Help me TASTEFULLY "pimp" my car audio.
June 26, 2007 9:27 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to modernize my 2001 Honda Accord's audio system -- satellite, HD Radio, Bluetooth handsfree, and on-screen iPod controls/track display. Help!

My dream of moving up to a sexy new car with all the latest gadgets has been quashed again, for the perennial reason that I just plain can't afford it. So what I'd like to do is dull the pain somewhat by at least upgrading what I've got in my 2001 Honda Accord.

Right now I have the stock AM/FM/CD deck, with no AUX IN (so I can't even do a low-fi iPod connection). I use a small FM transmitter for the iPod, but most of the time it's such a hassle that I don't feel like bothering.

What I'd like to have, ideally, is satellite (probably Sirius, though I'm not 100% decided yet), HD Radio, Bluetooth (so I can do the handsfree thing with my Sony Ericsson P990i), and "real" iPod integration -- not just an AUX IN, but something that plugs into the dock connector and hopefully, allows control of the iPod from the buttons on the deck, and maybe even on-screen artist/title display as well.

The big limiting factor here is that I have NO CLUE how to install car audio, so I'm limited to in-store installation at Worst Buy/Circuit City/etc. Given how incompetent these people are at computer support (I may be biased; I do Mac-specific consulting and am extra-resentful of their shoddy attempts to do Mac support), I'm leery of them doing extensive car audio work. But I know absolutely nothing about it, so I don't have much choice.

This sucks, because it rules out online vendors, where the selection is MUCH better and the prices are better. But I guess I'll make do with what I have.

I don't need to pimp out the speakers, add extra bass, etc. I'm pretty sure the stock speakers will be fine for me. (It's CAR audio, for crissake; it can only be so good.) I'd prefer a relatively sane, streamlined design; I don't need tacky, gaudy colors or a bunch of preposterous animations on the screen that scream "STEAL ME!"

It seems like you have to buy a "receiver," then buy a BUNCH of add-ons for satellite, HD Radio, etc. How can I best minimize all this nickel-and-diming and get a system that's right for me?
posted by CommonSense to Technology (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Crutchfield. On teh website, you can select your car, and roam out on your own, but if you really need help, you can chat live with someone, or call a live person on the phone. They're going to know all the specs about your car, and the components they carry.

You can get head units now that incorporate just about everything you're looking for. They'll be able to help you find what fits. Crutchfield sells installation credit for local install shops, but they also include pretty detailed installation instructions for most things. Talk to somoene there before you completely write off self-install. I've done several now, and have always been pleased, more so with each new job, because you try more and more stuff.

Also, if you're upgrading your components, you might as well go ahead and upgrade the speakers. You don't have to add big subs or anything, but most factory speakers aren't that high of quality, and after 6 years have probably started to degrade. Plus, the higher power and quality of an aftermarket head unit is going to reveal the limitations of those speakers, if not blow them completely.

Besides, if you're spending the money for that much better sound, don;t skimp on the piece that actually gets that sound to your ears.
posted by pupdog at 9:40 AM on June 26, 2007

Don't be afraid to do it yourself, especially with the instructions and kits from a place like Crutchfield. I've installed stereos in three cars, and helped friends with others, and the only one that was difficult was a 20-year old car where some previous owner had done some weird diy wiring and taken out the original bracketry. All you really do is disassemble some cosmetic parts of your dashboard (usually by a combination of gentle prying and taking out a few screws), pull out the old stereo, and connect up a new one into the wiring harness. There shouldn't be any soldering, specialized tools, or other daunting complications to worry about (unless, of course, a previous owner did something weird). As long as you are staying with the same sizes of speakers, changing those out should be almost as easy (although I've sometimes found door panels hard to pull off without damaging the little clips).

