View Full Version : OK, So What Is It With All the Junk?

04-01-2014, 09:34 AM
Seriously folks....

I just picked up a new Mazda '15 Sport 6, manual gearbox. It has a "basic" radio that happens to have a double-din adapter available for it, which was one of the reasons I went this direction -- I hated the "stock" enhanced head unit Mazda had.

So out I go to look for a head unit to replace it with. Simple, right? Not really.

In 2003 I bought a VW Jetta. It had the "Monsoon" double-DIN system in it. On the changer plug I stuck a Phatbox, and now have 100GB of disk-based music with voice navigation (it speaks to you) that sorts properly on album and artist, and allows drill-down. It's nice, it works, and it holds my entire music collection. It also plays not only MP3s but FLAC files as well.

So it's now 2014 and I think it should be reasonably-trivial to get a head unit that will:

1. Allow me to plug in a sizeable USB key or a USB drive (e.g. a SSD) full of music and not only allow me to see the folder hierarchy (e.g. navigate by Artist and Album) but which will also sort by the filename as my home system does (and so does my phone.) Being able to display the album art files would be nice too since there's plenty of screen real estate to do so. Virtually all head units cannot do this; they either can't display the album art, don't sort the files correctly and play them in "as added to the storage" order instead of alphabetically, and/or can't display the hierarchy and allow navigation of it! And why can't they play FLAC files -- there's no licensing issue here, just laziness. And what is it with some of these units that forget where they were on a USB key or plugged-in drive when you turn them off rather than resuming where you were?

2. If I pair a Bluetooth device will at minimum properly honor AVRCP (next and previous track) interfacing plus being able to read the artist, album and similar. Oh by the way, it should support aptX for a Codec too; this is 2014, not 2003. No, most head units can't do any of that. Incidentally this includes the so-called "App Radio" from Pioneer which looks good right up until you try to go forward or back and instead of navigating forward or back it randomly selects a track number to play. What?! Again, AVRCP has been supported (properly!) on Bluetooth headphones for at least the last ten years or so.

3. Some head units have a spectral mapping and equalization capability. That's nice, given how ugly the sonic environment is in most cars. How come none of them come with the required microphone, and by the way, what are the specs for that in terms of frequency response and such? How do you do accurate timebase correction if you don't know what the mic's characteristics look like? My home stereo could do this 10 years ago. How come my car stereo can't?

4. Why is that nearly all aftermarket car head units look like something out of a cheap china shop when it comes to controls and operation? Membrane volume buttons on a $300+ head unit instead of real and nicely-designed buttons? Cheap-feeling volume controls? Resistive instead of capacitive touch screens (that's so 2003ish)? On $300, $400 or even more-expensive units? Really?

I don't get it. Am I simply asking too much for decent design, current feature sets and the ability to interoperate with other devices in a way that land-based and even portable things (e.g. a set of bluetooth headphones) could accomplish a decade or more ago! You have a ~6" screen here -- why isn't it being used to thoughtfully do things like display a folder hierarchy and properly sort the tracks inside, display album art during playback and similar? Yes, I want to add an amp and change the speakers too, but if I can't feed the amp and speakers with a decent head unit what's the point?

There's more but this is a good start. Does anyone have suggestions for head units that actually meet these requirements, or is this "industry" simply brain-dead?