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Author Topic: Why are car stereos so flimsy?  (Read 3309 times)

Jimdoria

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Why are car stereos so flimsy?
« on: March 31, 2015, 11:11:03 AM »
I've been thinking about getting a new car stereo, but in looking around I'm kind of dismayed to find how cheaply made they all seem. The knobs and buttons seem to be made out of the same plastic they use for the toys that come out of gumball machines. None of them looks like they were built to stand up to years of use the way my factory radio / CD player is.

Also, it just seems like there's a lot of needless complexity. I realize they do a lot more than just station presets and equalizer settings these days, but holy cow, the faceplates are chockablock with info overload. I'd have thought with the advances in usability brought about by web apps and smartphones, car stereos would be not only more capable but also more intuitive than ever. But it seems like they been racing in the opposite direction.

Any recommendations? I'm not a big-time audiophile, I just want a new unit that can play the songs stored on my smartphone!
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Renegade

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Re: Why are car stereos so flimsy?
« Reply #1 on: March 31, 2015, 11:28:53 AM »
I have no recommendations, so feel free to skip reading. :)

But you mention how flimsy things are. I've noticed that across a broad spectrum of products. What I've seen, personally, is that you can expect the product to fail very shortly after the warranty expires. That to me says that these people are spectacular engineers! It can't be easy to design a valve (or whatever) to fail after X years of use. But I've found in multiple products that it's like clockwork.

On a meta level, you likely won't get the best advice here at DC on car stereos specifically, as the perspective that you're likely to get is more software-centric. An actual car audio forum will likely have better answers to some questions. Still... there are more focused questions where you'll get better answers here.

I do audio software, but I also have some non-traditional views on some of the "accepted dogma" in some sectors. Those are largely irrelevant considerations for most consumers though. But I say that to point out that you will find differing opinions in technical areas. Also, when you see opinions on topics, consider who it is coming from, and whether you agree with their conclusions on some issues.

As for my own car stereo... I only listen to the government run station, and mostly for the parliamentary debates. :) So, my car audio needs are pretty low on the totem pole. :)

Good luck with finding something that fits for you! 8)
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TaoPhoenix

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Re: Why are car stereos so flimsy?
« Reply #2 on: March 31, 2015, 12:24:48 PM »

I think there's like 3 separate mini culture-effects going on here.

1. Flimsy knobs - Renegade's funny semi-paranoia version aside, I'll say it's because the Upper Mgt comes from the older "rule by committee" culture where someone decides to shave off "$3 per unit" so "let's take it out of the knobs!"

2. Different design specs. "A car stereo with one button?! (Apple) Who wants that?!" -- Imagined consumer reaction, per the minds of the engineering management committee.

3. "But ... it's in a car!" Carmaker says "But it's not ours. Dealer just stuck it in there." Instead of looking at either Apple or Google's Android phones, try instead like pharmacy brand imitation ipods.


CWuestefeld

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Re: Why are car stereos so flimsy?
« Reply #3 on: March 31, 2015, 12:40:03 PM »
I haven't noticed a "flimsy" problem in car stereos. That especially true because moving parts are almost extinct. The motors, servos, etc., that were necessary in the classic autoreverse cassette deck, or CD players/changers, are much less useful today. My current car I've had for a year, and I have yet to put a CD into it, even though that's supported. All my music comes from Bluetooth, or a flashdrive, or radio. So the only moving parts are the buttons and knobs.

But what I have seen is that while the demands on the stereo's user interface and overall usability of interaction has increased, the makers haven't kept pace. The UI on my car stereo is just awful, I swear it must have been developed by a summer intern.

nite_monkey

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Re: Why are car stereos so flimsy?
« Reply #4 on: March 31, 2015, 01:06:49 PM »
I've learned a few weeks ago that DC isn't the right forum to ask for car stereo advice. I'm looking for a new one too, but I have a few specific features I'm looking for. The only response I got back was for some Portable wireless speakers... :o :huh:
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Vurbal

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Re: Why are car stereos so flimsy?
« Reply #5 on: March 31, 2015, 01:25:15 PM »
It's been a long time (as in more than a decade) since I looked seriously at car stereos, but I used to swear by Alpine because they were so tough. In fact, my son (who was 5 or 6 at the time) managed to shove 3 CDs into our last (single disc) Alpine stereo. Once they were removed, it was as good as new.
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Curt

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Re: Why are car stereos so flimsy?
« Reply #6 on: March 31, 2015, 04:44:21 PM »
query: retro car stereo -speaker

becker_mexico20.jpg caliber_chrome19.JPG
Classic-Old-Style-Retro-Car-Radio-171164_image17.jpg retro_sound_model_one9.jpg
khe300usb16.jpg Retro-Model-600x250.jpg
USA4black6.jpg USA-4DIN5.jpg
USA4-DIN-LM4.jpg wpe003881.jpg


app103

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Re: Why are car stereos so flimsy?
« Reply #7 on: March 31, 2015, 07:27:12 PM »
I just want a new unit that can play the songs stored on my smartphone!

