Kia's next-gen car audio technology will let each passenger listen to their own music without headphones

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It's a familiar argument for families. Dad wants to listen to a podcast, mom has her favorite pop station, and the kids want to hear the same Disney song over and over again. The right move is usually a compromise for the kids' tastes or headphones for anyone who isn't driving.

Now Kia is working on a new type of car audio system that will give everyone what they want, and it doesn't rely on headphones to make it work.

It's called Separated Sound Zone technology, and it's set to power Kia's car audio systems in the near future. The system works by isolating acoustic fields, which is essentially the same way noise-canceling headphones operate. In the car, the speakers in the SSZ system create separate acoustic zones that allow for a passenger to listen to something totally from what the driver is hearing.

Occupants can connect their smarphones via Bluetooth and listen to what they like in their zones. Incoming phone conversations won't be heard by others. Any driver-specific alerts, such as navigation instructions or safety chimes, will only be heard in the driver's audio zone.

It works through a combination of many speakers placed all throughout the car, which increase or decrease sound waves. As they do this, the separate audio zones are formed and everyone in the car can smile because they don't need to listen to music they don't like. At the same time, normal social interaction isn't affected.

Kia says it's been developing this technology since 2014. A completed, production ready system will be available for automotive installation within one to two years. Despite the fact that this sounds like science fiction, Kia is clearly ready to make it happen.

We can't wait to test it for ourselves to see just how well it cordons off the various zones. A little speed metal on one side of the car might overpower a bit of jazz on the other side. And if you have to sit in the rear middle seat, do you wind up hearing a bit of everything?

We will see within the next couple of years.

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