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Looking for a Better Car-iPod Solution

Touareg StereoFor about a year now I've used the "official" Touareg-iPod connector from Apple and VW. It works most of the time, but "works" means:

  • No ID3 tags or any song/artist/album info on the LCD.
  • No way to select individual songs.
  • Certainly no way to see any graphics (or video).
  • Limited to five playlists (button 6 being "all").
  • No way to interact with the iPod except via the controls.
  • Slow communication with the iPod.

In other words, it's a solution because it plays music, but does nothing else to leverage all that the iPod can do with video, playlists and organization, or even ID3 tags and album cover graphics.

My stereo, as seen above, is roughly 9 x 4.65 inches. The entire thing comes out. It hosts a CD player and AM/FM stereo and is self-contained. The iPod operates on the "CDX" (CD changer) setting.

Most of the iPod integration I've seen involves small head units that are very thin and, I imagine, fit more traditionally sized stereo systems in cars. For example, the head units listed here are obviously too thin. THe larger A/V head units above, on the contrary, include DVD playback - something I neither want nor need in my car.

Pioneer has a detachable 16:9 touch-screen LCD that would work well, but I don't know how well it integrates with the iPod and other stereo functions (CD, AM/FM), and I really don't want something detachable - I would prefer something that takes the place of the 9" x 4.65" hole my factory default head currently occupies.

I intend to call around to some of the car stereo folks in Erie, but I doubt any of them will be able to do much. I'd go so far as to put a Mac mini in my car (after all, it need not be an iPod) if the cost weren't as high as it is (> $1k).

Does anyone out there have any suggestions?

11 Responses to "Looking for a Better Car-iPod Solution"

  1. I've always kind of liked this thing. I'd probably have bought one a while ago, except I really don't touch my iPod except to start playing a random album, and occasionally skipping songs.

    http://www.harmankardon.com/drive-1/

    Also, if you decide to go with a standard sized head unit, you can just get a little tray that fits in the gap.

  2. I've been looking for a good combination of head unit and iPod since 2 years and it seems there is not a single one that seems to work well. All these head units are designed to work with CD changers, so the interface is build to handle some hundert tracks, but not a full iPod, most of the iPod's functions remain unused. So I guess it is even more difficult if you need a specific form factor.
    Even the pioneer or alpine head units just don't offer the usability of the ipod, all I tried don't handle covers, or the scrolling speed is just so slow that it is unusable.

  3. The iPod integration was one of the things that tipped me toward a Mercedes B200 Turbo (Canada and Mexico only in North America). The iPod resides in the glovebox, and is hooked to the standard MB Stereo via a cable. This car model has a small info screen between the tachometer and the spedometer that will display the song title (or at least part of it; a higher resolution screen would've been ideal, but I can live with it, especially as the placement doesn't really distract from driving). But at least you have some info the songs being played. You can also navigate through the iPod menus via the multi-function steering wheel.

    Does the VW dealership offer any new connection kits that could still be applied to previous model years (our other car, a Mazda 5, come with connectors for a satelite radio option that the company is still about a year away from offering)? Do you have any sort of display in the instrument cluster where at least partial info might be displayed?

  4. Marc Charbonneau said on December 10, 2006:

    http://www.harmankardon.com/drive-1/

    That's still an FM-transmitted solution, no? And the display doesn't show album info or anything else, right?

    You'd think, with all the iPod accessories in the world these days, that we'd have an elegant solution for cars.

  5. Chris said on December 10, 2006:

    Does the VW dealership offer any new connection kits that could still be applied to previous model years

    No new connection kits are available.

    Chris said on December 10, 2006:

    Do you have any sort of display in the instrument cluster where at least partial info might be displayed?

    Look at the picture above. There's plenty of space on the little LCD. FM stereo "info" is shown below the station info, FWIW. The official iPod adapter doesn't communicate with it.

    Like yours, mine is in the glove box. Unlike yours, the interaction is nowhere near as good.

  6. I've heard great things about Crutchfield, particularly in this David Pogue post. You might give them a call.

  7. Erik J. Barzeski said on December 10, 2006:

    Marc Charbonneau said on December 10, 2006:

    http://www.harmankardon.com/drive-1/

    That's still an FM-transmitted solution, no? And the display doesn't show album info or anything else, right?

    You'd think, with all the iPod accessories in the world these days, that we'd have an elegant solution for cars.

    It has a built in FM transmitter but it also has line out to plug into aux ports or in-line FM (antennae plugs into it and it plugs into the deck). The display will show basically what a monochrome iPod did.

    I have one, hit me up about it if you want to know more.

  8. I have an Alpine head in my Accord with the optional iPod adapter. It works great. My iPod is in the glove box and connects with a dock connector (which means it stays charged, yay). I only have the 1U style head so there isn't a huge screen, but there is a model with a largish LCD. My only gripe is that the volume buttons on my steering wheel no longer work, but that's Honda's fault not Alpine's.

    I can't speak for the UI of the LCD equipped model (it uses a GUI), but the one I have is pretty basic. You can scroll through artists, albums and what not. It isn't the fastest, but I normally just have it on full shuffle so it's no hassle. The sound quality is fantastic.

    Also don't be worried about having to find a new head the exact size of the current one. As long as there are mounting brackets for your car they can fit in it. Extra space is usually made into a compartment where you can stash stuff. Most aftermarket solutions aren't that tall as to increase compatibility.

  9. I too have an Alpine unit of the previous gen that had a separate interface. The scrolling etc is next to useless, BUT I love it! I have a few large smart playlists (eg Rock, Blues, 70s Rock) that I just put on random. If I hit a song I haven't heard and want to hear more of, I take it off random.
    Works well for me anyway.

    btw in my Toyota, I had to ditch the oversized factory unit. The smaller Alpine unit gives me an extra storage niche thingy below.

  10. try using Pioneer AVH-P6800DVD
    this is the site
    http://www.pioneerelectronics.com/pna/v3/pg/product/details/0,,2076_310069872_307671418,00.html

    "iPod Adapter Ready with Enhanced Touch-Panel Interface
    Pioneer's iPod adapter (CD-IB100II or CD-IB100) permits direct control and playback of iPod through the touch-panel. The AVH-P6800DVD can be connected with an iPod via this dedicated adapter, and using the touch panel, listeners can play iPod-recorded songs, scroll through the music library on their iPod, or select from several functions like Shuffle playback."

    1/2 fun

  11. Has anyone tried a wireless FM transmitter with built in charger? This allows you to play all your playlists and use all the functions on your ipod. The transmitter sends out an FM signal, which can then be tuned in to your radio. Just make sure the volume is "full" on your ipod, otherwise the sound can be distorted.


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