Why Are Car Stereos So Ugly?
I’ve been through two FM iPod transmitters in the past few years and they both suck(ed). These are small devices that plug into your iPod and send the signal to your FM car radio. I’ve been lazy about replacing it yet again because I don’t drive that often in the city, but on weekend road trips to the ski slopes and camping some tunes are definitely required. And I enjoy audiobooks on those really long cross country drives.
Over the weekend I decided to forgo purchasing yet another transmitter and look into an in-dash unit that has an iPod or MP3 player plug. Thus I can rock out on the wide open road without annoying interference and changing frequencies.
I haven’t shopped for a car stereo in over 10 years. Our current Saturn has a factory unit with CD/radio which has worked fine. (Except for the iPod issue.) I figured with 10 plus years of design improvements I could find a nice clean looking in-dash unit, splurge for installation, and be happy as a clam for a few hundred dollars.
No such luck. Why does every car stereo look exactly like the one I bought for my Pontiac 6000 in 1987? The buttons are all too tiny, they’re too shiny, and the poor layout gives an aesthetic appeal of a 1970s Hi-Fi turnable deck. No wait I take that back. Albeit bulky those were actually laid out well with easy access controls. Why in the age of portable personal audio with firm control wheels and metallic housing for under $200 are similarly priced car radios so atrociously ugly and plasticy? Have any of these electronics architects ever heard of the term “soft key?” I realize I’m not reviewing the high end stuff, but I don’t need or want seatback DVD players and video screens. I just want my iPod to play clear and I don’t want my car to look like Chuck Cranston’s truck from “Footloose” – with the propped up ghetto blaster and all.
Since I don’t want to replace my flush factory unit with one of these eyesores I’m now considering another FM transmitter. If you have a stellar one that you use and like please let me know. Based on some initial searching I’m considering the “iPod Trip,” the “DLO TransPod” or the “Belkin Clearscan” which automatically scans and finds the best frequency.
Now let’s have a look at what I WON’T be buying: This Kenwood is only $160 and has an iPod input. But the design and style? Ugh…
This Alpine unit has the features I want, but looks as though its being reflected off a funhouse mirror.
The dials on this JVC unit could blind someone in the sun.
At $349 the below Alpine is less cluttered with a large button panel, but for some reason straight lines are impossible to find on any unit.
This Alpine finally achieves a decent standard, but at $699 its more than I want to spend. I guess $700 plus installation is the demarcation line in which swooping and diving neo-futuristic lines cease to exist.
Also for some reason Cartoys.com still has “In-Dash Cassettes” listed on their drop down. But it leads to an empty page. Best Buy’s selection isn’t any more attractive.