Piston Slap: Single DIN + Multiple Options = Serious Improvement for Cheap?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap single din multiple options serious improvement for cheap
Ted writes:In your suggested fixes to a 200,000-mile BMW, you mentioned better aftermarket radios. That got me interested! I’m buying a 1989 Porsche 944 turbo with about 10 problems and the radio ain’t one. (The price? 6,500 Canuckian pesos!)As I fix it up for my own long-term use, however, I want to understand the options and the pros and cons of replacing the “meh” Kenwood unit that one of the nine (!) previous owners put in there.Can you do a kind of buyer’s guide for aftermarket radios with Bluetooth capabilities and/or smartphone integration? Currently I use Waze on my phone, which is clipped to the air vents with a small Kenu phone mount, and an aux cable. It works fine; I’d like to have fewer cables and better power to the phone, but this is a frivolous and fun upgrade for me. Maybe a low-cost option and an “all the features” option would be two options for most.Thanks as ever for the fun column, it’s one of my preferred ways to decompress.Sajeev answers:I don’t do buyer’s guides in the expected SEO style, instead doling out thoughts with non-affiliate linked URLs when needed.Hopefully the photo of my 1989 Continental proves my editorial independence regarding classic car smartphone integration: the outdated, 1st gen iPad Mini and Kenwood Excelon came together swimmingly in the glorified Taurus Continental’s snazzy, plastic-fantastic interior. So here’s what I recommend for a Porsche 944*, or any older vehicle with a 1-DIN receiver and a budget (design aesthetic?) intolerant of flip-out touchscreen stereos.The brand doesn’t matter, until it does: I adore most Alpine, Kenwood and Pioneer receivers, and own an example of each. Most brands have several models possessing Android Open Accessory attributes and Apple iPod/iPhone integration, so you’ll have several options. ( Apple Carplay or Android Auto requires upgrading to a 1-DIN with a motorized screen or cutting your dash for a 2-DIN receiver, sorry!)So get the cheapest one on eBay?Or the cheapest offering from a big-name manufacturer?Consider both as Option #1 in this “buyers guide.”Consider buying the highest quality receiver in your budget: Assuming that phone is also streaming audio, Option #2 is a receiver built to compensate for compressed audio. Shop around and you’ll get lucky: I bought that Excelon, manufacturer refurbished, for $30 over the base model’s retail price. It meets the need with two “hideable” USB ports (one in the glove box, one in the ashtray), and most importantly a blizzard of signal processing and equalization options. Those last two bits ensure you get the most from your phone.And while my Continental is stupid quiet (rubber insulation is even glued to the roof and all trunk sheetmetal!) with a rattle-free chassis, most older vehicles lack modern NVH engineering (even new) so get the audio processing bits in a nicer receiver to compensate. I could go down the wormhole of tuning for maximum sound quality via your preferred app, but let’s keep it high level.RTFM: read the owner’s manual online before buying! Once a stereo catches your eye, ensure you’ll use the damn thing. If you question the interface with you and/or your phone, look elsewhere. Get Creative with the Install: the perk of pricer options are those extra USB ports, allowing phone integration via glovebox, ashtray, console, etc. instead of an unsightly cable shooting out of the receiver. In your case, run the USB cable (and phone charging cable) down the console, drill a hole in the storage nook so it rests inside the armrest.Even if the armrest storage is too shallow for your phone, this ensures the cable is out of the way. The phone can live by your forearm when needed. My proposal nets you:
  • Fewer (visible) cables for a cleaner interior
  • Console-mounted USB charging like a new car (no AUX cable)
  • Receiver control of phone applications (more for Android?)
  • Better sound quality for any music, especially streaming audio
Replace the Speakers: you bought the best 1-DIN receiver for your phone, but now the speakers shall suck. Even when not sunbeaten, original speakers are usually outclassed by the junkiest options available online. No need to cut holes in door cards, replace the factory speakers with same-size aftermarkets. I am kinda hooked on the quality and value in Polk Audio’s DB+ Series, but that level of modest upgrade is available elsewhere. Just read the spec sheets ( frequency response, etc) online.There’s plenty more but the right receiver, a thoughtful installation, and new speakers are the majority of the problem. Off to you, Best and Brightest!*The irony is that 944’s are a somewhat simple conversion to 2-DIN stereos, but the same rules apply: buy the unit with upgraded audio processing, the most intuitive interface and the most timeless look: you will get what you pay for. And you will pay much more than a 1-DIN upgrade.[Images: © 2019 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars]Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.
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2 of 51 comments
  • Kefkafloyd Kefkafloyd on Mar 11, 2019

    If you want a modern touch screen without a motorized display in a single DIN, there is the Alpine ILX-F309 and ILX-F259. They use a single-DIN mounting chassis with an external floating display. Won't work with every car depending on your radio mounting point, though it does have a good degree of adjustability to not block things like HVAC controls.

  • Ryanwm80 Ryanwm80 on Mar 15, 2019

    I didn't see anyone mention anything like the iSimple Tranzit Blu HF. This allows a device to connect into any head unit with a standard antenna jack, so you can use any head unit you like, even a stock factory unit, but still listen to audio through a bluetooth device. You have to pay attention to the type of transmitter though - the HF model works with 5th generation iPods, and the universal one does not!

  • Dusterdude @El scotto , I'm aware of the history, I have been in the "working world" for close to 40 years with many of them being in automotive. We have to look at situation in the "big picture". Did UAW make concessions in past ? - yes. Do they deserve an increase now ? -yes . Is their pay increase reasonable given their current compensation package ? Not at all ! By the way - are the automotive CEO's overpaid - definitely! (That is the case in many industries, and a separate topic). As the auto industry slowly but surely moves to EV's , the "big 3" will need to be producing top quality competitive vehicles or they will not survive.
  • Art_Vandelay “We skipped it because we didn’t think anyone would want to steal these things”-Hyundai
  • El scotto Huge lumbering SUV? Check. Unknown name soon to be made popular by Tiktok ilk? Check. Scads of these showing up in school drop-off lines? Check. The only real over/under is if these will have as much cachet as Land Rovers themselves? A bespoken item had to be new at one time. Bonus "accepted by the right kind of people" points if EBFlex or Tassos disapproves.
  • El scotto No, "brothers and sisters" are the core strength of the union. So you'll take less money and less benefits because "my company really needs helped out"? The UAW already did that with two-tier employees and concessions on their last contract.The Big 3 have never, ever locked out the UAW. The Big 3 have agreed to every collective bargaining agreement since WWII. Neither side will change.
  • El scotto Never mind that that F-1 is a bigger circus than EBFlex and Tassos shopping together for their new BDSM outfits and personal lubricants. Also, the F1 rumor mill churns more than EBFlex's mind choosing a new Sharpie to make his next "Free Candy" sign for his white Ram work van. GM will spend a year or two learning how things work in F1. By the third or fourth year GM will have a competitive "F-1 LS" engine. After they win a race or two Ferrari will protest to highest F-1 authorities. Something not mentioned: Will GM get tens of millions of dollars from F-1? Ferrari gets 30 million a year as a participation trophy.