If you really don't want to do it yourself, I would trust a small, independent shop over a place like Circuit City for installations. It's just my bias, but I am a lot more comfortable with a place where I know the name of the guy who is going to be disassembling my car.
posted by Forktine at 10:15 AM on June 26, 2007

3rding Crutchfield. I got a head unit from them for my 1996 Accord (so I could plug my iPod into the Aux jack, mostly) and installed it with very little trouble. The only problem I had was uninstalling the factory unit because a couple of screws were stuck and stripped. I took it to a nearby friendly car audio place and they popped the screws in about 2 minutes for free. Other than that, the process was entirely smooth. Crutchfield was great about returns for unwanted/incorrect parts, and providing explicit instruction sheets (with details specific to your car model). Plus, you can call them and explain your requirements and they'll walk you through picking out the right pieces.
posted by katemonster at 10:49 AM on June 26, 2007

Thirding Crutchfield. I've installed a new head unit in my car as well as an amp and sub, plus new speakers. They send you detailed instructions for your specific make, model, and year car, as well as giving you the option to call them if you're having any problems. What you're wanting to do will, at most, require some unscrewing, which is not difficult at all. The instructions even tell you how to take apart parts of your car that you need to work with/behind. I've also used Crutchfield's phone tech support a couple of times, like when I couldn't figure out which wire to connect my amp to so that it started up when the car started, and they have been by far the most helpful tech support of any place I've called for anything.

That said, I've also gotten stuff done at Circuit City and have never had a problem, but I've never done anything as involved as you're doing, just head units. I like Crutchfield better just for the fact that you have someone to talk to and I trust them more in my gut. Good luck in whatever you pick!
posted by TheFuse at 10:49 AM on June 26, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone. I'm feeling more comfortable about Crutchfield, and that's where I wanted to buy from. It was the prospect of self-installing that was scaring me.

Of course, I pull stuff out of PC/Mac towers and replace them all the time, and some of the older machines are downright hell to deal with. It sounds to me that if I can handle that, I can handle a car stereo.

Good point on the speakers . . . an upgrade is probably a good idea there, too.

I guess the only thing I'm still unsure of is the antenna situation -- the Accord uses lines in the rear-view glass (hidden with the defrost unit) as its FM antenna, which works surprisingly well for FM (I'm a distant-stations nerd, and can't tell the difference between this method and the old-school pole-antennas). I imagine it interfaces with the head unit the same way any other FM antenna would. But satellite would involve another antenna, no? Seems to me there would be a weird, elaborate process in getting that antenna in place, and running the cable from the outside of the car in.

Of course, I guess I can just go as far as I'm able with the install instructions, and if I hit a stumbling block, take it to a local shop or just buy an install credit online for the portion(s) I can't handle.

Anything else I should know? Otherwise, thanks again!
posted by CommonSense at 10:58 AM on June 26, 2007

Antenna-wise, your new head unit will plug into your existing one, there might be a plug adapter required, but Crutchfield will tell you. For Satellite radio, you do have to have a different antenna. There are surface-mount units that will require placement on the outside of the car, but there are also units that go on or in the dash right up close to the windshield, as well as handheld receivers with built in antennas. Worst case you might have to run a line under the trim or carpet, and possibly drill a hole. Depends how far you want to go, but the folks there will be able to help you. They really are SUPER helpful.

Hardware experience with computers is most likely more than you'll need to install your own stereo, especially if you get the folks to help you pick out factory replacement equipment that doesn't require any custom work. Crutchfield will even generally include all the wiring harness adapters you need to connect up your stuff.
posted by pupdog at 11:15 AM on June 26, 2007

Satellite antenna wires can be a pain to install. I have a Jeep and was able to run mine through the tailgate pretty easily; you might not have as much luck. Here's a video overview of installing a satellite antenna; it's short but may be of some use.
posted by PFL at 12:12 PM on June 26, 2007

That video shows how they installed the antenna on an '01 Accord. Looks like it's not too difficult.
posted by PFL at 12:14 PM on June 26, 2007

For what it's worth, we're both looking for the same thing in iPod integration and I have not been able to find a satisfactory head unit in my past 6mos of shopping.
posted by rhizome at 12:26 PM on June 26, 2007

None of the aftermarket head units I looked at (price was an issue) did iPod integration well enough that I went for it. I bought a Blaupunkt that offered an accessory cable to connect your iPod, but you only had access to pre-built playlists. It also had a standard RCA input, and I just ran a patch cable out of the dash and went with it. The ability to pick individual tracks and shuffle at will was worth not having it display on the screen and charge.
posted by pupdog at 4:39 PM on June 26, 2007

« Older How do you work a file cabinet?   |   Reason #12 why I'll never go to the hospital again... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.