Automobile audio done right
July 19, 2010
When the mp3 was created, it didn’t take long before people wanted a way to play these digital music files in vehicles. Juggling cassettes and compact discs was cumbersome, and “skipping” discs were exceptionally annoying. The mp3 was a perfect solution for audible, mobile content, but the adoption of this format has hardly been seamless.
Around the year 2000, we rocked a hacked Netpliance i-Opener, which we hooked up to our car via auxiliary input, if not through a cassette adapter. The whole point was playing mp3s via Winamp, but our solution required a sizeable footprint near the dash, and didn’t work out long-term. We sported an another auxiliary-in solution with our first mp3 player, the Creative Jukebox. The solution remained poor, and even though a later car of ours sported the ability to play mp3s via compact disc, the interface for this implementation remained poor, just as it still is in most disc-based mp3 solutions today.
Even when we picked up a Volkswagen R32 in 2007 and had a built-in iPod interface, we weren’t happy - the console-based solution meant that we had no access to the actual iPod controls, and instead had to use the poor deck-based interface of the stock audio system. Even in 2007, some developers still refused to show full song identifiers on LCD screens, let alone a truly integrated iPod solution. At least the system functioned with our 2G iPhone, but upon upgrading to a 3GS iPhone, the iPod interface stopped working as a charger. Worse yet, audio through the iPod interface would only work via the main music app, which meant that apps like Pandora wouldn’t push audio through the car’s speakers. So we were back to using a basic aux-in solution.
Some people maintain that given how poor most car stereos are with handling mp3s, that we should continue relying on disc-based solutions. But why rely on an older technology that didn’t even work well at its peak, when adequate technology for a solid digital music experience exists today?
The turn-around for us was playing with a stock Toyota sound system in a 2010 Prius. Between an aftermarket ProClip mount and power cable, and A2DP bluetooth audio, the ability to listen to our digital audio on our iPhone via the vehicle sound-system is nearly flawless; as soon as we start the car up, the Prius finds our iPhone and immediately begins playing from where it left off, not only via the iPod app, but via Pandora as well.
Why rely on an aftermarket iPod interface when the one on your iPhone works fantastic as-is? With the various mounting options ProClip offers, for nearly every modern vehicle out there, the only obstacle is a sound-deck sporting bluetooth audio. That’s a pretty cheap requirement for production, too, so it’s nearly inexcusable for audio decks not to incorporate this feature for all but the most bare-bones of systems. Props to Toyota for figuring this out.