Hooking up an iPod to a MY2004 V70 HU-803

From the first testdrive I did with the MY2004 V70, I was looking for adding a more robust audio solution to my HU-803 5 CD changer.

Bumps in the road and hard braking (read "antisocial driving") make it skip and juggling with CDs on long trips is not up to the comfort that my V70 offers otherwise. We can do better ;-) It just took me a while to get it all together...

Volvo had some products in the pipeline, but rumor had it that the jukebox would be based on some product from PhatNoise, which meant it was going to have a cartridge you needed to charge from a Windows only system. I don't like to buy proprietary products, especially those that prevent me to link it into my existing unix based setups. (Yes, I'm aware of the irony that the AAC DRM system used by Apple is proprietary). In 2005, Volvo put it on the on the market under the name Volvo Digital Jukebox.

Some further research brought me to USA SPEC who developed a whole range of CD changer and iPod car interfaces. To my delight, they even had a solution for Volvo, called the USA SPEC PA11-VOL

I ordered a unit only to find out that I could not combine it with my RTI system. The back of the HU-803 has a couple of connectors , input for the RTI system and output for the external amplifier. With RTI installed, there is no free input.

I live on my RTI system, heck I even use it where I live (I like having a copilot reading my directions and warning me about trafic jams and I guess also I suck at reading maps ;-). So there was no way I was going to sacrifice that comfort for a better audio experience. Priorities, right? :-)

In the mean time, Volvo had announced with Apple that they would offer an iPod solution, but nobody had any ETA that could be confirmed. Finally, it's HERE!. It also a produced by PhatNoise. When I checked in with favourite volvo dealer good news was waiting for me: the kit was available in Belgium and on stock.

There are two variants: with or without RTI. Happy happy, joy joy.

Basicly it's a module that is placed in the back of the car (under the back seat in a V70, in the boot in a S60), hooked up to the RTI DVD player. If the RTI cable harnass is installed, there is no need to touch the front of the car, all cables are in place. That makes the installation fairly straight forward. The biggest work is to string the data cable that hooks up to the iPod, their recommended place is in the armrest for the driver. In my case this spot is already in use and frankly, I don't see the point of mounting it there as all the controls on the iPod are blocked and full control of the audio is done through the radio / steering wheel buttons.

In my case the installation is a bit more complex as my car has been modified into a van with 4 seats (so it's a truck, not a car for the tax people). This mean that there is a grill between the last row of seats and the luggage compartment which you can't remove. Unfortunatly it also prevents you from removing the protective side which slides over the DVD player in the back, so disconnecting the DVD player is a job that requires 3 or 4 hands.

So, I prefered to have the iPod in the back, which is where it should belong: out of the way where there is plenty of space: next to the REM module left back of the boot.

I've not had time yet to make a protective sleeve to protect the iPod from scratches and vibrations, so I settled for the next best thing: a leather glove that I keep handy in case of tire change. Not really the most optimal solution, but it seems to work. :-)

(at the rate that I'm currently burried in work, I'm sure it will stay that way for a while, feel free to check next year ;-)

The control module has an input, the white data cable that runs to the iPod, it has a black output cable that runs to the back of the DVD of the RTI system, it's the same port that would be used otherwise to hook up a 10 CD Changer. From the DVD, another output cable runs to the front of the car where it's hooked up to the input on the HU-803. The control communication also runs over this cable harness. The control module also has a blue power plug which is used to power the modules and charge the iPod when it's in use.

With no power on the car, the iPod is just working as normal:

When the power is on, the iPod shows 2 welcome screens (one picture missing):

Even if you power down the car at that point, the Volvo For Life logo stays on the iPod, until you unplug the white data cable. The logo then disappears after 6 or so seconds.

At this point the iPod is locked and the CD-CHNGR logo appears on the radio display.

The manual is pretty self explanatory, I'm sure you can all read, no need to explain twice how the device works.

There are a few mistakes in the manual, CD 10 is actually the 10th playlist, after the last song of this playlist is finished, you have access to the whole music catalogue stored on the iPod.

