a 911 in these troubled times, you can afford a great stereo.

After my religious experience in the 911, I get a call from Visteon to try out their new Mach 1000 audio system in a Mustang SVT Cobra. Gladly, I say.

There is little comparison between the Mach 1000 and the 911 Bose system. The Mach 1000 has 10 speakers, the Bose 12. Mach produces 1,000 watts of power — four times the output of the Bose in the 911. The Bose has one amplifier — Mach has six (more weight, too). During my Mustang test drive, a marching band was playing by the side of the road while I stopped at a traffic light, with the top down. I never heard it.

What Bose lacks in power it makes up in refinement. The acoustics inside the 911 are excellent, so its cabin is better suited for clean sound. The Mach sounds great, too, and my ears would bleed before I'd hear any distortion, thanks to digital signal processing. But the Bose simply sounds better, perhaps due to the Mustang's aging muscle car interior. It appears Mach is catering to hearing-impaired adolescents who want the world to know their musical tastes, including neighbors eight blocks away.

And Mach certainly beats Bose on price. On the 2002 Mustang, Mach will be optioned at $1,000, says one dealer.

Who'd pay such a price? My g-g-generation.

Listen to Tom Murphy and other Ward's editors Monday and Thursday on WJR 760 AM radio in Detroit.
tmurphy@primediabusiness.com