Integrate your iPod with your car — the right way

I normally restrict myself to writing about ALUI (Plumtree) topics, but I just can’t resist sharing my thoughts on a recent purchase I made that has changed my life (no kidding).

Up until Monday of this week, I’ve been a happy iPod user (3G, 20 Gb) who enjoys using his iPod in the car but who has never been completely happy with the available options for iPod automobile integration. I started with Griffin’s iTrip, a little cylindrical module that plugs into the top of an iPod and broadcasts the amplified sound to an FM frequency of your choosing. There are several problems with this approach:

  1. The sound is amplified — it would be better to start with a flat signal.
  2. You have to change frequencies when you travel because of interference from other stations.
  3. It’s incredibly difficult to change broadcast frequencies and there’s no way to tell which frequency you’re on.
  4. You have to operate the iPod while driving, which can be dangerous.
  5. You need to purchase separate accessories (such as a cigarette lighter charger) in order to keep the iPod juiced.
  6. You have to deal with messy cables and other electronica in your car that you need to remove and hide in the trunk when you park and leave the car.

Recently I purchased a better integration kit (also from Griffin) called the Road Trip. This unit addresses several of the problems, but not all of them.

  1. The sound is flat — it connects to the dock rather than the audio out.
  2. You still have to change frequencies when you travel.
  3. It’s super easy to change frequencies (and there are even presets) and there’s an LCD that tells you what frequency you’re on.
  4. You still have to operate the iPod in the car, but at least there’s a nice support structure that holds the iPod in a comfortable position for the driver.
  5. It automatically charges the iPod with the included cigarette lighter adapter.
  6. You still have to have the iPod in the car, although it’s more contained because the charger, FM modulator and holder are all part of the same unit.

So as you can see, I was getting closer to the ultimate iPod/car integration solution, but I still hadn’t arrived at it fully.

Until Monday.

After some extensive searching and several calls to the local BMW dealership, I found a product called the USA Spec iPod Adapter that solves all of my iPod/car integration woes, was easy to install, and well priced at around $130 (including tax and shipping) from Bavarian Autosport.

It works with most BMWs (as long as there is no navigation system installed) and it installs in literally 15 minutes.

To install it, I simply removed my car’s factory-installed, trunk-mounted 6-disc CD changer (which I’ve never used) and pulled out the two cables that power the unit and connect it to my Harmon Kardon audio system. I then attached these two cables to a cable (included with the adaptor) which plugs into the adapter. From there, there’s another cable that connects the adapter to the iPod. The whole unit (adaptor + cables + iPod) is safely concealed in the trunk.

I can now operate the iPod from my audio console, which sees the iPod as a CD changer. Playlists BMW1 through BMW4 are mapped to CDs 1-4, CD 5 plays all tracks on the iPod and CD 6 activates the auxillary RCA input jack into which I could plug satellite radio or any other component. The USA Spec adapter also charges the iPod, but is smart enough to shut off one hour after the car gets turned off to prevent drain on the battery.

So I’ve finally found it — the ultimate iPod/car integration kit. No more FM modulation, great sound, easy installation, easy and safe operation and the iPod is where it belongs: in the trunk!