Car stereo help

More stereo comments…. I accidentally double posted the car stereo question and both posts got comments so I’m keeping this here because I don’t want to lose the advice here. Thanks, all!

  • too many steves

    Do what I do, go to:
    they are the best. You put in your car model and such and it tells you what fits. Then you can select and compare. And the prices are good too. The only problem, potentially, is that you have to install it. Not an issue for me but I don’t know your desire or handiness for such work.

  • To the best of my knowledge, all manufacturers have factory decks that support MP3s. Also, the only radios I’ve seen with line-ins for iPods are soon to debut GM radios. Good luck finding a casette player from the factory these days.

  • Sirius gets you (from the factory) DaimlerChrysler (Dodge, Jeep, Chrysler, and Mercedes), Ford (Jaguar, Aston Martin, Volvo), Audi, Infiniti, Nissan, Mazda, and Land Rover.
    Personally, with what you want, and the way technology is changing, go aftermarket for the stereo. Crutchfield is the way to go.

  • OT (I guess) Honorable Mention:
    “Jeff Jarvis has a wonderful formulation: news is becoming a conversation, not something handed down from on high by our betters. That nails it.”
    — Brian Anderson,
    (author of _South Park Conservatives_, second part exclusive interview at PowerLine.

  • daudder

    you can get a fm transmitter for your ipod at the apple store or for about $40. fits snug on top of the ipod (or mini) and works like a charm…and look, no wires!

  • They say the FM xmitrs don’t work so well in areas where the FM band is crowded with stations.

  • Tom

    And Northern Jersey is crowded with stations. The FM transmitters also work horribly in Atlanta.

  • Dustin Farahnak

    Fm transmitters are completely terrible in my opinion. Even if there are not interefering signals, the quality is noticably reduced.
    toyota is possibly the best make to upgrade the stereo in because they haven’t changed the dimensions of their deck since 1987. Seriously, why doesn’t everybody do that?
    If you can’t stand a cassette deck, and dont mind spending a bit extra,
    I recommend (heartily), the pioneer CD-IB100 in addition to any compatible headunit (ï AVIC-N2, AVIC-D1, AVH-P7500DVD, AVH-P6600DVD, AVH-P5700DVD, DVH-P5000MP ï DEH-P9600MP, DEH-P8600MP, DEH-P80MP, DEH-P7700MP, DEH-P6700MP, DEH-P4700MP, DEH-P3700MP, FH-P5000MP, FH-P4200MP, DEH-P77DH, DEH-P47DH ï DEX-P9, DEH-P960MP, DEH-P860MP, DEH-P8MP, DEH-P770MP, DEH-P670MP, and DEH-P470MP)
    With such a setup, you can simply hide the ipod and control it via the headunit.
    Safer for driving.
    Just pick the headunit you like the best.

  • jeff

    you don’t need a new head unit to get ipod capabilities, you can buy a harness that is specific to your vehicle that enables you to plug into the a/v bus for ipod, backup camera, dvd, etc.
    check out:
    Don’t know about the Sirius as we have XM in our vehicles, but you could probably use FM modulation as a worst case scenario.
    Replacing the head unit is also an option, but most high end vehicles have alot of expansion capability in the OEM systems (I used a harness on my wife’s Yukon Denali to display a color backup camera through the LCD for the navigation system on demand).

  • newscaper

    It’s not recent but about two years ago I got a $99 Aiwa deck which had the elusive front input jack. I’ve been a happy camper, plugging in my Palm with a 1gb SD card for music.
    You’d think the added $1 or so of manufacturing cost, if that, would be worth it net upscale buyers. I don’t understand the lack, unless the car manufacturers are trying to push you into getting their CD changers as an expensive add-on.

  • tompaq

    I bought an Alpine 9851 which is satellite ready Sirius or XM and it does have an input for an ipod.
    I have an Audiovox Shutlle that I use mostly in the car (you can direct connect to the Alpine Head Unit) – I bought the Sirius lifetime – transferable up to 3 times at $75 a pop. Talk to someone at Crutchfield – they usually give good advice and they have a local installers list if you don’t want to do it on your own.
    I have a 6 year old Contour SVT – the “premium sound” was horrible – so I finally broke down and

  • newscaper

    Check this…
    Aiwa is hardly high end audio gear, but it looks like they are continuing to put the front input jack on all their players.

