Review: iStore iPod2Car Line-Quality Car Integration Kit
Pros: An easy way to add pristine, CD-quality audio to any compatible car with a CD changer, providing a clean single cable for charging and audio input. Allows you to control iPod with car’s stereo buttons.
Cons: Need to give up CD changer to use it; lacks ability to display text track info on your stereo’s screen or choose from pre-designed playlists; with installation may be more expensive than Apple’s own in-car integration kit for BMWs; doesn’t include iPod mount like some competing solutions, not compatible with all cars.
Integrating your iPod into your car can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it: you can use a FM transmitter to take over your radio, a cheap solution that sounds it; a cassette adapter, which is even cheaper but sounds better; or an option that’s higher-priced, more challenging to install, and considerably better sounding. The iStore’s new iPod2Car ($199.99, not including possible installation charges) is one of the latter options, and having tested it, we’ve come away very impressed.
iPod2Car is a cable that splices into your existing car stereo system, providing both an iPod charger and a direct line-quality connection to your car speakers. Audio purists appreciate line-quality connections as the cleanest that can be made with their speakers, a level of fidelity that is noticeably higher than using cassette or FM solutions. Music sounds as the recording artists originally intended it to sound, minus the noise and flattening that go along with other solutions, assuming your car stereo is decent.
That shouldn’t be a problem for most iPod2Car buyers. It requires that you start with a car that has a CD changer, and most modern cars with CD changers will hear noticeable improvements over cassette or FM-based input. Not all cars or all CD changers are compatible, though, just the majority. Cars with changers integrated into their dashboards, such as current Lexus cars, may not work. The iPod Store provides a complete list of compatible vehicles on its website; supported vehicles include select Acura, Audi, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Eagle, GMC, Honda, Hummer, Isuzu, Lincoln, Mazda, Mercury, Nissan, Oldsmobile, Plymouth, Pontiac, Saturn, Scion, Toyota and Volkswagen models.
Installation takes about half an hour, and can be done by an installer or yourself, depending on your level of comfort in prying open the plastic dashboard panels of your car. We tested the installation in a Jeep Grand Cherokee and it went off without a hitch. Photos here show the process, which as with all serious car installations looks more complex than it is.
A line leading to your CD changer is exposed, the iPod2Car is plugged in, and your CD changer is disabled. You then feed the iPod2Car through your choice of locations around the dashboard, a slight challenge that produces an iPod charging and audio connection cable in your choice of locations. The twelve-foot cable lets you pick a place for your iPod to be mounted - certainly no problem in the front seats of any vehicle. The iStore sells inexpensive vent mount clips (iPod Vent Mount, $25) that work adequately in many vehicles, but it’s also looking into offering premium dashboard mounts from ProClip that will match the quality of the iPod2Car installation. We continue to highly recommend the ProClip options, especially to readers looking for such high-quality iPod audio experiences in their car.
How is the iPod2Car once installed? Pretty good. On the plus side, it sounds fantastic, and does justice to whatever you plug into it: it’s a CD-quality in-car solution, unlike FM transmitters and cassette adapters. So if you have high bitrate recordings, they’re as clear as can be; similarly, the flaws in lower bitrate songs are easier to hear. Therefore, we strongly recommend it as an audio quality enhancer for the iPod.
It also provides safe iPod charging, for those who want to keep their iPods topped off on the go. We tested with several iPods, and they all worked without a problem. When plugged into the iPod2Car, your iPod turns on when your car turns on, and off when it turns off. Better yet, you can control your iPod using your car’s stereo controls, so if you have steering wheel-mounted buttons, going back and forth through tracks is easier than reaching over to your iPod and doing it manually.
On the flip side, iPod2Car is very simple. Dension is already offering integration solutions that can transfer track, artist and album information to the displays of compatible car stereos, and all iPod2Car does is make a simple wired audio and charging connection. And unlike BMW’s cheaper $149 iPod Adapter, it doesn’t support the control of pre-programmed playlists. It also is unfortunately not compatible with every vehicle under the sun, which really is only a bad thing because it works well.
This will be the year of high-end car installations, and iPod2Car has started it off right. The iStore has made sure that high-quality audio isn’t only available to people with BMWs or brand new cars with line-in jacks already installed, and the $199 asking price (plus possible installation costs) won’t stop people from doing the premium install of their dreams. We feel comfortable recommending the iPod2Car to any reader with the cash and desire to take his or her iPod audio connection to the next level.
Dennis Lloyd is Publisher of iLounge.