Friday, March 15, 2013

Car Upgrade: Pioneer AVH-X2500BT Media Center

I just paid off my three-year loan on my 2009 Mitsubishi Galant. I bought it as a 1-year-old used car to replace my very aged 1998 Jeep Wrangler, which I'd owned for 9 years. My goal with this car is to keep it for nearly as long, to remain car-payment-free for as long as I can, or at least before non-warranty repairs start becoming annoying and expensive.

Photo of the X2500BT from Pioneer's page
The problem with keeping a car for a long time is that you get bored with it. It starts to look out of date and old, even if you take care of it. And you start to get new car lust. Not only do newer cars start to look sexy, but you start to notice the new features and toys available in newer cars that yours just doesn't have. With my Jeep, I had no air conditioning, no power windows or locks, no extra goodies whatsoever. I'd forestalled new car lust for a while by buying an MP3/CD player to replace the factory audio, but true to its nature, the Jeep just didn't have much "extra."

This is what Mitsubishi supplies
with higher end Galants. Mine
doesn't have the pop-up section.
But note the silver lower part.
That's why my seemingly pedestrian, boring family sedan purchase felt like buying a Lexus to me. Even in the basic "ES" trim, the car felt cushy by comparison. The automatic transmission was a pleasure after driving stick for so long. I had power windows and locks. All I lost was the convertible aspect, but I'd had enough of it, actually. What the car didn't have that later cars started to feature was traction control, bluetooth, back-up camera, USB-input, or any other kind of input besides CDs.

I actually started the "love your car" project when I still had eight months to go on the loan. The main aesthetic drawback to the design of my car was always the headlights. Though my car had been refreshed and updated from its 2003 design, they left the big honking headlights through each facelift the design received. It probably wouldn't bother most people, but it bugged me. So, I purchased "eyelids" for the car, and I think it vastly improved the car's appearance. The next step--which I stipulated only would happen after the payoff--was a new car stereo with all the goodies.

This is how it looks in my car.
Note the boring flat black.
I'll back up, and admit that I even prepared for this eventuality by purchasing a dash kit for the new, larger stereo. My car's dash--like most newer cars--had a dash insert that encompassed not just the stereo, but the climate controls. So, you need a kit that replaces the face of all that. Buying one in advance saves you the hassle and delay of having the retailer order one. There are only a couple of companies that make the kit, and they are decidedly low-frills. More on that in a bit. But anyway, I had that ready to go, and after some research headed off to Fry's Electronics to purchase the unit I had my eye on, which happened to be on sale.

The head unit I decided upon was the Pioneer AVH-X2500BT, a mid-range model from their DVD double DIN (that means double height) series. I didn't need a navigation system--having one in my phone and rarely needing it--and wasn't interested in HD radio. But, I figured, if I'm going to have a
display screen, I might as well get a back-up camera with it. This, of course, increases the installation price, but it all gets done at once. I opted for a $30 mounted camera, which seemed like the way to go. You can find them cheaper, but Fry's alternative was a license plate-mounted one which was much more expensive. Anyway, the difference in ability was minimal, so I just got the permanently mounted one.

One thing I'm learning about modern stereo/multi-function devices like this, is that they are not particularly user friendly. I'm a techie, and even I had to look things up online and in the manual, and discover just by trial and error. The Other Half recently bought a new car, which also has a Pioneer stereo, but it's single DIN, with a less advanced display. That one is very tricky and counter-intuitive. The X2500 is much easier to figure out. I was able to change the overall color scheme to match my dashboard lights (orange), change the background image, pair my phone with the bluetooth, set my radio stations and--most importantly to me on this project--attach my 64 GB USB drive, loaded with music!

I'd already made a 32 GB USB drive for The Other Half for his new car. I spent 10 hours or so paring down our massive music collection into individual folders (both by artist, and with some hodgepodge 60s/70s/80s/90s/00s groupings). What I'd discovered then, and forgotten how to do, was how to get the stereo to understand the proper order of the drive. It would seem that the default setup for these things is to group the music folders by date created. That would be the date that the folders and/or music was digitized in the first place. I copied the original drive on the new 64 GB drive, and discovered that  Taco - After Eight was my de facto first folder, period. Everything flowed after that, some in alphabetical order (because I'd apparently created them that way), and some in random order. It was a mess.

It comes with a remote, but
it's pretty pointless in
a sedan.

After a few fruitless Google searches, I found the secret. There is a simple program out there called MP3dirsorter. Find it and bookmark it. You don't even have to download it, per se. You find it online, bring it up, and it puts a window on your desktop. All you do, is access your USB drive (already loaded with music, of course), and drag the whole drive right into the window, and then wait. It will chug along, putting everything in alphabetical order, and will make your experience with your car stereo so much easier. If you add music to it later, you can just repeat the process. My 32 GB of music took just a few minutes.

The X2500 does not have front-panel access to the auxiliary ports, which as it turns out, is preferable, but be sure to pay attention if you're not installing it yourself. The unit has inputs available on the rear for a standard input (earphone jack size), USB, and iPhone (USB, but for use with a special, optional cable). This frees up your dash from having wires or drives sticking out of it, and puts the connection in your glove box or console. You have to specify where you want the connection to be, but you also have to specify how many connections you want. I asked for the USB, but didn't think to ask for the AUX. It's really okay, I don't need it, but you might want it.