  • fm transmitters are the SUCK. don’t do it. go for the hide the ipod control with the head unit option mentioned above, or with line in. no fm transshitter.
    spend the hour online @ crutchfield to git edumucated. they’ll give u options for your particular vehicle and way more info about your deck choices than a salesperson would. Alpine decks are generally good. high on the cool factor as well.

  • shoman

    If your factory stereo is designed to control an optional CD changer, you may not need to change stereos. Blitzsafe and P.I.E. make adapters that use the CD changer input as an auxiliary input, chich will let you plug in any sound source. Check to see if they make an adapter for your Toyota. By the way, this is how I listed to XM on my Pilot.


    You may consider one of the kenwood decks as they have an adapter that adds rca jacks – I believe that the adapter works with most of their decks. I have used kenwood stereos for a long time and have always been happy with them.

  • Robert Roy

    I agree with Dustin. In my experience with car stereo equipment (and electronics in general) Pioneer is my favorite brand. Not only does their stuff work extremely well and without problems, but it also looks classier. A lot of radios out on the market today are really, well…cheesy looking.

  • Scott Boone

    Check out the Pioneer equipment. However, with ANY of these solutions, try to find a local retailer that has one on display and try it out. Apple still has NOT released a developer kit for the iPod that allows audio equipment manufacturers to access and play the DRM’d music on the iPod. So all of the current “solutions” basically tell the iPod to play, and pipe the audio, analog, line-out back into the head unit…the units control and read the song/playlist info via serial connection, which is slow. The largest complaint with the iPod interfaces is performance, with a very expensive Clarion being the current exception.

  • h0mi

    Try regarding accessories for the ipid, including of course how to connect to your car stereo.
    They generally feel that fm transmitters are terrible but my cousin with her infiniti thinks it sounds pretty good.

  • Mumblix Grumph

    Stop the presses!
    We have a winner! Check this out.
    Clarion, iPod-compatible touch-panel car AV unit (with pic!) [TechJapan]

  • Otis Wildflower

    I’ve never seen the Clarion, but besides that, all other iPod interfaces are worthless except for the Alpine. None of the others have their own MP3 decoders so you don’t get the track info on the stereo display (at best you have to go with ‘car playlists’ like the BMWs use). If you don’t want or need a large expensive screen, this model
    should be compatible with the Ai-Net iPod adapter, and it’ll control a Sirius tuner.
    And yeah, Crutchfield is retail (overpriced) but you get GREAT service and installation advice.

  • Kenwood, Alpine, Pioneer, and Clarion all have iPod compatible kits, and I’d suggest as the place to shop for what fits. They have a whole page dedicated to getting iPod connections to work, which includes using the CD changer out with the factory radio. If you don’t have to change the head unit, I wouldn’t. Get some decent speakers and an iPod kit and you should be fine with the factory stereo.
    I did some research on this last year when the iPod kits were just starting to come out, but ended up getting a new car with an auxilary port built in stock, which makes iPod connections super easy.
    I would also suggest checking out Pro-Clip for iPod mounts that fit into your dashboard without any drilling or screws. I have a mount for my 20Gb iPod that puts the pod right next to the steering wheel so I can change songs while my hands are still on the wheel and it’s high enough that it’s easy to watch the road and see what’s playing.

  • tim

    first of all, i highly recommend sirius. i thought i wanted it for the plethora of news talk. and while that is what i mostly listen to, the music is great. especially for a person like me who doesn’t care enough to compile 3000 songs on an ipod or anything else. kinda like an perpetual jukebox…i love it. but my real point is that you should definitely get a receiver that you can bring inside. you just pop it out of the car and pop it onto the home stereo adapter. there is no reason to limit it to your car. great for ambient music at the house (apartment? you are in north jersey), parties or alone. plus, no more sitting in the car waiting to hear the rest of the segment.

