Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Since I got my ride in January this year, I have been contemplating a simple ICE (In Car Entertainment) job i.e. the replacement of the head unit (HU). The custom-built one looks nice but it is lacking in a few areas:
1. No AUX input - it is a single-disc player and I think it is safer to listen to a long playlist on a MP3 player than to change CDs while on a long drive.
2. CD format - the CD player does not support MP3, Windows Media or Apple's AAC formats.
3. Poor radio reception - the quality of broadcast received from FM stations is quite bad.
I gave myself a few months to see if I can endure these shortcomings. I made a firm decision that I could not early last month when the thought of the long ride to Genting Highlands during the September school holiday fills my mind.
As I have a limited budget, I drop the desire for a DVD receiver, lower my expectation of sound quality and place esthetic on a higher priority. As the stock HU is of 2-din dimension, I enquired on how a 1-din HU will look in its place. A box can be added below or above the 1-din HU installation but I do not like the odd setup. Thus, I limit my search to only 2-din CD receiver HU. These are the brands that I considered: Kenwood, Pioneer and Sony. I wrote off Kenwood as I do not like having a USB drive sticking into the front USB port.
The Pioneer 2-din CD receiver HU is a popular choice among owners of my car make. However, I find that the blue OLED lighting does not match the dashboard well. The Sony HU is a better match once I discovered that the key illumination can be switched to amber. Although the sound quality of the Pioneer HU is known to be better, I decided on the Sony HU model WX-GT78UI since the price is lower, its features meet most of my criteria and I can use the savings on the speaker upgrade. I settled on the Hertz Energy series ESK165 and ECX165. The installation of the HU and speakers took about two hours. I was not aware of the complexity until the technician started to take apart the dashboard and the doors' panel.
After a week's use, here is the assessment of my first ICE job:
Sound quality is significantly enhanced but I do not know how much to attribute the improvement to the speakers versus the HU. Placing the tweeters outside of the front columns (where the stock tweeters are located), on top of the dashboard helps deliver the higher frequencies very clearly. I will definitely replace stock ICE in my future rides.
The HU matches nicely to the matt black dashboard - the main front panel is glossy black and the twelve keys around the big circular LED display are in matt black. The amber key illumination also matches well with the air-con control and other dashboard readings, especially in the dark. The LED displays the track name and album title in English but does not support Chinese or Japanese characters (an underscore character "_" appears in place of each unsupported character).
The USB port is at the rear and the unit is bundled with a cable that can be installed at a convenient location; I asked to place the USB adapter in the glove compartment as shown. Thus, my USB drive can be connected and neatly stored. Sound quality from the playback of USB media is good. The HU can also support several models of iPod with the bundled USB adapter (no need for special iPod adapter) but both models that I have, the iPod Mini and iPod Shuffle, are not supported ... sigh.
I also cut a CD with songs in all three formats (MP3, WMA, AAC) and the HU could recognize the CD with Digital Media. The HU has a special feature DM+ which enhances the sound quality of Digital Media.
Radio reception is clear and now I enjoy the radio broadcast much better than the stock unit. It has three sets of 6 FM preset frequencies and two sets for AM frequencies. The preset frequency keys are on the right hand side of the big circular LED display.
The front AUX port enable audio input from my portable DVD player and MP3 players. However, I find that the sound quality is not that great using the AUX port.
In conclusion, I am very satisfied with this ICE upgrade. The ICE research done over the internet and chat with the technician have already given me ideas for future upgrades - amplifier, subwoofers, processor, CD changer, DVD, GPS, etc. I attached the cool night display to end this post.