The New Car Stereo

Bought a new car stereo a few weeks ago to replace the broken CD-stacker that came with our Ford Fairmont.

In researching the options it seemed that the mainstream choices these days were for stereos with auxiliary-in jacks at the front, so you could plug your music player in, and/or units that would play mp3s. Turns out that latter option means they will play mp3s that you've burned onto CDs, not off something super-high-tech like a memory stick. Hmmm.

Well, that's not quite true. Newer units are starting to appear with USB slots that will play music off a USB memory stick, so there are actually starting to be some useful options available. I didn't see any that took anything like compact flash or SD cards however.

They also don't seem to know anything much about codecs except MP3, WMA, WAV, and some AAC. Being the open source geek that I am, I was keen to get something that supported ogg vorbis, but I could not find any information (including with my google-fu) on models that might support this. I did find one guy, however, who'd burnt a bunch of tracks in different formats to a CD and then just gone down and tried out all the units at his local hi-fi store. That sounded like a plan!

So I ended up testing a bunch of units at my local JB Hi-Fi and Strathfield stores, and the good news is that about half of them actually played ogg vorbis just fine. I guess they're just using stock sound decoder chips, which these support a whole bunch of codecs out of the box. Sure would be nice if they could manage to advertise the codecs they actually support though.

We ended up going with a Kenwood KDC-MP4036U, which advertises support for "MP3/WMA/AAC Files", but plays at least ogg vorbis just fine as well. It's supposedly AU$429 RRP, but we picked it up for $180 at the big post-Christmas sale at Strathfield, so clearly it pays to shop around.

So far it's working really nicely - I've got most of the girls' music and stories on a 4GB USB stick and get them to drive the music selection from the back using the remote control. Way more music than 6-CDs ever gave us, and without the hassle of a separate music player or ipod.

All is good in the car again!