Apple Store

BARE FEATS - real world Mac speed tests


MAIN INDEX of latest speed tests

SPECIAL REPORT:
iPod Connections in
The Newest Cars

Originally posted December 28th, 2006, by rob-ART morgan, mad scientist

I attended Press Day at the San Diego International Auto Show this week. The main reason I attended was to see the new Chevy Camaro and Dodge Challenger concept cars in person. (By the way, they look even more awesome in person than in photos.)

I was also curious about iPod support by the various automakers so I polled the reps at the show and poked my head in various cars.

Toyota was quick to brag they had an iPod adapter in their newest cars (Prius, Camry, Yaris). Turned out that they only had mini-stereo auxillary input -- also referred to by some as an MP3 auxillary input. That's better than nothing but it's not a true iPod adapter.

Volkswagen readily admitted they only had a mini-stereo input in the glove box. Too bad they didn't mount it near the center console like most others.

Honda also had a mini-stereo input in the middle of the dash, but offers an optional, true iPod adapter for $200. "True" means that it allows you to control the iPod using the car's sound system controls. They also claim on their website that it charges the iPod's battery. (More on that in a minute.)

BMW was one of the first to offer a true iPod adapter. My MINI Cooper S didn't come with one as standard equipment but for $400 (ouch), the dealer will install one. I questioned with the MINI service manager about the install. One salesman said, "they have to rip out the center console to install it." The service manager said it's a simple operation that involves removing the a few screws to get to the radio. He said that once it's installed, if you create playlists called MINI1, MINI2, MINI3, etc., you can use the radio's program buttons to select those play lists. Plus you can use the buttons on the steering wheel to adjust volume and change tracks. Kewl.

He also said that the adapter doesn't actually charge the iPod's battery. It's a battery "eliminator." In other words, it doesn't charge up a dead or low battery but it doesn't drain it either. It basically bypasses the battery, providing enough power to run the iPod. He claims that Apple prefers it that way. They were concerned that improper charging circuitry would damage the battery and void the warranty. Interesting.

Now I'm wondering about Honda's claim of charging up the battery. Have they figured out how to do it without damaging the iPod's battery? Or are they actually bypassing the battery? Or are they going to zap your iPod if you leave it connected too long?

I found a website, iPodCarKits.com, that rates various iPod adapters including some that you can buy and install yourself if there is no dealer option. The "true" iPod adapters cost around $200 even if you do the install so maybe the $400 MINI dealer's charge for the adapter and install isn't too far fetched.

READER FEEDBACK
Christopher Hyson says, "I think that you left out one of the slickest car manufacture systems for controlling an iPod in a car: the one from Mercedes-Benz. I know, because I use it daily in my B200 Turbo. It gives complete access to the musical contents of your iPod (not just playlists) and allows full navigation of the iPod menus from the steering wheel controls. The iPod is in the glovebox, and I think that the cable does charge the iPod. The best part is that some song information is displayed in the instrument cluster so that you can check out the song title when you glance down at you speedometer and tachometer. My only gripes are that the instrument cluster display is quite low res, so a lot of the title gets "cut off" and the cost (MB charged $700 CDN for the total kit, of which $218 was the cost of the cable!)."

Hank Hauffe of Houston says, "I just got a used 2006 Scion xA and I happily found that it has what appears to be a genuine iPod Connector (so labeled "iPod") in the center console along with a mini-stereo auxillary input jack as well. I haven't used it yet, and it doesn't seem to be mentioned in the user's manual, but it looks like the real deal."

WHY NOT JUST USE AN FM TRANSMITTER?
I've used various methods to play my iPod through an automobile sound system. Back when the first iPod came out I used a cassette tape adapter. The sound quality was excellent. When I bought a new car, it only had a CD player. So I tried various FM transmitters as a way of playing the iPod. The best was the
Monster iCarPlay Plus Wireless FM Transmitter. You could use any FM station on the dial and it even charged the iPod -- and, so far, hasn't damaged the iPod's battery. However, the sound quality wasn't as good as the cassette adapter. Even a CD burned from iTunes sounded much better. With an FM transmitter, there's a loss of fidelity, not to mention some static that comes and goes -- or strong stations that suddenly take over. It's not the ideal solution.

CONCLUSION
You really should consider some kind of direct connect. The mini-stereo auxillary input used by Dodge, Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Volkswagen, and others may not be sophisticated but it produces excellent sound quality. It's actually more desirable if you are using the new Shuffle, since it only has a mini stereo connector. The mini-stereo aux input also allows any type of sound input device to be added -- not just an iPod.

The "true" iPod adapter is even better if you have a regular iPod Video, Mini, or Nano since it enables you to control the iPod using the car's sound system controls including those on the steering wheel. And, in some cases, you even get a center console display of the tune being played.

I told Bet-TAY that I'm not sure the $400 iPod adapter is a good investment for our MINI Cooper S (JCW). I'd rather listen to the supercharger screaming than the iPod "singing."

WHERE TO BUY AN IPOD

Amazon has the Apple 30 GB iPod video Black (5.5 Generation).

Apple Online has the refurbished 60 GB iPod for only $229! Save over 40%!

Small Dog Electronics is offering a free case with certain iPods.

WHERE TO BUY THE BEST IPOD FM TRANSMITTER

Monster Cable's newest iPod FM Transmitter is the Monster iCarPlay Wireless w/ Auto-Scan.

WHERE TO BUY IPOD ACCESSORIES

There is Free shipping on top-rated iPod accessories at the Apple Store.

For noise suppression, nothing beats ear covering headphones like the Bose Quiet Comfort 2. For ear "fobs," we use the Bose In-Ear Headphones when listening to our iPod -- Help support Bare Feats by ordering your set from Sharper Image.

Has Bare Feats helped you? How about helping Bare Feats?

© 2006 Rob Art Morgan
"BARE facts on Macintosh speed FEATS"
Email , the webmaster and mad scientist