iPod Car Adapters - Integrate Your iPod

Kennedy Gammage
Apr 1, 2005
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We're almost 10 years into the MP3 revolution, and much of the controversy has finally dissipated. The digital music lawsuits have mostly been settled. High-profile music-sharing services have come, gone, dived underground, or, as in Napster's case, have come back again on a subscription model that pays its dues to the recording industry. Meanwhile, Apple has helped to legitimize the digital distribution of music, as people now happily download songs at 99 cents each from Apple's iTunes Music Store and save them onto the 20GB hard drive in their iPod portable music player.
The first portable MP3 players were flash-based, but the category really took off when tiny 1.8-inch hard drives offered enough storage for a 10,000-song library that you could carry in your pocket. In Q4 of last year, Apple shipped 2 million iPods and reported 4 million song downloads a week on its iTunes Music Store. Recent consumer research has reported that as much as one fifth of all young people are planning to buy an MP3 player by the middle of this year. So, the MP3 revolution is alive and well, and it's motivating mobile electronics manufacturers to join its cause.
Which begs the question: How do you hook up an iPod to a head unit so you can blast your music collection from the sound system in your vehicle? An automaker, not the aftermarket, has taken the first step to popularize, in a big way, the idea of MP3 player integration. BMW's iPod adapter can be installed in '02-or-later 3 Series, X3 and X5 SAVs, and Z4 Roadsters, combining the ultimate driving machine with Apple's MP3 supercarrier into a relatively seamless package. Users park the iPod in the glovebox, connect it to a cable that runs to the factory head unit, and can control the iPod with buttons on the steering wheel.
For the rest of us who are not Beemer jockeys, there are similar aftermarket solutions. The quickest, easiest, and least-satisfactory way to listen to an iPod during the morning commute is with a wireless transmitter. These little gizmos plug into an iPod's headphone jack and then broadcast an FM signal to frequencies at the low end of the radio dial. Units that give you a frequency selection, like Mito Corp's AudioBUG, are the best choice. In any event, there will inevitably be some signal loss when using any of these transmitters, but they're cheap and do away with the need for cables.
A much more satisfactory solution is a digital interface such as the Pacific Accessory/Peripheral iPOD2CAR (pictured). This powers the iPod and allows you to control it through the head unit. One end plugs into the iPod, the other hooks up to your head unit's CD changer port via a 3-1/2-meter cable. With your head unit in CD mode, you'll then be able to chose Next track or Previous track, and hear it at maximum fidelity. The downside? You'll be missing the great jogwheel functionality of the iPod to dial-in the one song you want out of thousands. However, it does work on a lot of different trucks: all the Dodges and Jeeps with a Disc Up (Disc ^) preset, '96-'05 Silverado, '97-'04 F-Series, and others.
Then there are specific solutions for certain brands of head units. Alpine offers an iPod adapter called the KCA4201 that allows you to display some of the track info from the iPod on the head unit display, which is a definite aid to finding the song you want more quickly. Unfortunately, this is currently limited by the internal memory of the radio, which is set to CD capacity (700MB) - a tiny fraction of the iPod's hard drive capacity, but it's a step in the right direction.
By the time you read this, Clarion Corporation should have released its new VRX755VD in-dash DVD with a 7-inch touch screen, which will integrate with the iPod to display playlist, song, and artist, and will have an on-screen control pad. This might be the most full-featured iPod solution to date. Of course, it's going to cost you some dough, but the early adopter iPod fanatics will be all over it. Other head unit manufacturers like Pioneer are planning similar releases this year.
Recent consumer surveys show that the portable MP3 revolution is gaining momentum. Also, Megan Pollock of the Consumer Electronics Association says that sales of digital media players like the iPod and in-dash head units are "trending together," with MP3 players driving sales of head units that have a digital input. But, it's too soon to tell what the iPod's long-term impact will be on the way that people listen to music in their cars.
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