iPod-compatible car audio vs cassette adapters
September 5, 2006 10:21 AM   Subscribe

Do iPod-compatible car decks sound THAT much better than using a cassette adapter? Also, will a new deck interface with my steering-wheel controls and factory cd-changer?

2001 VW Passat here.

I'm no audiophile but I like my music to sound crisp and have range. When I use my cassette adapter, the music sounds a lot flatter and more bass-heavy, even when using the car's EQ and the bass reducer/treble enhancer settings on the iPod.

I also notice that a playing a cd made from my mp3s sounds much crisper (both the highs and lows) than listening to the same files on the iPod.

So I'm sure a direct-line iPod adapter will sound better but is it enough to justify the cost of a new deck?

Additionally, my Passat has some audio controls on the steering wheel and a factory cd-changer. Will after-market car audio decks be able to utilize those?
posted by neilkod to Technology (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The sound quality from a direct input will be significantly better than your cassette adapter. You may not need a new head unit... companies such as Soundgate make adapters that can be purchased and installed for about $200.

I'd suggest contacting a local high end stereo company that also does car audio. They do this kind of thing all the time.
posted by kdern at 10:34 AM on September 5, 2006

My boyfriend has the Alpine KC420i iPod adapter with a face plate. (Non-technical terms here, I'm sure.)

It works great! There is even a remote.
posted by k8t at 10:35 AM on September 5, 2006

I have a 2002 Passat and I bought this for $130. The box plugs into the CD changer wiring in the trunk and you plug the iPod into that. It took about 5 minutes to get it up and working. Of course, then you have to decide where you want to put the box in your car, but you can keep it and the ipod in the trunk if you want.

Then you make 5 playlists on your iPod and you can control them with the cd changer buttons on your dash. Volume and track control on the steering wheel work great and it sounds great as well.
posted by FreezBoy at 10:46 AM on September 5, 2006

I also have a 2001 Passat and just got an OEM VW installed iPod adapter last week. The sound is MUCH BETTER than my lighter FM frequency adapter (I threw out my cassette adapter after one listening session it was so bad).

The VW adapter has its quirks. You can create playlists that will match up with your CD changer buttons on the radio. You can't change the song via the iPod when it's attached.

But the sound is really good. No interference and clean. If you get this, make sure you turn off the Equalizer and use your car controls instead. And yes, it should map to your steering wheel controls.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 1:55 PM on September 5, 2006

Taken: Using the OEM adapter, can you browse the iPod by album/artist as well, or is it playlist-only?
posted by neilkod at 2:16 PM on September 5, 2006

neilkod - with the version I have, Button #6 on the dash defaults to what was last playing on your iPod. There is also a setting on the adapter that will let you bypass the playlists and just use your iPod as you would normally. This would require stringing the cable from the trunk to the cabin so you can reach it. But there's plenty of cable length to do that.
posted by FreezBoy at 5:47 PM on September 5, 2006

I bet you could hack into the wires leading from your CD changer. I don't know for certain, but it is very likely that the connection carries a typical analogue line-out type signal.

Then you could get a switching 3.5mm miniplug jack that passes the CD signal to the head unit when nothing is plugged in, but overrides that signal and passes the auxiliary device signal when it is plugged in. It is possible that you may have to have the CD changer "playing" for the head unit to play the signal, which is silly, but won't impede the functionality - just burn a dummy disc that you always leave in the changer..
posted by Chuckles at 6:02 PM on September 5, 2006

You cannot access the artist nor album list on the iPod while its playing via the car's sound system (that's one of its quirks). But again, the sound is wonderful.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 7:26 AM on September 6, 2006

I have something similar to this for my 2002 Jetta with the factory stereo: http://www.icarkits.com/product_info.php?products_id=55

It's not that exact one, but I received it as a gift so I don't remember exactly which one I have. Essentially, it connects a cord to the back of your factory stereo and the other end can plug in to your ipod (mine is sort of sticking out below the dash in a discreet location). It was cheap, took all of about 5 minutes to install, and sounds amazing. I can still use all of the ipod controls, as well as the volume control and tone controls on my stereo. If you invest in something like that, you will get MUCH better sound quality, but won't have to fork over the cash for a new deck that may/may not work with your other controls.
posted by booknerd at 3:09 PM on September 6, 2006

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