I’ve taken delivery of our EU-spec’d XC90 Momentum in November ’17 and am actually VERY happy with the car. With one exception - the audio system quality. Our previous car, a 2013 Audi Q7 had a Bose sound system and during the purchase process, I was considering getting the Volvo B&W package but ultimately decided against it. I wished Volvo had a “mid-tier” option like Audi had the Bose (vs the top-end Bang Olufsen system) because I just couldn’t justify spending 3300Eur on audio only. I thought the standard system with a subwoofer option would be good enough for me. It wasn’t.
Quite early after the car came, I was underwhelmed by the sound and kept adjusting and readjusting the EQ settings. The bass and mid-range were not too bad, but to my ears, the system lacked clarity and space in the top end of sound spectrum. I gave myself 3 months to make sure it’s not just a matter of adjusting to a different sound profile. It wasn’t. At that stage, If I could have refitted the B&W option and paid the full price, I probably would’ve. I even asked the dealership here about it - and they told me it’s not possible. Knowing what I know today, I understand why Volvo would say it’s “not possible.” Also, for too many reasons to list here, trading in the car for another (higher-spec’d one) is not an option.
As I’ve upgraded audio systems in my previous cars and like a bit of challenge, I set out on a project - to upgrade the audio system in my XC90 as close to B&W as possible. As I’ve seen a few other folks asking about this here, here is what I’ve done:
STAGE 1 - SPEAKERS:
There are 19 designated spots for speakers in XC90, with 11 installed in my version. Each door has space for 3 components (tweeter, mid and woofer) which shouldn’t be too hard to replace with aftermarket units, but the tweeters and mids are mounted on the removable door panels. For each, there are 2(3) spots for mounting clips and screws in specific locations so this might be quite challenging to replicate. To keep things simple, I decided to replace the standard speakers with the B&W parts, starting with the front doors. I was curious to see how much this would improve the sound.
Here are comparison photos, the B&W speakers (left) vs the standard ones.
This is a very simple upgrade, as the B&W speakers are exactly the same size, and in the same mounting location. It’s maybe a 30-minute job. The B&W components are substantially heavier, using higher quality membranes and the woofers also quite a bit deeper. I also wanted to reuse the original speakers from the front doors and install in the rear. I later found it’s not doable so easily, as the mid and high locations are not wired in the rear doors (you simply have no connectors to hook the speakers up to.)
The result with the new speakers in the front door? Only very slightly better. I certainly wouldn’t recommend doing this stage on it's own, as you simply don’t get much bang for your buck.
STAGE 2 - AMP:
My next step was to upgrade the amplifier. I considered going the aftermarket route, but again decided against it. The Sensus head unit is connected to the amp (or as Volvo calls it the AUD) via fiberoptic cables creating a MOST network, and all sound is submitted digitally, as data. In order to “read” this the amp has to not only have a fiberoptic input but also understand the protocol used by Sensus MOST. I’ve done my research and found Volvo used the same concept in previous gen XC90. In those, one could use an aftermarket “converter” that would connect to the MOST network and output analogue sound which could be hooked up to any regular amplifier. Or one could find an aftermarket amp that would connect to fibre MOST directly (i.e. Audison) I enquired directly with Audison and found out they don’t support SPA-based XC90… I couldn’t identify any other viable aftermarket alternative that would work well. So I sourced a spare B&W amp and hooked that up, to see how it would or wouldn’t work with the head unit. And it worked! The head unit obviously recognised the new amp as it even changed the EQ from 5-bar to 9-bar and all controls (on, off etc.) worked fine. Physically, both amps are exactly the same and use the same wiring connectors, so this should’ve been an easy project as well. In fact it’s not, since the non-B&W and B&W cars use very different speaker wiring… Leading me to:
STAGE 3 - WIRING:
This is not documented anywhere I could find (including VIDA) so hopefully someone else will find it useful. The amp which came with my car is part of what is referred to as “High Performance Audio” in Volvo service manuals. It uses the rightmost connector to connect 2 wires to each of the doors low frequency speakers. In the front doors, also the high and mid frequency speakers are hooked up to these 2 wires (attached at the woofer speaker connector.) The same connector is also used for 2 wires to the subwoofer (in the trunk.) The left (larger) connector has 4 wires attached that connect left and right speakers in the cargo area (in the ceiling.)
As can be seen in the photo, this is quite different in the B&W version.
The biggest difference are the door speakers - where 2 wires from the right connector still connect the woofers, but 2 different wires connect the mid- and high-tone speakers directly from the amp (from the left connector.) This wiring is part of the main vehicle harness, which is uniquely manufactured in the factory for each car based on its options, and IMHO is the main reason why Volvo would not offer this as a retrofit. This was the most difficult part of my project - running new wires from the amp under the passenger seat to each of the doors and to the dashboard (for the center speaker.) I wanted for the install to be as clean as possible and also wanted to keep the door panels easily removable (as they are meant by Volvo.)
Originally, I wanted to tap into the wiring connectors between the car body and the doors, but was unable to do so for 2 reasons:
1) Both front and rear door connectors are OEM restricted to Volvo and their manufacturers (Deplhi and TE) are unable to disclose any tech details so I couldn’t identify what pins/sockets need to be added. 2) I could try to get the right ones by trial/error but to fit them into the connectors (at the main body end) would be extremely difficult due to very limited space.
Because of this, I simply ran the new wires around the connectors, making it the only place where the new wires are actually visible (but still quite stealthy.)
In the front doors, I simply disconnected the mid- and high-tone wiring and connected to the new wire. In the rear doors, I bought new wiring harnesses from Volvo which include the mid- and high-tone wiring (they were non-existent in my car) and connected these to the new wires. While at it, I also installed acoustic foam on the inside of all 4 door panels to make sure there are no squeaks or rattles. Since the plastic trim panels in my rear doors didn’t have openings for the tweeters I replaced them by ones that did (with the nice aluminium B&W grills.)
STAGE 4 - CENTER:
To complete the system, I also added the “tweeter-on-top” center speaker and the respective speaker grille. As described in the previous section a new wire had to be installed to connect to the amp, but I did so at the same time when working on the front right door (glovebox removed etc.) which made it fairly easy.
It’s night and day. I listen to a wide variety of music, and all of it sounds just so much better than before. How close is to factory-installed B&W? I can’t really say, as I don’t have a reference. My system is missing the right head unit software (and will never get it as Volvo would have to approve) so there are no “premium sound experience” settings (studio, concert hall etc.) but the sound can be tweaked through the balance and EQ well.
So if you’re considering whether to get the B&W option or not, I wholeheartedly recommend doing so. But if you already have an XC90 that doesn’t have one, and are not happy with just the sound system, you can still upgrade to something much better. And depending on how cheap you can source the speakers/amp (I bought them used) it doesn’t have to be too costly.
If in the process you get stuck or have questions about my install, let me know and I’ll try to help.
I love how the system sounds now, however I’d still like more deep bass. The subwoofer in my car is still the non-B&W type and although I can hear it, I’d like it to sound bolder. This might be due to the lower quality original speaker, the software EQ being confused or something else. Instead of replacing it with the B&W part I’m considering using the existing subwoofer output and hooking up an aftermarket mono amp with a subwoofer box, possibly utilising the space under the floor. We’ll see and if I do so I’ll post the results here.