At HARMAN, music is not just what we do, it’s a huge part of who we are. To get an idea of how music influences HARMAN employees, we sat down with Natan Budiono, Senior Principal Acoustic Engineer, to discuss his passion for acoustics and how HARMAN has helped him do what he loves. Natan is an acoustician extraordinaire and thirteen-time champion at the prestigious International Auto Sound Challenge Association (IASCA) and United States Autosound Competition International (USACi) World Finals. Audio tuning is his passion, both at HARMAN and at home.

Q. When did you get into audio tuning?

A. Electronics and Car Audio have been my hobbies since I was young.  By the time I was 15 years old, I had already installed car sound systems in my parents’ new 1978 Honda Civic. When I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering Technology (BSEET) from the Milwaukee School of Engineering, I decided to open my own business specializing in high-end car audio with a concentration on car audio competitions, buildings and tunings.

Q. First off, what is a car audio competition?

A. There are several different types of car audio competitions, ranging from Sound Pressure Level (SPL) competition, Installation Competition, and Sound Quality Competition (SQC).

While Sound Pressure Level focuses on the loud bass, window-shattering systems, my concentration is in the Sound Quality Competition. SQC focuses on the sound quality and enjoyability of a sound system. Participants in the SQC part of the competition are judged on tonal balance, sound stage, imaging, ambiance, sound linearity, as well as system noise, ergonomics and other categories.

Q. What brings you back to Car Audio Championships?

A. I started getting involved in car audio competitions in 1991. My first entry into the competition was a system I built in my friend's car. We won all three of the IASCA events we participated in that year. After that, I was hooked and have been competing ever since.


Eventually, I started building an audio system in my own car – a 1989 Suzuki Swift GTi – which I still own. With my car, I was qualified to enter the 1995 IASCA World Finals in Dallas, Texas. That was my first World Finals event entry and I ended up finishing in 5th place. It was a great feeling, especially since it was my first time at that competition. Since 1995, I have qualified for the IASCA Finals every year with the exception of 2000 and 2001, due to my move from Milwaukee to Detroit. Moving to Michigan was great opportunity for me; I was able to work on various car audio systems for several OEM suppliers – which eventually led me to HARMAN, my dream job. At HARMAN, I lead tuning for Mark Levinson systems in Lexus vehicles, which are some of best-reviewed systems ever produced in-car. 

Q. What does it take to win the competition?

A. To me, it all comes down to passion. Passion has been the main driving tool in my career success. You have to fully commit and believe in yourself to finish on top. At every competition, especially at the Finals, I always came in with the mentality of "I must win". Of course, just wanting to win doesn’t make you win. Passion needs to also be accompanied by hard work. Basically, passion combined with dedication and hard work has been my strongest weapon in winning my competitions.

Q. How does this competition help you with your work at HARMAN?

A. Participating in this competition may sound like a hobby for some people, but I treat it as my job. I work to improve my skills, and I keep up with the latest improvements in car audio so I always know what I need to do to make it to the top. I tune car audio systems daily, but at almost every competition, I learn something new. I have continued to gain skills and knowledge that benefits my work at HARMAN. Further, attending these competitions has given me opportunities for additional interaction with customers. It makes me more flexible in fulfilling customer requests and more expert in understanding customers’ beliefs or directions. Another bonus: my competition win record gives me credentials that win customer respect and trust in my work results.

Q. Has working at HARMAN helped you win this competition in any way? If so, how?

A. Working at HARMAN, I have the ability to work on audio systems all year long. When it comes time for the competition, I try to improve the sound based on what I learned while tuning various HARMAN systems, such as the Mark Levinson systems in Lexus vehicles. Some on the competition circuit consider my work at HARMAN to be an unfair advantage. However, my responsibilities within HARMAN don’t allow much time to work on my competition car, so I guess it balances out in the end.

Q. What do you like best about what you do?

A. I like the challenge of creating the best audio system that meets the customer’s high expectations, even with limited resources. I like to achieve something that was unthinkable – and have the result be greater than expected.

Natan’s creativity, dedication and expertise in acoustics has greatly contributed to the successful installation of the Mark Levinson Sonic Signature in every Lexus vehicle in order to deliver the widest range and highest quality of sound on the market. Learn more about how Mark Levinson audio systems are custom-designed for perfection here.