I've always been fascinated with car audio even though I never really got into it. The most I've done is upgrade my head unit and speakers.
I remember back in college our family car was a Toyota Corolla XL "big body" base model, and base models back in those days really felt, well, base. There was no stereo, no clock, or even power windows. But it was a good car, and history would vindicate that generation as one of the best Corollas ever.
But for my teenage sensibilities, I always felt there was a gaping hole in the 1 DIN slot where the head unit should be. I lobbied to my dad for a cassette head unit, and on one of my birthdays I got one. It was a Pioneer tape deck that was one of the first-generation models with a remote control.
The point of a remote somewhat escaped me at that time. Car designers situated the head unit slot near enough for manual control, and it seemed too trivial to create a remote control just for back seat passengers. But lo and behold, I liked using the remote. It must have been the gadget geek in me. I enjoyed switching between songs on the tape using the remote. Back then advanced tape decks had a function that could move from one song after another by detecting the few-second gaps between songs. Like I said, gadget geek.
We replaced that Corolla with a Lancer, and it came with an Alpine six-disc changer. That was a very good stereo. It would take a molar-jarring pothole to make it skip the song it was playing. And the sound was crisp and clear.
Fast forward to now, and I'm still using an Alpine head unit in my car. But this time it has iPod connectivity. I have to say that this connection is very limited. Scrolling through the music library is tedious, the best solution is to have set playlists. This isn't for those who like choosing and selecting songs while driving.
Despite its shortcomings when it comes to fully integrating with the iPod, I like this head unit and I'll stay with it for a few years. But I'm amazed at the new models that are coming out.
This is a digital media station, the Alpine iXA-W407BT. Its purpose is to play digital media like video or audio files, it doesn't even have a CD player anymore. When these players started appearing, I thought them not having a CD player was a serious omission. Then I realized I rarely played CDs on my iPod-capable head unit anymore. I'd just program playlists in it and skip through the songs or choose a genre and flip through that.
Of course the iXA-W407BT (can't they think of an easier naming system?) is compatible with the most popular digital media device in the universe. It displays album art from iPods and streams video from them too. The 7" screen is a touch screen, with alphabet search to help search for songs quickly.
For those nomads who don't have iPods, it can play music from AM/FM and USB memory sticks. But you won't feel cool.
I'm not sure what will come after this. Maybe they will be able to stream music directly from our heads, or create playlists based on our mood, but it doesn't really matter. I'll always be fascinated with car audio technology, but my love affair is with the music.
This love affair came from late night drives with a cassette of the Eraserheads' Circus in the tape deck, me and my best friend heading to Select for snacks, or just going nowhere and talking about our lives that were yet to be filled with adult baggage. If life were a series of pictures, these were the ones you frame and hang on your wall.
As long as car audio technology can remind me of those days by playing R.E.M. and Pearl Jam on nights when I'm driving home alone, that's good enough for me.