  • Otis Wildflower

    ohh, btw, for a Japanese double-DIN Alpine…
    Dunno where to buy it, but it has a Minidisc player and Ai-Net capability according to the site… Verry pricy tho.

  • Ed

    Consider the XACT Stream Jockey for Sirius, with the battery pod. You can get the car kit to listen when you drive, and then with the battery pod take it out of the car and bring it with you elsewhere. (And its FM transmitters work absolutely fine.)
    If you’re in a big, huge, cement, Manhattan building without a window nearby, you might have trouble picking up Sirius’ talk stations (music stations are streamed over the web.) While that might be a problem listening to the last hour of the Howard Stern show next year, Sirius has made my 1 and a half hour morning commute, and afternoon commute, a million times better. Besides, I’m not sure of any Sirius unit that can play inside a big, huge, cement Manhattan building without a window nearby.

  • Forget the FM transmitter option. They are worthless.
    I purchased one for my iPod and tested it out that weekend on a trip from DC (where I live) to North Jersey (where my parents/brother live). It didn’t work because of interference with local stations in DC, Philly and in North Jersey.
    About a month ago I went to a wedding in South Georgia and a friend from Mississippi (eer, Memphis) who was also attending picked me up at the Atlanta Airport. He drove (in part because he enjoys Sirius so much) but we found that its FM transmitting capacity was pretty much worthless in the Atlanta metro area. We opted for local radio there.
    I think Crutchfield is a great choice. They should be able to set you up, I’ve been using them for years. While I don’t have a radio with a jack now, when I was in highschool I purchased a clarion radio from them that did have an input jack (which I used for a portable CD player then). Also, I once had a Dodge Stealth and the Bose AC/Delco radio system had an input jack (presumably for CD players) on the equalizer.

  • Joseph Emmerth

    Have you considered this option?
    It involves some work, but would be extremely kick ass!

  • gijoe

    go to that site.
    They have a jack built into the back of the headunit that you can plug a sirius reciever into.
    You can control it from the headunit also.
    And you dont have to worry about losing quality with those dumb fm transmitter thingys.

  • The best place to look is to fly down to Houston and break into a car parked at a METRO Park and Ride.
    After removing security guards from the Park and Rides, METRO didn’t bother repairing the cameras and large numbers of cars have been broken into and have had their stereos removed. One more shouldn’t be noticed, especially now that METRO is forming a task force to look at the problem as well as have their cops check by the Park and Rides just a little more often.
    Oh, and there’s posters up telling people to call if they see anything. Yeah, heh. Right.
    So come on down, Jeff. There’s lots and lots full of stereos to choose from.

  • David C

    I have a Pioneer car stereo, which has an input in back that accepts one of these adapters:
    Then I plug the Ipod into a cord that connects the IPod speaker headphone jack to an RCA output, and connect the cord to the CD-RB10. It works great.

  • I would recommend Eclipse ( The CD5435 cannot only handle an aux-in line, but is also Sirius Radio-ready, so you don’t have to deal with FM-transmitters. The sound from Eclipse units is awesome, and thieves tend to stay away because they know a ripped out Eclipse unit is useless without the CD-key.

  • Sigivald

    WalMart sells a $50 cassette deck that also has a line-in.
    Not really *good*, but at least it’s there, and it works (if you ignore the clock not keeping time, but I imagine the Highlander might come with its own clock).
    (Why do I know this? Because I have one. Why do I have one? Because the even crappier old cassette-withOUT-line-in in my ancient Mercedes died, and I didn’t want to spend $150+ on a stereo for a car that’s louder on the inside than my Toyota pickup is on the outside… plus the line-in is sooo much better than a cassette adapter, it was no contest.)

  • nb

    JVC makes a couple of units with the line input in the front and RCA plugs in the back. Got mine at Best Buy. Also, set up for a Sirius module.

