New Car Stereo

The last few days I’ve been busy researching for a replacement head unit for my old VW Golf Mk4. Ever since I bought the car back in 2005 I’ve put up with the stock Gamma radio + CD unit.

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When you think about it it’s kind of funny how fast music playback changes over time. When I was growing up all we had in our car was just a bog standard radio complete with MW, LW & FM later on. Then there was 8 track which never really caught on in this country unlike the USA, our equivalent which dominated car stereos for many years was the humble compact cassette originally designed by Phillips and shared with other manufacturers without royalties to encourage a standard format to be adopted.

Then in the early 90’s the Compact Disc heralded a new era of music playback and ushered in the in-car CD player and for when one CD was not enough the multi-changer. How far we’ve come since those humble beginnings…

I spent most of the last week or so looking at where in-car audio was in the state of things. Most modern cars are now either fitted with non replaceable manufacturer units, botched with Beats Audio, or even worse both!!!

Looking at the current crop of radio’s I was surprised to learn that some of the lower end models now support FLAC along with AAC/MP3/WAV/WMA. What was confusing was navigating the plethora of models now available from the major manufacturers. If you wanted DAB+ you lost FLAC support but gained Bluetooth and so on…

So I eventually narrowed down the choice of stereos to the following:

JVC KD-X320BT
Kenwood KMM-303BT
Pioneer DEH-1700
Pioneer MVH-170UI

Out of the four units only the DEH-1700 had a CD player, the others supporting digital formats.

Spending some time in Halfords looking over the models which were stuck behind Perspex with the bare minimum openings to have a play with them I tested out some music on a USB stick comprising of both MP3 & FLAC formats as well as connecting up my Nexus 4 via a USB cable directly to the radio.

On reading some of the reviews about the Pioneer models I was made aware of the difficulty in seeing the display in bright light. I had noticed when comparing the radio’s that the Pioneer’s display looked slightly dimmer even on maximum brightness.

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The JVC was nice but didn’t really engage me and I found myself being seduced by the Kenwood (which is still JVC as they are the same company now).

I decided to take the plunge and buy the Kenwood, the sales assistant asked me if I was fitting it myself and then asked if I needed a wiring adaptor. I told him that the radio should already come with a standard Molex to ISO harness and that my car was already a standard DIN layout.

The hardest part was the fitting, or should I say the removal of the old units. I had made up some DIY removal keys from watching BMAC VAGS video on YouTube and was able to remove the radio unit after some careful jiggling of the plastic keys using a pair of pliers.

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The real problem was in trying to remove the CD unit as the keys just wouldn’t go in no matter how careful I was. I wasn’t prepared to spend up to a fiver (£5) on a set of keys that I would only use once so I tried the set that came with the Kenwood. They went in just far enough that I could hear a click and after a few minutes I was finally rid of the pesky CD unit.

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Using a piece of nylon strapping (the kind used to hold large cardboard boxes together) I worked on feeding it through the back of the dash to just under the steering column and with some MacGyver know-how made a crude hook out of some plastic conduit to catch the strapping and use some sellotape to hold them together. With that job done I pulled the wired microphone cable through and made neat & tidy. Finally I attached the cage and reversed the red & yellow wires on the cable harness* before connecting the radio back up and inserting it into the dash.

ISO cable

If your radio loses its settings when you turn the ignition off all you need to do is to swap the red & yellow wires!

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And voila! The stereo has landed, all it needs is a pocket to cover the top slot and we’re done. If you’re wondering why the interior of my Golf looks a bit shabby it’s because the plastics used for the dash start to look worn very quickly! And as Yoda once said “When 13 years you reach… look as good you will not!”

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Now time to get some low profile USB sticks!

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