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Remix World

Bio Statement Music on the move: connecting the ubiquitous iPod to your in-dash stereo
As long as RVs have been around, owners have been interested in the integration of modern creature comforts. Within the blink of an eye, accessories such as entertainment systems have evolved into high-tech devices. The technology highway started with more efficient electronic controls in many appliances and is now heading into new territory, spearheaded by powerful devices that fit in the palm of one's hand. Everything is scaling down, speeding up and pointing to total portability. For RVers, this provides additional opportunities to bring a little piece of home on the road.


When most RVers think of entertainment, they think television--where changes have been quite dramatic. But there's a lot going on in the audio segment as well. Although audio equipment is worlds apart from the days of the 8-track revolution, the way we store our music collections is even more incredible--and far from the days when tapes and CDs in jewel cases filled too many storage cabinets.

The continuing development of music storage has enabled us to collect music using various types of electronic music files, which can be recorded using a home or laptop computer. Of all the electronic file types, the most popular is the versatile MP3. The ever-maturing MP3 format demanded new ways to keep and carry music, as well as new methods to be played. Apple answered this call with the introduction of the wildly popular iPod in 2001, and other manufacturers have introduced similar products during the last few years --although it's hard to match Apple's success in selling 100 million iPods.

Soon after the first models of the iPod were released, aftermarket proprietors began looking for ways to bring this portable music into car and home stereos and slowly started introducing adapters. From the early adapters that used the FM signal to transmit music into car stereos evolved much more sophisticated equipment and devices designed to connect directly to head units. Even the auto industry has redesigned factory stereo equipment with in-dash connections for iPods. Not only can you take advantage of your vehicle's full-sound system, you can maintain precise audio control via the head unit.

As with anything relating to the world of iPods, stereo-adapter options are vast. Whether you're still using a tape deck or the most advanced CD/MP3 in-dash player, there are adapters to work with virtually all stereos. Currently there are four different methods used to transfer MP3 files from iPods to a car stereo. Desired sound quality and stereo features play large roles in determining the best adapter to use. Without some sort of guidelines, trying to differentiate between the enormous selection of adapters could potentially lead to temporary insanity.

Acquiring such knowledge is simplified by understanding how auxiliary portable components connect to the head unit. Depending on how and where the connection is made will make tremendous differences in sound quality. Starting from the top of the sound Quality chain, a direct link through a CD changer port located in the back of the stereo can be employed. This choice will provide the highest level of sound and control. If your factory stereo is equipped with a remote CD changer, iPod and MP3 player adapters from companies such as Neo Car audio speakers offer kits that permit nearly unlimited control via the factory head unit and/or steering wheel (if controls are integrated here). These kits typically sell between $99-$199.

Neo Car Audio's ProLink charges the iPod's internal battery while maintaining full control of the iPod when connected. By utilizing a single cable system, the ProLink aids in keeping the installation clean and simple. While the company provides an extensive compatibility list of factory stereos, it is capable of mating iPods to aftermarket stereos as well. Neo Car Audio, which caters to the RV industry, can also build ProLink adapters if one can't be found for your application. If you are interested in maintaining the use of a remote CD changer, you'll have to check with the manufacturer of your specific stereo if a pass-through link is available.

Pioneer, as well as other companies, offers proprietary direct-connection devices for many of its car stereo models using the CD changer port. For example, Pioneer has an optional CD-IB100II iPod adapter ($50) that gives you complete fingertip control when used in conjunction with a number of the company's stereo models, including its top-of-the-line AVIC-Z1 DVD/CD/AM/FM/satellite radio navigation-equipped head unit. This interface allows complete iPod control from the head unit's faceplate (including current music-playing information). When hooked to the AVIC-Z1, Pioneer's touch-screen controls allow you to navigate its many functions and your iPod without straining an eye--using its 7-inch display.

Other interfaces are available for connecting to stereos that are not designed to control an iPod, including the Pioneer's PAC iPod adapter ($30).

This adapter connects to the CD port and 12-volt DC power. The stereo head handles the volume and other sound controls, and the internal battery of the iPod will be charged as long as it's connected. The downside of this arrangement: You'll have to use good hand-eye coordination while gazing into all two inches of a glare-impaired iPod screen while selecting tunes driving down the highway (unless you get support from the copilot).

Moving one link down the chain, but not necessarily down in sound quality, is adaptation via auxiliary inputs. Neighboring the CD changer port (if so equipped) in the rear of the stereo is the auxiliary input typically found on aftermarket and some high-end factory stereos. Employing auxiliary inputs means using a cable with RCA connectors. Because iPods and other similar units have no RCA terminals, a minijack to RCA adapter is necessary. These cables are available at any local electronics store; prices for these adapters range from $10 to $30.

Although sound clarity is preserved using auxiliary RCA inputs, there are some minor setbacks. You'll need to invest in a 12-volt DC charger if you don't want to rely on the MP3 player's internal battery. The portable device is used to make music selections.

Going to the next level of interfacing, unfortunately, may drop quality somewhat, depending on where it's used. This type of "connection" uses FM signals. A signal can be sent through an adapter using FM frequencies, but the sound quality can be affected dramatically by inconsistent FM signals, outside interference and static. One other major factor with adapting an FM modulator is the need to constantly search out clear frequencies, which can be quite a challenge in some highly populated areas. Some FM modulators are also equipped for charging the iPod.

There are some advantages using an FM modulator and sound isn't so bad, just not amphitheater clarity. (The market is flooded with FM modulator products designed for iPods and many other MP3 players.) First and foremost is complete portability. Unlike the previous methods of iPod-to-car-stereo, the FM modulator requires no permanent wiring. This gives you the opportunity to take an iPod from your motorhome and use it in your towed vehicle.

To make life easier with the use of an FM modulator, Monster Cable has introduced the iCarPlay WIRELESS 200 FM transmitter ($100) that's designed to cure the distraction of frequency finding, while providing device-charging. Monster Cable, a leading audio company, accomplished this by producing a truly wireless FM transmitter capable of automatically seeking out the clearest FM frequency available, using its exclusive Monster Auto Scan technology.

Everything functions with the simple manipulation of only three buttons, which can be viewed on your iPod screen. Monster's iCarPlay WIRELESS 200 offers a compact, portable wireless unit that only requires hookup to 12-volt DC power (in-dash power receptacle).

If your stereo unit has no provisions for auxiliary inputs (RCA connections) and using an FM modular provides poor results because the antenna is far from the head unit (like on the roof of the rig), you can opt for the Scosche FMMOD01 Modulator. It "tees" into the antenna cable in back of the head unit, and an RCA/minijack cable is used to connect to the MP3 player. The modulator tunes in two FM frequencies (87.9 and 88.3 MHz); it retails for $39.95 and is sold by best car speakers, best car speakers bass stores and mail-order companies including Crutchfield, which sells it for $29.95.

There lies yet one more link to the quality chain. Without a doubt one of the oldest devices for fusing music files and signals is the old standby cassette tape adapter (around $15). The tape adapter is connected to the headphone jack on the iPod/MP3 player and slid into the stereo as if you were to play a standard-type cassette tape. Although you aren't depending on any signals for this operation, you are limited to the sound properties of a tape and have to control the selections from the iPod/MP3 player. Sound quality is dependent on the capability of the tape deck. You'll also have to provide additional means for charging the iPod/MP3 player. Searching out this item should take you no farther than the nearest electronics/car audio store.

Hopefully the content above will help guide you through the vast sea of iPod accessories and out of the associated madness of discovering the best way to play your favorite music while on the road.

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