Pimpin’ my Ride

That’s right, I’m gonna make my ’99 Honda CR-V supa-fly. Uhh, ok not really. I’m just getting a new stereo for it.

I decided I wanted to listen to CarTalk (via my RadioShark) and some podcasts while I was driving to and from work. My commute is short enough that it’s not worth the effort in setting up my iPod with my iTrip and PowerPod, but in a week, I can certainly get through a good amount of content.

I thought I would simplify things a bit and just burn them to CD. That was fine until I realized that my CD player didn’t even support CD-RW discs, just CD-Rs. This was the last straw.

Crutchfield has always been a favorite resource of mine. When I was in high school, I spent an entire summer busing tables at Chez Vachon and saving up for a receiver that I studied nightly from the Crutchfield catalog. Since then I’ve bought from them here and there, including the 50-CD changer that was the inspiration for LAUNCHcast. Crutchfield’s website and service are really great. Return anything anytime for free. So, I started looking there for a new receiver.

My intial requirements were pretty simple:

  • Something that would play CDs, CD-RWs, and discs of MP3s.
  • Something with an auxillary input to plug in my iPod or Treo.
  • Something that wasn’t ridiculously visually distracting or screamed “steal me!”

I didn’t need anything to “thump” or drive huge speakers synchroized with neon lights. I really didn’t even care that it sounded that great. It was all about connectivity. Of course what I really want is to get me some ubiquitous wireless broadband and just play my LAUNCHcast station in my car. But that’s still a ways out in the future.

The Crutchfield catalog has a nice comparison chart, so I used that to learn what the options were. There were clearly too many. Only a few had a front auxillary input though, so I focused on those as the easiest way to plug in my devices. Beyond that I really had no idea what was good. I’ve never paid attention to car tech before, so I knew basically nothing. I also wanted to get it installed. The last time I tried to install one, the radio never worked. Sorry, Todd!

I have a leftover gift certificate from Fry’s, so on Saturday Anne and I headed over there to see some stereos in person and learn more about them. We looked at the units for about 30 seconds before a commission-feeding sales guy accosted us. This one was no older than about 22 and was wearing a suit that reminded me of David Byrne. Usually I just give these guys a mean look and wave them off, but for once I was like most people – I had no clue what I was shopping for.


After answering some basic questions, he told me that my car had some kind of amplifier which meant that I couldn’t just replace the receiver. I had to rewire the whole car. $30 to wire each pair (I have two) and at least $30+ per speaker pair. $50 to install the receiver after buying a $40 installation kit. Oh yeah, I’d have to buy the receiver too. So I was looking at $400 minimum. He was interested in the fact that I brought my Crutchfield catalog along though and asked which units I was looking at. I asked him to explain what “optional” meant for auxillary inputs for some units in the catalog and he gave some answer that clearly indicated he was totally making things up. We left soon after that, but not before Anne asked him some question that started with “What the hell is…?” I don’t think she meant it to come out that way, but it was funny.

Circuit City was not far away, so we decided to drive over there. When we got there I sat in the parking lot for a bit and called Crutchfield to see if they would confirm what the guy in the big suit told me about rewiring my car. Their response: “Someone from Crutchfield told you that??” I told them no, it was from somewhere else, thanked them and headed in.

Circuit City was smaller. So small there were a couple of people looking at the receivers and I had to wait for them to leave before I could get near them. The salespeople were helpful, even a bit desperate. This particular store was relatively new (moved from Mountain View) and not too busy. They offered free installation same-day and they were cheaper than Fry’s too. We asked what the deal was with all this iPod integration stuff. I thought it just meant that you could plug in your iPod the same as with an auxillary input, but it turns out it’s more than that. You can control your iPod from the receiver with the actual iPod tucked away and charging. The titles even showed up on the unit. My geek lust was awakened.

I liked the options here, but I still had enough doubt that it would be nice to see another store. We decided to complete the trifecta and head over to Best Buy. The Sunnyvale Best Buy looks like it’s only weeks from opening, so we had to head up to Palo Alto.

For some reason the car audio section is always in the same part of these stores – in the back, on the left. We headed in and checked things out. Their prices were pretty good and they also did free installation. The guy there was actually helpful and knew his stuff. He explained how the Alpine models were pretty good and their iPod integration was top-notch. The units were mostly the same though, so we stared for a bit, then we took a walk to think about it.

I hadn’t seriously considered getting the iPod integration until now. Anne thought it was cool. What I realized was that this would simplify the whole deal. And simplifying meant that I would actually use it. Anything that required me to do anything beyond just turn the car on to listen to music would probably go unused. That sold me. I went back over to ask about getting one. They wouldn’t be able to install it today though, so we went home.

I was still thinking about the iPod integration that night. It’s amazing that Apple has so locked in this market that all these manufacturers are making custom kits ONLY for iPods. At the same time, that’s a bit scary for me. I don’t want to be locked in to an iPod, especially with all the coolness that is YMU + my Treo 650.

I searched the web for a receiver that would allow me to have TWO auxillary inputs. I had read somewhere about a passthrough that would do what I wanted. It looked like some older receivers had it. Alpines could do it, but only with a $150 device. Of course I could just splice a cable, but then I would lose the iPod integration. A while later I found an answer – Blaupunkt receivers. They have two connections for auxillary inputs – one for something like an iPod and another that went out to an RCA cable. Even better, the iPod kit was only $80 and the RCA adapter was only $13. The iPod kit alone would cost me at least $100 for the other brands.

My only reseveration was about the Blaupunkt brand. I hadn’t heard much about them and their units don’t seem to be very popular. The reviews on the web were scarce, but positive for their mid-to-high end units. Crutchfield was just about the only place that carried them too, so I placed an order for a Blaupunkt Syracuse with the iPod kit a 2nd Aux adapter. Of course the car kit came free and they were having a 10% off sale when you bought a receiver and an accessory. On top of that I found a coupon for $20 off $100 when you use a Mastercard. Free shipping, no tax. At $227 it was a great deal. The iPod kit is currently out of stock, but I figure I can wait. The rest arrives Monday.

It looks like I’m going to have some fun tearing apart my dashboard. Let’s hope the car still starts afterwards.


  1. Why is it that guys who don’t know anything about car stereo systems and drive CR-Vs and clearly aren’t “into” cars listen to Car Talk? ;^) Probably for the same reason that guys who are into cars do not. 🙂

    Crutchfield is expensive but they have *great* customer service and they supply nice adapters (wiring. plates, etc.) as needed. One minor downside is that their online ordering system will not let you order something it thinks won’t fit your vehicle, even if you know better. You then have to call and bother a human to get your order through.

    I used Crutchfield when I tossed out the worthless factory CD player and speakers that came with my Jeep. I replaced the head unit with an Alpine X-Drive unit because I wanted the extra power to fight the noise level inside the Jeep when the windows are down (or off) and I played MP3 CDs, and it was even XM-ready if I ever decided I needed that (I still don’t.) It also had a proper volume knob that I wanted.

    I replaced the wretched factory soundbar speakers with Infinity speakers which made a massive difference for a reasonably low price, easily making it one of the best upgrades I’ve ever done.

    I’ll be interested to hear how the final setup works out for you. BMW is doing some pretty cool work with integrating devices into the cars these days, and I like to see how some of the newer technology can be included in a more holistic manner.

  2. Pingback: Jeff Boulter’s Weblog » Blog Archive » Pimping My Ride, Part II

  3. Hello!
    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

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