A drawback to the X2500 is that it is iPhone/iPod-centric, but this is true of most advanced audio equipment, and even some low-end stuff. Attention electronics makers! Not everyone has Apple products! *Ahem* But even that issue is okay, it just makes some of the additional features of the unit beside the point. I am still able to listen to audio content on my phone through the unit with no problem at all. It also has Pandora built in, and takes no extra effort to use. It's awesome.

My next object of lust.
I haven't yet tried a DVD in the unit, and doubt that I'll really ever need that. I also haven't encountered a problem with the Nevada state-required law that has some features disabled unless your emergency brake is set.  Apparently, you have to double-set the brake in order to get some functions to cooperate, to make absolutely sure that you're sitting still. Also, after trial and error, I've discovered that I need to put the car into reverse, into neutral, and back into reverse in order to get the backup camera to show the measurement grid overlaid on the image.

Since Mitsubishi designed the dash to have the radio rather low in the center stack, placement of the backup image isn't optimal. Their plan (for their higher trim levels) was a screen at the top of the stack, but aftermarket units won't fit there. Fine with me, I think it would look rather clunky, as you can see. It just leaves me with a clock where my rudimentary radio display used to be, and an odd "E-Comm" message. I'm sure I'll get used to the placement.

Anyway, I'm very pleased with my purchase. Every time I've gotten out of the car since it was installed, I've got a smile on my face. I must've said, "have I mentioned how much I love my stereo?" a dozen times. I am very satisfied, and I'm now immune to new car lust, at least for the time being. The only thing I still want to buy to complete my car is a rear deck spoiler, to make the car look a little more sporty. Probably later this year. In the mean time, I'm set!




Pros
Cons
Attractive
Will not look like it came with the car
No delay when changing songs
Menus for large USB drive is sluggish (not surprising)
Bluetooth setup almost effortless
Non-intuitive setup for non-techies
Remembers what you were listening to last, even through blutooth.
No off button! Buttons not identifiable by touch.
Smooth, non-cluttered appearance
No volume knob (no knobs at all)
Sounds better than base factory stereo
Overwhelms factory speakers (duh)
Offers multiple choices for music, only limited by the size of input device
The listing order of the tracks on USB/MP3 drive requires special software
Bluetooth phone makes answering and calling legal!
Bluetooth phone requires that a visible microphone be installed
Multi-color programmable display lets you match your dashboard lights or set your own style
Animated wallpaper choices are limited, and curiously the animation is mostly obscured by album art icons

My added touch.
Now, a word about the dash kits. You can find them on Amazon or eBay, and there are basically just two manufacturers to choose from. There doesn't seem to be a radical difference between them, and they're not very expensive. But you'll need to be satisfied with a fairly bland looking end result, and hope that the "wow!" factor of the stereo erases the "meh" of the dash. With my car, I had to go from silver to matte black. A supplied little bezel/gasket snaps in around the unit, and it is flimsy and warped. It doesn't seat well, and just looks cheesy to me. Since I work in a sign shop, I may try to design something that obscures it a little. If I do, I'll upload it to the blog. Maybe there's a market for dressing these things up a little.

UPDATE: Tired of the look of the dash kit, I designed a simple fix at the sign shop. I matched the existing silver dash front to a satin silver applique (a plastic material used to make raised text on signs), and used it to make a frame. Because the Mitsubishi has a compound-curve and rotary knobs incorporated into the center stack, I needed to keep the design limited to the area around the head unit. So, I measured the maximum flat area, measured the opening (approximating the radius corners around the unit), then brought my dimensions in by 1/64" so that it wouldn't be too tight of a fit. The finished look isn't amazing or anything, but I think it looks better. If I had it to do again, I would have taken my cut piece of applique, and lightly sanded all of the edges with a fine-grit sandpaper, to blunt the edges. Otherwise, I'm happy with it. Every town has a sign shop, and a piece of applique shouldn't be too expensive. It's an idea if you hate the look of your after-market stereo!

4 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for publishing the link to the mp3 sorter software. You saved me from pulling any more of my hair out.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hello from Spain!

    Thanks very much for the review and for your pro/cons opinion. I thank you for the mp3 sorter too. You told about you are not iPhone user. Are you Android user? Have you try the appMode on it? Is it compatible? It´s a pitty that allmost things nowdays are iPhone focused :S

    Thanks a lot again!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Nothing I've found will make an Android phone work with the apps. And I've found that if you want to use Pandora, start it on the phone and make sure the blue tooth is connected before even getting going in the car. It will save headaches while in motion.

    Another thing: If you're wanting to use your phone's navigation, if you listen to Pandora (or your phone's music, or iheart radio, or whatever) via blue tooth, and the navigation will reduce the volume of the songs and speak to you through your stereo! It works great. But once again, get set up before you even put your car in drive, just to be safe.

    ReplyDelete

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