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Finally, a Fantastic iPod-in-the-Car System

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Episode 57
March 31th, 2006

I've been searching for the solution to my “best way to use an iPod in the car” problem for several years. I've tried cassette adapters and FM transmitters. I even had a _-inch audio jack installed in my glove box. That was the best solution of 'em all, but it had a fatal flaw-to change songs, artists, or playlists I had to use the iPod to click and/or turn the click wheel. After a couple of close calls I realized it was a very bad idea. So while the audio fidelity of my _-inch jack was excellent, it offered no safe way to operate the iPod while in motion.

Then, last summer, I saw a prototype of Harman/Kardon's soon-to-be-released solution, Drive + Play installed in a 5-series BMW and was almost certain I had found just what I'd been searching for. Drive + Play consists of three components: A small backlit monochrome display, a five-button control knob, and a “brain” that makes the whole thing work. Late last year I finally got my hands on one and had it professionally installed (by Circuit City for $100) and after just a couple of days I knew without question I had discovered the ultimate system for using my iPod in the car safely and with the best possible audio quality.

I shot some pictures of the Drive + Play in my Mini Cooper so you can see for yourself.

In Figures 1 and 2 you see the backlit display.


Figure 1: The Drive + Play display mounted on my dashboard.


Figure 2: Close-up of the Drive + Play display on my dash.

The rotary five-button controller can be mounted almost anywhere. In my Mini it is installed between the front seats and just to the left of my hand brake, as shown in Figure 3.


Figure 3: The five-button controller.

That's a great place for it because that is where my right hand naturally rests when it's not on the stick shift or steering wheel. I don't have to look down; I just let my right hand drop and it lands on the controller.

Figure 4 shows the controller in greater detail.


Figure 4: Close-up of the controller between my front seats.

The controller works almost exactly like an iPod click wheel. You twist it to the left or right to fast forward or rewind, or press one of the buttons for the next song, previous song, play/pause, or menu.

Last but not least, the “brain” component is mounted in my glove box, which is also where I stash my iPod as shown in Figure 5.


Figure 5: My glove box-where the Drive + Play “brain” and iPod live.

Drive + Play works with any iPod that has a docking connector including iPod mini and iPod Photo. You can connect Drive + Play to your car's audio system three different ways.

  • 1/8" (3.5mm) audio jack.
  • Wired FM transmitter (sold separately).
  • Wireless FM transmitter.

The 1/8" audio jack provides the cleanest, best sounding audio, and is what I used in my system. If your car stereo can't be wired that way (and some can't), you can still install and use Drive + Play, albeit with the lower fidelity FM transmitter.

I love it. I can change tracks or choose playlists, artists, and songs all without taking my eyes off the road. And having the controller right under my hand is great, allowing me to operate my iPod without looking down.

I've been using Drive + Play for around four months and don't have any complaints. It does what it's supposed to do and does it better than any other option I've tried. I recommend it without hesitation.

Harman/Kardon Drive + Play. S.R.P. $199 ($199 - Amazon).

And that's all he wrote...

Bob "Dr. Mac" LeVitus has been a Macintosh user for a long, long time and has written 49 computer books including Mac OS X Tiger For Dummies and GarageBand for Dummies. He also offers expert technical help and training to Mac users, in real time and at reasonable prices, via telephone, e-mail, and/or unique Internet-enabled remote control software. For more information on Bob and his services, visit www.boblevitus.com.

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