Correction:Actually this behaviour changed after updating the firmware on the iPod, now it behaves like in the manual: CD 10 is the Library of all the songs.

The songs are sorted according to preference you set in iTunes before syncing the iPod, for example you can sort according serial number, song name, time, artist associated with the song, album name or genre, and that gives sometimes weird results if the information is not complete or correct. This is not a problem of course if you use the device in shuffle mode. You can also give ratings to songs and have it sorted accrding to ratings. I've actually not tried all the combinations yet as there are so many.

It even plays podcasts as they are treated like any other 'track'.

When you cross "TRK99", it again displays "TRK01" (not "TRK00") but it does this twice, once for "Track 100" and once for "Track 101". Kind of strange, but perhaps the CD CHGR interface has no concept of the number "00".

Skipping inbetween tracks can be done by pressing the "Next Track" button, fast forwarding in the song can be done by pressing the fast-forward button, as far as the iPod can keep up with your demand, sometimes the music goes silent until the little harddrive inside catches up.

Fast skipping inbetween tracks (especially handy in playlist 10) is done by pressing the "Next Track" button and in the 3 first seconds of the song, keeping the fast-forward button down. That can of course not be done from the steeringwheel and is not intuitive. But I'm sure I'll get used to it.


  PhatNoise autoport iPod   USA SPEC PA11-VOL   PhatNoise Digital Juke Box 
Number of playlists:  10 6 ?
Manual:  click here click here
Storage:  up to 60 GB (iPod) up to 60 GB (iPod) 20 GB (cartridge)
Software Platform:  Mac & Windows Mac & Windows Windows only
Plays AAC format (iTunes):  Yes Yes No
Song title and performer info:  No No Voice
Mouting place:  Armrest or back of car Glovebox compartment Back of car
Price:  EUR 250 + iPod EUR 120 + iPod ?

Overall I'm impressed with the flexibility and easy for using the iPod with the PhatNoise autoport.

The sounds quality is great and nothing beats bringing a large part of my music collection on the road. Syncing it with iTunes once a week to get some of the podcasts that I otherwise have no time for listing too is something I need to get used to (where is that wifi module so my car can sync with my home network when I park near my house? :-) As I have a couple of iPods, I decided to keep the 60 GB unit in the car and the iPod Nano in my pocket.

Surpringly the PhatNoise autoport control unit is 4 times the size and the weight as the USA SPEC PA11-VOL, for doing exactly the same functionalty. The USA SPEC modules is also considerably cheaper, but then again, it's not sold through Volvo, so no surprise here.

While the USA SPEC PA-11 actually has the PA-10 model number printed on the case (excellent packaging, nicely powdercoated with labeling, very good), it has a little sticker on the back that says it's upgraded to the PA-11 software. I called up their tech support line and they were working in a cable harnass that would support the RTI. If you want to buy an independant solution and build it in yourself, I can highly recommend their product. It's nicely build, very good documented and a lot cheaper than the official Volvo accessories. But then again, I did not have the patience to wait until they got on the RTI boat.

For me the PhatNoise Digital Juke Box is not an option as it's a Windows only product and it does not support the AAC (iTunes) digital format. That makes it pretty useless in my book, you are restricted to ripping all your CDs (you do buy music right? Copying music is unethical). The iTunes music download store is the worlds market leader and is changing peoples habits, I did not buy a physical CD in the last year anymore. The only place where I needed to burn CDs to listen to it, was my car. Driving around with 50 CDs in two 25 CDR bulk cases is not that bad, but changing them while driving is not recomended and after 2 years all of them have been scratched and overheated in the HU-803.

I'm just sooooooo happy this all over now.

Too bad it took so long for Volvo to bring us an iPod solution as the demand for it was high and many potential customers were turned away, that must have been frustrating for many of the dealers.

Some more links as reference:

With my thanks to Philippe for some of the info during the decision process.

Feel free to contact me at wim@kd85.com for further info.