Lexus wants you to know that its IS 350 F Sport sedan is still very much a thing by targeting one of the largest and most ubiquitous groups among car buyers: audiophiles. Lexus has debuted the IS WAX Edition concept to pry discerning music listeners up out of their Eames lounge chairs and onto the road.
The carmaker commissioned SCPS, an LA-based custom fabrication studio, for the creation of this rolling listening room. Though this is not something you’ll find on a Lexus lot now or probably ever. It’s a proof-of-concept car meant to show that a turntable can actually work in a moving vehicle. But when Lexus was busy wondering whether it would work, they never considered whether it should. Because, really, a car is just about the worst environment for vinyl.
Just look at this ill-advised vinyl player :
There is precedent for this, with carmakers offering in-dash record players starting in the mid 1950s with DeSoto, Dodge, and Plymouth. It fit in with the era that also saw built-in drinking sets in Cadillacs. Size constraints meant these cars stocked short-running 45s, and the distraction of having to flip a record ever four or five minutes while driving (coupled with the high costs of these systems) meant that it wasn’t long before car companies abandoned them and left us with radios and eight-tracks and tape decks and everything else.
There’s just so much about this thing I find troublesome, despite the good job SCPS did building it. Don Wertz, from SCPS Operations and Business Development, explained why the project was a challenge in a brief two-part documentary from Pitchfork that details the car’s creation.
Wertz says that the project presented “two major issues: one is the needle skipping, and two is the centrifugal and g-forces that are put on the motor that rotates the record itself.”
SCPS solved those two issues with some workarounds, among them a micro-adjustable tonearm, a stepper motor and a special silicone pad to dampen vibration. Lexus elaborates on the build from SCPS:
First, through trial and error, they were able to design a tonearm that put the exact right amount of pressure tension on the needle at all times. (If the pressure was too light, the needle would skip. If it was too much, it would smash the record.) Second, they used a rotating “stepper” motor that moved consistently throughout its full rotation, no matter the forces exerted on it. It did this by circling through some 200 “steps” in one rotation, essentially breaking down the larger movement into tiny precise ones.
But even if this turntable works flawlessly and is somehow not susceptible to all the vibrations a 3,800 pound machine traveling at 80 miles per hour produces, there’s more issues to consider.
Driver focus for starters. How am I supposed to flip the vinyl If I’m driving? What about when the album ends? Am I supposed to lift the needle or does it lift itself? Am I supposed to let my two-dollar copy of Bruce Hornsby and the Range get scratched up if I can’t reach over to the glove compartment when I’m on the highway?
What about vinyl storage? Am I schlepping a milk crate in my fancy Lexus, or are my vinyls strewn about the cabin, melting in the heat of the sun and prone to bending from all of the other cargo?
Look, vinyl is cool. It’s a physical medium that’s beloved and some people argue it sounds awesome but it’s not exactly a hands-off deal. When I’m driving, I’d rather my hands be on the wheel and attention be on the road. I don’t personally spin vinyl for fear of the complexity and care it demands. I can appreciate it but I can tell you confidently a car is not where it belongs.
Sure, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious, but it’s not even the novelty of having a functioning turntable in a glove compartment that gets me. I just want to see the dedicated PHONO button on the dash. If there isn’t one, and I’m forced to toggle through a source button then what the hell is the point?