I have an offer to make you, that could solve your problem, and at a much lower cost than you might have originally thought.

I have a brand new, still in the box, vintage car stereo with a cassette deck (purchased about 10 years ago, or slightly less), that I am looking to get rid of. You could use with a Bluetooth adapter.

CassetteAdapterBluetooth_WebLarge_02-580x363[1].jpg

It was purchased for a car that ended up totaled before my husband could get it installed, and since he doesn't drive any more, there is no chance that we will ever use it. I can't remember if he bought it for a Honda Civic or a Ford Escort. We chose this particular one because my husband is a destroy machine that can't be trusted with CDs....so, it had to have a cassette player.

If the stereo is compatible with your car, I am willing to let you have it for the cost of shipping, or if you still live in my state, you could optionally just pick it up.

If it is something you would consider, let me know and I will dig it out of the closet and give you more info about it.

Jimdoria

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Re: Why are car stereos so flimsy?
« Reply #8 on: April 02, 2015, 12:59:03 PM »
Thanks for the replies everybody! Yeah, wasn't looking especially for "buy this model" kind of advice. Just some perspective on why the build quality of these units seems to have suffered. Although as Curt's beautiful post shows, there ARE alternatives.

And I know this is a software forum, but I've never known DC users to be shy about offering their opinions on other topics as well, given the chance.  ;)

app103, I appreciate the offer, and that IS a cool gizmo. The current Pioneer unit in my car is radio / CD only though, so I'm afraid I can't take you up on it.

For those who are interested, CWuestefeld gets at an important point. A lot of the interaction with the unit is no longer ON the unit. I'm looking at stereos that feature the new Android Open Accessory protocol which essentially turns the head unit into a remote control / speaker system for an Android phone. You can use the controls on the head unit to pause, skip ahead, adjust volume, etc. but you can also do these things right on the phone. Good for when the flimsy plastic knob breaks off I guess?

I'm going to repeat Curt's query though, and do some digging. I still think a car stereo ought to look like you could accidentally bang your toolbox against it and still work the knobs.

Plus, the dual-knob volume+tuning design is one of the most elegant and intuitive UIs ever designed, and I'm tending to stick with it just on principle. So this is not quite software related, but it is User Experience related, which I think gets me a pass for posting it on DC.  :P
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Innuendo

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Re: Why are car stereos so flimsy?
« Reply #9 on: April 02, 2015, 08:00:03 PM »
Well, there's always the generic reason....every manufacturer of everything on the planet is looking to cut corners. Every new generation of every product is more flimsy & more cheaply made than the last.

There are exceptions to that rule, but not nearly enough.

xtabber

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Re: Why are car stereos so flimsy?
« Reply #10 on: April 03, 2015, 11:40:35 AM »
The market for third party car stereos is fast disappearing.   Recent car models tend to use proprietary designs integrated with the dashboard and other parts of the electronic control system that tie into things like steering wheel controls and hands free phone systems.

Also, starting in 2015, all new cars sold in the US have to incorporate back-up cameras, meaning they will all have video screens in the dashboard. You can expect the audio system controls to migrate to that screen as well.  Apple and Google are furiously working to sign up auto manufacturers, so within a few years, all new cars will offer iOS and/or Android extensions for the dash screen. I'd expect Microsoft to follow suit.

Personally, I like having physical buttons I can use without taking my eyes off the road, but I suspect that voice controls will become a lot more common in the future.

app103

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Re: Why are car stereos so flimsy?
« Reply #11 on: April 05, 2015, 03:55:54 AM »
app103, I appreciate the offer, and that IS a cool gizmo. The current Pioneer unit in my car is radio / CD only though, so I'm afraid I can't take you up on it.

Not sure if you understood what I was offering, so I figured I'd clarify it, just in case.

I was not offering you one of those cassette adapter thingies...I was offering you a vintage New In Box car stereo (radio/cassette) that you can use one with.  :)

Curt

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Re: Why are car stereos so flimsy?
« Reply #12 on: April 05, 2015, 04:42:43 PM »
I was offering you a vintage New In Box car stereo (radio/cassette) that you can use one with.  :)

^ your generous offer just made me wish for a car, April  :-*

Edvard

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Re: Why are car stereos so flimsy?
« Reply #13 on: April 05, 2015, 10:23:10 PM »
LOL, this is me.  ;D  :(

NGcUN.jpgWhy are car stereos so flimsy?

app103

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Re: Why are car stereos so flimsy?
« Reply #14 on: April 07, 2015, 10:45:20 AM »
I was offering you a vintage New In Box car stereo (radio/cassette) that you can use one with.  :)

^ your generous offer just made me wish for a car, April  :-*


Yeah, not having the car makes it kind of useless, which is why I offered it.  :)