Review: USA Spec DF – Ford 20

I love my iPod. I work on a competing product but the simple fact is the iPod fits my usage model perfectly. Or maybe my usage model has been molded by iPod. One place I like my iPod most is in the car. On my drive to and from work I listen to podcasts of news (podcast), Mr. Osgood, Chip Ingram and Ravi Zacharias. It’s like having a radio station that programs especially for me. I love it.

The problem is getting the iPod connected to the car stereo. I’ve tried all of the methods that I know about. FM modulators, FM transmitters, cassette interface, and stereos with an aux in on the faceplate. An FM Modulator is a device that goes between your radio and the antenna. When turned on, it disconnects the antenna and feeds a signal directly into the radio on a preset frequency. The freq doesn’t really matter because the radio effectively has no antenna. You still have to dial in the right freq in order to hear the audio signal from the iPod. FM modulators are pretty good but the solution feels like a hack.

FM transmitters transmit a low power signal like a miniature radio station. Supposedly, if you can find a segment of the FM dial that has no signal, they work pretty well. Here in the Northern California bay area, finding a segment of the FM dial that isn’t cluttered is more challenge than I care to face. In my area, FM transmitters always sound like the radio station from the last town you passed on a road trip. Not really the listening experience I’m looking for.

Cassette tape interfaces work well if your car has a cassette tape drive. Mine doesn’t.

An auxiliary in on the face plate is what I just replaced. These work pretty well but, it turns out, the stereo manufacturers don’t really intend for you to have something plugged in all the time. The eighth inch plug is not designed to stand up to daily use. The Sony unit that I bought gave out after about a year. There are other third party stereos that are designed to integrate an iPod. These systems are beyond my budget for incorporating my iPod into my car audio.

My search for the perfect method of integrating an iPod into the car audio system led me to USA Spec. They make two devices of interest; an auxiliary audio interface and an iPod interface. According to the web site, the iPod interface will connect, control, charge and play an IPOD through a factory radio. This interface also gives you an auxiliary audio in. I chose to install the auxiliary audio interface.

I drive a 2002 Mazda B-3000 truck which is, in most ways, identical to a 2002 Ford Ranger truck. So, with a bit of trepidation, I ordered the DF-Ford20 from Crutchfield. Crutchfield offered instructions and a universal DIN removal tool. I took the instructions and refused the tool. The instructions turned out to be worthless since they did not cover the device I was installing. The instructions were free, no loss.

The device installed in about 30 minutes. There are no installation instructions included in the box but it is very intuitive. Do the obvious. It is that easy. I am currently using an RCA connector to eighth inch stereo plug cable to connect my iPod to the aux audio interface. The radio thinks the iPod is a multi-CD changer. The sound quality is very good. Better than any of the other methods I’ve tried so far.

To switch to the device connected to the interface, hit the CD button on the car stereo. I’m not sure how you would switch between two devices connected to the interface. I haven’t tried that yet. The one problem I’ve noticed so far. If, while listening to a device connected via the USA Spec interface, you hit the “SCN” button on the radio, you will lose audio. There is no indication as to what happened or what the radio is doing so this can be disconcerting. Hit the SCN button again, maybe twice, and the audio comes back.

Main points for the USA Spec DF-Ford20:

  • installs quickly and easily with no special tools
  • audio quality is very good to excellent
  • works flawlessly in the 2002 Mazda B3000
  • hghly recommend the product

aloha

[posted with ecto]

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