As many know the the winds of change have been brewing for sometime in the way we listen and enjoy our music. Gone our the days of cassette tape players and personal cd players. More and more these days people are listening to their music collections not on tapes or compact discs but playing card sized MP3 players.
The best selling and continuously highest rated player out there by far is the Apple iPod. While the sighting of it's trademark white ear-buds was once a rare sight the tiny player now seems to be almost ubiquitous. Sales reached almost three quaters of a million units last quarter alone and show no signs of slowing. The beauty of these devices is that you can take your entire music collection with you in a device that's smaller than most cellphones. I for one listen to my 40 gig version (which holds 97% of my collection) at home, on the train to and from the office and in the office itself.
However there has traditionally one place that listening to the iPod (or other Mp3 devices) has been somewhat inconvenient – the car. Before now there have been three ways of integrating MP3 players into car audio…
The Good: The MINI AUX port. It took awhile but when MINI finally did release the AUX port as a dealer accessory it was an immediate hit with the MP3 crowd. Finally there was some way to effectively listen to MP3 players by hooking it directly up with the MINI's stereo. Of course there were drawbacks. For one the audio many times had to be adjusted on the iPod not to mention the stereo itself. Secondly you still couldn't skip to the next track or for that matter control the player at all from the car itself. And finally there was no ability to charge from the car itself – one had to rely on an after-market option and yet another device in the car. All told for $45 dollars it wasn't (and still isn't) a bad option.
The Bad: Cassette tape adapters. These devices have been around for many years and actually were created initially so one could bring their personal cd player into their cassette equipped car. The drawbacks however were many. First off the tape had set up correctly to play on only one side – not a feat accomplished easy if your tape player was one that automatically switched sides when it detected silence. Secondly the tapes would often get jammed in the players and in some cases ended up actually destroying them in the process. Finally while on the surface of it, one more wire in the car seemly wasn't a huge deal it was when it was coming from the middle of the dash – especially if you had a manual. Wires would often get tangled in anything and everything directly below the tape deck.
The Ugly: Portable FM Transmitters. I firmly believe portable FM transmitters are the tape adapters of the 01's. They work by connecting to the player and then broadcasting the signal in usually one of three FM signals. There are several problems with this. First off if you live in any kind of larger metropolitan area these three radio signals are often already used up thus making for rude interruptions of John Denver when you're trying to listen to the latest Blur album. Secondly the transmitters have a nasty habit of eating batteries at an alarming pace – making them a much more expensive solution in the long term than anything here.
So as you can see there has been a real need for a device that could integrate MP3 players like the iPod into the car. I'm happy to say that this need has now been met with the Denison ICE-Link.
The ICE-Link is a device that works exclusively with the iPod to accomplish several things. First off it allows the audio signal of the iPod to be played directly into the head unit of the car. It actually takes the place of the cd changer. Further it allows control of the iPod (volume/rewind/fast forward/pause/skip track back and forward) through both the head unit and the optional multi-function steering wheel. Finally the ICE-Link also charges the iPod directly from the head unit – meaning that the iPod powers up and subsequently powers down when the head unit is turned on and off.
It does all this by connecting to the back of the head unit and essentially translating what the iPod is doing into a form that head unit understands via the connection that the CD changer would normally own. That signal is then sent to the optional Multi-function steering wheel to complete integration.
Charging the iPod is the work of the optional Firewire connection which is something that doesn't actually come with the ICE-Link kit. That being said I highly recommend it. It not only charges the iPod but it also turns it on and off depending on whether the head unit is on or off. Quite a nice trick and well worth the use of an extra firewire iPod cable ($15-$20).
The other key of the ICE-Link adapter is the mounting. If the iPod isn't mounted high enough trying to scroll through your music will be both tiresome and dangerous. I went with the Belkin iPod car mount ($30) coupled with the MINI-Fini Cup Holder which is now standard with all MINIs. The combination offers perfect placement for scrolling through playlists and artists yet allows for quick removal if I'd rather not have either in the MINI. Denison offers their own mount for the iPod for also around $30.
So once you've got both you're Firewire charger and the audio hooked up your ready to go. Upon first turning on the head unit you would turn the mode to the CD Changer mode. At that point the iPod will turn on and either pick up on the song where it was last turned off or default to the menu if there was no song playing. From there you'll need to choose what you want to play, hit and play and enjoy.
Each time the iPod turns on it will automcatically adjust the volume up to 75% to match the volume output of the head unit. The result is volume that is equal across either the radio, cd or iPod. Another thoughtful touch that adds to the seemless effect of the whole set-up.
Personally I've found the ICE-Link/iPod connection and subsequent interaction noting short of astounding. Suddenly having the ability to take my music (and my favorite playlists) with me is really quite a useful thing. Almost every bit of music I own (or at least 40 gigs worth) is now with me at all times in the MINI. Gone are the days of lugging 5-10 single cds or even the nylon cd jackets so many of us have.
Overall I can't recommend the ICE-Link adapter enough. While the entire package is certainly on the expensive side (as much as 66% of the price of a low end iPod itself) it's the connection that iPod owners have truly been waiting for. If you're looking for the ultimate iPod integration there simply is no other choice. Being able to play the iPod, control the iPod and charge the iPod all from the head unit and the multi-functional steering wheel is nothing short of amazing to anyone who has endlessly fiddled with FM transmitters and the like.
I had planned on writing a full installation guide including photos and illustrations but as it turns out that job had already been done. You can find the full set of instructions here countesy of Mark.
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