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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Has anyone had a chance to listen to the new upgraded stereo? From a specs standpoint, its listed as having a 1200W amplifier and Clari-Fi technology. That's a more powerful amp than the Lexus RX provides with the ML sound system. I'm curious if the new JBL system is a significant improvement over the outgoing model (which was horrible).
 

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Has anyone had a chance to listen to the new upgraded stereo? From a specs standpoint, its listed as having a 1200W amplifier and Clari-Fi technology. That's a more powerful amp than the Lexus RX provides with the ML sound system. I'm curious if the new JBL system is a significant improvement over the outgoing model (which was horrible).
Probably it's still horrible - judging by 1 review where reviewer specifically mentioned that fact after test driving 2020 Highlander. There were 2 of them actually in a car and both said they were surprised how bad JBL was. Worth mentioning that neither of them was an audiophile. Of course, that's just anecdotal opinion and we don't know if they even used a good source for music to begin with or it was based on some crappy radio signal.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Has anyone had any first hand impressions of the upgraded JBL audio system? I'm curious if it has well balanced sound between highs/lows/mids and if the speaker placement creates a true "surround sound" experience?
 

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For the HL, Toyota has an "Audio" system in the L, an "Audio Plus" system in the LE, and an "Audio Plus" or optional "Premium Audio" in the XLE. JBL in the higher trims. It's pretty amazing how few salespeople know any of this, but I digress. I listened to the "Audio" in the L today, and while it had a surprising amount of volume, it did not compare to my "Premium Audio" on my 2016 Prius. Has anyone listened to all of the choices? Does anyone know if there is any difference between the sound on these systems, or is it just feature differences? I don't even know how to find this out. Salespeople are obviously clueless. Writing to Toyota will get you someone who doesn't really know and will likely make up an answer (Lexus has given me false information when writing to them). Nothing is mentioned in YouTube videos, not that those people know anyway. I'm leaning to the XLE if either system available is adequate. The L is not adequate. I'll be listening for myself sometime this week but I'm curious if anyone else has done that.
 

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For the HL, Toyota has an "Audio" system in the L, an "Audio Plus" system in the LE, and an "Audio Plus" or optional "Premium Audio" in the XLE. JBL in the higher trims. It's pretty amazing how few salespeople know any of this, but I digress. I listened to the "Audio" in the L today, and while it had a surprising amount of volume, it did not compare to my "Premium Audio" on my 2016 Prius. Has anyone listened to all of the choices? Does anyone know if there is any difference between the sound on these systems, or is it just feature differences? I don't even know how to find this out. Salespeople are obviously clueless. Writing to Toyota will get you someone who doesn't really know and will likely make up an answer. Nothing is mentioned in YouTube videos, not that those people know anyway. I'm leaning to the XLE if either system available is adequate. The L is not adequate. I'll be listening for myself sometime this week but I'm curious if anyone else has done that.
It would be nice to know what your impression is of the "Premium Audio" option or even better if you could compare it to the JBL system if you get a chance. Its difficult to find much review feedback on it online. I guess the only way is to assess it yourself!
 

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Here's my take on this.

1. For casual radio listener - JBL will do. It's about same quality as you hear radio when you are shopping in Walmart and some background radio music is playing in the store from somewhere above. Basically it's crap.
2. Harmann Kardon (HK) is about same level as a usual conversation coming from TV in a quiet room. Probably the minimum one should get.
3. B&O - that's the level of when you are sitting in your room and listening to some mp3 song from $200 speakers. Noticeably better than HK, but nothing special.
4. B&W - now we are talking. That's like sitting in a studio and listen to a descent quality CD song coming from descent studio speakers.
 

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I'm not a professional sound person, but the speakers are a pretty big deal for me when buying a vehicle and I like to think I have a discerning ear. For every car that my wife and I have bought, the one "option" that was a must is the upgraded sound system. We have recently had an old Pioneer system in her old Equinox and a Bose in her 2019 CX5. I currently have a 2012 Traverse with the Bose system.

