Twenty hours of web research and $250 later we've got a new car stereo. It's a Dual XHD7714 from Crutchfield. I'm getting it installed by Best Buy tomorrow. Let's hope their AV installers do a good job!
First, why did I get a new stereo at all? Well, all I wanted to do was hook up an MP3 player. But there was no easy way to do that. My 2005 minivan came with a factory installed stereo that didn't have an auxiliary input. There are cheap FM transmitter systems that work with any radio, but they look clunky and the sound quality is supposed to be poor. A lot of web searching turned up some aftermarket accessories that allow hooking up either an audio input jack ($75 + $50 installation = $125) or an MP3 player and/or iPod ($125 + $50 = $175.) But the for just a little more money I was able to get a a whole new radio with lot of additional features.
Why this particular model? It was well reviewed and relatively inexpensive. The features I was interested in were:
- MP3 player / USB memory stick player.
- Hands-free bluetooth calling with a built-in microphone.
- Streaming audio from a bluetooth phone.
- Charging USB devices.
- HD radio.
- Good fast text UI for navigating a MP3 player.
- Play MP3s stored on CDs.
- Wireless remote control for "back seat DJs"
- Crutchfield is a good place to research and buy car stereos. For research purposes they have a wide selection, and they have very good information, especially in the form of user reviews. For buying they offer free shipping and more importantly a free installation and wiring kit. They also seem to offer very good telephone help for do-it-yourself installers.
- The add-on car stereo market is in long-term decline. I think that in the next few years the car stereo will become little more than a mobile phone docking station. People will keep their music collection on their phone, or stream it from the internet.
- Car stereo makers are not going down without a fight. They are experimenting with iPhone-inspired full-screen touch-screen UIs and built-in internet radios. While very creative, I don't think people will buy them. They will just use their phones instead.
- Many people want to connect their iPods to their car stereo. In the short term Apple is making this difficult by changing their communication protocols with every generation of iPod. In the long term iPods are going to be replaced by iPhones, which will probably be forced to support bluetooth stereo streaming.