  • rick d

    Heh-heh, you called a Highlander a “car.” Heh-heh.
    Audio system input jacks would seem to represent vast buckets of lost revenue, ca… er…truckmakers are loathe to give their customers control over the factory audio system. There are a handful I’m aware of that are supplied with input jacks out there, but they’re darn rare. Better to send you to Parts and Accessories for a thousand-buck gizmo (presuming they’ve thought of offering it at all).
    My car sports a $500 CD changer in the trunk that can only be “married” to the audio system by a dealer. Such a deal for a hundred-buck part.

  • I’ve worked in car stereo and security sales and installation for years.
    A caveat to start, auto manufacturers are progressively making it harder and harder to install aftermarket equipment into their vehicles. On your old Lexus, it may have been well nigh impossible to put in an aftermarket. On your Highlander, I would check to see if a) the vehicle has an amplified system and b) if an aftermarket would fit. To answer the first question, if it says, either on the headunit, speakers, car’s user manual, or anywhere else that the car has a “premium audio system”, or there are premium logos like for Bose or another audio company; or if there are more than four speakers in the system, there is a strong possibility that the vehicle may have an amplified audio system, potentially requiring additional installation work, specialized adapters or (worst case) complete replacement of the OEM system, from headunit to speakers. To see if an aftermarket will fit easily, check to see if the factory unit appears to be a separate and removable component from the dash panel, is roughly rectangular, and has dimensions approximately 7″ wide by 2-4″ high. If you may either have a premium audio system or a non-standard dash space, consult with an autosound installation professional and let them see the car to give you more information. They shouldn’t charge you just to take a look at the car.
    Regarding aftermarket units themselves, an increasing number have auxilliary inputs at least on the back, usually red and white RCA plugs to which a cable can be connected and run out during installation to where you can plug an Ipod or other unit to it. A few units, particularly JVCs, have front mounted mini-stereo input jacks on the face, allowing you to connect components directly. Bother Alpine and Pioneer sell accesory controller units specifically for Ipod that will jack directly into an Ipod and allow you to display the track information and control the unit directly from the in-dash.
    Regarding digital satellite radio, two options: 1) Get a directly connected DSR tuner installed. Depending on the make of radio, tuners for XM or Sirius or both may be available that can be installed at the same time as the radio, allowing you to control the unit from the in-dash. The only downside is that the unit is semi-permanently installed, and can’t be taken to another vehicle or into the home.
    2) Get a plug-‘n’-play type unit, which are available for both XM and Sirius. These often come with a car mounting kit that will power them in the car, and home kits or portable boom-box type units are available as additional accessories. XM is first to market with a fully portable unit, one that works like an Ipod or Walkman, that can be taken around for a walk and also comes with car and home kits. Sirius will have one within a month or two. Regarding connecting a PNP unit to your car stereo: three options: 1) They usually come with wireless FM transmitters these days, which is convenient and wireless. Downside is that, particularly in urban areas, FM crosstalk and noise may cause a hit in sound quality, though these usually have enough frequency options that this isn’t as much of a problem as some people will tell you. 2) Get a wired in FM modulator: this connects directly to the antenna lead on the back of the radio, taking out the problem of FM noise, but otherwise works exactly like the wireless transmitter. 3) Connect the DSR unit in to an auxilliary jack the same way you would connect your Ipod or other external unit. PNP DSR units always have a 1/8″ line-out jack.
    Finally regarding the unit itself, CD and MP3 isn’t a big problem. A large number will play MP3, and sometimes WMA, directly off a burned CD (check the manual for information on burn format, etc), and can display ID3 tag info, navigate through folders, or sometimes even search through ID3 tags. Cassette is a slightly trickier issue. First, unless the space available in your dash is 3″ high or larger, there aren’t going to be many CD and cassette units available, as most CD and cassette units are 3-4″ high (“DIN ana a half” or “double DIN” size). Finding one of good quality with aux jacks, MP3, DSR, etc is harder still. Manufacturers are ever moving away from cassette, making selection leaner. My advice: unless you have a serious and fixed investment in cassettes already, consider leaving this particular option in the 20th century where it belongs.
    If your big bag is just an auxilliary jack, it it possible to get JUST an FM modulator or X-mitter that will work with your factory deck, if you are so inclined. The X-mitter, again, may have those aforementioned issues with FM noise. The modulator won’t. This would be a cheap option.
    A few things I would look for in a CD-deck:
    18-22 W RMS power, 50+ W peak, per channel, x 4 channels
    2+ pre-amplifier outputs
    Aux input, either on the back with an adapter cable run out, or on the front (less common)
    Detachable face (I see at least 4-5 people a week replacing stolen units)
    Sat-radio ready (not all units can work with a directly-installed DSR tuner, check to make sure)
    Ipod, etc., controller or auxilliary input adapter (needed for Alpines) if you are so inclined.
    Remote control (usually included on mid level and higher decks, if you are so inclined)
    Keep in mind that a much bigger boost in sound quality will be achieved if you add new speakers (which usually aren’t too expensive by themselves) and, if you want, a 4-channel amplifier (a somewhat bigger deal). Subwoofers, though commonly regarded as a teenage accessory, do help fill out a usually somewhat wanting bass-line (how much bass can you get from 4-6″ speakers?). Small ones, such as single 10-12″ ones, with a built-in amp, work great in SUVs, and rarely run much more than $200-$300 (not including install, which, again, can be a little more involved than the radio).
    Finally, keep in mind, to install the radio in your Highlander, even in a basic installation, you will probably need at least $20-$45 in parts, specifically wiring adapters (to keep from cutting the factory wiring and allowing you to replace the factory deck at resale) and maybe a dash kit (a plastic adapter that adapts the non-standard factory space to an aftermarket). And, of course, you will need competent installation. A big-box retailer or car-audio specialty shop will typically charge about $45 of labor for basic install, but will waive the labor charge if you buy a $100+ unit from them. I don’t know what Crutchfield or other online places offer in terms of install referrals or deals.
    Feel free to e-mail with other questions, concerns, etc.