We are shopping 3rd row SUVs at the moment. We got in a Highlander Limited yesterday and test drove it. I've been pretty confident that I wanted a hybrid when they come out. However, the JBL system was beyond disappointing. I fooled with the equalizer (3 bands only? Are you serious?) a little bit but it didn't help much. I didn't sync my phone to listen to my own music, but moving through some XM stations, I found it was bad at everything. Underpowered bass that was muffled and unsupported. The mids were really disappointing. It felt flat lined with little definition. There was a total lack of clarity. The tops were not crisp or as splashy as I prefer no matter how high I raised the treble. I listened quickly to something acoustic and was really bummed at how the guitar picking was muddled and it was tough to hear the breaths of the singer (I love hearing that sort of thing).

I will give the Highlander another try with my phone synced using Apple Car Play. But it was so disappointing, I don't think I can handle driving a Highlander with that system for the next 5-8 years. For comparison sake, we had just sat in a Telluride earlier in the afternoon and the HK system sounded awesome. I didn't play with it much. Honestly, it immediately sounded so good, I felt fine with it and assumed all of these new cars would sounds about that good.

I actually think the JBL system was a significant step back from the Bose in my 2012 Traverse.
 

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I will check out both XLE systems and the JBL in a few days and report back. What I can say now is this. Premium Audio in 2016 Prius sounds much better than "Audio" in 2020 Highlander L, and JBL in 2019 RAV4 sounds better than my Prius' "Premium Audio." I don't want to pay for "Premium Audio with Dynamic Navigation" if "Audio Plus" sounds the same in the XLE.
 

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I think the move from "Audio Plus" to "Premium Audio" is just software to add built-in navigation. I'm not aware of any change in the output portion of the system.

When you move up to "Premium Audio with JBL", then you have a physical difference in the system with more speakers including a subwoofer and a different amp.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
I'm not a professional sound person, but the speakers are a pretty big deal for me when buying a vehicle and I like to think I have a discerning ear. For every car that my wife and I have bought, the one "option" that was a must is the upgraded sound system. We have recently had an old Pioneer system in her old Equinox and a Bose in her 2019 CX5. I currently have a 2012 Traverse with the Bose system.

We are shopping 3rd row SUVs at the moment. We got in a Highlander Limited yesterday and test drove it. I've been pretty confident that I wanted a hybrid when they come out. However, the JBL system was beyond disappointing. I fooled with the equalizer (3 bands only? Are you serious?) a little bit but it didn't help much. I didn't sync my phone to listen to my own music, but moving through some XM stations, I found it was bad at everything. Underpowered bass that was muffled and unsupported. The mids were really disappointing. It felt flat lined with little definition. There was a total lack of clarity. The tops were not crisp or as splashy as I prefer no matter how high I raised the treble. I listened quickly to something acoustic and was really bummed at how the guitar picking was muddled and it was tough to hear the breaths of the singer (I love hearing that sort of thing).

I will give the Highlander another try with my phone synced using Apple Car Play. But it was so disappointing, I don't think I can handle driving a Highlander with that system for the next 5-8 years. For comparison sake, we had just sat in a Telluride earlier in the afternoon and the HK system sounded awesome. I didn't play with it much. Honestly, it immediately sounded so good, I felt fine with it and assumed all of these new cars would sounds about that good.

I actually think the JBL system was a significant step back from the Bose in my 2012 Traverse.
Awesome feedback. Thanks for the writeup. My wife has a 2019 CX5 as well and the Bose system actually sounds very good to my ears. I had a feeling the Highlander w/ JBL would be lacking, it seems like its all marketing hype with the total wattage. Kind of a bummer.
 

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20 Ruby Platinum HL, 19 Lexus UX200, 17 Yaris iA
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Flame suit on....

After decades of driving, the sound of conversation is enough extra noise.

If your car choice is based on the sound system, then you might as well drive your living room.

If it is so so so important to you, just have the system upgraded by a real pro car audio company.

