Of course Pioneer says its AVIC system, despite being a sort of entertainment pocketknife with every possible option, is capable of audiophile quality sound. But the point the industry wants to make now is that car audio is less about the audio and more about offering a full suite of options that go beyond just listening to radio and music.
It makes sense – people increasingly carry their music on an iPod or similar, or even on their phone. And why not? No tempting CD wallet for thieves to break into the car and steal. But unless you’re technically adept, iPod output can’t justify a $3000 amp and speaker combo.
If you’re determined to spend $3000, manufacturers would rather give you a double-DIN head-unit that has GPS built in, as well as a full set of phone, music and movie options.
Big head-units like this can split their output into multiple zones, and also multitask. So your system could be displaying a GPS route on the 7 inch touchscreen display while you talk handsfree via a Bluetooth mobile connection, and the kids (or easily bored adult passengers) watch a movie on the rear screens.
Yes, you can achieve all of this with a stick-on GPS, Bluetooth kit, and separate DVD player, but it means clutter in the cabin, and none of the cheap discrete devices will do as good a job as the big expensive head-unit.
For instance, you can use the GPS system to search for your favourite restaurant via an exhaustive Points-Of-Interest list, then tap the phone icon to call the restaurant and make a booking with your mobile.
And if you’re prepared for a little more outlay, you can have all this integrated into your car’s existing steering wheel controls (subject to the model of your car, of course).
Where’s my DAB+?
Digital radio has been broadcasting in capital cities for a while now, so when can we see DAB+ receivers built in to our head-units? Well, not for a while, at least as far as the major brands are concerned.
The problem isn’t that there aren’t enough Australian drivers who want crystal-clear sound while they commute. The problem is that most units are designed in Japan for global markets.
Australia is a tiny part of the full market, and we’re pretty much the only people using DAB+, though the UK is in the progress of upgrading its digital radio system.
Couple this with the embarrassing failure of satellite radio in the US, and nobody is ready to jump on the DAB+ bandwagon just yet.
The prediction? A year to 18 months, and DAB+ will be standard.