By Douglas Newcomb: A former public relations employee at Ford recently told me that when the automaker was considering adding Sony as a premium-brand sound system, it found out that 80 percent of people it surveyed said they owned a Sony product. I doubt that many people own a Fender guitar, but the brand has obvious appeal — a key reason why Volkswagen has included it on cars such as the 2014 Passat SEL Premium I recently tested.


But like other name-brand OEM sound systems, thePassat’s Fender premium audio system is just that — a brand. The actual components are from Panasonic. According to a Panasonic Automotive Systems representative, Fender was involved with tuning the system. 


Regardless of the name, it sounds great and is standard on the Passat SEL Premium. And Panasonic — not Fender — has a secret weapon in its tuning arsenal by the name of Natan Budiono.

As lead tuner for the Fender systems, Budiono is not only a staff engineer at Panasonic Automotive Systems and a car electronics veteran, he’s also a longtime “sound-off” competition champion based on his own hand-built audio systems. (Another great sounding Panasonic OEM audio product, ELS in Acura vehicles, was tuned by Grammy award-winning producer Elliot Scheiner.)


What’s also impressive about the Fender system is that it consists of only nine speakers powered by 400 watts. Unlike a lot of systems of lesser quality that have double-digit speaker counts and 1,000-watts-plus of amplification, the Passat’s Fender system shows that sometimes less is more. Whether it’s a Fender audio system or guitar, it’s all a matter of proper tuning.