It was what was done for decades in the past.

I am carefully avoiding the distracted, un hearing, isolated from reality driving debate.

Flame suit tightly zipped up!
 

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LOL! @ Ruby Red's post!

Nothing more to add to this conversation, but totally agree with Ruby...if you're a serious audiophile, and the speaker system is the primary concern, you should look into the Bose Panray 34 speaker system that Cadillac puts in their cars if you want the best factory option available or upgrade with an after market system (which is a cheaper and easier option than you'd think; I've only had one car in 20+ years of driving that I haven't upgraded the sound system with aftermarket speakers, and I've always done the install myself).
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Flame suit on....

After decades of driving, the sound of conversation is enough extra noise.

If your car choice is based on the sound system, then you might as well drive your living room.

If it is so so so important to you, just have the system upgraded by a real pro car audio company.

It was what was done for decades in the past.

I am carefully avoiding the distracted, un hearing, isolated from reality driving debate.

Flame suit tightly zipped up!
To each his own. If I'm going to buy a Limited HL, I want to be sure the bells and whistles are on the premium side. Obviously the JBL system is average at best. Not many people buy a brand new $45 - $50k vehicle and pull it into a stereo shop for some high school dropouts to pull all the door panels, dash, and rear trim apart and hack away at the wiring, speaker mounts, etc. Coincidentally nearly all of Toyota's/Lexus sound systems are crap compared to their competitors and so I agree with others statements that buying a Toyota has very little to do with the quality of the sound system. It's too bad because for a few extra dollars they could easily improve it, but it's clearly a cost optimization area for them.
 

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Honestly, I think the JBL system is pretty nice. The treble was killing my ears though....I had to turn the mids all the way off to get that to go away. My Genesis had a 17 speaker lexicon....and the JBL is just as good to my ears. But I care more about audio in my living room then I do in my car. So, maybe I'm not the best judge.
 

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To each his own. If I'm going to buy a Limited HL, I want to be sure the bells and whistles are on the premium side. Obviously the JBL system is average at best. Not many people buy a brand new $45 - $50k vehicle and pull it into a stereo shop for some high school dropouts to pull all the door panels, dash, and rear trim apart and hack away at the wiring, speaker mounts, etc. Coincidentally nearly all of Toyota's/Lexus sound systems are crap compared to their competitors and so I agree with others statements that buying a Toyota has very little to do with the quality of the sound system. It's too bad because for a few extra dollars they could easily improve it, but it's clearly a cost optimization area for them.
This...Toyota stereos have been whatever, so if you want better, you just have to do take it to an audio shop.
 

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20 Ruby Platinum HL, 19 Lexus UX200, 17 Yaris iA
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Honestly, I think the JBL system is pretty nice. ...snip... But I care more about audio in my living room then I do in my car.
The system is fine for most normal (read not golden eared) people. While it is nice to listen to music, you need not have it playing to the point you lose your audible connection to the outside world. It is right up there with other forms of distracted driving. Ooopss there I go stepping up on my soap box.

So ya, worry about the acoustics of your house and pay attention to your driving.
 

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The system is fine for most normal (read not golden eared) people...
And then you have people like my wife who only listens to AM talk radio. Any system more elaborate than a battery operated transistor radio with a 1" speaker is going to be a waste. ;)
 

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Flame suit on....

After decades of driving, the sound of conversation is enough extra noise.

If your car choice is based on the sound system, then you might as well drive your living room.

If it is so so so important to you, just have the system upgraded by a real pro car audio company.

It was what was done for decades in the past.

I am carefully avoiding the distracted, un hearing, isolated from reality driving debate.

Flame suit tightly zipped up!
The way car companies are deeply integrating all the electronics, it's not clear to me if upgrades are even possible any more. I took a quick look at Crutchfield to see if there were any replacements for the 2019 HL. Units were listed but 2019 is still pre-apple and Android compatibility. It would be really helpful if others know much about this topic.
 
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