Car Stereo Filter: Am I better off with a whole new head unit, or just an adapter?
September 12, 2012 12:41 PM   Subscribe

Car Stereo Filter: Am I better off with a whole new head unit, or just an adapter?

I'm looking to be able to play music from my phone, in my car, and have been investigating my options. I drive a 2006 Honda Accord VP. I just bought the car in March, so I plan on having it for a looooooong time.

My current factory stereo unit has the ability to install/have an aux in (14-pin adapter ~$75), but it goes to the red/white cables which I then have to buy another cable to get to a 3.5mm headphone plug (~$7). Reviews are mediocre and say that while it works, you can get some noise distortion with all of the connections.

My other option is to buy a completely new headunit with a aux/usb/bluetooth capabilities (I only need one!) and use that instead. I know it's a significantly more expensive option (~$150) however, it may allow me to charge my phone (if I go the USB route - android phone) and wouldn't necessarily have the noise issues. I'm just clueless when it comes to headunits (other than going to Crutchfield and going HELP!).

I'm fairly handy, so neither option would require labor costs. Just parts costs (and maybe a few tools).

So, my question is, wanting to keep overall costs low, do I spend the big bucks on a new head unit, or do I go with the 14-pin adapter? And if I spend the big bucks and go for the headunit, any recommendations (UNDER $150)?
posted by bleachandink to Technology (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
So the question is, are the benefits of a direct USB connection worth $68? They would be to me, but I guess it depends on how dear $68 feels to you. My wife's Honda Fit can talk to her iPod Touch, and it's really nice because it allows you browse the iPod's contents / playlists using the car stereo's display and knobs. Really slick.

In your shoes, I'd play with several models and maybe spend a little more than $150 if the controls / interface were better.
posted by jon1270 at 12:48 PM on September 12, 2012

I don't know much about these products, but I will say that although it's super-nice to have an aux jack in my car, I wish that it was more integrated the way jon1270's wife's car is. It's pretty cumbersome/dangerous to fiddle with my iPhone while driving, and would be a lot easier if I could use the car's buttons to control the device. Just something to think about.
posted by radioamy at 1:01 PM on September 12, 2012

I faced similar situation with 2006 Nissan Sentra (which I plan to keep it for a while). It has 3.5mm Aux in port but otherwise basic stereo. My option was either to shell out $150 to get a new headset or $2 for 3.5mm male to male cable. I went for $2 option. It honestly depends on how you play music. I usually have playlists made in Mediamonkey and I sync them with my HTC One X and I just play those playlists without touching phone even once. If I receive a call when I am playing music, it automatically pauses music and turns into a speaker phone, which comes very handy.
But if you fiddle around with phone while playing music, you better get a new head unit with bluetooth and your phone compatible adapter.

If you do decide to buy, get it from crutchfield, they give you accessories for free.
posted by zaxour at 1:18 PM on September 12, 2012

Another consideration is more of a cosmetic one. Modern factory-installed car stereos often have highly proprietary bezels/mounting fascia that incorporate them into the dashboard, so simply sliding a rectangular box into the mounting sleeve is no longer really an option on most cars.

Based on your model, you'll undoubtedly need a mounting kit, which could run you another $50-75. Most installation shops will make it look pretty nice (I don't recommend trying it yourself) and the integration with your phone/ipod can be very handy indeed.

Modifying the RCA (red and white) cables to be hard-wired into a 3.5mm mini-phone plug is pretty easily done, as well. This would eliminate the "static and distortion" caused by loose adapter connections.

Depending on how much of a stickler for good sound you are, there are other advantages to replacing the head unit and going the USB route. For example, a USB connection would use the head unit's own Digital-Analog converter, instead of the iphone's rather poor one.

As far as recommended head units, if you're willing to forego a CD player, the Apline iDA-X305 makes an EXCELLENT choice (although it's closer to $200)

No real "slam dunk" answer for you, but those are at least some considerations to weigh.
posted by ShutterBun at 1:23 PM on September 12, 2012

Charging is a huge bonus for the car, and that alone would be worth it as far as I'm concerned. Even if your phone is always charged, passengers will definitely appreciate it. Yes, USB plugs exist that charge from the cigarette lighter but then you're adding more wires and possibly some ugly adapter.

As far as connectivity is concerned I've found that USB is pretty crappy as you have to use the car's interface which is not very useful if you have lots of music on the phone (if the headunit comes with a big touch screen then you can ignore this gripe). If you're doing either straight output from the headphone jack or Bluetooth you can use your phone's interface which will be much easier.

If you're using Bluetooth you should be able to use both the phone's interface as well as the car's which is the best of both worlds. If the headunit gives you handsfree for your phone then you can send and receive calls safely as well which is also a nice feature. Another bonus of Bluetooth is that people in the back seat can control the music by using the phone.

Our previous car was a 2006 Honda Civic. It was pretty close to the base model (if it wasn't actually the base model) but it had a headphone jack input hidden under a cover in the centre console. All I needed was a male to male headphone cable (which I already had) to play music from my iPod. Maybe your Accord has something similar?
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:36 PM on September 12, 2012

i would go for the usb port. i got one about six months ago and it has now become a requirement for any future car.
posted by lester at 2:10 PM on September 12, 2012

I would highly recommend you understand the usb capabilities of whatever units you end up looking at - neither usb deck I have used (a Dual which worked great and was cheap but died right outside the warranty, and my current Kenwood which is awesome) allow control of android devices. Last time I looked (a year ago) that functionality didn't exist at the $100-$150 price point. More typically they are set in a read only mode (the Dual) or for Ipod control (the kenwood). However the plugging in of a thumb drive full of music is nice and works well. If this is a a big use for you I would also suggest getting one with the nicest display you can - two lines is worthless, three is better, etc. When trying to navigate folders and stuff it helps.

Either way, the 3.5 mm jack is awesome to have, not to mention the typical more power with an aftermarket deck over the oem units.

My setup for the last few years: Deck with 3.5mm jeck, windshield mounted cradle for my droidx, 3.55 male male from droidx to deck velcro'd with a cigarette lighter charger plugged into back of the cradle. Listening to tunein/winamp/subsonic, and droid pauses if a call comes through. Call quality is great with car speakers and just the mic on the droidx.

I tried to use bluetooth but hated it with both units - super picky and wonky.

Also another plus vote for Crutchfield - great service, and they send you vehicle specific guides with pictures.
posted by Big_B at 3:59 PM on September 12, 2012

One thing that may be worth keeping in mind, is that I haven't known anyone who had their stock car stereo stolen, but I've known lots of people who have had their aftermarket stereo's stolen. If you are in a high theft area, you may want to use that as one factor in your decision.

You shouldn't get any extra noise using the cables in the back as long as you get cables that are properly shielded. Soldering in the connections shouldn't make a difference, as long as the cables you are using connect solidly together. A little tape around the connections will help to keep things from coming loose. Take a look on ebay to see if you can find one of those 14 pins cheaper (or maybe find a used one at your local thrift store in the car stereo's for a couple of bucks.)
posted by markblasco at 8:13 PM on September 12, 2012

Err, I am going to take a different route - if you just want to play songs from your phone on your car stereo and take the occasional call, you can try the Go-Groove FM transmitter. At some 35 odd dollars, its been a nice compromise for me (2001 Honda Accord with even no Aux jack).

It connects through the 12v port, provides a decent FM transmission (some channels like the 97.7 Hz are crystal clear even in peak downtown traffic) and even has a USB out for charging your phone.
posted by theobserver at 8:48 PM on September 12, 2012

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