I agree. With some adjusting, I think the Maverick sounds good. It's not awesome, but it's 10x better than my old Elantra. It's definitely louder, but I do hear some vibration in the site panels when it goes to 11.I hear a lot on these forums and reviews about the Maverick's stock 6-speaker sound system - rarely is any of it positive. So as a guy who is something of a frugal audiophile, I'm going to give some of my thoughts on the Mav's sound system.
A few caveats:
1. I never use Bluetooth. I'm not sure if it's the codec, but audio over Bluetooth has noticeable distortion and digital artifacts. I always run my audio from my iPhone 11 to the stereo using USB-C and through the Apple Music app over Apple CarPlay. I typically use mp3s and occasionally Apple encoded AAC files. YMMV if you're using a different audio source or file formats.
2. I'm a rock/alternative/metal fan, which are genres that are usually very mid-forward in instrumentation. My thoughts probably won't apply to some other, more bass-heavy genres.
3. Almost all of my 25,000 miles in my Mav have been spent listening to music, so the speakers should be broken in. Speakers are made from paper and glue - which are fibrous and adhesive, so play time can "wear in" a speaker by loosening those stiffer materials.
4. I don't have any scientific analysis to give you. Sure, I could get in a number of cars, run pink noise through the system and capture them in stereo using a high quality mic and pre-amp and then use a frequency analyzer to give you an exact reading of what frequency ranges are strongest and weakest at ear level in the driver's seat. And while that would be super cool and fun to do, it's also something I don't have the time for at the moment.
On with the background:
My Mav was just in the dealership for the air bag recall and they, surprisingly, handed me the keys to a brand new loaded 2023 Ford Escape ST with all the goodies to drive in the meantime. Nice car; glad to have my truck back. Anyway, it had the premium B&O sound system in it, so of course I spun some tunes in it.
This isn't the first time I've driven a car with an "upgraded" sound system in it. I've had Bose, Sony, and JBL systems, and the Escape's is definitely one of the better ones I've used. With that said, I think it's a toss-up between the Sony in my 2011 Ford Fusion and - surprisingly - the stock six-speaker system in my 2012 Toyota Camry as to which one is "best."
Crash course in audio: sound is caused by pressure waves in the air moving at different speeds, or frequencies. The head unit is supposed to deliver a pristine audio signal and the amplification power necessary for the speaker to move back and forth and create those pressure waves. Most systems are able to deliver audio frequencies between 20 hertz and 20,000 hertz (or 20khz), both values of which are usually well beyond the audible spectrum for almost everyone. The lower the frequency (the fewer hertz), the lower the note. The higher the frequency (the more hertz), the higher the note. Of course, music is rarely one single, pure note; but a combination of notes from multiple instruments and voices with many "harmonics" and "overtones" creating the sound ("overtones" are the reason why one note played on a violin will sound different from the same note played on a piano, for instance). Generally, a well-mixed song won't overemphasize any one frequency range over another unless a specific situation calls for it.
Audio systems, on the other hand, don't often play by those rules - "critical listening" devices like studio monitors or flat-response speakers give an accurate representation of the music played through them, but tend to sound "flat," "lifeless," or "boring" to most listeners. Thus, most "premium" audio systems - particularly in cars - will overemphasize the lowest and highest frequencies, leading to a "mid-scooped" or "V-shape" sound (so named because the mids are "scooped" out of the frequency range, making a "v-shape" on a frequency analyzer). This is not necessarily a bad thing - "sub-bass" frequencies are ones that are often more felt than they are heard, and a crisp high treble can really bring out the subtleties in cymbals, horns, or high notes in a guitar solo, for instance. A "mid-scooped" sound usually has the effect of making a recording sound "bigger" at the expense of the loss of midrange clarity. A "mid-boosted" sound, on the other hand, will typically highlight mid-forward instruments such as acoustic and electric guitars and most vocals at the expense of sounding "smaller," or "boxier." But let's face it - that V-shape sound profile is just plain fun. It's a quick way to feel like you're at a concert. Everything sounds big, distant, and you really can feel the bass.
The stock Maverick system doesn't do that - at least not well. I had to add just a touch of treble and bass to the mix from the audio settings to make audio sound a bit more open. Note: it also helps to fade the music back towards the back just a touch - since the speakers are mounted so high, they project more directly towards the driver's ears. Yes, your listening position relative to a speaker has a dramatic effect on what you hear - ask anyone who's ever tried to mic up a guitar speaker and they'll tell you that a 5-degree angle will fundamentally change the tonality of the recording. Still, the stock Maverick system just doesn't really do a good "V-shape" profile without sounding compressed and fake (and likewise, most premium car audio systems won't do a flatter, more neutral sound without sounding artificial). Nothing can replace having multiple speakers of different sizes and crossovers feeding each of them the specific frequency range that they're able to best replicate. But what the stock Mav system does so well is that mid-forward, "boxy" sound.
Having listened to some particularly gnarly metalcore in the Escape, I was immediately struck by just how much punchier and "heavy" the rhythm guitars sounded in the Mav. I could feel every kick drum beat in the Escape and hear that satisfying treble "click" of the drum pedal connecting with the bass drum, but the guitars and vocals were kind of a blur that felt distant and indistinct. Again - cool sound; it definitely sounds more "live" that way. But the Mav was much better at reproducing the pick attack and "crackle" of the distorted guitars, even if the cymbals were a little soft in the treble range and I couldn't feel the kick drum and bass. Additionally, with the moonroof open, I felt like the "boxy" sound of the Mav's system made it a lot easier to hear over the wind noise than the Escape's. Is the stock Maverick system "better," then? Well, it depends on your taste, but I'd argue that for driving, then yes. It is.
Ultimately, if I wanted a "big" audio experience, I would rather have it in my nice quiet living room with my relatively inexpensive 5.1 Vizio sound system. It's got a very pronounced V-shaped sound to it and sounds absolutely huge - which is particularly good for movies and games, as well. For a vehicle in motion creating wind, road, and engine noise, that mid-forward sound actually lets me better hear the vast majority of the frequency range where my music sits at a lower volume and still enjoy it. With the engine off and parked - yes, the Escape's B&O system is better. But how often do I sit perfectly still inside a vehicle and listen to music?
So with a little tweaking and some care as to what to source to use with the stock system, I think the Maverick actually sounds great, if not fantastic. Certainly better than the stock system in many other cars I've driven. I still think other cars can offer a happier medium between the two extremes (That 2011 Ford Fusion's Sony system, though!). So before you go try to find a way to change that system, give the Mav's stock system a chance, and over time, you might come to enjoy its sound too.