A 2025 Infiniti QX80 during the 2024 New York International Auto Show. (Gabby Jones/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

(CNN) -- 

Sometimes it can be awkward to take a phone call while driving and your family is in the car with you. If you are listening to music, it will turn off and everyone will stop to listen to what someone wants to tell you on the phone.

Infiniti, Nissan's luxury vehicle division, just revealed a feature on its new full-size SUV that allows everyone else in the vehicle to continue listening to whatever they want while the driver takes a phone call, without the need for headphones. Only the driver can hear the conversation and the person on the other end of the call cannot hear the music playing in the SUV.

It's the latest trick in the increasingly competitive world of luxury car sound systems. Today, there is hardly any luxury car company that doesn't upgrade its high-end audio system with brands like Burmeister on Mercedes-Benz, McIntosh on the opulent Jeep Grand Wagoneer SUV and Bang & Olufson on Bentley and Genesis automobiles, among others. For Klipsch, famous for its high-end hand-crafted speakers, this is only the second appearance in a vehicle. The $87,000 Ram Tungsten luxury pickup truck has a Klipsch stereo as standard equipment, but it doesn't even have Infiniti's high-tech sound isolation system.

  • SUV and pickup truck drivers more likely to be involved in fatal crashes with pedestrians, study finds

The QX80's system, developed by Infiniti together with Panasonic Automotive and Klipsch, works through a combination of intelligent speaker placement and sound cancellation technology. Both the driver and front passenger seats have headrest-mounted speakers. That's not a new idea, but headrest speakers are typically found in convertibles where music, phone calls and navigation instructions have to overcome wind noise. They are not typically found in large, quiet luxury vehicles like the Infiniti QX80.

Sound cancellation technology, in simpler forms, is not new either. It generally works by using speakers to create offset sound waves to muffle unwanted sounds. If you imagine sound waves as one line going up and down, then imagine overlaying it with a second line going up and down in exactly opposite directions, you would end up with, essentially, a flat band. In other words, no sound.

advertising

Inside a 2025 Infiniti QX80 during the 2024 New York International Auto Show. (Gabby Jones/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Sound cancellation in headphones and car stereos is typically used to eliminate continuous background sounds and hums, such as engine noise. It's much more difficult with sounds like music, which changes a lot from moment to moment.

Instead of simply relying on microphones to pick up sounds from the air, the optional Klipsch stereo in the 2025 QX80 reads the digital music track being played (as it does when playing it, anyway) and can use it to create sound waves. compensated from Speakers around the driver's seat. This creates a silent bubble around the driver, so only the driver can hear a phone call or navigation directions coming through the headrest speakers, while others in the vehicle can listen to loud music. Meanwhile, the person on the other end of the phone call won't hear the music at all. For them, it will be like talking to someone in a quiet room.

The redesigned QX80 won't go on sale until next year, so I tested the system on a QX80 parked inside a building in Manhattan. A party with a live singer nearby created a rather loud atmosphere outside the van.

I sat in the passenger seat of the new SUV while Panasonic executive Tom Dunn took a phone call from the driver's seat. Pop music was playing on the stereo. He could hear Dunn talking, but the voice on the other end sounded, at first, like a quiet, intermittent hum. Then Dunn lowered the volume of the call slightly and the other voice disappeared completely, covered by the country music.

I then got out of the truck and walked over to where an Infiniti spokesperson was talking on the phone about 20 feet away. I took his phone and talked to Dunn. I could hear Dunn talking to me but not the music still playing in the car.

Headrest-mounted speakers are a critical ingredient in the privacy-protecting stereo of the Infiniti QX80. (Infiniti)

At the beginning of the demo, I had already taken a call from the driver's seat while music was playing, but I thought that was, relatively speaking, the easy part. I had to rely on Dunn, who was then in the passenger seat, to tell me that he couldn't hear the person calling me. It was much stranger to be in the passenger seat later and not be able to hear the call. It was really disconcerting to be on the phone outside and not hear the music I knew was playing inside the vehicle.

The call masking feature only works if music is playing on the stereo. If there is no music playing, other people in the SUV will have to listen to your call, but it will be quieter than in most other vehicles.

And everyone will have to listen to the driver speak anyway. But, if your call involves something embarrassing, you can make sure to always answer "Yes" and "No" to everything. Your secrets will be safe.

sound