  • One further note: didn’t mean to scare you too much regarding the difficultly of doing an aftermarket. Toyotas are traditionally one of the easier makes to do (usually). Lexus, Infiniti, newers BMWs, Mercedes, etc., are another story. But it is getting harder all the time. Again, let a professional see the car.

  • Check out AIWA — they’ve had input jacks for years. I bought mine 4 years ago after a long search. Salespeople acted like I was eccentric for wanting such a feature. Now my iPod plugs in and plays perfectly, with no kludgey FM gimmicks.

  • Paul A. Gaddis

    FM transmiters suck. I live in South Carolina and while it is rural, we do have a lot of fm stations. Even the weakest signal will knock the transmiter off the channel. Not only that, but the sound is awful! Regular ol’ FM comes in better than my iPod.

  • noel k

    Definately go with a built in Sirius unit, instead of a unit on your dash. Better reception, better overall sound, and so on.

  • Alaska Jack

    Hey Jeff, about 6 months ago I did a WHOLE bunch of research on your same question. I evaluated tons of decks, and settled on the Pioneer DEH-P7600MP.
    I bought from Crutchfield, and paid the extra $$ ($35 or so, IIRC) for the adaptor with the RCA inputs. The adapter is a short cord. I plugged a 6-inch long miniplug-to-RCA adapter cord (couple of bucks from eBay) into it, drilled a hole into the back of the DIN pocket (which Crutchfield included at no extra cost), and ran the cord through the hole. Now I can play anything through my car stereo — an iPod, a portable CD/MP3 player, even a cheap walkman if I want to listen to a cassette. I just plug that miniplug into the headphone jack and I’m good to go.
    The only “downside” is really pretty negligible: You can’t actually control the MP3 player from the stereo unit, you have to use the MP3 player itself (except for volume, of course). That also means that the stereo’s display doesn’t show the track info, and you have to remember to manually turn off the MP3 player when you turn the car off. Big deal.
    The stereo’s not PERFECT, but overall I am quite happy with it. I even use the included remote, which I never thought I’d do when I got it.
    Alaska Jack

  • Otis Wildflower

    IMHO if you can’t see the MP3 info on the stereo head unit and use the stereo’s buttons to change tracks on the iPod, it is TEH LAM3.
    Ergo, pretty much everything out there is TEH LAM3, unfortunately :(