A gadget for the car that's music to my ears

STEPHEN HUTCHEON

Sydney Morning Herald
December 15, 2009

Over the years I've been experimenting with various iPod and iPhone accessories designed to allow portable music to be played through the car stereo without the need to subject the car to invasive surgery.

All previous attempts involved hooking up to FM transmitter-based devices, which purport to allow you to stream your music wirelessly into your car's hi-fi system.

 

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But I've come to the conclusion that most of these devices are woefully unsuitable for uninterrupted, interference-free listening. And no amount of fiddling, tweaking and shifting frequencies is going to change that.

There just isn't enough free space on the FM radio spectrum to ensure a satisfactory listener experience.

A French Richard Branson

All of which is a long-winded introduction to a Frenchman named Henri Seydoux, a man whose CV makes him out to be a cross between James Dyson (funky device designer) and Richard Branson (serial entrepreneur).

A former journalist, Seydoux is the founder of Parrot, a maker of Bluetooth and wireless tech gear. He is also the founder and a director of the luxury shoe company Christian Louboutin.

Parrot which specialises in hands-free systems for cars and motorcycles, recently branched out into designer accessories such as the Philippe Starck-designed Zikmu iPhone speakers, which won a “Best of Show” award at last year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, back to the car and the quest for a device that will allow me to pump up the volume and blast out the Best of Nana Mouskouri in a way it was intended to be played.

Look, no hands

Enter the Parrot MKi 9200 - a hands-free mobile car kit with a very uncatchy name and an excellent pedigree.

While it's designed to work with a number of mobile phones, like all phone accessory makers, the current focus is on the iPhone. (At least give them credit for not calling it the i-Parrot.)

Did I mention it's also a hands-free mobile car kit? Solution overkill, if you're just looking for a better in-car iPod music experience but worth the extra cost if you (a) take and make a lot of calls in the car and (b) happen to be driving south of the Murray River this holiday season.

New road rules that came into effect in Victoria last month are among the strictest in the land regarding a driver's use of mobile phones. Basically, unless it's in a cradle and you're using a hands-free device, you face a hefty fine and a loss of demerit points.

And those changes to the road rules were agreed to by all state and territory transport ministers meaning that sooner or later, the same laws will apply nationally.

Better than FM

The MKi 9200 syncs with your iPhone via Bluetooth when you start up the engine. The small screen - which you stick on to your dashboard - lights up and tells you you're connected.

The manufacturer recommends the device be installed by a professional, a job that can take up to an hour and a half depending on the complexity of your car's innards. The installation is described as "screw and hole free" and does involve hard wiring.

You can dial using the voice commands (not always 100 per cent accurate); by scrolling through your iPhone contact lists; or by dialling using the jog button on the device's volume control (not recommended).

(With the voice commands, if the name is not recognised, you'll be prompted for confirmation. But if it is, then the device will immediately launch into the call - without a double check. So when I asked for "Kate", the phone started calling "White". On the second attempt, it started calling "Katie". On the third attempt, it dialled "Kate".)

Everyone in the car, of course, gets to listen in to your calls because it's all routed through the stereo system. But it's hands-free and it's loud and clear.

You can also play your music this way, although you will have to set it up before you get under way and, once the playlist is in action, there's no way to change playlists or skip tracks without having to fiddle with the iPhone.

And if you receive a call when you're listening to music, you get put back again once you hang up.

Although this is only a partially tethered solution (the Parrot box is connected to the stereo), the quality of the Bluetooth stream is head and shoulders above FM.

The other way is to use the fully tethered method and dock your iPhone to the connector wire. Although it's almost impossible to tell the difference in sound quality, this method of hooking up your phone has two distinct advantages:

1. You charge your phone at the same time.

2. You can use the Parrot controller - a two-button, one-knob device - to skip through tracks.

All of which goes to prove that in an age of ubiquitous wirelessness, you still can't go past a tethered solution when it comes to in-car music.

 

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